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CaveGirl

Gothic Comedy

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I first became aware of the term Gothic Comedy in a discussion with a family friend who was friends with Tennessee Williams. 

He said Tennessee used the term "Gothic Comedy" about the movie, "Baby Doll" based on his play "27 Wagons Full of Cotton" and was always surprised that so many, including people like Cardinal Spellman, could not see the humor in it. Also mentioned as forerunners of this type of work by him, were some books by noted authors of the distant past, and said books were very subtle and might not be seen by the general public as comedy ostensibly.

Nowadays if you put in a search for Gothic Comedy online, you will most likely be treated to a slew of films starring people like Elvira, but the more sophisticated Gothic Comedy is a bit more hard to ascertain. Nevertheless, name your favorite Gothic Comedy and if it is a Southern Gothic Comedy, all the better. With the many astute film aficianados here, I'm sure there are a lot of films I've not seen which would qualify and thanks in advance for your responses.

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What's exactly "Gothic" about any of Tennessee William's works? Unless he's talking about Gothic as it relates to "Dark."

OK see below:

(A quick Google search brings up "Southern Gothic" which is defined as beginning in the 20th century, when dark romanticism, Southern humor, and the new literary naturalism merged into a new and powerful form of social critique.)

Now Southern Gothic, I can see that (defined above), then I'd say that most of Williams woks were exploring "Dark" subjects and that Baby Doll was one of the lighter of his output that I've seen. Sweet Bird OF Youth may also qualify, but I haven't seen it in a long time. I don't see much difference between Southern Gothic and what I'd call Transitional (drama based) Noirs especially if they are filmed with Noir stylistics. A Streetcar Named Desire is quite noirish in subject and also filmed in a Noir style. Stanley is the obsessed character who acts as the homme fatale to Blanche's alienated doomed character. Williams' The Fugitive Kind is another.

"Black Comedy Noir" sub genre of  Noir, other films are Deadline at Dawn (1946), Manhandled (1949), His Kind of Woman (1951), Shack Out On 101 (1955), and even Lady In The Lake (1946), has some of this quality, there are probably a few others lurking in the Classic Noirs. Neo Noir contenders are Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), the picaresque Seven Beauties (1975), The Late Show (1977) After Hours (1985), Delicatessen (1991) and The Big Lebowski (1998). 

So after all this I'd say from a Noir perspective that Miami Blues (1990) is an answer for you, it's got a picaresque story that could qualify, another would be Down By Law (1986).

 

 

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Thanks, Cigar Joe! You bring up some interesting films which explore the all the boundaries of the concept I feel.

Now just recently I was reading up on Charles Willeford, who wrote the novel for "Miami Blues" and I can see why you recommend it. I've not seen Jarmusch's "Down by Law" but shall look for it being also a fan of Tom Waits.

I'm not sure why Tennessee Williams made a point of calling his play, a Gothic Comedy specifically, but our family friend who knew him well, was adamant that this was specifically the take Williams had of it, without the added Southern connection being needed, though no doubt it does also fit into Southern melodrama. Our friend was a noted stage director who had worked with Williams, and enjoyed discussing the many meanings of his milieu, just to see what the author would say, about concepts like that many of the romance sequences in his plays mentioned were actually based on male to male relationships, and not male to female. Also way too deep things like how the abodes of the characters represented more than just a house to Williams. I do remember my friend saying that Tennessee saw the delapidated home of Archie Lee in "Baby Doll" as being representative of the original Gothic standard of fantastical tales set in ruins, with fear, gloom and doom being prevalent. Tennessee, being a fan of Ibsen and even Jane Austen, also saw her "Northanger Abbey" as being totally Gothic Comedy, which in her day might have been called parody only.

Now a lot of Williams' works definitely fit into a Southern Gothic tradition too, and I admire all your choices in that category. Much appreciation for your sage thoughts.

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57 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

Our friend was a noted stage director who had worked with Williams, and enjoyed discussing the many meanings of his milieu, just to see what the author would say, about concepts like that many of the romance sequences in his plays mentioned were actually based on male to male relationships, and not male to female.

This is precisely why all the films based on Williams' plays always seem dark and a bit kinked, lol. I wrote about this in my review for All Fall Down (1962)

"So what we, the viewers/interpreters, of all these films based on these dark "noir" works of Herlihy, Williams, and Inge, are dealing with are at least three layers of obfuscation. The first is what the writer put in the original works, the stories or plays, these men are writing straight male and female characters through gay tinted glasses, or gay characters written as straight characters to pass stringent societal norms, so some of their protagonists and antagonists are in a way, seemingly to me anyway, either overly burlesqued, seriously twisted, or just a tad off base. The second are the changes made, by screenwriters or the authors themselves, in their original works, i.e., expositional scenarios jettisoned, plot points cut or streamlined etc., etc., so the film scripts would be green lighted by the studios. The third layer would be the additional changes made during filming, or changes demanded so that the films would get the approval of the Motion Picture Production Code.

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11 minutes ago, cigarjoe said:

This is precisely why all the films based on Williams' plays always seem dark and a bit kinked, lol. I wrote about this in my review for All Fall Down (1962)

"So what we, the viewers/interpreters, of all these films based on these dark "noir" works of Herlihy, Williams, and Inge, are dealing with are at least three layers of obfuscation. The first is what the writer put in the original works, the stories or plays, these men are writing straight male and female characters through gay tinted glasses, or gay characters written as straight characters to pass stringent societal norms, so some of their protagonists and antagonists are in a way, seemingly to me anyway, either overly burlesqued, seriously twisted, or just a tad off base. The second are the changes made, by screenwriters or the authors themselves, in their original works, i.e., expositional scenarios jettisoned, plot points cut or streamlined etc., etc., so the film scripts would be green lighted by the studios. The third layer would be the additional changes made during filming, or changes demanded so that the films would get the approval of the Motion Picture Production Code.

Wow, you were right on that subterranean streak, Cigar Joe! Thanks for sharing your review which was fascinating reading and on the money. I didn't mention before, but think it is tangential now, that our family friend was gay and had been involved with Tennessee in that context, so would be the first to admit to understanding this concept you mention, which he eluded to often in his transpositions for staging of plays with possibly hidden agendas. I think he said such things perhaps should remain shrouded as they just added another layer to the story by staying a bit of a mystery.

I've always admired "All Fall Down" and "Midnight Cowboy" and also the works of Inge, like the obvious ones and "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs". Moving on past Williams, Herlihy, and Inge might lead one on to Cheever, who has a bit of a different way of coping with his life choices by becoming more of a typical suburban male breadwinner with family, but that's for another time. 

Please share more reviews in the future.

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I think first, we'd have to become familiar with what "Gothic" actually is.  For example( from Merrriman Webster):

3  often not capitalized : of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents. Gothic novels------

In this light, I can only come up with ONE I would consider a "gothic comedy"-----

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  OK, maybe too,Brooks' DRACULA:DEAD AND LOVING IT  ;) 

Sepiatone

 

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3 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

I think first, we'd have to become familiar with what "Gothic" actually is.  For example( from Merrriman Webster):

3  often not capitalized : of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents. Gothic novels------

In this light, I can only come up with ONE I would consider a "gothic comedy"-----

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  OK, maybe too,Brooks' DRACULA:DEAD AND LOVING IT  ;) 

Sepiatone

 

I salute you, Sepia for looking up the word to get an exact handle on it, since Gothic is used often in many disparate ways nowadays.

Nice choice, and "Young Frankenstein" fits the bill. I think there are two types of Gothic Comedy...one which is relatively obvious as a comedy take on Gothic tendencies and the more subtle type which is like Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" where she plays with the audience. Just like those who believed there was a real band named Spinal Tap, sometimes there's a fine line between Gothic drama and comedy just like there's a fine line between clever and stupid. Okay, I stole that from the Spinal Tap film but you get my drift. Thanks, Sepia!

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I'd say comedy

15 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

I think first, we'd have to become familiar with what "Gothic" actually is.  For example( from Merrriman Webster):

3  often not capitalized : of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents. Gothic novels------

In this light, I can only come up with ONE I would consider a "gothic comedy"-----

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  OK, maybe too,Brooks' DRACULA:DEAD AND LOVING IT  ;) 

Sepiatone

 

With this as the definition of "Gothic", then I must ask here Sepia, how it is you could forget to mention any of the various interpretations of Charles Addams' fictional creations, and on both television and the big screen?

(...dah dah dah DAH...snap snap) 

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I think it's the word "comedy" that's the problem, not "Gothic." I supposed you could call Wise Blood a Southern Gothic comedy. I knew a few people who knew Tennessee Williams: Eli and Anne, who were in many of his plays; Mitch Douglas, who was his agent for a while; and Kim Hunter. Perhaps Tennessee was referring to a more ancient definition of "comedy," rather than the definition that is current today.

When people talk about Gothic novels, they unfortunately tend not to be referring to the original genre, which flourished around the late 18th-early 19th centuries and includes The Castle of Otranto, Frankenstein, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Monk, and my favorite, Melmoth the Wanderer. And of course perhaps the weirdest of all, Vathek, written by that great eccentric, William Beckford.

13951929_e072c808-df50-40bd-a2af-b284274

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You won't find an adequate definition of the term 'gothic' in any dictionary. The best writer on the subject (indeed so superb that he became known for his association with its study) is the famous 19th c. art critic, John Ruskin.

As for 'gothic' comedy; no--nothing in this thread mentioned so far --nor any title cited--strikes me as an apt linkage between the two. Seems a misnomer all around.

'Comedy' is too much bedrock (in the theater) to be labeled a mere genre and 'gothic' is...well...at best a style found only in novels and in architecture. I can't hardly even advance it as a valid movie 'style'. You can make a movie out of a single gothic romance --yes--but that doesn't mean it's a style of its own.

'Black comedy' doesn't seem to fit. Maybe a 'noir' comedy? I can think of a couple; but again this is very inexact as a match. Perhaps cult films are best affiliated with  'gothic'-comedies.

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I'm sick of all the narrow "categorization" and compartmentalizing of all media and art forms these days. For example, is it "pop rock", "alternative rock", "album oriented rock" or "indie rock"? Oy, why can't it just be "rock"?

Sometimes it makes sense to describe a movie or story in a broad term like "mystery" or "fantasy" and some are completely true to a category/definition.

But too many movies have exceptions and overlaps that often make definitions too narrow. So now we title something as two categories, like a "Western Comedy" or "Gothic Horror" or "Romantic Comedy".

If we keep going on that track, every movie will have it's own individual definition category.

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1 minute ago, TikiSoo said:

I'm sick of all the narrow "categorization" and compartmentalizing of all media and art forms these days. For example, is it "pop rock", "alternative rock", "album oriented rock" or "indie rock"? Oy, why can't it just be "rock"?

Sometimes it makes sense to describe a movie or story in a broad term like "mystery" or "fantasy" and some are completely true to a category/definition.

But too many movies have exceptions and overlaps that often make definitions too narrow. So now we title something as two categories, like a "Western Comedy" or "Gothic Horror" or "Romantic Comedy".

If we keep going on that track, every movie will have it's own individual definition category.

Maybe be if you know the differences between "pop rock", "alternative rock", "album oriented rock" or "indie rock" it may make a difference.

I really don't know the defs, so I see your point. As far as say Jazz, I don't care for the, to me anyway, homogenized "Big Band" jazz (see I don't even know if that is a category it's just how I define it). I prefer the small combos. I couldn't define exactly what West Coast Jazz is off hand but I like it too along with BeBop.

Narrow categorization for films only helpful is you like a certain type of movie and seek more of it's kind. 

For example I like Westerns in general but I don't like say, Musical Westerns, or most Comedy Westerns, it helps to have those qualifiers.

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I agree that there's intense over-categorization going on today. That's due to the marketing departments in all industries like book publishing, automobiles, fashion, or music publishing.

There's many reasons behind it. For one, these categories helps break up a 'mass audience' or 'unvariegated audience bloc' into separate splinter-groups who each favor a specific style; and who must each make separate purchases. It makes them vie with each other. It makes products into 'emblems' for each specific group; makes each group champion itself by sprouting those emblems (buying those products).

Then, the marketers use that sense-of-identity to weld them tighter (not just) to that style they enjoy, but to a lot of other associated products which all align with that style. "Hey, if you like this song then you'll like this movie because the singer is doing the theme for this new movie".

Especially, it helps the forces of sales-tracking better target what ads you'll likely respond to and what product you'll likely purchase next. If you read PNR and you let that be known via your internet-clicks, then you'll soon start seeing a trickle of PNR-related advertising directed specifically at you.

This is important to companies because all companies want to know what products to make more of, in each upcoming season. The worst thing in sales, is to have products sitting around unsold.

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14 hours ago, cigarjoe said:

...For example I like Westerns in general but I don't like say, Musical Westerns, or most Comedy Westerns, it helps to have those qualifiers.

Ah, so CJ, are you sayin' here that that new and even more specific genre of Westerns they've recently coined, the, ahem, "Spaghetti WITH Marinara Sauce Western" might not be to your liking either, then???

(...as compared of course to that OTHER new and even more specific genre, the, ahem, "Spaghetti WITH Pomodoro Sauce Western")  

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15 hours ago, TikiSoo said:

I'm sick of all the narrow "categorization" and compartmentalizing of all media and art forms these days. For example, is it "pop rock", "alternative rock", "album oriented rock" or "indie rock"? Oy, why can't it just be "rock"?

 

 

15 hours ago, cigarjoe said:

Maybe be if you know the differences between "pop rock", "alternative rock", "album oriented rock" or "indie rock" it may make a difference.

I really don't know the defs, so I see your point. As far as say Jazz, I don't care for the, to me anyway, homogenized "Big Band" jazz (see I don't even know if that is a category it's just how I define it). I prefer the small combos. I couldn't define exactly what West Coast Jazz is off hand but I like it too along with BeBop.

 

That a whole thread in itself. We could go around and around on that one.

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16 minutes ago, GGGGerald said:

 

That a whole thread in itself. We could go around and around on that one.

Oh, now THAT was the B-side of Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, wasn't it Gerald?!

(...and so, and not to get too specific here, would be an example of Rhythm and Blues and/or early Rock and Roll)

;)

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57 minutes ago, Dargo said:

Oh, now THAT was the B-side of Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, wasn't it Gerald?!

(...and so, and not to get too specific here, would be an example of Rhythm and Blues and/or early Rock and Roll)

;)

Then the Stones did their version and that's "british invasion"...and that's how quickly a thread can get derailed :)

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