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Everything posted by Whipsnade

  1. Courses covering the following genres would be great: Westerns, Musicals, Detectives/Mysteries, Theatrical Cartoons & Short Subjects, Gangsters/Prison. Other possibilities: Focus on directors such as Hitchcock, Ford, Capra and Hawks. Focus on decades such as 1930's or 1930's & 1940's. Focus on studios, either individually or in comparison. Focus on eras such as silent, pre-code or pre-WW2/post-WW2
  2. We now move into an era of filmmaking I know little about. With very few exceptions, I stopped seeing new movies after about 1980. My interests turned backwards through film history, rather than forward. Of these five movies, only “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad” (1988) was familiar to me. And that was because I had enjoyed the four episode TV series “Police Squad” that aired in 1982. Regarding the movies that were new to me: With “Top Secret!” (1984), it was interesting to see how ZAZ handled a transitional event between “Police Squad” and “Naked Gun.” I did not conside
  3. An interesting contrast in styles of comical gags is presented in a short time frame in the Preston Sturges comedy “The Palm Beach Story” from 1942. The club car scene, in which the Ale & Quail Club members shoot up the railroad car, is an example of slapstick at its most wild and boisterous. This scene is almost immediately followed by the sleeping car scene, in which Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) is helped into an upper berth by John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee). As he supports her foot for a boost, it slowly slips down and crushes his glasses -- twice. Here we have a much more subt
  4. “Scared Stiff” (1953) is an example of a movie that I would not normally watch, for two reasons. First: though I like Dean Martin, I am not a fan of Jerry Lewis. Second: it is a remake of “The Ghost Breakers” (1940), a movie I really like that stars Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard. Dean Martin plays the Bob Hope character, and Jerry Lewis is in the role played by the incomparable Willie Best. Because of these two biases, I had to watch it twice to see it once. I spent the first viewing comparing it to the original. Only with the second viewing could I see it more objectively. I still
  5. With regard to the relative weakness of the comedies of this era, as mentioned by IN04150, I have to agree. When compared to the films of the 1930’s and 1940’s, we can conclude that bigger (and longer) is not always better. While I enjoy many of the films of this era, I think they can be overlong, ponderous and forced in their humor. “The Great Race” (1965) as an example, is enjoyable but physically taxing. I think “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963), though longer, is better comedy, but watching it is still something of an ordeal. Several reasons for the decline have been discussed
  6. I was happy to see Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers” (1973) included in our movie line-up. It is a wonderful version of the Dumas story, played for laughs on several levels. Not only is it played as slapstick, it is also presented as a realistic representation of the filthy world of the historical past -- with chamber pots dumped out windows and mud & dirt everywhere. But the realism is in the setting, not in the fencing. As a fencer, I enjoy the fights in this movie and the overflow follow-up “The Four Musketeers” (1975). But it is not for the quality or realism of the fencing
  7. I must confess to having struggled with the definition of slapstick comedy we have been developing throughout the course. The fault for this is not in the material presented; it is in me. Part of the problem stemmed from my preconceived notion of what constituted slapstick. If asked, I would have described it as the visual comedies of the teens and twenties that emphasized physical exaggeration and violence. In this view, the silent era was the heyday of slapstick comedy. With the advent of sound, slapstick largely disappeared (with the notable exception of The Three Stooges). I come t
  8. As a review, I just watched all nine episodes of “Gehring on Comedy” in one sitting. It was even more informative than watching them individually. Though they were loaded with factual information and insight, the main takeaway was to highlight the importance of transitional periods in the history of slapstick comedy. It is easy to forget that the history of slapstick comedy is not a static thing; it is dynamic progression that must react and change in response to changing conditions through time. In this sense, slapstick comedy is always in a transitional state -- the bigger the event that
  9. In this clip from “One Week” (1920), Buster Keaton wages battle with a piano that he is trying to get into his new house. The extended gag is propelled by a large number of props that either aid or impede Keaton’s attempts to move the piano. The first props that we see are the box in which the piano is delivered, carried on the shoulder of a husky deliveryman and the weak ladder that Keaton descends quickly as the rungs break. The ladder gag is over in an instant, while the box gag is drawn out. Both add to the humor of the scene. The man carries the box like it is filled with feathers;
  10. This course has been a wonderful experience, and I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Rich Edwards, Ball State University, Canvas Network and Turner Classic Movies for having offered it. Additional thanks are offered to Dr. Wes Gehring and Vince Cellini for their valuable contributions. This is my first experience with an online course, and it was so compelling that I participated at a much higher level than I had expected. The message boards really drew me in. Thanks to my fellow students for their insightful comments. The films were well chosen and supported the general thesis and its
  11. In 1989, Vincent Canby, in a New York Times tribute to Chaplin, wrote the following about this scene from the movie, “A Dog’s Life” (1918): “Charlie’s camera sits unmoving, . . . in the middle distance at an outdoor cake stand. The camera does not cut away. [by this] Chaplin is not intending to instruct the audience on the benefits of a full-figure framing . . . [it] came naturally to a performer in Music Hall . . . It also shows today’s audiences how much we are missing in visual comedy when it’s broken up into close-ups and cuts between images.” I agree, in general, t
  12. With the Lumiere Brothers short subject "L' Arroseur Arrose" (1896), we have the film origin of visual slapstick. So simple but effective -- and hilarious. This kind of simple gag would rule film comedy for almost twenty years. In the mid-1910's, Charlie Chaplin would expand the complexity and emotional impact of these kind of gags, as he integrated them into larger narrative structures that told increasingly complex stories. But, it all started here: from this small acorn, a mighty oak grew!
  13. In this clip from “The Golden Age of Comedy” (1957), the narrator asserts what producer Robert Youngson (and James Agee, before him) believed, that the era of silent comedy (from 1912 to 1930) constituted a “golden age of comedy.” The hallmark of this era was the gag that was completely visual -- a form of wit they believe has “all but disappeared.” While I am capable of lapsing into similar nostalgic dogma, I can not agree with this argument. My own opinion is that the silent era would be the “silver era that preceded the gold,” for I would consider the golden age to be the period from 1
  14. The “stateroom scene” from the Marx Brothers film, “A Night at the Opera” (1935) provides an interesting study in the choreography of a visual gag. The packing of the room is more than a simple loading of the sardines into a can, because all of these sardines are dynamically engaged in performing their various tasks. To make a scene this chaotic required a great deal of planning and control. The humor lies in the build up, as more and more people show up needing to do something in the room. My favorite is the maid who was there “to mop up.” Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) invites her in
  15. It is interesting to see the differences in the "high striker game" gags in these two clips. In "Coney Island" (1917), Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton perform the gag in its simpler incarnation. It involves Buster striking Fatty accidentally and laughing, followed by Fatty striking buster in revenge and winning a cigar. It is a simple gag, well executed. In 1920, Harold Lloyd reused the initial premise of the accidental strike, but expanded the breadth and depth of the gag by eliminating the revenge element and replacing it with a period of post-impact confusion. In this confusi
  16. It is interesting to see the evolution of the gag in three short years, demonstrated through the work of Charlie Chaplin in these three clips. Just as the slapstick "evolved" from a physical object that was a tool of the comedian to an entertainment concept that created a long-lasting genre, the gag evolved from an isolated humorous incident that interrupted the narrative flow, to a more involved gag that advances the narrative. In "By the Sea" (1915), we see the gag in its most simple form, a slip on a banana peel. It adds humor but does not advance the plot. In "Tillie's Punctured Roma
  17. In “Breakdown of a Gag #8,” Edwards and Cellini explore the role of spoofs and parodies in the evolution of slapstick, with a primary focus on its development since 1970. While the standard definition of the two terms make them synonyms, Jeffrey Miller draws a distinction between a spoof and a parody. For him, a spoof has a comic character in a storyline that, otherwise, respects the original genre. Aside from this comic principle, the spoof would have the look and feel of the target genre. A parody is different, according to Miller, because it is played strictly for laughs and mocks the c
  18. The spoofing style of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (F&M), in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004), most closely compares with the style of Zucker, Abrahams & Zucker (ZAZ), as seen in “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad” (1988). Both “Anchorman” and “Naked Gun” parody a “television genre.” While “Naked Gun” is a spoof of a “Dragnet” style police procedural, “Anchorman” spoofs local news broadcasting in the 1970’s. The humor in both is rapid-fire and broad-based. The style of F&M differs from the styles of Woody Allen (in “Bananas” from 1971) and Mel Brooks &a
  19. The approach David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (ZAZ) take to film parody and spoofs, in this clip from “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad” (1988), is to create the humor primarily from visual gags that are juxtaposed with Frank Drebin’s (Leslie Nielsen) deadpan narration, dialogue and performance. The “Joe Friday” narrative approach and acting style, along with the setting, creates the feel of the “Dragnet“ style of police procedural show that ZAZ are parodying. The logical disconnect between the action and Drebin’s reaction to it heightens the humor. If one only list
  20. With “Young Frankenstein” (1974), the team of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder set out to make a parody of the original “Frankenstein” Trilogy produced by Universal Studios in the 1930’s. Elements of the three movies (“Frankenstein” from 1931, “Bride of Frankenstein” from 1935 and “Son of Frankenstein” from 1939) are combined in the story of a young doctor who tries to overcome the scandalous history of his family -- the house of Frankenstein. This clip successfully parodies the scene in the original that sets up the scientific basis for the experiments that Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) will c
  21. This clip, from “Bananas” (1971), shows elements of both slapstick and parody: The slapstick can be found in the absurdity of the overall situation, with Peace Corps worker Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) joining the revolutionary movement to impress his girlfriend (Louise Lasser). The slapstick is heightened by the “coerced volunteering” of Mellish to make the food run. After being threatened with violence, he accepts the “assigning of the straws” that gives him the short one. Instead of drawing lots by chance, they are distributed according to a predetermined outcome. Verbal sla
  22. I think the movies that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made, “Road” series, clearly qualifies as slapstick. Each entry in the series contains several of the definitional elements of both visual and verbal slapstick. The first four films in the series make the case: The first entry, “Road to Singapore” (1940), was a fairly standard buddy movie with some slapstick interludes involving verbal wordplay (in the song “Captain Custard”) and violence (with the famous “Patty-Cakes” gag). The chemistry between the principles (and Dorothy Lamour) was so effective that a sequel was quickly planned. The “Ro
  23. To add a little more on actors who played the monster in the Universal "Frankenstein" series: Boris Karloff played the role in the first three movies: "Frankenstein" (1931), "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) and "Son of Frankenstein (1939). Lon Chaney, Jr. played the role in the "Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942), with Bela Lugosi reprising the role of Ygor that he played in "Son...." Lugosi took over the role in the next one, "Frankenstein meets the Wolfman" (1943), as Chaney was busy playing "Wolfie." Glenn Strange played the role in the final two installments in the Universal series: "Ho
  24. As Cellini and Edwards state, a cameo is defined as a madcap moment that provides a humorous interlude. It hits and is gone, leaving no mark on the storyline. The person doing the cameo can be either “in character” or “as they really are.” Cameos can take several approaches: as a stand-alone gag, a break in the narrative flow, an inside joke and even a break in the fourth wall. The examples from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963) demonstrate this well. All three involve the actors in character. Jack Benny appears in his radio & TV persona, with his facial gestures, old
  25. In this clip from “The Great Race” (1965), we see our hero, The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), perform his daredevil stunt hanging from a hot air balloon in a straightjacket, while the nefarious Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and his dastardly sidekick Max (Peter Falk) attempt to thwart his feat of derring-do. But they fail and are hoisted with their own petard when the damaged balloon lands on them. Meanwhile our hero is unscathed, as he floats safely to the ground via a parachute. This kind of “purple prose” (perhaps read by William Conrad) seems an appropriate way to start a discussion of the
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