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Dr. Rich Edwards

Discussion of the First Slapstick Film: "L'Arroseur Arrosé" (1896)

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I had to dwell on this film a bit.  It is funny.  It is a humor I am not used to.  It’s also hard for me to see that boy as a boy as he’s just huge.  I wonder if I would find it funnier if he was younger.  I can root for the underdog, but it is hard for me to root for someone who is the class clown and taking away from someone else’s productivity.  If the boy was interfering with someone sunning himself idly, that may be a stronger laugh from me.  I do love how unifying slapstick is.  It can be expressed in a silent film.   People who spoke different languages could come together and watch that.  I recently read a David Sedaris book where he mentioned the Dutch St, Nicholas changes over time.   St. Nicholas changed from beating children who had not behaved over the years to pretending to beat them.   His slaves also just became his friendly helpers.  It’s interesting to me that this slapstick short changed so quickly (1895 to 1897).  One almost imagines a modern focus group in effect where they called in a sample and asked what needed tweaking. :)

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When I watched "L'Arroseur Arrose," it made me think of a situation out of "Dennis the Menace."  However, in that case, the boy would have been younger & probably would have stepped on the hose accidentally.  Personally, I would find it funnier that way.  However, slapstick seems to have begun with a bit harder slap!

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I didn't laugh, but I thought it was funny. I thought about how live audience reactions may have been a factor on the success of slapstick as a comedic element. The people who made this clip must have felt gratified when the audience laughed, and aspiring filmmakers of that era must have felt inspiration from watching the clip and noting audience reaction. I noted that I felt gratified when the younger guy gets wet after playing the trick on the older guy.

 

This may be a bit off topic, but I also thought about how this short scene would play out today if it was remade for modern audiences. It seems to be that modern audiences like to see the young triumph over the old, based on how the kids are smarter than their clueless parents trope that is part of many movies, sitcoms, and advertisements. I bet that the clip wouldn't end with the older guy getting revenge, but with the younger seeking and getting retribution.

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After watching "L'Arroseur Arrose," I realized slapstick literally began with a slap. The humour works without the layers added to the comedy. There is no dialogue, special effects or variety of camera shots, scenes or messages to distract from the gag. Just pure and simple comedy on a stage that stands-up over a 100 years later.

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Just one look at 'America's funniest home videos' reminds us that certain people prank or pull gags on people all the time.  It just so happens that it is popular to record that gag for others to see. They usually pick someone serious minded (or not!) to make something go wrong on them.  The fun comes in seeing the protagonist's reaction.  Our fun comes not only in seeing the protagonist reaction but also in seeing what happens to the antagonist.  Many shows make use of the gag.  'I Love Lucy' comes to mind.

 

The antagonists have gotten smart though:  If they can pull the gag and get it recorded and be there to see the reaction without the protagonist knowing it, that is also very funny to me.

 

This film opened the door to many of the possibilities.  I'm thinking of someone I could prank right now...

 

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The thing that gets me is the suspense. From the moment the scene opens, we know what is going to happen. I love it that the director has the old man look into the hose several times - I cringed each time - before the water actually got him.

 

I am amazed that so many people mention retribution. I think retribution detracts from the gag. The point of the gag is the physicality of the gag and, according to my understanding and most of my experience, the gag removes itself from the storyline. The gag is a mini story all itself. 

 

The hose gag is funny, to me, because of the suspense. Chasing the boy down and ending it with both of them running into the sunset would have still been funny. Retribution removes me from the enjoyment of the mini-escape that the gag gave me and puts me back into a more reality based mode. To me, the best gags are complete unto themselves and can stand alone from the storyline. 

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Just one look at 'America's funniest home videos' reminds us that certain people prank or pull gags on people all the time.  It just so happens that it is popular to record that gag for others to see. They usually pick someone serious minded (or not!) to make something go wrong on them.  The fun comes in seeing the protagonist's reaction.  Our fun comes not only in seeing the protagonist reaction but also in seeing what happens to the antagonist.  Many shows make use of the gag.  'I Love Lucy' comes to mind.

 

The antagonists have gotten smart though:  If they can pull the gag and get it recorded and be there to see the reaction without the protagonist knowing it, that is also very funny to me.

 

This film opened the door to many of the possibilities.  I'm thinking of someone I could prank right now...

 

...This truly is "France's Funniest Home Videos" circa 1896! How simple and how universal slapstick humor is so that 120 years later this still is a funny to watch...we side with the protagonist, we can telegraph what is going to happen, and very importantly we all live outside that 4th wall, and can laugh when we get the payoff...it was up to people like Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, ( to name only a few) to give us characters we could empathize with to bring those gags to the next level and hit home with our experiences....

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I took a French films class in college, and this was one of the first films that we watched, right after the one about the train. According to my professor, this may well be both the first comedy and the first movie with a plot. It may also be the first staged film, as it was almost certainly not candid. This is certainly a landmark film. 

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I find this remake funnier than the original, because it has another layer: a few seconds of very rudimentary character establishment before launching into the plot.

 

What if there was one more layer? What if, instead of being punished by the gardener, the boy tripped over the hose while running from the gardener, and fell flat on his face into the muddy flowerbed?

 

I think it would be funnier this way, seeing him brought down by his own over-confidence, like Wile E Coyote.

 

What do you think?

I completely agree. This was very early cinema, and you are thinking of complexities they had not even considered until a couple years later. Maybe a modern remake is in order...

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From the bit I saw, the protagonist is the boy, whom stepped on the hose and then lifted his foot from the hose in order to spray the gardener in the face, and this covers why he did it as well. 

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I'm definitely not a film connaisseur, but to me there seem to be some elements to this short film which I definitely have seen in other slapstick scenes as well, though not necessarily all together:

- There is the protagonist and the antagonist; a rather simple, two-part basic construct. (Think of the many comical duo's and 'fight scenes' in slapstick)

- There is something else involved too, an object in this case, but it can be a part of the set, a third party, an aninmal... This creates a connection between the two characters and forms a basis for what is going to happen. It's not like the joke is hidden in a deeply philosophical dialogue ;) (Laurel and Hardy's water fight, the dog in Girl Shy, etc) 

- The climax is something we know is coming. Timing is what makes it funny, despite its obvious predictability. (For example, Charlie Chaplin's fall from the ladder in the pawn shop scene)

- This is followed by an actual, direct struggle between the two characters. (Countless laurel & Hardy scenes ;)


I would love to hear from other examples from you. Perhaps you know a scene which contains all these elements and resembles it very closely?
 

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Spanking was an acceptable form of punishment.  The remake was made by a woman, Alice Guy Blache, who remade many Lumiere films in learning the industry for herself.  Perhaps she felt retaliation (an eye for an eye -  or in this case an eye full of water for an eye full of water) for punishment would be a better ending or may have fit her personality. 

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I think it's interesting that some people see the boy as perhaps being from a different social class than the gardener and that the ultimate comeuppance the boy gets has social undertones. I didn't notice that difference in class when I saw the short film. They didn't seem to be wearing clothes that would indicate such a thing. Is it simply because the gardener is working and the boy seems to have some time on his hands (enough to play a joke)? Could one also say it's as much about age/generations as it is about working class v. middle class? I'm not sure it's either, but these are interesting questions some of the previous posts brought to mind.

 

This film is a classic example of slapstick, and as such, I definitely felt the tension of the impending payoff. The gardener is forceful in his handling of the boy as he drags him back toward the hose. Even though it only ends in a "sprinkling" of water, the scene is quite a physical one and I'm not surprised that the earlier version ended more violently with the gardener actually "hitting" the prankster.

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The interesting thing is that I could describe the first few seconds to my sister and she could tell what was coming next. These gags are things that everyone has experience with, something everyone shares.

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I found the clip delightful!  I was not surprised though, as this gag has become cliche.  I had never seen this before but I felt like I had. I thought maybe Oliver & Hardy, or The 3 Stooges?  Benny Hill?.  I don;t know.  I recognized it from somewhere in my memory, or a memory.  

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 I had never seen this before but I felt like I had. I thought maybe Oliver & Hardy, or The 3 Stooges?  Benny Hill?.  I don;t know.  I recognized it from somewhere in my memory, or a memory.

 

I agree, as this gag has been seen in Three Stooges shorts as well as Benny Hill. Even though it's not mentioned in the course, this gag is also common in the cartoon genre. It's a simple gag, even done sometime in our own lives as well. What I enjoyed most about this film, is that even approximately 120 years after it was made (or less if it's a remake), the gag is still as funny as it was the first time it was shown to the French public.

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What makes this film be one of the first slapstick comedies is how basic the gag is. The boy is simply giving the gardener a hard time by interfering with his work by stepping on the hose, and as the gardener is trying to figure out the problem, the boy releases his foot off the hose and water starts being shot right up the gardener's nose. I believe the boy does this because his only goal here is to cause mischief at the gardener's expense, only to realize that the gardener, after being drenched, decides to give the boy a taste of his own medicine, as what another student here pointed out.

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This shows you that a great gag is timeless and never grows old. This gag has been repeated down through the movies and always makes people think they have seen it before but can't quite remember when or where :lol:

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When I first watched the clip from L'Arroseur Arrose, I figured out that it can all begin with a slap and build from there. Sometimes the gag works, and in other instances it doesn't. I guess it depends on the situation overall, especially if it needs slapstick or not. I need to look into the film, because it looks promising.

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The film " L'ARROSEUR ARROSE "(1896) is a beautiful piece of evidence how the filming industry began to change and progress into bringing story telling to a whole new level. First of all we have a protagonist and a character which provides a certain depth. The boy, brings comedy to this film in a simple manner. Now a days, jokes are very complex however it can be seen that with one simple joke, a lot can be done.

The exaggeration of movements also allows for us as the viewer to get emotionally invested with the characters. We can feel the mischief of the boy but at the same time we are worried with what is to happen to the man. Thus, when the prank is pulled off, one laughs and feels bad for the man but also fears what is to happen to the boy.

In 44 seconds, we are given characters, a plot, and the problem. These are all essential to a film and this is exacted with style.

I may not know much about film but I can say that with short films like these, directors were progressing leading to the type of films that we had today. This is why I appreciate silent film and all of what it brought. :) 

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I'm sure we'll get more into this subject as the course progresses, but I find it interesting that in two-person slapstick, a gag is almost always set up by the "straight" character, who winds up as the victim of the prat or joke. This formula is different in one-person gags (such as I'm sure we'll see with Chaplin and Keaton).

 

I also think the unsuspecting nature of the protagonist lends to the comedy. When the water stops, the gardener looks into the nozzle, not back at the hose (where the boy is standing), to figure the problem out. This, in turn, sets up the punchline, when the boy steps off the hose, shooting water into the gardener's face.

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This first slapstick movie includes an easily identifiable "straight" or innocent protagonist and  mischievous antagonist. However, unlike the "struggle" between protagonists and antagonists in other types of stories, the goal in slapstick is to create humor as the two characters interact. It is also interesting that so much slapstick is based on pain (violence) real or implied, but always exxagerated. Why do we laugh at another person's pain? Is it because we've all been there or because we, as members of the audience, are safe, or both?

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I enjoy re-reading the posts relating to the first lesson of the program.

The short "first Slapstick comedy" on record shows few elements, that now allow me to break it into small pieces.

I have also thought about the unexpected part where the protagonist (the righteous man) looks into the opening of the hose, instead of the back portion of the hose, where a problem with the water-flow would be typically evaluated. Would that imply that his problem solving skills are not really as advanced as his job status would require? Does that give more justification to the antagonist (the mischievious boy) to play the prank on him? that being the stage, the object is quite a monotone waterhose that has the function to allow the water jet to sprinkle the garden ... duuhh! ... but wait... what cool stuff can come out of that scene in a movie that is less than a minute long...

... Aha... I say now

 

1. EXAGGERATION!!!

then the elaborate movements of the gardener into looking in and around the hose

2. PHYSICAL

then looking at it and in the opening yet again

3. ROUTINE REPETITION

and then when the water splashes back, but he doesn't flinch of any pain or shows any injury

....clearly 4. PRETEND

and finally

mimicking 5. AGGRESSION ...lots of butt-kicking

 

....the laughter builds ups starting with the stopped water, then when the gardener looks into the opening and finally by the time the water flows into his face it is hilarious. The violence at the end is just a relief to ensure that the perpetrator gets his fair share of punishment.

Great movie and excellent definition of Slapstick Comedy.

Edited by razvan36
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One of the first things that jumps out at me with this short is whether we can divide slapstick into things that are practical jokes as opposed to physically funny things that happen to people.  Or more abstractly, things that people do to each other vs. things that happen to people.  The first category is intentional--someone thinks to perform an action on another person--and the second category isn't--someone tries to do something with serious purpose and it goes awry.  L'Arroseur Arrose is a practical joke--someone doing something mean (or maybe not so mean) to another person.  It's the pie in the face, Moe poking Curly in the eyes, Jerry slamming Tom's thumb with a hammer, or Kit 'n' Kaboodle blasting each other to pieces in an **** of bloodlust.  So I'll ask, is practical-joke based slapstick the lower art form?

 

The other thing that jumped out at me is what gardening was like in the late 1800s.  Oh my gosh--that guy's working outside in summer in wool pants with a long apron on to keep himself clean.  How miserable.  And his canvas garden hose (with a powered water supply) was a recent invention, wasn't it?  Is that part of slapstick?  Exploiting the new and unfamiliar for its laugh potential? How many movie scenes were there from the 50s and 60s with someone losing control of a computer with IBM cards flying out of it?  So maybe slapstick is our way to work out our discomfort with modernity.

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