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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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Looking at the film through the eyes of a student, i realize that one reason the viewer laughs is because we already know whats going to happen to the gardener. It's not the element of surprise so much as the element of expectation. We can't wait for the water hit that guy in the face! The other reason the audience gets a chuckle is because it's human nature to to find harmless fun at the expense of another person. As an act of contrition, the watcher then puts themselves in the place of the protagonist mentally saying, 'If that happened to me I would ...  (though we really don't know what we'd do and I would venture to guess some of us would DO nothing, but yell.

In having the gardener turn the hose on the boy, the film gives us the opportunity to live vicariously and get the satisfaction we seek. That is of course if we identify with the protagonist. Were we to connect better with the antagonist we might have been pulling for the boy and wonder what other clever though devilish deeds he might do next. In fact, we might be anxious to know when the next film will be ready.

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It occurs to me that without context, this film is potentially cruel.  I could see it as some rich kid messing with the gardener.  Sure, in the one version he gets spanked, so there's comeuppance.  But in the other, he just gets sprayed with the hose in return, which probably wouldn't teach him much of a lesson.  It kind of has the feel of him "getting away with it."

 

That's one of the things that makes slapstick work:  That it happens to the right people in the right circumstances.  In this case, we really don't know.  Not that it probably mattered to an audience still in awe of the process of film itself.

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L'arroseur Arrosé is the obvious precursor to the slapstick comedic greats. Many often cite Chaplin and Keaton as the premiere Comedy Kings. I do wonder, however, if devoted fans of these legendary jesters know even they possibly drew from another source.

 

I have a great affinity for Chaplin's film, City Lights, and yet had zero knowledge of how a short film from the mid 1890s had helped inspire it to such great effect. Not to say Chaplin wasn't a genius (no doubt he was), but it just goes to show even the greatest artists draw from their contemporaries.

 

Often times slapstick is simplistic in its premise, its setup, quickly achieved from the basic everyday objects and occurrences as evidenced in L'arroseur Arrosé. A gardener, a hose, and a prankster- this can easily equate to a water in the face moment. Such simplicity in it's plot and it's climax. And the great execution was achieved both brilliantly and effectively by Louis Lumiere.

 

I imagine the early silent comedic greats had keen perspectives, observing the seemingly small things in everyday life and how these incidents could be turned into an act bringing about laughter and entertainment. This is where the genius lies- The ability to capture an occurrence and craft it in such a specific way that life is turned into art.

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Hello everyone, 

I'd like to share my ideas with you. First of all, I don't know anything about TCM and I'm interested to know more about slapstick films. I've noticed that movies in the past were very short not only silent. 

I'm so excited to go on and complete this course to know more about classic slapstick films. 

 

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Looking at the film through the eyes of a student, i realize that one reason the viewer laughs is because we already know whats going to happen to the gardener. It's not the element of surprise so much as the element of expectation. We can't wait for the water hit that guy in the face! The other reason the audience gets a chuckle is because it's human nature to to find harmless fun at the expense of another person. As an act of contrition, the watcher then puts themselves in the place of the protagonist mentally saying, 'If that happened to me I would ...  (though we really don't know what we'd do and I would venture to guess some of us would DO nothing, but yell.

In having the gardener turn the hose on the boy, the film gives us the opportunity to live vicariously and get the satisfaction we seek. That is of course if we identify with the protagonist. Were we to connect better with the antagonist we might have been pulling for the boy and wonder what other clever though devilish deeds he might do next. In fact, we might be anxious to know when the next film will be ready.

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The image of the gardener getting hit with the water reminds me of a YouTube video where a guy's dog grabbed a water hose and chased his master all over the yard hitting him with water. Unlike this silent film, the man was laughing and screaming as he tried to get away. This is classic slapstick.

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My first thought while watching this clip was that the gardener was the villain and the boy was the hero, I'm not sure why or how I came to that conclusion but because I did, I found myself rooting for the boy to get away. I feel if he got away the gag would have been that much funnier. Does anyone else feel that way?

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My first thought while watching this clip was that the gardener was the villain and the boy was the hero, I'm not sure why or how I came to that conclusion but because I did, I found myself rooting for the boy to get away. I feel if he got away the gag would have been that much funnier. Does anyone else feel that way?

Hi Richiehybrid, you know, after watching the clip I was wondering how it might have been different if the boy had gotten away. I was also trying to think if in more current films in which pranks are played, the antagonist gets away and we never see them. Although I haven't watched a huge number of modern films with pranks like this, it seems like with a protagonist/antagonist set up, the funniness is also in the relationship the two have. I think about myself - if I played a prank on someone, I'd stick around to see the other person's expression because I would "care" about the reaction.

 

How do you think the film or the prank would be different if the boy did get away?

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It's not the element of surprise so much as the element of expectation.

Starcrossed,

I think you really nailed the idea - if you look at how many times the gardener looks at the end of the hose to try to figure out what is going on, and we the audience, know! The anticipation makes it funny as well as the prank itself.

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My first thought while watching this clip was that the gardener was the villain and the boy was the hero, I'm not sure why or how I came to that conclusion but because I did, I found myself rooting for the boy to get away. I feel if he got away the gag would have been that much funnier. Does anyone else feel that way?

That had not occurred to me, but it's an interesting point, and I do agree that it would have been funnier!

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It occurs to me that without context, this film is potentially cruel.... That's one of the things that makes slapstick work:  That it happens to the right people in the right circumstances.

OnionHead,

When I signed up for this course I was hoping that the slapstick examples would not show anything too cruel. What some people find funny as a prank is not something I would find funny. I wonder if that's a cultural/social thing for me, or maybe there's an historical sense to it, I don't know for sure. But this very first film seems funny to me, and as you said, it is probably because I have context.

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I am new to slapstick with the exception of enjoying a Buster Keaton movie or the old I Love Lucy Shows.  I use to like film Noir, or so I thought until I took the class like this on Noir last summer.  Now I feel I ENJOY film Noir.  It is so different with a background in the hows and whys.  I hope this class does that for my enjoyment of slapstick and opens the door to watching so many more films on TCM that I have been ignoring.  The first short of course made me laugh and brought back memories of doing my own slapstick with kids in grammar school.  It never gets old even though you know what is going to happen.  

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I agree totally. I am taking this course for the same reason--I must be missing something, right? I do love dark comedy and screwball comedy, but have never really enjoyed more than a few minutes of slapstick. Several of the films on the syllabus are what I think of as screwball, where the jokes and insults are more verbal than physical as in slapstick. I am also interested in the technology behind filmmaking and am delighted that we are starting at the very beginning. :)

Hi nmmoser and Thumpersma,

What about more current forms of slapstick? Perhaps I misunderstand what slapstick is - is it only historical comedy? When I think of slapstick, I also think of funny situations that happen to people. What about the person who gets locked out of their house and goes through all sorts of antics to try to get in? Would you consider that slapstick? Or is that just physical humor. What do you consider to be the differences?

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It was interesting to see how a complete story could be told in just 0:45.  There's a sense of anticipation as we know what will happen to the gardener before it happens, based on our viewing angle where we can see the mischievous boy, a 19th century Bart Simpson as we see from the poster that linked to the similar gag from The Simpsons.

 

The shorter version seemed to be funnier to me, perhaps due to the way the gardener gets his revenge on the boy in each film.

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I also enjoyed this short clip.  I was always amazed at the time line for the creation of films and the development of the craft.  In this delightful short clip I could see where Red Skelton and so many others developed their ideas for the characters they created.  Simple is always better.

 

I'm new to this forum and to the analysis of slapstick in film.  I'm extremely excited to be a part of this exploration.

I loved Red Skelton! Oh, thanks for reminding me of all the times I laughed til I cried watching him. Very fond memories, such hilarity.

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L'arroseur Arrosé is the obvious precursor to the slapstick comedic greats. Many often cite Chaplin and Keaton as the premiere Comedy Kings. I do wonder, however, if devoted fans of these legendary jesters know even they possibly drew from another source.

I have a great affinity for Chaplin's film, City Lights, and yet had zero knowledge of how a short film from the mid 1890s had helped inspire it to such great effect. Not to say Chaplin wasn't a genius (no doubt he was), but it just goes to show even the greatest artists draw from their contemporaries.

One of Chaplin's greatest bits (the "Mirror" routine), was borrowed from Max Linder, whom Chaplin considered the Master. Later, it would be borrowed by many others---notably Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball.

 

Benny Hill idolized Chaplin, and was amazed to discover, after Chaplin's death, that his idol had off-air VHS tapes of ALL of Benny's TV specials to date! Benny borrowed from all the silent comedy greats, and I love playing "Where Did That Gag Come From?" while watching his shows. Heck, Benny even borrowed from HIMSELF, reworking the same sketches, gags, and songs, multiple times, through his years at the BBC and then at Thames.

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Hello once again (a year later coming out of the summer of darkness into the fall of laughter)  It was nice to read all the peoples view points on one small clip. but yes this clip as someone put it has been around since film began. I thought the man who was watering with the hose would just start to spray the other guy down but no he had to put the hose down and chase after him then spray him. I also liked the same clip from the simpsons point of view that one was kind of cute. kind of a wink and a nod to it all.

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This is very new  and interesting to me all at the same time. I can't wait for more classics to learn about and see what the world of TCM has in store. :) Still wondering what would have happened if the boy had gotten away and would he felt angry or shocked if the man would have hosed him down as well. Would have been well deserved

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Hi Richiehybrid, you know, after watching the clip I was wondering how it might have been different if the boy had gotten away. I was also trying to think if in more current films in which pranks are played, the antagonist gets away and we never see them. Although I haven't watched a huge number of modern films with pranks like this, it seems like with a protagonist/antagonist set up, the funniness is also in the relationship the two have. I think about myself - if I played a prank on someone, I'd stick around to see the other person's expression because I would "care" about the reaction.

 

How do you think the film or the prank would be different if the boy did get away?

Susan E, I feel the high point was when the gardener was hit in the face with the water and his hat flew off. Now picture this, as the boy is running away the gardener trips over the hose and falls in a puddle as the boy fades in the distance. That would have been a double laugh.

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One hundred and twenty years later, the gag in this clip might be considered trite for purposes of inclusion in a film (although it's still hysterically funny if you can get to see this happening, in real life, and it does), but I have to think that it was an incredibly entertaining thing to see, in 1896, considering that there must have been a rampant fascination with seeing anything moving, in this new invention called "motion pictures."

 

An amazing thing about looking at these films is that they provide a form of time travel-- being able to see images of the world over a hundred years ago is a fascinating experience. In particular, the Blu Ray versions of the early Chaplin films provide, for the most part, crystal-clear images of the clothes people wore, the environments in which they lived, and the landscapes around them. But I guess we'll be seeing more of that as we move along in this course...

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One of Chaplin's greatest bits (the "Mirror" routine), was borrowed from Max Linder, whom Chaplin considered the Master. Later, it would be borrowed by many others---notably Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball.

 

Benny Hill idolized Chaplin, and was amazed to discover, after Chaplin's death, that his idol had off-air VHS tapes of ALL of Benny's TV specials to date! Benny borrowed from all the silent comedy greats, and I love playing "Where Did That Gag Come From?" while watching his shows. Heck, Benny even borrowed from HIMSELF, reworking the same sketches, gags, and songs, multiple times, through his years at the BBC and then at Thames.

Great information on Lucille Ball! I, for one, cannot wait until the course reaches the week exploring Ball, and her own implementations of slapstick. It's wonderful to watch artists pay homage to their own personal heroes. And interesting, in saying the least, to watch how different artists use various comedic bits in their own acts.

 

Thanks for the info on Chaplin, Marx and Benny Hill as well! :)

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It occurs to me that without context, this film is potentially cruel.  I could see it as some rich kid messing with the gardener.  Sure, in the one version he gets spanked, so there's comeuppance.  But in the other, he just gets sprayed with the hose in return, which probably wouldn't teach him much of a lesson.  It kind of has the feel of him "getting away with it."

 

That's one of the things that makes slapstick work:  That it happens to the right people in the right circumstances.  In this case, we really don't know.  Not that it probably mattered to an audience still in awe of the process of film itself.

That's an interesting viewpoint. When I viewed the film, I thought there was a different relation. I thought they were either related or neighbors. But looking closely at the very early movie, you can see the character who pulled the prank, was (of course) getting more enjoyment out of it. On the other side of the prank, the other character was obviously not pleased. He looked very serious, but I wonder if he got any pleasure out of the retaliation.

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Thank you for sharing information about the Laughing Matters documentary with Rowan Atkinson! I would love to see that! Shame it's not on Youtube, but I'll keep a note to look for it in it's entirety in the future!  I watch a lot of British comedy as well, and you see a lot of slapstick and prank type humor throughout. 

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=laughing+matters+rowan+atkinson

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I have thoroughly enjoyed my first 24 hours in the course.  I am impressed by the level of knowledge shared by my fellow students. Your insights are valuable.  I am amazed at the depth and degree of sophistication of the comments shared with just a short clip and find that I will learn a great degree from both our professor and my course colleagues.

 

I approach this course with a certain level of simplicity.  I enjoy a good laugh.  Having raised four children, I offer saw slapstick and physical humor as the kids pulled pranks on their siblings and their dad.  Sometimes, I returned the favor.  Like others, I grew up with Looney Tunes.  I admit my current fondness for Family Guy and The Simpsons.

 

As for film in general, I have always wanted to learn more, and  now - in semi-retirement  - I have the opportunity and time to pursue my passions.  I appreciate the structure this course provides, as well as opening my eyes to pioneers who I did not existed. 

 

As some others have posted, I enjoy some physical humor, but are more prone to enjoy word play, some black humor, and what my friends would consider inappropriate humor.  Maybe these factors explain why some of my friends avoid me!  :)

 

In any case, thank you to Dr. Edwards and TCM for their course leadership.  I look forward to knowing what is around the corner. And of course, with slapstick, it never hurts to get a glimpse on what is around the corner.

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This short little clip is fascinating on so many levels.

 

First, what is my reaction to watching the snippet?

 

My tendency is to look back at this through the lens of 120 years of history. The conclusion, by modern "standards" and looking back through those lens, the clip is outdated and the joke elementary. It's trite, cute, and not as sophisticated as the product we demand for today.

 

Of course this always leads me to a second consideration, wondering what the reaction might have been for first time viewers? And this is where the richness of this clip comes in at full display.

 

What was it like for all those people watching these moving images for the first time? What did they think? What was it like for them to sit in a darkened room filled with friends and strangers watching these images flicker and unfold on a screen?

 

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), political commentator, wrote of his fascination of the "mesmerized" audiences he encountered in the motion picture theaters and how they "breathlessly awaited" the outcome of what they watched. While the new moving picture technology was truly a sight to behold, Lippmann was more fascinated in the effects the viewing experience had on the public and used his influence to persuade movers and shakers to use the new technology towards that end.

 

So while "The Sprinkler Sprinkled" seems primitive and ineffectual to our visually oversaturated world, when one considers where we've come from, one can't help but walk away with an abundance of appreciation for film and comedy beyond the realm of nostalgia.

 

That is, if we attempt to look at them anew.

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