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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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There are other wonderful British documentaries about slapstick. Paul Merton (an actor and writer with a passion for silent comedy) did several which are on YouTube, and wrote a book called "Silent Comedy". He does live presentations on the subject too.

 

When I was a kid, I'd rush home from school to watch "The Goodies" on CBC TV. This *BBC* series is a masterpiece of satire, surrealism, and glorious slapstick---and it's all on YouTube for you to discover. "Kitten Kong", "Kung Fu Kapers"/"Ecky Thump", and "It Might As Well Be String" are real gems! The Goodies themselves were in the Cambridge Footlights shows with John Cleese and Graham Chapman. One Goodie (Tim Brooke-Taylor) co-wrote and was in the very first performance of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch...which is why the Pythons always give him a writing credit for it.

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This first slapstick film, in essence, really is no different than the movies that came after it, especially those immediately preceding it in the silent era.  Those making comedies in the silent era had to make their films exceptionally simple because they only had actions to portray it.  "L'Arrouseur Arrose" portrays something so simple and something we all have done, which gives the audience the ability to connect to the film and that in turn makes it all that much more powerful.  Comedy should be simple because if you have to explain it, then it isn't funny.  

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As pointed out in the topic description, this was a departure for Louis Lumiere, where he filmed more serious aspects of life. Even though this is funny, does it really differ from other aspects of life? This prank still happens today and people still laugh whether in film or not. Would we not all try to spray the kid in the film back?

 

Taking a regular action in life and taking it to absurd levels is what makes it funny. The chase in this case, even the spanking in the original film would have been funny. 

 

Chaplin, Keaton and others have all done the same thing, take everyday life and poke fun at it. In the General, Buster Keaton was doing what he thought was his duty but throw in obstacles and funny things happen as he tries to get around them. 

 

 

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I liked the all too brief early short from France's Lumiere brothers even though it is quite crude & rough by today's standards I can also see how elements could be expanded on & developed into early and modern slapstick comedy. The beauty of comedy is if it's done well, u think, 'I can do that" but like Fred Astaire's dancing, you can't. I've read interviews with alot of yesterdays and today's comedians and good comedy is a lot of work and never seems 2b appreciated esp. by the voting academy. For example, can u name a best picture comedy? I can't think of a one.

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The first cinematic slapstick is so simple that in its day must have made audiences ooh and awe and laugh.  I must admit it made me smile and chuckle a bit realizing it's from the 1890s.  Who knew that from a simple physical gag that this would be improved into the funniest routines that entertainment ever created.  The poor gardner's point of view is "what is happening?" while the kid is "I'm going to have some fun."  It's the kids idea of fun that leads to the comic/slapstick situation.  We've all been there, victims of innocent pranks or even tripping over furniture...laughing at others' comic misfortune makes us forget ours.  It will be an eye-opener to see how Lumiere's simple gag evolves into slapstick.

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I know almost nothing about slapstick comedy and I'm eager to know more.

 

I associate slapstick with actions experienced by or performed by physical bodies.  In "L'Arroseur Arrose," the comedy is not just in the action but is in the fact that the audience members can "feel" the comedy.  What makes it so funny to see someone sprayed in the face with water?  

 

Well, we enjoy the suspense when we see what is happening with the hose and we enjoy the surprise (both that of the joyous sprayer and the surprised sprayed?) of the characters, but I think that we also react (physically--our faces may grimace, our eyes widen, our mouths expand in laughter; we may react by rearing back in our seats or cringing) with and in our bodies to the physicality of the joke.  We know what that sudden spray of cold water must feel like and we can, on the level of the senses, have a reaction based on our own sense-memories. It's something more than just identification with the experience. I think there must be a sensuous component to our response.

 

I do not know if what I learn in the course will reinforce my idea about the physical nature of slapstick (both what it IS and where some of our enjoyment of it comes from) but right now I am wondering whether it should be added to the "body genres" explored by Linda Williams in her article "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess" (1991).  

 

She identifies horror, melodrama and pornography.

 

Perhaps we can add slapstick?

 

R. Martin

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I think it is the simplicity of this that distinguishes it as comedic rather than cruel. There's no context for these characters, and no room in which to feel bad for one or the other. We just enjoy what is objectively a funny moment. 

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Goodness such wonderfully informative and numerous posts! I've a lot of reading to catch up on all ready.  :)

 

Remakes have always fascinated me....  especially when hard on the heels of the original.  The number of films / skits this little gem has spawned is tremendous, as many here have mentioned. 

Still, it continues to be remade.  Here's a longer, newer version, but still the same. It's even titled, " The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895) Short Film: Lumière Brothers "

My personal take on the original film is that it establishes the everyday as acceptable.

it's Seinfeld in a nutshell.. and just like their "show about nothing." which they pitched to the network;  it's the wonderful, funny, realistic mundanity of this brief scene with which everyone is able to relate; either as the hapless gardener or the prankster.

It truly is a classic, as it has withstood the test of time.  

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I am new to the study of slapstick. The L'Arroseur Arrosé clip features two people, one who is performing an ordinary task of watering with a hose and the other who happens upon the watering. I do not find that there is a mean intent but do see one that is playful or whimsical. In other words, you could say it's boys being boys. As far as this being the seed(s) of more complex slapstick films that it would inspire, I would say yes. As humans, we react to things that are unexpected or that could have happened to us. For example, if I fall while I am walking, most humans would laugh in that it was not them that fell and they did not embarrass themselves, which is a relief. Now had I been hurt there most likely would be a different reaction. So for me, the slapstick as long as no one gets hurt is funny as long as it is unexpected. 

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I see the Gardener as a kind of every man character.  He's just going about his day trying to accomplish his task when the boy mischievously steps on the hose and releases it when the gardner looks into the nozzle.    He sees the boy and has that moment of realization that he's just been pranked.  Now the chase is on as he goes after the boy the same way you might go after someone who puts an ice cube down the back of your shirt.    I think its all in good fun and we share the moment with him.    This Gardner is  an early incarnation of  the hapless everyman that will emerge in Buster Keaton films. 

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The Short L’Arroseur Arrose’ is a very simple short. There is only two characters in the film and one prop.  Something that stood out to me was the usage of a prop.  The hose was the prop and the antagonist (Kid) used the prop against the protagonist (Man). But the protagonist (Man with hose) at the end also used it against the antagonist (kid).  I have been recently watching The 3 Stooges and can see that this simple set up in the short L’Arroseur Arrsoe’ definitely has influenced the future gags with props and getting revenge using props.

 

The fact the man watering his plants ended up spraying water on the kid made the sympathetic character (Man) behave in a way that was just like the kid in the film. To me that means they’re both juveniles, which also, to me, associates this type of gag with the future comedies like The 3 Stooges.  

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From WC to the Stooges, vaudeville translated well. They are still doing it with the sitcom era basically taking stand up acts like Ray Romano, Tim Allen, etc, etc etc and turning it into a show.

 

Even the Marx Brothers first film was basically a filming of their vaudeville act. So, I agree, there was a lot of slapstick even before film. And its universal. Everyone laughs when the professor gets a pie in the face, or slips in the mud, or gets stuck in cruise cabin. I love this class! I loved the Film Noir class, I learned a lot, but i'm a big fan of slapstick. My brothers and I used to watch Mel Brooks movies over and over again.  Hooray for Captain Spalding!

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 As you have mentioned, comedy can be a matter of surprise and anticipation and in my view, the anticipation factor is brilliant when presented by the right comedic actor. We will see a film later in this course, The Party, where Peter Sellers will telegraph every gag in the film and they are funny anyway which demonstrates his amazing talent. When you know exactly what is going to happen and you laugh at it anyway, genius!

What strikes me is the element of surprise. Most comedy is based on the element of surprise but in this film, the viewer is not necessarily going to be surprised by the outcome of releasing a foot from a hose. Perhaps the tension release is from the reaction where it seems only natural for an audience to react. As Steve Martin's comedy went his theory for his comedy routines was to have so much set up--with no punchline would force people to react at an appropriate time. The anticipation demands a release.

I am interested by the boy. Who is he? If it is at a house, and it is a house gardener--is the boy his or the family who pays the gardener? Perhaps it is also funny to see the boy brought down to the gardener's level when the gardener decides to chase after the boy and make him pay for what he has done. A upper class "snooty" kid getting what is coming to him. I know I enjoy seeing someone high and mighty being taken down a peg or two.

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As to later films which used elements of  L'Arroseur Arrosé, I remember watching an Our Gang short Second Childhood, in which a scene takes place where Granny is rocking on her chair, occasionally rocking over the watering hose and cutting of the water to Rascals who are trying to water her plants, and getting the expected faces-full of water when the chair comes off the hose.

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This short could go many ways for a story, Perhaps the gardner works for the kids family and the kid causes trouble just becausebhe can. It also speaks to the mischievious nature in us all, would we pass up the opportunity for some fun at someone elses expense? I think thats why slapstick has always made people laugh. None of us would want to be the receiver of the prank but it is funny to see it happen to others.

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In addition to the element of surprise that others have mentioned, I think what also establishes a format for future slapstick to follow, is the idea of the audience being able to anticipate what's going to happen.  When the gardener puts his face in the hose to see where the water went, the audience knows that he's going to end up with a face full of water.  Also, when you see the young man sneaking up on the gardener who is going about his work without noticing, you know that the young man is going to mess with him somehow.  It's also easy to assume that the gardener will retaliate in some manner.  What makes it fun is how the man will end up with a face full of water, how the young man will mess with him and how will the man seek his revenge? 

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Very short but it's easy to get the gist and like ghwood mentioned above, it's easy to see how this could be expanded upon.

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I am a long time fan of slapstick, took one movie class in college (way back in the late 1970s, UW-Madison) and find the first two parts of this course to be very fascinating.

 

It made me ponder - why do I like slapstick?

 

I believe it stems from slapstick cartoons such as the Road Runner and Tom & Jerry. These were very funny to a young, rather feisty, boy. Only later would I see my first cinema slapstick - probably The Three Stooges - and it was all the more funny in human form.

 

Then when I watched my favorite of all-time: Harold Lloyd, I began to appreciate the skills, nuances and athleticism.

 

I'm as pumped about this course as Inspector Clouseau is when he's sure he's caught Cato in their apartment.

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As to later films which used elements of  L'Arroseur Arrosé, I remember watching an Our Gang short Second Childhood, in which a scene takes place where Granny is rocking on her chair, occasionally rocking over the watering hose and cutting of the water to Rascals who are trying to water her plants, and getting the expected faces-full of water when the chair comes off the hose.

 

Thank you for mentioning the Our Gang (aka Little Rascals) short. These shorts were my favorites on television growing up. You can find Second Childhood on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah0NlGNfelA.

 

Enjoy (again)!

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Hey everyone! So excited for this class and for interacting with you all, learning and watching some amazing comedy greats together!!

 

I am an actor and a fellow Improv student, haha, so I am so thrilled to be learning even more about comedy in this class!

 

I really enjoyed watching this very first slapstick film. What I noticed right away, and what my first opinions/impressions were, is first of all the sinister and sneaky trait of the antagonist.

The way he hid from the gardener, like a sinister cat, and the gardener never detected him until it was too late.

The element of surprise, as alot of you have also been saying. Is comedy funny because there is always a surprise to it?!

The act of revenge- the tables are truly turned by end of this film! And is this not at its very core one of the top traits of slapstick, or even comedy in general? You slap me, I slap you back, You hit me with a pie, I trip you as you walk triumphantly away, etc? A thought.

Also, the music added alot to this little film. As an actor and a movie snob, I am always reminded of the true power of music in film. It adds to the emotion like no other element does. What would this little comedy have been like completely silent, without the jaunty music??

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All my beloved childhood shows employed slapstick. I remember watching the Three Stooges, Warner Bros. cartoons, Tom and Jerry, and a bunch of other shows that relied heavily on slapstick humor. Slapstick made it's way into classic tv shows like The Dick Van Dyke show and Three's Company that I learned to appreciate as I grew older.  Sam Raimi and his buddies used slapstick in thei Evil Dead movies, and it is fantastic. Slapstick never grows old; it appeals to us at some very basic level. 

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What contributes to the legacy of L'Arroseur Arrosé is that its storyline resonates universally. No matter what age or class standing, place of origin or personal sense of humor, it is funny. Simple in execution but not in entertainment. Also, how many slapstick comedies rely on revenge tactics to get their laughs? I immediately think of Roscoe Arbuckle and the iconic pie in the face gag that he created.

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As I looked at the first film clip, I found myself thinking two things. First, was the protagonist seriously injured? If he was, it disqualifies as slapstick. There's a thin line between slapstick and malicious intent. I looked for the man's reaction to being squirted. He's okay? Then I can laugh. Second, the film brought back memories, not of other slapstick films, but of the Sunday comic strips. Specifically, it reminded me of "The Katzenjammer Kids", which was popular around the same time as this film clip. The two young German immigrants in that comic strip were always playing pranks on their elders, much in the same vein as the film. Which leads me to the question: how much of an influence were "The Funnies" on slapstick in film?

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Nice to know that this is the very first slapstick comedy movie.

It feels like the anticipation of humor appears from the routine of the protagonist, witty disrupted by the physical interference of the antagonist. The object deserves its definition: it acts accordingly to the powers at work.

Great clip!

Razvan

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Simply amazing how MUCH is packed in this very short piece! Still funny!

 

It is simply wonderful to be able to watch the same movie today that people more than 100 years ago enjoyed! This is one of the big benefits of cinema as art and entertainment: sharing thoughts and pleasures across the decades with many generations of people. Theater is great, but you can only imagine what Welles' Voodoo Macbeth was like in person. We can ALL enjoy and enjoy again Citizen Kane!

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