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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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It hadn't occurred to me before rewatching this film tonight, but who *is* the protagonist of the piece? Most will say the gardener--he's referenced in the title (depending on the translation you choose), and is the first character encountered, so it appears to be his story. But, translate this scenario forward 40 or 50 years.... Elmer Fudd is watering his garden, and Bugs Bunny sneaks in to play a prank. Now whose story is it?

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I love this short slapstick film. I've seen it previously when I was going to school for film at ASU. It's so great because it's just every day life. My siblings would do the same during a summer day of watering the lawn. The audience knows the boy is going to do something to the hose as soon as they see him walking behind the gardner. I do wonder what the relationship is between these two characters. However, it's not necessary to know that information to know what is going to happen. It's so funny seeing the water splash into the older man's face and having his character wet the child. This film reminds me of the feature film Bicycle Thief and Italian neorealism. 

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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?

 

I agree with you that this prank still happens today and that it transcends time. I can remember doing this, but I would kink the hose and try to get my sisters to look into the hose so I could do this. My niece and nephew do this to each other. 

 

I like that even though we are looking at the first slap stick comedy it is something almost everyone can relate too.

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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?

To your first though, I was just the opposite. When the gardener was hit by the water I first chuckled then I was concerned about his condition. I hope that doesn't make me a terrible person. LOL

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I agree with you that this prank still happens today and that it transcends time. I can remember doing this, but I would kink the hose and try to get my sisters to look into the hose so I could do this. My niece and nephew do this to each other. 

 

I like that even though we are looking at the first slap stick comedy it is something almost everyone can relate too.

 

I was kinda thinking along those lines too, there's something of a timelessness in slapstick...we can still laugh at this film that was made over 100 years ago which is truly incredible. Society has changed so much but humor still remains :)

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Hello, classmates. Forgive me if someone has already discussed this, but the thing that I always equated with early slapstick was that it transcended the need for sound. Sure, silly sound effects and exaggerated reactions (like those of The Three Stooges) took slapstick further, but initially, as this early silent film proves, it was not needed. Much simpler than writing dialogue and then designing and inserting dialogue cards into a film, slapstick could be filmed in one take, and elicit sizable, satisfying audience reactions. Ease of production, coupled with high rewards, was surely enticing to other early film producers. I suspect that the discovery of slapstick on film was regarded as a revelation! I'm excited to learn more about this topic as the class continues. 

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This may have been touched on before, but I think one of the reasons slapstick works isn't just the physical comedy, but it's the little guy getting one up on the powers that be. The film wouldn't have been funny if it were an adult doing this to a child. I think there's something in all of us that identifies with the kid in the movie. We don't know why he did it, but we're pretty sure the gardener deserved it.

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This may have already been mentioned, but what I notice with the origins of Slapstick comedy is the physicality and how it plays a major factor. What you clearly see in "L'arroseur Arrose" is how the whole body plays an important role in slapstick comedy and  continues to do so to this day. This film has served as a major template because physical comedy seems to be at the root of Slapstick like 'The Three Stooges', Chaplin films, and even in the more modern films (Mel Brooks films as examples). 

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Am I possibly the last one to comment on this? Sorry...

 

Anyway, this film definitely set the standard for slapstick moving forward. Simple gag turns into someone getting angry, and the chase begins. Definitely can see the same sort of things in all films going forward.

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Is this the first "GET OFF MY LAWN!" moment. It's usually played out more on the small screen, but I couldn't help but think of the "Grumpy Old Man vs Kid Menace" archetypes. I automatically sympathized with the boy and assumed the man was mean. I wonder what 1895 audience's thought about the characters. The poster featuring the audience laughter at the moment of water contact with face, makes me think I'm in good company.

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Is this the first "GET OFF MY LAWN!" moment. It's usually played out more on the small screen, but I couldn't help but think of the "Grumpy Old Man vs Kid Menace" archetypes. I automatically sympathized with the boy and assumed the man was mean. I wonder what 1895 audience's thought about the characters. The poster featuring the audience laughter at the moment of water contact with face, makes me think I'm in good company.

Agreed about siding w/ the youngling in most of these. hahha

 

I found it curious that the poster for the film gave it away!  Then again, who doesn't want to see someone ELSE get squirted :) ?

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Hello all I just found out about this course and I am hoping to wlak away from this with a deeper understanding of the world of slap stick. For me the 3 stooges are king but want to see how the whole genre of slapstick came to be. the short linked was funny. I am curious to see the change from physical slapstick to cerebral slapstick.

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I like how this first example of Slapstick does show the formula that will be used for other films. The formula being a set-up of the gag followed by the gag and then retribution. With out this formula a gag or routine would and could just be seen as physical abuse but using this formula the filmmakers allow for a fun comedic act to be played out. 

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The gardner just wants to water his plants in the grass so that his plants can grow and flourish. Let's say that the antagonist in the film was his neighbor and that he just wants a reaction from the gardener just for fun. The legacy has involved usually an innocent bystander and a mischievous prankster just for comic fare nowadays the idea would be simple and tame. As the evolution of comedy has evolved over the years. So the film set a precedent for other comic films to follow as an example as well as television. This film I found out was referenced in an episode of The Simpsons Season 14 episode 5 titled "Helter Shelter" where Bart suggested that they go outside and see Homer drinking from a hose just to enjoy their merriment since there is nothing exciting on television anymore as an example.

I want to add that I also felt like there was a nod to this in The Simpsons episode A Star is Burns that had Hans Moleman, who typically is cast as an old, weak and simply naive character suffering constant humorous misfortunte such as his attempt to move his house by car which was thrawted by Homer's impatience and resulted in it's destruction but also the claim that "drinking made him look like this and he's only 31 years old." Anyway in this episode Hans Moleman presents an old timey silent short called Man Getting Hit By Football which plays out as expected. There is the silent music, the same concise setup and obviously a predictable enough ending. The Simpsons has plenty of nods to the silent era in it's episodes and this one was no exception.

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I'm just so excited to be on the forum now. I've been trying to get on for days. Are you sure this is not a nightmare horror genre? ???? OK now back to the topic. I dig the first video we watched. Slapstick. The funny thing about any slapstick set up is you have to have a very serious character. This character is minding his own business i.e. watering the lawn or whatever when the Sara second character comes in with shenanigans. Slipping on a banana, banana pie in the face . That is my initial impression of the joy of slapstick. And again more importantly I'm on the message board. I'm so happy. ????????????

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I found the moment of suspense the most intriguing. That anticipation of the climax the most thrilling. The act itself was comical, yes, but the moment before seemed to hold the most emotion. Then the release was in the laughter at his plight. And the longer that moment is held, the bigger the realise. It seems simple in retrospect.

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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??

Interesting point.  Would we have thought it was as funny if the gardener hadn't caught the boy and soaked him?  I think I would have felt sorry for the gardener and a little annoyed at the boy.  But since the gardener evened the score, the humor remained.

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I found the moment of suspense the most intriguing. That anticipation of the climax the most thrilling. The act itself was comical, yes, but the moment before seemed to hold the most emotion. Then the release was in the laughter at his plight. And the longer that moment is held, the bigger the realise. It seems simple in retrospect.

The pace of the music set the suspense.  The dramatic pause before the water squirted out at the gardener made me feel like I was looking down the barrel of the hose wondering what was going on.  But I also was in the audience and knew what was going to happen and was waiting for the gardener's response.

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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.

Your comments about the audience's reaction had me thinking that this class would be even more fun and engaging if we were viewing the films together.  There is nothing like someone else's chortle to get me giggling.  That shared experience heightens our engagement.

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One of the immediate things I'm thinking of when watching the film, and thinking of slapstick in general, is what keeps it slapstick and not cruelty? I think part of that is in how we categorize the activity: I notice people in the forum are using words like mischief in reference to the boy rather than mean.

 

Although there is misfortune, we don't believe the person on the punchline part of the gag is really suffering, in the permanent, irreparable sense, making him part of the joke that we can all laugh at together. The sprinkler in the face made me think of Daffy Duck having Elmer's gun go off in his face: Daffy is hurt but not 'really' hurt so we laugh.

 

Towards this, the second film seems to bear this out better to me, with the spanking of the first one seeming to bring it more in line with seriousness; punishment as consequence; reality. While the first one keeps it in slapstick land throughout, with the "joke" continuing through the whole film.

 

Of course, the first one may depend on the audience and on how spanking is viewed. seems like I remember a great many katzjammer kid strips where the end panel was a spanking that presumably was supposed to be funny and still part of the 'joke'.

I, too, wonder about the psychology of slapstick and when the humor has crossed the line.  Why do I laugh every time I see Chevy Chase in the attic in Christmas Vacation as he whacks his head with the floor board?  Shouldn't I be concerned that he'll get a concussion?  What role does humor, in general, play in our lives?

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Thinking about the many films that I've seen that I would consider slapstick, I have to say that the question of cruelty and permanent harm or real hurt are directly connected to one of the tenets of slapstick–the situation must clearly be make believe. For instance, in Laurel and Hardy's Flying Deuces, Hardy dies at the climax and his soul (an angel with wings and playing the harp) ascends to heaven–definitely a permanent harm but tempered by an element of the fantastical.

 

Additionally, it seems that slapstick is also marked by a struggle for power and dominance. L'arroseur Arrose would not be nearly as funny if the gardener had sprayed the boy. This is evident in the many underdogs who are harassed by bullies in slapstick, who then go on to turn the tables and triumph in the end.

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Before deciding on the relative humor of the "spanked or sprayed" outcome go back to YouTube and watch both. Personally, I enjoyed the sprayed scenario much more, especially when you see how the gardener just goes back to work thus truly disarming the prankster. And unless you are seeing something I don't (since there is no character development really)why are you assuming the gardener is a bully? Could the kid just be a kid taking advantage of an opportunity to create a little innocent mayhem?

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Before deciding on the relative humor of the "spanked or sprayed" outcome go back to YouTube and watch both. Personally, I enjoyed the sprayed scenario much more, especially when you see how the gardener just goes back to work thus truly disarming the prankster. And unless you are seeing something I don't (since there is no character development really)why are you assuming the gardener is a bully? Could the kid just be a kid taking advantage of an opportunity to create a little innocent mayhem?

 

What I like about the short film is how simple it is yet it makes you think.  Setting aside the other versions or remakes that are out there, this film is about an older gentleman who is attempting to work or do a chore and he is interrupted by this young man.  So looking at the man's reaction it is possible he is being a bully, but then again, could he be having fun as well?  Men in this era showed much less emotion than they do today.  Seeing how he grabbed the boy and drug him back to the scene, rather than beating him he simply sprayed him with the hose as the boy did to him as if to say "how do you like that".  Knowing who the boy is could make a significant different too.  A local criminal?  Son? Nephew?  We may never know....

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What a great example of set up - schtick - blow off or if you prefer, beginning - middle - end of a gag.

To me the most important part is the relationship -- high status (gardener) vs. low status (boy). The boy causes mischief that punctures the gardeners authority.  

Comparing the two versions, I think the second is funnier mostly because the tables turn -- the boy gets sprayed.  But also the spanking in the original version is prolonged and repeated which makes it more real and serious. But I agree that the gardener's straw hat being knocked off is a very good visual.

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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?

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