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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #1: Comedy's Golden Age-The View from the 1950s

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I do not agree that physical comedy disappeared but it definitely became less of a focus as films became more dialogue heavy. I believe that physical comedy marked remained a key component in many classic comedies. Whether it was the work of Jerry Lewis up through more modern films like Raising Arizona There's Something About Mary, physical comedy is always there for as an added dimension.

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1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?" Why or why not?

 

I agree, but only to an extent. As other posters have said, film comedy has experienced many "Golden Ages" since the silent era and like so much of film, what films constitutes the "greatest " of a particular genre is incredibly subjective. Also, as Dr. Edwards suggested in his lecture this week, comedy between 1912 and 1930 underwent significant changes and thus viewing silent comedy as a kind of staid, monolithic entity seems counterproductive.

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?” Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

 

While it is is fair to say that silent film gags were primarily visual, I do think that the intertitles were often contributed to the gags through clever wordplay, irony and other forms of written wit. Also, I do think that the success of the gags were often reliant on the context of said gags. For example, as we saw in the "Breakdown of a Gag" from Week 1, the visual of Chaplin slipping on a banana peel is funny but Chaplin eluding the police, given that we know of Chaplin's propensity to poke fun at and criticize authority figures, is even funnier.

 

This form of comedy definitely didn't disappear after the arrival of sound; I would argue that at different points in film comedy history, primarily visual gags may have been superseded by a focus on dialogue and vice versa which would definitely be an evolution of sorts.

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

I think that all of them have certainly had a significant impact on how we remember the silent film era and who we remember from the silent era; they play a big role in shaping the history of the history of the silent film era, an idea more thoroughly explored in moviemorlock's TCM blogpost. These documentaries, compilations and essays also serve as a gateway to the silent film era, too as they provide us with kind of the "greatest hits" of silent comedy.

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You're revealing why things do and don't make you laugh and part of it is the self-consciousness you feel at times. For others, as it has been revealed over and over in the comments, it is the cultural standardization that certain criteria have to be met (color, sound, digitization, music, etc.) to make things funny. Some people require a certain tempo. For me it has always been a question of timing, and I think that is something I share with a lot of people because it is something comedians have talked about for generations. Some people respond to the violent action. I don't believe there are hard and fast rules. Children find certain things funny, then their feelings tend to change as they grow older. Women tend to find things funny that men don't. Europeans find Americans funny and vice versa. Aaron Sorkin always tells the story about the CBS exec who lived by the rule about no one would ever accept a Jewish character on TV, or a character with a mustache. How's that for funny? Where do you think that exec is, now? Da-dum-dum.

Surely, you jest...

 

No -I do not, and don't call me Shirley ;)

 

"Tragedy plus time = comedy" -Steve Allen??

 

Agreed, "timing" can be substituted for "time" in slapstick

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I absolutely agree with 1912-1930, a near two decade period, being "comedy's greatest era", or "golden age." The silent, slapstick films were the birth of the comedy genre, and cemented the definition of gags being the perfect comedic execution. Comedy, in the era of Chaplin, also appealed to everyone. It was an all inclusive type of entertainment. The gags were smart, visionary, and unmatched. Routines could be nuanced, yet over the top, easily relaying specific messages to audiences.

 

I, again, agree with the (film) narrator's sentiments. The comedic stars of this era started from scratch. I imagine they drew from their own peers for inspiration, but they had nothing of the resources current artists have today. This era of comedy was created off of sheer imagination, which has proven to have had an everlasting impact (in stating the least.)

However, I don't believe this type of comedy completely disappeared, nor do I believe it evolved into the sound era.

 

Physical comedy is still celebrated within some comedic half hour television shows, albeit it doesn't comprise much of any show's storyline. The physicality typically arrives during dialogue, serving as a part of the punchline. Even variety shows, such as SNL don't rely heavily on physical comedy.

 

This leads me to address jokes. Yes, jokes. In the era of sound, people started telling jokes. This is where comedy is today- strangled, desperately gasping for air due to jokes. Don't get me wrong, I love a great joke, but it seems most of what's out there today is in the form of a mean spirited, demeaning and exclusionary routine. It's as though today's comedy has traded true comedy (Chaplin, Keaton, etc.) for a lesser type of fare: gags for words.

 

Here, I must add my undying respect for words and brilliant writers. I am in honest adoration of Tina Fey, whom I consider a genius. She is incredible with both dialogue and gags, a true talent without a doubt.

 

The current climate of comedic films just seem to lack the main ingredient: comedy. (Perhaps, I'm selecting the wrong films to view.) I would much rather watch a silent slapstick film, an episode of 30 Rock, or a monologue from any of the three years Tina Fey co- hosted the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler as opposed to some of the more recent comedy films.

 

Any current artist will provide citations of and pay homage to the artists of decades past. The "Golden Era/Age" artists are revered, honored and regarded as the greats. These artists were some of the firsts of their kind, some of the firsts of their craft. They laid the foundation and then literally helped build an entire genre, creating comedic entertainment. They assisted in the creation of cinema, and defined an entirely new form of artistic expression. Any type of essay or film saluting these artists is easily justifiable. The unwavering impact has come from the truest geniuses of comedy. It's 2016, some 100 years later, and millions around the world reference them as some of the greatest artists to have ever explored the medium.

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1. There is no denying that 1912-1930 was  a "Golden Age" for comedy. This was  the period of pioneering and experimenting for the silent greats i.e. trying new techniques and devices to make the films look more realistic (the largest moving set), dangerous ( Lion in Mack Sennet's office) etc. But as in any art form or technological field this experimenting, this "pushing the envelope" sometimes brings about changes over time that advance the field but in turn leave  the earlier years behind in the dust. Comparing the Wright Brothers first airplane to today's Boeing 777 makes us ask how did that first plane ever fly? So too in movies the advances in technology such as sound, color, CGI change our view of those early pioneers. There are many people who won't watch the old silents. Their reasons range from "oooh there is no sound" or "oooh black and white" to "oooh there so dumb and simple". However, those who appreciate the " golden age" in whatever field comic books, old planes, old cars, slapstick movies reap a great treasure for their interest. The geniuses mentioned: Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon and Keaton were always trying to advance their art form and improve upon  it and these changes and improvements, like sound, have moved comedy into its next age.

 

2. I agree that the "gags were completely visual". Those things that we take for granted because of sound today had to be portrayed or presented in the only way possible at the time of the silents... as a visual gag. In terms of the question did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era...I would like to bring up a quote from Fatty Arbuckle and a response from Buster Keaton: In a 1960 interview with Studs Turkel, Keaton remembered "I went into pictures with Roscoe Arbuckle. I mean, his pictures were the first ones that I appeared in. And I'd only been with him a short time, and he says 'Here's something you want to bear in mind, that the average mind of the motion picture audience is twelve years old. It's a twelve year-old mind that you are entertaining'. I was with him about another couple of months...and I says 'Roscoe, something tells me that those who continue to make pictures for twelve-year-old minds ain't going to be with us long.' Well, it was only a couple of years later that a scene like this of Chaplin's kind of proved that {n.b. he is talking about Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris" 1923} The minds jumped much faster than we were making pictures'"

 

3. I think documentaries and essays like these help introduce new audiences to the silent era and its stars and also serve the purpose of keeping those films that survived from that era alive for us today to enjoy, study and discuss.

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1)  I don't know if I would fully agree that the period of 1912- 1930 was comedy's greatest era.  I would say no because the comedians in movies and on TV from about the 1940s- 1960s married slapstick and sound together very well.  The greatest example of this, in my opinion, is Jerry Lewis, but there were others like Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, etc.  With comedians like that, you laughed just as much at what they did with their bodies as you did with what came out of their mouths.  With that, I would say that era was comedy's greatest era.  However, without those like Chaplin and Keaton who came before and made slapstick an art form, these comedians might not have been so great.  It really is a back and forth for me, but by just a hair I would have to disagree.  

 

2)  I do completely agree with the narrator that gags have completely disappeared.  As previously mentioned, comedians like Jerry Lewis are just as funny with or without sound.  They were able to pair the gags with sound so perfectly that nothing was lost from either.  That form of comedy has disappeared because comedians today rely only on sound.  On the whole, they probably didn't grow up watching silent films and learning from them like the comedians from the 1940s- 1960s did, so they didn't take away the importance of the gags.  Yes, there are a few that have carried the gags with them, but on the whole they haven't.  

 

3)  Honestly, I don't think documentaries, essays or compilation films have that great of an impact on the opinion of silent film.  Most people today won't watch a black and white movie, let alone a silent one.  So anyone watching or reading material on the silent film era is doing so because they already have an interest in it.  Sure, there are probably some that are turned on to silent films from material such as that, but I don't think it's a very large majority.  

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OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick Began tonight, painfully so, with the full version of Comedy's Golden Age, part of which was integral to our first Daily Dose of Doozy yesterday.  My wife (aka Redpaws), and I shared some Slapstick, and introduced it to our daughter Sophia.  While we enjoyed Laurel and Hardy and the Keystone Cops, we all got to see Harry Langdon's impressive comedy style for the first time.  Early appearances from Carol Lombard, Jean Harlow (and later with Marie Dressler) proved that comic acting didn't require a perfect body type. 

I also watched the full version of Comedy's Golden Age and got to see Harry Langdon's work for the very first time.  And I so agree with you about comic acting not requiring a "perfect body type."  This is true of the men but more so for the women.  I wonder if Marie Dressler would have had any chance at all to make a name fore herself in today's Hollywood!

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I feel the form of comedy has evolved over the years as opposed to visual comedy disappearing.  There is plenty of visual comedy being cranked out on several levels; people, places, things.  We have become quite sophisticated as well as base (not the comedy I appreciate).  The use of sound has exploded us into many dimensions over the decades. 

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Of Compilations & Kings ....

I adore Silent films...  having now sat and snoozed through the "The Golden Age of Comedy" I can honestly say it does them NO SERVICE. 

 

Gratuitous pie fights and chase scenes are, to me, just as boring then as they are in today's modern era (Fast and Furious is a prime example ~ oye, shoot me, please!)

Perhaps with vehicles being fairly new, back then, they were more exciting. I don't know. Ah, Perspective, thou art a troublesome waif. The only saving grace to car chases of old IS the old cars.. they're pretty cool!

There are so many other WONDERFUL Silent comedy styles, actors and gags they neither touched upon nor hinted at in this compilation.   T'is a shame.

 

I did like that they presented the actors' names as well as the film titles. 

I still don't "get" Ben Turpin but am intrigued by Billy Bevan and another whose name escaped my frantic scribbling.  booooooooooooooo

 

In the introduction, it was stated "...when motion pictures were a purely visual medium."

Am I the only one who disagrees with this?  Silents were released with specific scores which accompanied them for the organist to play. My Aunt was one of these "live players for the flicker shows" she said they were quite inclusive and included sound effect notations..   

Directors also had the fotoplayer machine which provided sound effects as well.

Most of all, it's called "slapstick" because OF the slap stick.  I maintain that sound; either music or effects or more than likely both were planned for and counted upon by the directors.

They may come to us a "silent" films when found in their film canisters... but it was by no means a "purely visual medium".

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When something is “really” groundbreaking or pioneering the best you can do is adapt it or make it more interesting.  In the sense that it was groundbreaking, flourished, produced incomparable artists, and is timeless - I’d say yes this was a “Golden Age” for comedy.  With the advent of sound came the opportunity to embellish the comedy with dialogue. This resulted in toning down the “physical” aspects of slapstick and incorporating dialogue to transmit the humor.  At the same time the Vaudeville trend started to fade/adapt to new mediums.   In general we started to see fewer chain reactions/continuous movements and exaggerated gestures in films.

Reflecting on some of the comedies from the 30s and 40 I’ve seen, there was still a lot of movement but it was not quite as liberating or chaotic as in the silent films.  As comedy in film evolved, I think a lot of the movement was replaced by fast talking (vulgarity /shock value today); still some of the earlier sound films incorporated “silent” segments with  zany components (the fly fishing scene in Libeled Lady comes to mind).  Mid century and contemporary films and sitcoms still incorporate elements of slapstick (still take a simple situation and build into a series of mishaps).

This film course is a first for me so the opinions offered in Youngson’s documentary and Agee’s/ Kalat’s essays (regardless of the stance they take, the little flaws, and the nostalgic components)  provided me with great insight into the points of origin of slapstick and the creative genius of the  filmmakers at the time.  I am reminded that before you celebrate or evaluate any art form, you need to understand the origins and qualities of great art.

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I watched "Salute to Slapstick" last night and enjoyed watching some of the comedy bits, especially Laurel and Hardy trying to escape from jail by imitating painters and the traffic jam from "Two Tars".

 

But here are some of the other classic comedy routines featured on this show...

 

A man is blindfolded and is tricked into jumping headfirst into a swimming pool with no water

A dog is sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and although eventually is retrieved has been clean shaved

A man contemplates suicide by drinking a poisonous liquid

A man is left tied to a pole in a flooded room with rising water and eventually is completely submerged under water

A lady with a baby is convinced to enter a burning building.

 

Don't get me wrong, I didn't necessarily find anything particularly offensive to me. But on the other hand, I didn't find any of those skits particularly funny either. They claim this is the Golden Age of Comedy, and that is the best we have to offer from this era?

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A Fake Nose By Any Other Name
By Christine G. Adamo

 

What is a Golden Age, how do we characterize it and how do related documentaries, films and essays shape our views of it? Let us take a cue from Daily Dose of Doozy #1 and explore these topics in greater detail.

 

Given the fact that silent films from 1912-1930 were among some of the earliest created and screened, I agree with James Agee and Robert Youngson's individual assessments that it comprised "comedy's greatest era" or Golden Age. That doesn't mean that I believe the work which was churned out, during that timeframe, should be held up forever as a model of perfection. It simply acknowledges the fact that the work was groundbreaking (especially given the technological constraints of the day) and historically significant.

Despite the fact that he utilizes a a brand of enthusiasm largely associated with propoganda reels, I would say that the narrator of "The Golden Age of Comedy" (Youngson, 1957) touches on a few important points - no doubt with the help of a carefully crafted script. Still, as with any endeavor or industry, making inroads requires a great deal of imagination and ingenuity. Heck! The sheer act of giving unproven methodologies and uncharted territory a go is enough to impress me. But visual gags do persist and certainly didn't wither up with the advent of talkies. Think Dana Carvey serving hors d'oeuvres, in mime, in "This Is Spinal Tap." Yet? Overly dramatic depictions (i.e., "completely visual" gags) are no longer a necessity.

 

Being a realist? I, for one, am grateful. When I watch a film - or even a snippet of a film - like Youngson's "The Golden Age of Comedy," I often cringe a bit. I feel as if I am being told what to think, believe, etc. There is little critical thinking involved. Though, maybe the fact that I recognize that they are intentionally inflated proves that they do, in fact, invoke and engage critical thinking skills. Better that than a completely veiled attempt at swaying my opinion. And, after the last clip has clipped on by, I completely agree that "action speaks louder than words."

 

Maybe therein lies the real beauty of slapstick: It offers us the freedom to exorcise the demons we so carefully hide in real life. Behind fake noses no less!

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After watching the whole show last night, here are some other comedy skits that I noted from the Golden Age of Comedy...

 

A man is blindfolded and is tricked into jumping head first into a swimming pool with no water

A dog is sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and although eventually is retrieved, the dog is clean shaved

A man contemplates suicide by drinking a poisonous liquid

A man is left tied to a pole in a flooded room with rising water and eventually is completely submerged under water

A lady with a baby is convinced to enter a burning building.

 

Are those skits clever? Absolutely, especially for the technology available at the time. But I didn't find anything funny about those skits and somewhat bewildered that those were chosen to represent the best that era has to offer. I don't find anything particularly funny about seeing a man, child or animal being hurt, and in some cases I even found it awkward and difficult to watch.

 

I do find It clever and funny watching Harold Lloyd climb a tall building and hanging on to a clock, or Chaplin cooking and eating a leather shoe as if it were a gourmet meal, or Laurel and Hardy escaping from jail by imitating two painters (which was shown last night). So in some ways I do agree that this was a golden age of comedy, although I think there are eras and performers that rival it -- I just don't agree with many of clips the documentary used to make that argument.

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But most theaters had live music, didn't they? At least one musician.

 

And on an interesting side note, Japanese and maybe other east Asian theaters had a live narrator, a "benshi", from the beginning. People creatively filled the void of missing sound in early cinema.

No, "most" theaters didn't have any kind of music until the 1920s.

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1. Was 1912-1930 comedy's "Golden Age"? 

Absolutely yes! Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Langdon, Arbuckle, etc. films are still funny and are beloved and inspiring young artists everywhere on this planet at this moment!

 

2. Were silent gags completely visual? Did this form of comedy disappear?

Yes, they had to be visual. The beautiful thing about visual, physical comedy is that it lasts forever. Word jokes lose their meaning as time goes on in many cases. I don't think this form of comedy (visual/physical) has disappeared, but it is much more rare than it should be. The main problem is that visual/physical comedy is difficult to do well...back in the day everybody, the artists, the audience, etc. were all on the same page and were focused on visual and physical comedy. Take Keaton for example...honed his physical skills and timing in vaudeville, performing live, gathering an encyclopedic knowledge of gags, then took that training and combined it with the advantages of the camera's control of what the audience sees! Today, there aren't enough places for people to practice and perform physical comedy, so the pool of available artists has shrunk. Also, now, since everyone has a camera on their phone, we basically have "World's Funniest Videos" that have filled that niche. People still love seeing other people's pain, but it is freely available instantaneously worldwide now. Also, add the financial and time restraints of making a Hollywood film...what a hard way to make a living!

 

3. I'm all for documentaries and compilation films. If it gets a few more people to get interested in these old films, that's worth having them around. I don't believe a compilation can change anyone's mind about what they think is funny.

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1. There is no denying that 1912-1930 was  a "Golden Age" for comedy. This was  the period of pioneering and experimenting for the silent greats i.e. trying new techniques and devices to make the films look more realistic (the largest moving set), dangerous ( Lion in Mack Sennet's office) etc. But as in any art form or technological field this experimenting, this "pushing the envelope" sometimes brings about changes over time that advance the field but in turn leave  the earlier years behind in the dust. Comparing the Wright Brothers first airplane to today's Boeing 777 makes us ask how did that first plane ever fly? So too in movies the advances in technology such as sound, color, CGI change our view of those early pioneers. There are many people who won't watch the old silents. Their reasons range from "oooh there is no sound" or "oooh black and white" to "oooh there so dumb and simple". However, those who appreciate the " golden age" in whatever field comic books, old planes, old cars, slapstick movies reap a great treasure for their interest. The geniuses mentioned: Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon and Keaton were always trying to advance their art form and improve upon  it and these changes and improvements, like sound, have moved comedy into its next age.

 

2. I agree that the "gags were completely visual". Those things that we take for granted because of sound today had to be portrayed or presented in the only way possible at the time of the silents... as a visual gag. In terms of the question did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era...I would like to bring up a quote from Fatty Arbuckle and a response from Buster Keaton: In a 1960 interview with Studs Turkel, Keaton remembered "I went into pictures with Roscoe Arbuckle. I mean, his pictures were the first ones that I appeared in. And I'd only been with him a short time, and he says 'Here's something you want to bear in mind, that the average mind of the motion picture audience is twelve years old. It's a twelve year-old mind that you are entertaining'. I was with him about another couple of months...and I says 'Roscoe, something tells me that those who continue to make pictures for twelve-year-old minds ain't going to be with us long.' Well, it was only a couple of years later that a scene like this of Chaplin's kind of proved that {n.b. he is talking about Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris" 1923} The minds jumped much faster than we were making pictures'"

 

3. I think documentaries and essays like these help introduce new audiences to the silent era and its stars and also serve the purpose of keeping those films that survived from that era alive for us today to enjoy, study and discuss.

My, my, my...look how far we've come. Today studio execs make movies for fourteen-year-olds...
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1. When considering whether or not 1912-1930 was "comedy's greatest era" or its "Golden Age", my answer is what it always is when deciding absolutes; yes and no. I believe it to be true that this era of film produced the best physical comedy we have ever seen, and thusly, could be considered slapstick's golden age, but there are many types of comedies and it is far too difficult to pinpoint one section of time as a golden age of comedy. For me, yes, 1912-1930 was the golden age of physical comedy, but not the golden age of comedy in general.

 

2. I do agree with the narrator that the gags were completely visual. You don't see too much physical comedy modern-day that you did in the years between 1912-1930. This type of comedy is definitely the most enduring because no matter who you are or where you live, you have a body. It is therefore easy to imagine the contortions and predicaments the bodies seen on screen happening to your own. Relate-ability is the key for endurance.

 

3. These documentaries and essays are crucial to bringing awareness, thus, allowing people to form opinions about silent films and slapstick.

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Please, pardon my inexperience. I'm fairly new to the #TCMParty and the "golden age of comedy," the question does ask of.

 

1. My perspective on cinema as a whole stands on, just that, perspective. As long as a story is well told, it is good. Arguments can, have, and will be made regarding the validity and superiority of certain eras, some are undeniable (practical vs. CGI, springs to mind). In comedy, however, I say that is the most interpretive. For me, I love slapstick just as much as I love any other form of comedy, but my mom and friends speak otherwise. Slapstick wasn't always such an acquired taste, which to me raises an eyebrow as to what is the "golden age of comedy," or better put, the best age. I personally don't think there is one. There are truly well-defined phases, the slapstick-heavy early 1900s certainly were one, but I don't necessarily believe it is an all-encompassing, makes-everyone-guffaw kind of an era.

 

2. That said, of well-defined phases, pure visual comedy, for me, has never simply stopped at 1930. For behold, I present to you: the cartoon. The cartoon to me is the perfect example of how slapstick, even if not by a living thing, continued past its early years. I think about Tom & Jerry and how, while it was clearly in sound, did not detract or affect the heavy, HEAVY use of physical, purely visual comedy. The same can be said, of course, in any cartoon of today and any given film past Week One of this course.

 

3. Finally, documentaries, compilation films, and essays DO make an impact on the greater legacy of the silent film era. The reverence for such legends as Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, and others from modern folk like our own Greg Proops in itself adds something to the general wide reverence to the era. Essays, to me, matter, most emphatically, and clearly lay out the significance of the time, historically or in their often substantial description of the era's comedic successes. I hearken back to ​The Dissolve which I've just now started to revisit, and I recall how a carefully-crafted essay can change the way you look at or recall a certain film, film era, or aspect you wouldn't otherwise have.

 

Of course, that's just my two cents. I don't know as much as you guys, nor am I as slapstick-ly educated (yet).

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1. Even though it is basically a matter of opinion or subjective, I do not think 1912-1930 was "The Golden Age of Comedy". However it was "The Golden Age of Slapstick" (spilling into the 30's). Charlie Chaplin is regarded as one of the greatest film comedians, and I agree with that sentiment. But I don't think I can pinpoint one era. I appreciate most of the fun comedians and comic actors from the 40-50s (for example, Red Skelton and Lucille Ball). And definitely the socially conscious comedy of the 60s and 70s (i.e. Richard Pryor).

 

2. No, I don't think  the comedy was "completely" visual. Though it was largely based on what appeared on screen, evoked emotions and thoughts could come into play of comedy just as well as dramatic actions.

 

3.Documentaries, essays, and compilation films may leave impressions and influences on whom viewers believe are the best comedians and the best comedic films. But I think film-watchers should watch complete pieces and films to determine which are their favorite actors and movies.

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I don't agree that 1912-1930 was the golden age of comedy. Perhaps the golden age of slapstick. I think the 30's and 40s would be a golden age, if you had to name one. That was the era of Abbot and Costello, The Marx Brothers, screwball comedies, and so on. When the documentary was made (1950), they would have looked back nostalgically at the teens and twenties. Movies from the 40's would have seemed 'recent' to them, and most people don't think of something recent as a golden age.

 

Visual comedy has not left us. We see it all the time. Watch The Naked Gun, Top Secret, Me, Myself, and Irene, The Simpsons, The Pink Panther series... all have great visual gags in them.

 

As for documentaries, they help introduce these films to an audience who may not have seen them. I watched a Martin Scorsese documentary once, and he talked about some films I never knew. I checked some of them out and loved them! That's what a documentary can do.

 

Lastly, several people claim audiences have become 'more sophisticated'. I disagree with that. When the visual gags in 'There's Something About Mary', 'Christmas Vacation', or 'Ace Ventura' can score big with audiences, we see that people today can respond to slapstick. In another topic I recommended people watch a Dick Van Dyke skit from season one where he lectures about how modern audiences are too sophisticated for slapstick. It is absolutely hilarious. Check it out on Youtube.

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1) 1912-1930 would probably be best described as a golden age of Slapstick, rather than of comedy in general. This is the era, and the Vaudeville years that preceded it, when the various bits and gags were developed and shaped into their sharpest and most memorable forms. While there are still plenty of examples of slapstick and physical comedy in modern film in many ways they will be a retread or tribute to a gag from the "golden age"

 

2) The silent era of film couldn't rely on wordplay or clever dialog to really land a good joke, but the purely visual medium made physical humor and clowning a natural element. There are still plenty of good sight gags and physical comedy to be had in modern television and film.

 

3) Compilations and documentaries have a great ability to combine a large amount of source material spanning many years and compress that information into a digestible volume. While good for hitting the high points, there are inevitably smaller performers and less known films that could get overlooked.

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I would tend to think that the 20s were the Golden Age of the Silents...and in particular the slapstick genre.  This time period was more of the foundation of what was to develop later in Hollywood.

 

Without sound the gags had to be visual; the audience could only imagine what sounds were being produced in these films.  The are classic routines and the introduction of sound enhanced the senses when viewing the gags.  The classic gags have improved with the technical achievements in film.

 

Documentaries, essays  and film compilations will be worthy assistance in the study of the silent films.  It depends on how they are presented; must be engaging and catch the interest of the viewer/reader.  One must view the films discussed to better appreciate what is being learned about any particular genre of film.

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Questions:

1. Do you agree or disagree with Agee and Youngson's statements that the silent films from 1912 – 1930 constituted "comedy's greatest era" or its "golden age?"

 

I don't necessarily agree because it is mostly a visual medium during that era rather than a visual and auditory sketch. Even some of the later slapstick artists, such as the Three Stooges and Lewis & Martin, Abbott & Costello relied on verbal comedy.

 

2. Do you agree with the film's narrator that in the silent film era the "gags were completely visual—a form of wit that has all but disappeared from the land, but which experts now agree were among the most imaginative and enduring comedy of all…?”

 

I don't think so, but still today visual comedy and sight gag comedy is still alive, such as any Mel Brooks film, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles have a visual aspect of it that is not necessarily related to the auditory aspect of a joke and fulfills the five necessary components of a slapstick gag.

 

Did this form of comedy "disappear" or did it simply evolve in the sound era?

I believe it evolved and intertwined itself with the auditory components of later films.

 

3. What impact do you think documentaries, compilation films, and essays like these have had on popular opinion about the silent film era?

 

I think any time you look back upon the past and see how earlier films in the silent era used their slapstick you can notice those gags in the contemporary films, such as, as mentioned before, Mel Brooks' work, Gene Wilder, and television such as I Love Lucy.

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1. "golden age is a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished. The term originated from early Greek and Roman poets, who used it to refer to a time when mankind lived in a better time and was pure (see Golden Age)." - Wikipedia

 

This definition alone makes the films of this period part of a Golden Age. The difference I think you can debate here is that in Comic books or theater, Golden Age and Silver Age are more clearly delineated. The medium of film was itself so new that this time period was clearly both a golden age of comedy and slapstick, yet that doesn't preclude other eras to come as also being considered a Golden Age.  You would almost have to separate out films by type (esp. silent vs talkies) to accurately define Golden Ages.

2. I agree that the gags were entirely visual. Although, yes, many theaters had musical accompaniment, not all did, and in those theaters that did, not all musicians were of the same caliber.  This meant that although music may have been meant to be paired with the gags, there was no guarantee that it would be (or would be paired well) so the gag had to stand on it's own legs.  You couldn't count on the cinema cards helping either, as people couldn't all read and in many immigrant populations at the time, even if some of the crowd was reading the cards aloud, everyone in the room may not have understood English enough to "get" the joke. So visual was the only standard that everyone viewing the film could be sure to experience.

As to this comedy disappearing, absolutely not.  It has morphed some in the sound era, yet there are still films and TV shows every day that heavily rely on visual comedy and slapstick. I think this is one reason films can be marketed to many different age groups. Even the younger viewers can get the slapstick, while the adults appreciate the written bits as well.

3. I think compilations in a way help and in another way harm people's opinions of slapstick (or any film style).  In a compilation you may be exposed to artists you were unaware of and that is good, but at the same time the clips chose to be curated into a film are not all the options out there. Sometimes the choices or the sameness of the choices can convince a viewer that he/she has seen all there is to see about a type of film when there is really much more to be learned. That said, I enjoy the compilation films as a jumping off point to encourage me to learn more about what is out there to experience.

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