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Great films with two-dimensional characters?


skimpole
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One problem I had with American Hustle is that the director made clear what we were to think of the characters within the first 90 seconds we saw them (or when we are reintroduced to Bale, Adams and Cooper after the opening scene.) I was wondering if there was a great film where the characters were presented that obviously. You can't include sequels, or series of movies like the Marx Brothers or Astaire/Rogers movies. And the viewer can be assumed to know nothing about the character, even for ones as well known as Dracula or Sherlock Holmes.

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A few more instances of this immediately came to my mind in which recognized "classics" of the cinema(by many people anyway) almost solely contain "two-dimensional characters" in (especially) satirical comedies meant to press more serious points:

 

THE HOSPITAL

M*A*S*H

NETWORK

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In reply to Dargo, I would say that it takes some time for Peter Finch to lose his marbles in Network. It also takes some time for viewers to realize how crazy General Ripper is and how ineffective Captain Mandrake and President Muffley are in Dr. Strangelove.

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Hi skimpole.

 

First, while I'll admit Peter Finch's Howard Beale goes through quite a transformation in "Network" and thus fleshes out his character extremely well(and possibly why he won his posthumous Oscar), and Bill Holden and Beatrice Straight(Oscar winner again) roles are also fleshed out nicely both in performance and in the script, I've always thought Faye Dunaway's role as the single-minded ladder-climbing shrew and who is basically the center and story catalyst of the film(and not Finch's Beale) was purposely written by Paddy Chayefsky and purposely acted very two-dimensionally by her because of the Paddy's overriding intent to make his point about television broadcasting.

 

And secondly, while I didn't mention "Dr. Strangelove"(and one of my all-time favorite films) in your thread, Kubrick's black comedy masterpiece is filled with nothing but archetypes, and archetypes are seldom if ever presented as three-dimensional.

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Yep James, and I think this might now especially be true since the great character actors of the studio era are no longer with us, and it seems peripheral characters in modern films are given short-shrift.

 

(...and no Fred, this ISN'T your cue to now start your "Movies were better back in the day" shtick!...WAIT, what am I worried about here?...he's got me on Ignore, doesn't he?!) LOL

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Dargo, I think your point about satire usually involving two-dimensional characters is well taken. The other genre that comes to mind is political films like the early Eisenstein films. There are no three-dimensional characters in *Battleship Potemkin*, but the power of the Odessa steps sequence still gets to me, as familiar as it is.

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Ah, I see what you mean. But then again, "Airplane" is a satire. And once again, satires are usually filled with nothing but 2-D types, right?!

 

In other words, I'm sayin' even though SOME comedies might indeed be filled with 2-D types, it doesn't necessarily follow that ALL comedies, be they sending a more serious message or not, contain only or primarily 2-D types. But, if they're NOT sending that "more serious message", then yes, I would agree with you that the tendency in that style comedy is toward the easy laugh by means of the 2-D character.

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Okay, then right off the top of me wittle head, how about...though I still question your use of the word "pure" here...

 

"When Harry Met Sally"

 

Seems to me both Crystal and Ryan's characters were fully fleshed-out in that one, along with, and surprisingly for a fairly "modern" film, Kirby and Fisher's supporting roles.

 

(...though I'll admit Meathead's Mom only sayin' the line, "I'll have what she's having" really doesn't give her the opportunity to "stretch", now does it?!) ;)

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I'm starting to get the impression that your definition of a "pure comedy" is somehow only light in tone and primarily containing elements of slapstick and/or lighthearted banter.

 

And if that's the case, then yeah, every "pure comedy" from many of Chaplin's short films to Bob Hope movies to Will Farrell movies today are primarily filled with 2-D characters.

 

However, once again I question why it seems you would prefer to exclude more, let us say, "sophisticated" comedies such as from directors Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch or say Billy Wilder as "not pure" comedies, and of which often featured characters very well "fleshed-out" and believably "real" and not just "2-D".

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