Sunday, 18 July 2010

Warning, Slapstic!

I love good comedy as much as everybody.
And as the dusty movie goer that I am, I love really old comedy as well.

"Charlie Chaplin", "The Marx Brothers", the "Three stooges" and "Laurel and Hardy" are among my favourite comedian acts of all time.

Now, what does all these four acts have in common which is a big "no no" in Hollywood today?

They are all slapstick!

Slapstick gotta be the biggest "no no" in Hollywood today.
You can have a exposed penis in comedy and it's fine, you can do shitty musical movies and it's fine, you do shitty superhero movies and it's just fine, but having a scene where the superhero falls on his bum and it's over for that movie creator, everyone will point it out and hate it.

You put "A slap stick comedy" on the poster, it's a certified flop, it's a no goer... and.. even I would not go watch it.

I who own every single Marx brothers film, every single feature length Charlie Chaplin... the Pink Panther classic box set and love cheap laughs as much as anyone.. would not go watch it at all, the poster would have frightened me away.. why?

Is it because slap stick truly is dead and died with Peter Sellers?
Is it because we as modern smart people (hah) have become to smart for slapstick.. well I watch these old movies, and the slapstick is still just as funny. and you can't tell me that somebody saying. "Mother fucker she totally licked my cork" is any smarter than a man getting a cake in his head.

I sit and watch does old movies and wonder if I just find them funny because I have gotten it beaten into my head with a hammer since childhood that they are classics, but I gotta say no, they are genuinely funny. So I try and wrap my head around this, how could it be done funny then but not now? What is the major difference in sheer execution and performance?
So I started watching both old and new attempts on slapstick to try and figure this out.

The first thing that hit me while comparing these was the simplicity and the economical use of movements in the old one. the camera is used extremely economical and does not ever cut, it just keeps filming the scene for 15 minutes straight, not even moving.
In the recent movies they just keeps cutting back and ford every second. and it spoils the slap stick completely,
Also the actors movements in the old movies is extremely economic, they do not move and arm without reason. And rather than try and highlight themselves they just are, standing around without even trying to be over the top.
The new guys who tries to do slap stick is constantly trying to over sell themselves with movements all over the place, with swining arms and large leg movements. And it does not work, it's stupid and it's silly.

But then there is the classic Monty Python sketch "silly walks" which is hilarious, but is just about people walking in really over the top and silly ways, I went back and re-watched the sketch, and then I realised. Also in this is both the camera and the performer extremely economical, yeas John Cleese walks in a really over the top and silly way, but the rest of him is extraordinary calm and steady. the way he talks and the way he is just so very calm, he is not over selling himself.

I noticed that when comedy really stops being funny is when the actors blinks to the camera and is with that blink say "see see see! did you see that! I ran into a wall!! that's funny!"
well, it might have been, but now it's not.

I also thinks it works best when a movie shows something funny but doesn't comment on it. in the movie "A fish called Wanda" the main character is hitting it off with the female lead, they are snogging, suddenly the female lead's boy friend pops up in the window in the background. and it's absolutely hillariouse, he moves around in the background and eventually disappear to appear in the scene again. it's a really funny scene.
What I noticed is how the camera never ever cuts, the boy friend stays in the background, and editing never tries to sell that he is there, which just makes it all the more hilarious. I have seen plenty of movies with similar scenes, but there they would keep on inter cutting between the two mains snugging and the dude in the window. that is just not very funny.

Weirdly enough, comedy needs to be simple and economic rather than over the top and rich.

I compared the old Peter Sellers pink Panther films, which I love, with the two new Steve Martin Pink Panther films which sucks. And what I detect is the precisely same thing in comedy. Peter Seller just "is" he do the slap stick, and neither he nor the camera and the editing try to oversell it, in fact the camera just keeps rolling without cutting forever.
Steve Martin really tries to oversell every single little gag, and so do the writing and the editing. you can't force funny is what I figured, it needs to flow in the background, and then it suddenly becomes more hilarious.

That is just my take on it, I will start and study more in this, because one of my goals in life is to master "funny"
I have convinced myself that if I as an actress can do "funny" I can do everything.

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