Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stranger than Paradise

Stranger than Paradise
Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 film, Stranger than Paradise, is most definitely my favorite film viewed in this class. The film has been regarded as unconventional or belonging to a personal taste which I can easily see. Not much happens in the plot, in the camera movement, nor in the score. There is no exciting car chase, no sex, no twists.
Yet, the film has the minimalist cinematography, intriguing characters, and ‘main man’ Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The cinematography works like postcards. Each scene is separated by black titles making the movie feel like a collection of postcards sent from a friend. Nothing much happens, but they feel honest. I wouldn’t believe that Willy or Eddie would have lived an exciting life and they certainly don’t.
The characters are searching for something just like the crews from Kerouac’s On the Road. Each place they arrive, they don’t find the paradise they were looking for. Instead they find dull, ugly, looking places with bad weather. Still, Willy does not stop and makes the bold decision to keep searching. Whatever that is.
Willy. Eddie. Eva. These three characters help us do the search in subtlety. Stranger than Paradise came out at a time when people were fascinated with effects and blockbuster films. Today, mainstream films continue to do so in a much bigger scale. Perhaps movies do not have to overload our brains constantly to bring a reaction. These three characters brought a reaction from me, and their lives were sorta boring.

The Apartment

Without a doubt. The Apartment isn't just my favorite movie we watched in class, it's one of my absolute favorite films ever made, hands down. It's the definitive statement on the nice guy winning over the girl who usually goes for all the jerks, and C.C. Baxter is the ultimate nice guy. I watched it again for the first time in years recently, and once again I was just absorbed. Certainly it's because I've been in Baxter's place before (not so much with the letting the guys use my house for various trysts, but the nice guy stuff), and I'm a romantic at heart, as unpopular or unrealistic as that may be.

What makes the film for me are the weird little things, like how Baxter relentlessly finds ways to distract Miss Kubelik from her troubles with a game of cards or dinner, and somehow makes it a selfless act. Or how the doctor gives Baxter advice on an area of his life that is only an illusion, but ends up being the key to his growth as a person. In screenwriting class, we learned that a character in every film has to grow, and so on and so forth. While I don't agree with that statement (there are lots of great films made over the years in which the character doesn't grow at all), I've never seen it done as effortlessly as in The Apartment.

And Miss Kubelik...Roger Ebert and Kim Morgan have written two of the finest dissertations of her character.

Roger first...

What is particularly good about [Shirley MacLaine's] Miss Kubelik is the way she doesn't make her a ditzy dame who falls for a smooth talker, but suggests a young woman who has been lied to before, who has a good heart but finite patience, who is prepared to make the necessary compromises to be the next Mrs. Sheldrake.

Then Kim Morgan...

What's intriguing about this depiction is how darkly but ultimately non-judgmentally Fran's character is drawn. She makes some bad choices (as do many ladies working for him), but clearly it's tough for the lower-rung working girl, especially if she actually finds herself in love.

Ultimately, MacLaine's performance often comes off a tad flat, but she is supposed to play defeated quite a bit, and there is a noticeable light in her eyes around Baxter that we never see around Sheldrake, the married man she runs around with - just a quiet resignation that she's stuck in love with him. Brilliant undertones for a film to have.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sex, sex, sex.

I like Woody Allen just as much as the next person. I love Sleeper, I love Zelig, and Annie Hall and Manhattan are brilliant. As for his later work, I feel as though he fails in attempts to be too serious. (Match Point was unwatchable, in my opinion. Lots of bad acting. His casting choices often make no sense to me at all.) Woody suffers from having become somewhat of a cliché, and since he makes a movie almost every year, we know more or less what to expect from a Woody Allen flick, and it’s rare that he surprises us anymore. This is how I’ve felt about him for a little while now, until I saw Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…

Woody is a comedian. He’s a brilliant comedic writer, and we forget this about him when he attempts to be a “serious filmmaker,” but satire is what he is good at, and in my opinion, he should stick to it, because he doesn’t get much funnier than in this film. He takes a subject everyone is familiar with, a subject that he loves – sex – and looks at it from a variety of extremely absurd angles, whether it be the life of a sperm, a love affair with a sheep, or a giant tit bouncing through a field. His point? We all may be different, but we can all relate to the awkwardness of sex. Sex is funny and bizarre, and we forget that sometimes. (At least that's what I took from it.) Woody also craftfully displays his familiarity with many different genres and styles of film and television, from Italian art cinema to the TV game show.

This was without a doubt one of the films that helped establish Allen as one of the definitive filmmakers of the '70s - he adapted it loosely from a popular book at the time and cast a large number of popular actors of the time (several of them unexpected - Burt Reynolds and Lynn Redgrave, for example - not to mention Regis Philbin). The public ate it up - with a $2 million budget, the film grossed over $18 million on the U.S. alone. There is no doubt it did so well likely because it was released at the height of the sexual revolution. I think I enjoyed this film so much because it seems to be so definitive of an era in film I wish I could have experienced at the time - absurdity was more widely accepted as comedy, and people (like myself) weren't sick of Woody Allen yet - they were anxious to see what else he could do. After all, this was the last film he made before he standardized the opening credits for all of his subsequent films.

And of course, Gene Wilder, a man who can do no wrong in my opinion.

Some Like it Hot

After finishing up the semester in American Film Comedy, I am honestly embaressed to say I hadn't seen this film prior to the course.

Even though for its time it was cutting edge, and breaking a lot of boundaries, I really just look at it in a much simpler way and I think it is just a really funny movie. Jack Lemmon is probably the funniest human being in the world, and does not change at all through his later films. I watched Grumpy Old Men soon after I saw this just because his comedic facial expressions and physical comedy are so strikingly similar in both films.
The absurd scenarios in this film are really genuis and proved that just because a movie is "silly" does not mean that it can't be a great film. Tony Curtis and Lemmon's banter is so witty and well done, I thought they worked amazing together.
And of course, Marilyn Monroe is... Marilyn Monroe as... Marilyn Monroe. She doesn't even need to say anything, just to be on screen for it to help the film. Although she is pretty funny, I think unintentionally at times, but nevertheless good for some laughs. Overall a great feel good movie and I really enjoyed it and will certainly own a copy of the DVD soon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"An excercise in poor taste"

I’m shocked people didn’t post several times on this movie because everyone’s reaction was the same—grossed out, horrified, shocked, nauseated, and a hundred other synonyms for the word barf-o-rama. Although I consider this one of the worst films we’ve watched in class, I’m not here to talk about how much I hated it (though I’m not sure if I’ll hold back entirely) but to figure out why it’s considered to be the cult classic. So it’s time to play devil’s advocate.

According to IMDB and Wikipedia it is considered a crime comedy, but I’m not too positive how comedy comes into this except maybe because of its repulsiveness—that is to say it’s so repulsive that its hilarious. At first glance I’m sure many would dismiss this as filthy garbage, and although it might be, isn’t that the point? John Waters, a very interesting person with a wild imagination to say the least, knew exactly what he was doing and how people would react but who really knows what his intentions were. Luckily I found out. When the 25th Anniversary re-release came out, John Waters was asked about the creation of the film and he said, “I just wanted to make a movie that would make me and my friends laugh I certainly never thought that I would be talking about it 25 years later. But I'm very proud and I think it holds up. I've seen it with all kinds of audiences, and three generations later it still has the power to make people nervous. It's a little terrorist bomb, which is how I always wanted this movie to be.” What a funny inside joke this turned out to be.

The movie is beyond explanation and criticism and obviously isn’t your conventional film, but it’s a film only John Waters could do. No matter how much you can hate this movie, you have to give the man credit for being able to create something like this. Especially when this movie was made over 30 years ago and still has the same nauseating effect now as it did decades ago, is a feat in and of it self. It’s a movie where you can remember exactly where you were and when you first saw it. Unfortunately, certain scenes, or most scenes, are not easily forgettable. But beyond what is seen on the surface, a piece of shock cinema, it can be considered a satire of society’s obsession with fame and the lengths one goes to achieve it. If you watch reality TV shows (watch from 3:15), the things people do for money or just their 5 minutes of fame is incredible, so how is this any different?

From the same interview from before Waters says, "I was trying to make a movie for my audience at the time - the midnight movie audience, which I knew would be fairly eccentric. I wanted to prove to them there was something left that could still surprise them and make them laugh, because they all thought they had seen everything." Boy, did they think wrong.

One reviewer describes the movie as either wonderfully atrocious, or atrociously wonderful, depending on how you look at it. So before you crap on this movie (for Divine to eat up) read some of the comments people wrote about this film and appreciate it on a different level not based solely on aesthetics alone because you’ll probably get dizzy and queasy. It also came in 29 on the list of 50 Films to See Before You Die on some show that aired in the UK.

"The only word for this is transplendent... it's transplendent!"

In part because it is a tremendous film and in part because I have an atrocious memory and can’t remember what most of the other movies we watched in class were, I am choosing “Annie Hall” as my favorite flick viewed in class.

Woody Allen has a unique way of capturing personalities and personality traits that are so familiar but just emphasized enough so that we have to laugh at them. He is truly a master of mannerisms in the way he depicts each character, embracing the most fundamental and obscure quirks alike that are so universally understood. Essentially, what Allen strives to illuminate through films like “Annie Hall” is the humor of the human.

All this aside, I do have one bone to pick with Woody Allen, and that is that he always plays the same character. As perfect as that character might be, and despite the fact that it really never gets old, I feel like Woody Allen has a very limited scope of what he can successfully execute in terms of comedy. Therefore, Woody Allen is like Chipotle: both offer exactly one item, and that one item is absolutely perfect, but you always know when you go to see one of his films that you are going to get the exact same burrito every time.

I like to sing in the rain too!

One of my favorite films of the semester has to be Singing in the Rain. It was between this film and Some Like It Hot, but seeing as there are two other posts already about the latter, I chose to embrace my love to sing (and dance, of course) in the rain.

Singing In The Rain is considered by many to be a true classic of American cinema. In fact, Time Magazine listed it as one of the top 100 films of all time. The Freed Unit at MGM created many great films, however I believe that this film is their most remarkable. It combined all the important elements of a successful film musical: incredible songs, amazing choreography, and a hilarious story line. Before I had seen the film, I always wondered how silent film stars were able to acclimate to talking pictures. Silent acting is entirely different, based of exaggerated facial expressions and body movements. On the contrary, acting in talking pictures involves much more true to life character representation in both physical form and dialogue. As we see in Singing in the Rain, actors and actresses may not have ideal voices for talking pictures. In this sense, the film is a funny commentary on the industry's adaptation of talking picture technology.

Along with great song and dance, the cast is phenomenal. Gene Kelly, in particular, was a truly remarkable performer. I was shocked to read on that he was not originally chosen for the part. The role of Don Lockwood was intended for Howard Keel. As the script continued to develop, Don Lockwood's character became less Western, and more Vaudeville, so Howard Keel was replaced with Gene Kelly. It is odd to think of Keel playing the role of Don Lockwood; it certainly would not have had the same style.

Debbie Reynolds had no prior dance experience before starring in the film. She did, however, have a background as a gymnast which I am sure gave her a bit of an advantage. It is hard to think of the seemingly charming Gene Kelly as being a bully, but apparently he insulted Debbie for her lack of experience and made her cry.

Donald O'Connor is an integral component of the triumphant trio. He is sort of the comic relief in the film, and he is very effective in this role. The routine of "Make 'Em Laugh" is particularly memorable and contains a lot of elements of slapstick humor.

All the elements of the film - the elaborate sets, the witty dialogue, the costumes, Lina Lamont's voice, the songs, the dances - work together to form one of the greatest American film musicals.

Believe it or not, but I am not the only one who feels this way. In 1998, the American Film Institute rated Singing in the Rain as the number 10 top film of all time in their production "100 Years, 100 Movies." Check out the whole list here. It was also added to the Library of Congress film archive in 1989 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Test your knowledge of the film by taking this quiz.

And now, for your enjoyment, the infamous scene!

this was an easy decision...

So If my presentation on The Great Dictator didn't show it off enough, I get a little starry-eyed when it comes to Chaplin. I just love him and I think his movies are both hilarious and moving. Oddly enough I had never seen THE KID before we watched it in class.
The verdict- I thought it was completely incredible, I was totally blown away.
I was in Newbury Comics like two days later with my buddy and the dvd was on sale. I took it the discount to mean that it was fate that I should own the film. I've since watched it about twelve times. I also made my roomate watch it with me and he loved it (which is incredible in itself because he used to fall asleep if we watched anything made before 1973)

Anyway, THE KID was Chaplin's first feature length film and it allowed him to showcase what some critics called "Chaplin's pathos". But there are tons of articles that talk about Chaplin's skilled and innovative mesh of comedy and pathos. This one discusses that and also has an interesting mention of what THE KID does to show off the richness of the tramp character and Chaplin's acting. It's actually pretty interesting.

I think one of the reasons I liked THE KID so much is in the relationship between the kid and the tramp. There are other movies where we see the tramp make sacrifices to take care of others (the blind woman in CITY LIGHTS comes to mind) but the tramp's unwavering devotion to the kid in this film is so much more powerful because these two people mean everything to each other. The father/son dynamic here is totally unusual because of the way that both characters care for each other and depend on each other. There's that moment where they are separated by the city officials - the tramp is heartbroken and the kid is wailing in the back of the orphanage truck - the level of emotion displayed is stunning to watch.

Many of the films that we watched this semester are already on my dvd shelf and some of them are already what I would call my favorites, but THE KID basically just blew me out of the water. I totally fell in love with this movie and I think it's knocked a couple things down the list to become not only my favorite Chaplin movie, but one of my new all-time favorites.

Even this guy who doesn't really like Chaplin liked the film. That's gotta help my cause, right?

Also, here is what I feel to be a necessary side note; while I was looking around and reading up on this movie I realized that Jackie Coogan the kid who played... well, the kid, grew up and became Jack Coogan- the guy who played fester on the Addams Family show. How totally weird is that? I used to watch that show all the time growing up and it took me about five minutes to get my head wrapped around that.
(this is a similar reaction to one i experienced several years ago when I realized that uncle phil from fresh prince did the voice of shredder on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- I know you're probably shocked, but next time your watching fresh prince listen to uncle phil and picture him saying "turtle soup" you'll freak out like i did.)

Duck Suck or Suck Soup?

With a flawed 21st century viewpoint in mind, dulled by sitcoms, improv comedies, and retroscripting, I find it hard to be objective about the films of the past. I consider myself more of a borrowed Emerson student than a real one---I don't know everything about everything about everything. There are comedies that I've seen that I've liked, jokes and gags that I've laughed at, and cinematic precedents that I took to be original, even if that wasn't historically the case. With that in mind, I'm gonna say that I hated The Marx Brothers 'Duck Soup'.

I understand that the use of one-lines, and comic gags was influential on many contemporaries, including Woody Allen, but I have to say...they did it much better. Mostly, I think it's a problem of flow. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton invigorated their silent medium with sight gags and one-liners, all the while keeping up a narrative strong enough to hold us stimulated in 'comic suspense.' Woody Allen produces his movies, especially the pseudo-documentaries like 'Zelig' or 'Take the Money and Run', in a consistent rule-of-three format---joke, gag, one-liner, all in a way that complements and propels the narrative. (In his case, the protagonist serves as both the proponent and the ass of the jokes, and therefore us self-deprecating audiences give him a pass.)

It's with Groucho Marx and 'Duck Soup' that styles don't either blend or break. Groucho will continually step out of the narrative to whisper his 'cutting wit' to us and then magically jump back in. And this while, the other characters in the scene freeze and act none the wiser. At least when Woody does it, his compatriots either laugh or deride him. Groucho derides his entire cast, scott-free from revenge, retribution, or any form of structure, logical or otherwise. No big problem, but cutting the fourth wall in this way kills all potential for comic suspense. There's nothing to look forward to. You don't really know if the narrative matters, and it's not straight on character-driven comedy either. Instead you have a comedian telling us how great he is instead of showing us.

But maybe I'm way off base here. gives 'Duck Soup' a 94% and we all know how it's rated as one of the best comedies of all time. I stumbled around for a little while, and short of all the uncredible whiny 8th grade ranters, this NY Times Review was really the only bad one I could find:

Those mad clowns, the Marx brothers, are now holding forth on the Rivoli screen in their latest concoction, "Duck Soup," a production in which the bludgeon is employed more often than the gimlet. The result is that this production is, for the most part, extremely noisy without being nearly as mirthful as their other films. There are, however, one or two ideas in this sea of puns that are welcome, and Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo reveal their customary zeal in striving to get as much as possible out of these incidents.

And it's not even that bad. So while The Marx Brothers may be inscrutable for their innovations and contributions towards future comedy---such as the verisimilitude presented by all their puns and literally through the mime and mirror scene---I'm still unconvinced. After all, in the 30s, there were better ways to put a film together---give me 'All Quiet on the Western Front', 'City Lights', or 'The Wizard of Oz' any day. And let's not forget 'Bringing Up Baby'.

Funny Ladies

(I looked and saw that my 3rd post wasn't on here - I guess it didn't work when I tried to post it. Anyway, here it is.)

I thought I’d take a look at a few more prominent comediennes and comedic actresses of the 1970s, because there are quite a few, and they are all unbelievably talented. The 1970s were a time that saw lots more comedic roles for women – however, there was still progress to be made concerning women in comedy. Like Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby” and Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot,” Diane Keaton is funny in “Sleeper” because she’s ditzy, a little bit crazy, and not very bright. The brilliant Madeline Kahn also played stereotypical female roles in the comedies of Mel Brooks, and although she had more screen time than any other women in these films, she was only onscreen for less than a handful of scenes. Also, not too surprisingly to me, a Google search of "women in comedy 1970s" proved to be far less than fruitful. However, these talented women paved the way for more three-dimensional, complex female comedic roles in the decades to come.

The 1960s TV variety show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” introduced who would become two of the most talented female comics of the ‘70s: Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn. When Hawn won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the 1969 farce “Cactus Flower,” Time Magazine called her “a natural reactress; her timing is so canny that even her tears run amusingly.” Hawn later made a memorable appearance alongside Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in the 1975 Hal Ashby satire “Shampoo.” Tomlin had memorable roles in the farce "Nine to Five" (1980), "All of Me" with Steve Martin (1984), and two more recent David O. Russell films - "Flirting With Disaster" and "I Heart Huckabees." Watch Russell and Tomlin at each other's throats on set here.

Some other notable 1970s comediennes who came from television were Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner. Lucille Ball was Carol Burnett’s mentor. “The Carol Burnett Show,” a variety program featuring Burnett in countless hilarious and memorable roles, ran from 1967-78 and was a huge hit. Burnett later appeared as the mean Miss Hannigan in the film version of the musical "Annie" (1982). Gilda Radner, one of the original female cast members of “Saturday Night Live,” gave us Roseanna Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa. She met husband Gene Wilder on the set of the 1982 romantic comedy “Hanky Panky,” directed by Sidney Poitier. Another of the many talented female comedic actresses who worked with Gene Wilder was Teri Garr, who appeared in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” (1974), “Oh, God!” (1977), and “Tootsie” (1982), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Luckily, we are once again experiencing a period ripe with successful women in comedy – Tina Fey (if you don’t watch “30 Rock,” you should – it’s one of the funniest, smartest shows on television right now), Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wigg, Amy Sedaris, and Leslie Mann, to name a few - in both television and film. These women have been hailed for being not just funny, but smart and sexy as well. In Vanity Fair magazine in January 2007, Christopher Hitchens wrote an article called "Why Women Aren't Funny." Obviously, the article caused quite a backlash, and Vanity Fair published a response article by Alessandra Stanley entitled "Who Says Women Aren't Funny?" The cover featured Silverman, Fey, and Poehler copping a feel. However, I agree that the argument of the second article was weak, basically saying "There are a lot of funny women! But in order to be accepted as funny, they have to be hot too." Male comedians don't have to be sexy, but women do, otherwise they are classified by people like Christopher Hitchens as butch, dykes, and Jews. Here is Hitchens' rebuttal to the response to his article: Why Women Still Aren't Funny.

Unfortunately, despite all of these female talents, sexism is still ripe in the comedy genre. Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" (2007) was hailed for giving comedic actresses, like the very funny Leslie Mann, a chance to shine in larger roles in comedies that weren't considered "chick flicks," but there was still a large response - including that from the star, Katherine Heigl - saying that these roles were sexist. Women in comedy have come a long way since the '50s with the help of many talents, especially those in the '70s, but how long will it be before women can be widely accepted as funny people, not just as funny women?

Hell with Mel

As a child, I was not allowed to say words like “fart,” “booger, ” and my personal favorite, “butt”.  So the forbidden magical fruit was all the sweeter when I did hear it on tv or in movies.  However, Blazing Saddles just doesn’t do it for me.  I had never seen any Mel Brooks movies until this class but I had heard good things.  So my expectations were probably too high.  

Maybe Mel Brooks is innovative for bringing the fart onto the silver screen, but in my opinion, he took advantage of a simple, easy laugh and misused it.  He opened up the floodgates for everyone else to go above and beyond with the fart jokes.  And I’m not sure if I’m thankful for that.  This movie is just too much.  Every character has contrived witless dialogue and each line is dumber than the last.  And I know that’s the point but the film drags because of it.  It’s bogged down in silliness.  It can be funny when you beat a joke to death and when you go over the top with gags.  But if done too little or too much it kills the joke.  You have to give the audience time to breathe between jokes.  Mel Brooks tries to suffocate you with them. 

The film relies heavily on shock value and pushing the comedic envelope.  But not having seen this movie until after every other movie made until right now, I’m sick of things being edgy.  It was poor timing on my part.  I can see why people think its funny and I laughed at some of it, but it was definitely my least favorite movie so far in the class.  Gene Wilder was funny in it, though.  I'll give it that.

The film does anything for a laugh. Similarly, a whore will do anything for a few bucks.  While that dedication can be respectable, for me, the dirty jokes in Blazing Saddles are just too easy.

Some Like It Mildly Warm

As much as I hate to repeat post, Some Like It Hot is probably the one film we watched that is deserving (at least more then Pink Flamingos...).  The film is consistently rated as one of the top films every made (not just comedy) and uniquely benefits from repeat viewings.  Even mired in all the Marilyn Monroe controversy, Billy Wilder and the rest of the cast and crew pulled off a great film.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film and Billy Wilder's entire body of work is that English was not his first language.  He usually wrote with a writing partner, in this case with I.A.L Diamond, but he still managed to write English language dialog that is so quick and witty American audiences have a hard time keeping up.  Diamond and Wilder working together was a structure and style match made in heaven.  Wilder always praised Diamond because he "knew how the pipes [fit] together".  The film is funny but never loses its heart and that can be directly contributed to Wilder and Diamond's script.
Some of the funniest moments in American film comedy occurs between Osgood and Daphne.  Much of the comedy comes from Wilder playing with social acceptability and really pushing what he could get away with.  He made the audience uncomfortable and roll with laughter at the same time, and that is the genius of Billy Wilder... that and making Marilyn Monroe do this...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Where's that Baby!

Before I kick it and head off to the great screening room in the sky, I have to figure out how a movie like Raising Arizona is made. There are comedy films that induce laughter, and there are fine movies; well acted, well written, good structure... so on and so forth. Raising Arizona is the complete package. To take such a strange story line, so many zany characters and to bottle them within rich dialogue and beautiful imagery... how is it done? 

Film comedies are by and large fairly awful. There are bad dramas and bad romance, but we let those slide by and the majority of these films have some redeeming qualities. But, for whatever reason, many comedic films are not simply bad within there genre, they are poorly made movies (I direct you to the makers of Epic Movie, or say the John Leguizamo vehicle The Pest.) The Coen brothers are not simply great directors of comedy. They are wonderful filmmakers.  

So many little things I love about this film. Here are just a few: 1) Leonard S
malls (the bounty hunter to end all bounty hunters) has the same tattoo as H.I. implying that the two are some how related, perhaps H.I. was Smalls' long lost son! 2) Gale and Evelle are literally born in the film as they appear from the earth when they break out of prison. 3) After H.I. awakens from his dream of the biker of the apocalypse he looks out the window and says, "It's a hard world for little things." a reference to the Robert Mitchum movie "Night of the Hunter." Too much symbolism and weird stuff going on to account for it all.

This film is so much richer and stranger and more inventive than 95% of the standard hollywood fare. It's a wonderful comedy that can be watched over and over. So many interesting things going on. And of course the yodeling.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

F*#k Soup

The movie we viewed in this class that I disliked the most would have to be Duck Soup. I had never really seen a Marx Brothers film before this class. Although, I feel I was well aware of the persona of Groucho Marx because of his influence on Woody Allen and his role as a pop culture icon. I expected to like Duck Soup because it is so respected in the lexicon of American Film comedy and influenced so many comedic artists upon its release.

Surprisingly, I found the film to be one of the most annoying things I had ever seen. Not only did it bore me more than any other film we watched this semester, but it seemed endlessly tedious and irritating. Some of the mayhem made me chuckle, but generally I just thought it was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen.

I enjoy comedians that deliver one liners, but I suppose I am more of a fan of the Rodney Dangerfield's self deprecating style as opposed to the obnoxious behavior of Groucho.

Why in the hell was the movie called Duck Soup in the first place, I guess that is the whole point. The movie makes little to no sense so why would the title be of any importance. I am glad that Woody Allen and others influenced by the Marx Brothers have improved upon the slapstick comedy they displayed in Duck Soup.

3rd Blog Post- Rodney Dangerfield

The 1970's are often considered the birth of the new age of stand up comedians. A time where young edgy comics were more abundant than ever experimenting with new and unorthodox styles of stand up. But, in 1970...Rodney Dangerfield was already 49 and had made a significant impact on the world of comedy. So why mention him as an influential figure of 1970's comedy? 
In 1969 Rodney bought a Manhattan nightclub which would become Dangerfields, a landmark of standup comedy. HBO would go on to make a series of stand up specials at the venue. As seen to the left it was the spotlight that exposed some of comedies most legendary figures like Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Leno, Robert Townsend, and the list goes on... some really interesting stuff can be found on Dangerfields official site (by the way it also claims to be the longest running comedy club in the world!)... they've got some great clips of Rodney. Also watch Bill Murray and other famous comics talk about Rodney's eye for talent here

It's difficult to understand Rodney's impact throughout the 70's when Dangerfields was new and fresh... but I found a great video in the comedy central archives about the opening night!! Check it out! 

Rodney wouldn't get involved in American Film comedy until the 1980's where he landed several breakout roles in films such as Back to School and CaddyShack... He was recognized by the Smithsonian and won the American Comedy Award for lifetime acheivement. He was unquestionably a large role in the development of American comedy. And for my final website I think it's best to leave you with the first page of the Google Images search of 'Rodney Dangerfield'... His classic face...almost never out of character

Thumbs Down on 'Ridgemont'....

At the risk of alienating the masses of people that absolutely adore this movie, I have chosen to embrace my initial instinct and pick Fast Times at Ridgemont High as one of my least favorite films. Before I start listing the numerous reasons why I've never liked this movie, I'd like to first begin by saying that I appreciate it. I have seen the film many times. I think it is the ultimate teensploitation/ sexploitation comedy. If I recall correctly, 'Fast Times' audiences are previewed to 90 minutes of teenagers engaging in some of the most crude, nasty and unattractive behaviors known to mankind. The movie features two relatively explicit sex scenes, an abortion, a male masturbation scene, high school girls practicing fellatio on innocent carrots, drug use and an infamous slow motion sequence in which a young woman removes her bathing suit top. All of these aspects help define 'Fast Times' as a teensploitation/ sexploitation. The movie is all about showing teenagers having sex and doing drugs (cornerstones of both genres).

I appreciated this film for having helped define the "teen comedy" "teenspoitation" archetype. I also think that, nowadays, the film works as a celluloid time capsule. The movie features countless images, sounds and memories from the 1980's. Folks that actually lived through those years probably find 'Fast Times' to be pleasantly nostalgic.

However, I have always found the heart of this movie to be extremely cynical, pandering and fake. I have always thought the characters were extremely one dimensional and stereotypical. We had Spicoli the stoner, Stacy the virgin, Rat the likable nice guy, Demone the jerk, Brad the disgruntled older brother etc. All of the characters seemed like they were coming straight out of a cheesy sitcom. The content of the film isn't very uplifting either. None of the characters go through a significant change. Stacy's ultimate revelation, after having affairs, becoming pregnant and then having an abortion, is that she wants a "relationship" instead of sex. To me, this acknowledgement from her always seemed a little over simplified and borderline insipid. Furthermore, in the context of the rest of the film, Stacy's abortion subplot seems oddly out of place for a comedy. The whole movie, in my opinion, felt like it was made by adults trying to guess what it would be like to be in high school. And considering 'Fast Times' was based on a book written about the experiences of a grown man posing as a high school student, my assessment doesn't appear to be excessively outrageous. The whole film lacks a lot of innocence and exuberance. When you strip away the cool outfits, music, stars and laughs, you're ultimately left with a really cynical, depressing interpretation of youth.

I understand that "exploitation" films are supposed to be "cheesy" and campy. However, I think it's also possible to make an exploitation film that features original characters who have genuinely inspired experiences and authentic, meaningful revelations. I appreciate the iconography of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but not the characters, the story or the writing.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I like funny movies! I mean who doesn’t. Out of all the films we have view in class I have to say that Some Like it Hot was my favorite. Now this might be based on some prejudice because I believe I have seen most off the films we screened prior to taking the class. Even with the added value of enjoying the film for the first time there are a lot of key elements imbedded in the film that make it a worthy candidate for the best film of American Film Comedy Class.

This film is one of the raciest pieces viewed in class (short of the John Waters screenings). Its sexually open in a way that other films of the time were afraid to be. The primary conflict of this film is the seduction of Marylin Manroe. Although I do not openly condone the concept of the picture I revere its direct and sincere approach to sex. It was even marketed under the statement that “you’ve never laughed more about sex” 1:02 in this trailer.

This film also enraptures a social mentality. These two struggling musicians work hard to survive and throw caution to the wind. For there efforts they are rewarded in many different ways. It’s a zany lifestyle but it’s filled with none stop excitement that kept me on the edge of my seat. It is defiantly a false reality as the hard ships these two endure are looked on with playful innocence. However, it is also a trademark of media from that time period. I find the film most successful because of its creation of an environment. I accept that the 1950’s were a time filled with big band jazz music and constant playful conflict. Although this is far from truthful I find myself lost in the beauty of scenes such as this.

Whether it is the sex, the social environment, or sear magnificence of Jack Lemons work Some Like it Hot is the best film viewed in class.

Fourth and final blog post assignment

Okay we're coming down to the wire.

Here is the assignment: Choose your favorite OR least favorite film we have viewed (in whole or in part) in class this semester and discuss why you like or dislike it.

Extra points for addressing some of the definitions and issues that have been raised in lectures or presentations.

This is due on Tuesday July 1st.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I drink too much. The last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it.

“I don’t get no respect…” A single catch phrase that sums up the career and self deprecating humor of a man from Long Island named Jack Roy, better known to us as the fat funny man Rodney Dangerfield. Rodney began his career in comedy at the age of 19 by writing jokes for other stand up comics. This gig did not provide enough scratch for the future comedian and he turned to the lucrative business of vinyl siding; where he stayed for nine years. (It should be noted that in the interim he was a singing waiter, certainly he “got no respect” in that job).
Dangerfield got his first big break on the Ed Sullivan show when they needed a last minute replacement for their stand up act that went MIA. Rodney was a hit and that performance on the Ed Sullivan show marked one of many including countless other late night T.V. appearances and 70 appearances on The Tonight Show.
Rodney’s biggest influence may have come not from his act but from a night club that he bought in Manhattan in 1970 that he dubbed “Dangerfield’s.” Dangerfield’s became the site of an HBO show that kick started the careers of Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Tim Allen, Roseanne Brarr, Jeff Foxworthy, Sam Kinison, Rita Rudner, Andrew “Dice” Clay, and Bob Saget. His career peaked during the early 1980s, when he became a movie star. His appearance in Caddyshack led to starring roles in Easy Money and Back To School. Later his stand up album “No Respect” won a grammy award.
Rodney’s autobiography was supposed to be titled “My Love Affair With Marijuana” but unfortunately the publishers saw fit to give it another title, eventually agreeing on It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs. The reasoning behind the original title was that Rodney had habitually smoked cannabis for about 60 years while raising a family, running a night club and doing his own comedy.
His headstone reads; Rodney Dangerfield- There goes the neighborhood. And on a less pessimistic note Joan Child held an event in which the word "Respect" had been emblazoned in the sky, while each guest was given a live Monarch butterfly for a Native American butterfly-release ceremony led by Farrah Fawcett.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hal Ashby

Hal Ashby was a versatile director dabbling in different genres but he proved to be a great comedic director with movies like Harold and Maude, The Landlord, The Last Detail, and Being There, which I have to add, is my favorite of his movies and I highly recommend this to anyone.
His directing career started at age 40 so his body of work is relatively small. He is little remembered today despite being one of the most prolific and successful filmmakers of the 1970s. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he did not have official film training; the editing room was his film school, which he stumbled into almost by accident. According to is career in films came about in a combination of fate, luck, and being in the right place at the right time; ironically these elements of chance often occur to the characters in his films.
At the age of 19, he left his hometown of Ogden, UT to find a job in California. He landed a job at Universal in the mailroom but within a few years he became an apprentice of an editor until he became a full-fledged editor himself. Ashby thought of the editing room as “the perfect place to examine everything. [It] is channeled down into that strip of film, from the writing to how it’s staged, to the director and the actors.” In his collaboration with director Norman Jewison, he received recognition as an editor and won a Best Editing Oscar for In the Heat of the Night (1967). Jewison also recommended him to direct The Landlord, his directorial debut. The film had a modest budget and, despite good critical reviews, went relatively unnoticed on its release in 1970. But The Landlord signaled that a new directorial talent with a flair for black comedy had arrived on the scene.
He proved his flair for black comedy with his second film Harold and Maude, a style that would dominate throughout his films. The film didn’t receive commercial success but it quickly acquired cult status. It’s about a 20 yr-old Harold who learns to love life through his encounter with an eccentric senior citizen whom he eventually falls in love with. One Rotten Tomatoes reviewer said it was “the epitome of a film that you can’t believe you’re laughing at, but you are. A lot. It hurts. In a good way.”
After a series of well-received films, critics didn’t think he had a specific style that was consistent through his filmography, which is to say he was not considered an “auteur”. His final great film, Being There, was a great success but it was a challenge to keep the absurd premise for two hours without allowing it to slip into farce. Unfortunately, after Being There Ashby’s career began a downward spiral from which it never recovered. His abusive use of drugs affected his work. He spent too much time in post-production and was forced from his position to be given to someone else to actually get something done. He died in 1988, according to his obituary, and doesn’t receive the credit as directors like Coppola and Altman get, but he certainly left a legacy.

I will name my firstborn Harvey Korman

I'm not sure if anybody else grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show, but I did and Harvey Korman was always my favorite. Something subtle about him cracks me up. I used to tell my dad that they could broadcast him blinking and I'd still roll off the couch laughing.

personal info:

He was born Harvey Herschel Korman in Chicago, February 15 of 1927.
He was married twice and had four kids.
He died just recently on May 29, 2008 - which totally f*cking sucks because I almost went to see him and Tim Conway at the Wang Center last year and I said "Oh no, I'll catch them the next time" ...I'm an idiot.

professional info:

Harvey had several bit parts and guest roles on television shows in the early 60s- for anyone who used to watch The Flinstones he was the voice of the Great Gazoo. He got his first big break on the Danny Kaye show in 1964. When that was cancelled in 1967 he hopped on board the Carol Burnett show in it's first season and the show was a enormous success. He left the show in 1977 but never found similar success on television again. Korman once said, "It takes a certain type of person to be a television star, I didn't have whatever that is. I came across as kind of snobbish and maybe a little too bright. ...Give me something bizarre to play or put me in a dress and I'm fine."

Apparently Mel Brooks' wife Anne Bancroft singled out Korman on the Burnett show and Brooks "knew he was a natural". Brooks cast him in Blazing Saddles and then History of the World and High Anxiety (which is a Brooks movie that I never hear anyone talk about but it's totally hilarious and Korman and Cloris Leachman almost steal the show)

Later in his career Korman did quite a lot of voicework for cartoons like Hey Arnold! and The Wild Thornberrys. He also worked on several films including Brook's Dracula spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving it! and he was the voice of the dictabird in 1994's live action Flinstones movie. (which on a personal note- I saw in the theater during a thunderstorm, the lights went out and my sister nearly peed her pants)

There's an extended bio here written by someone who seems to share my fanatical adoration of Korman- it's got cool little tidbits and summaries. And because his death is so recent there are about a million obituary-type articles floating around the web.

Harvey Korman truly is hysterically funny, He was a great physical comedian and his comic timing is impeccable. If you've never seen him on the Burnett show, and you like sketch comedy, check some out on youtube.
And because this is a film class blog- most definitely check out something like High Anxiety.

The Dark Comedy of Robert Altman

Robert Altman who died only two years ago had a long and versatile career for nearly forty years of film. He will always be remembered for his quintessential antiwar film MASH which later became one of the most successful television shows ever. In addition to this American classic he made several other comedies during the 1970s, including one of my favorite films Nashville.

This film is a slice of life following nearly 24 characters lives in Nashville, Tennessee for five days leading up to the bicentennial of the United States in 1976. The film perfectly touches on the dissent in America after Vietnam and Watergate and is loosely tied together by the speech of a third party president who is never seen at the films climax.

The film is both sad and funny as it shows the sometimes-tragic sometimes-comic struggles of various classes of people living in America. There is a focus on the American phenomenon of an obsession with fame as various leading ladies vie to become the next country music star.

This film is a precursor to later Altman works, like Shortcuts, which has unquestionably had an affect on modern filmmakers such as P.T. Anderson, whose film Magnolia is structurally similar to the film Nashville.

This film should be required viewing for anyone who wants to get a feel for what life was like in America in the 1970s after the turbulent years of the 1960s. This film along with MASH makes Robert Altman a master of dark comedy.

Here is the trailer!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

During the Korean war, three young military surgeons constantly fool around the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital they work at. Allergic to any kind of authority, against military operations, and loving alcohol and women before all the rest, they become really rebellious.
M*A*S*H belongs to political cinema and shocked a whole new generation. Extremely dark but also very humourous, the American Film Institute chose to make it the 56th best movie.
Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, David Arkin, Tom Skerritt, and Sally Kellerman, it has been awarded with the Oscar for best scenario adaptation and with the Palm d’Or of the Cannes Festival in 1970.
It is probably seen today as a very interesting movie because it was very different from what Holywood was producing at the time. Indeed, the movie was going against the main stream. It has been shot on a very low budget in order not to attract the producers on set and realize what was about to go out on a nationwide scale.
Surprinsingly, one element that brought so much succes to this movie is the sound. Indeed, the way sound is designed is revolutionary in the movie. The mess tent ( in the beginning of the film is a good example of the multi functions of sound in M*A*S*H. The two doctors talk in the same time and this tells a lot about the upcoming story. Indeed, it tells the audience that the doctors are probably not military educated to the extent that they don’t even wait their turn to talk but it has for purpose to save time in the expostion and tell different stories at the same time: this is an innovative way to overlap sound. Also, the opening song “suicide in painless” introducing two doctors is very controversial and unexpected but gives an idea to the viewer of the genre of the movie: satire.
One other original conflict that the movie created happened at the time of its release. It was the authorship controversy ( Robert Altman, the director, was used to sing his work with overlapping dialogue. In M*A*S*H, the effect turns out to be brilliant and very succesful. The dialogue sounds very witty and full of repartee. Altman is responsible for the pacing of the movie as he is responsible for the editing. However, most the words did not come from Altman but from the writer, Lardner. This turned out to become a very intense conflict between the two latter, fighting for credit. Altman mentioned that in his opinion, his “main contribution to M*A*S*H was the concept, the philosophy, the style, the casting, and then making all those things work. Plus the jokes, of course.”
In my opinion, M*A*S*H remains one of the most significant satire of the history of cinema. A satire is supposed to make fun of the negative aspects of our societies and all ideas that the author does not support and want to subtly criticize.
Robert Altman does a great job at turning the movie into a satire. Indeed, he takes a sad topic and turns it into a laughter, by joking around blook, terror, death and atrocities of the war.

Bill: Emerging Film Hero of the Late 70's

Bill Murray, seen in the still above as the epic Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, was not exactly a powerhouse in the film comedy world in the 70's, but he was getting there.  Murray wrote for and acted in SNL in the 70's, and his iconic importance in Caddyshack (which also stars Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase) is evidenced by a Caddyshack fansite:, a hilarious (if low-tech by today's standards) homage to the film.  

Interestingly, Murray's role, back in 1980, might not have been entirely far-fetched.  A "Production Information" document from the same fansite reveals that Murray's brother (Brian Doyle-Murray) wrote the screenplay, and was inspired by his own work as a caddy at a golf course as a teen, where Bill Murray also worked as a groundskeeper.  Well I'll be damned if that's not an eerie possibility, that his character may have been close to psychological truth.  

A good, biased synopsis of his career, found here, states that Caddyshack probably was his best film, and still is, but what about Ghostbusters?  His more serious roles are still frequently comedic, and his increasing ability as a more mature actor to combine psychological depth and comedy sets him apart from a lot of other SNL alumni.


The movie Grease was released the 16 of June 1978, it was directed by Randal Kleiser and written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The genre of the movie is comedy, musical, and romance. The movie Grease was very popular in the 70’s, it is said that it was an unexpected hit. Grease is a story about a summer love that started in a beach, then the love was lost in the middle of the teenage social an peer prejudices of the last year of high school and than it was found again.

The most important actors in the movie are:
John Travolta as Danny Zuko, Olivia Newton as Sandy Olsson, Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo, Jeff Conaway as Kenickie, Barry Pearl as Doody, Michael Tucci as Sonny Kelly Ward as Putzie, Didi Conn as Frenchy, Jamie Donnelly as Jan, Dinah Manoff as Marty Maraschino, Eve Arden as Principal McGee, Frankie Avalon as The Teen Angel, Joan Blondell as Vi, Edd Byrnes as Vince Fontaine, and Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun. For more

The movie was shot in California. Paramount Pictures released it. It has a great soundtrack including songs like Grease, We go together, Freddy my love, Summer nights and You’re the one that I want. A dance mix of songs form the movie Grease was released in 1997 and the movie was re-released in 1998. The movie was also re=released due to the 20th anniversary of the original one. Grease had a lot of critiques about the acting and the singing but despite that it was still a big hit.

In this link there is a scene where they are singing You’re the one that I like. I think it gives a good overview of the movie.


MASH, standing for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, established Robert Altman as a film director, yet he almost never directed it. The studios never chose him as their first choice; in fact he was number eighteen on the list. The studios wanted a director that could attract huge crowds to the box office and had a list of directors that included Arthur Penn, Mike Nichols and Stanley Kubrick.

When Robert Altman took the job, he constantly struggled with the studio to make it the film he wanted. As a studio, interested solely in making money, Altman’s determination could only come off as annoying and bizarre.
The major annoyance for the studio was Altman refused to have major stars. Altman wanted an ensemble cast with no particular actor or actress standing out. He said he wanted normal looking people instead of the usual Hollywood people. Indeed, due to the large number of unknown actors, the opening credits begin with “Introducing”. Altman then had most of the actors live twenty miles from the from the Fox studio in tents. This created a sense of community among the actors whom were then encouraged to improvise and rewrite their lines.

Today, we view this as a signature of Altman’s film. He used 40 actors in Nashville, 48 in A Wedding, another 40 in Short Cuts, and over 60 in both Prêt-à-Porter and The Player. His ensemble cast allows Altman to deliver multiple narratives that go on in the same space. These narratives can be viewed as discourse or diverging from the main narration.

While, people have accepted Altman’s unique form of telling a story, many people were concerned on the set of MASH at the time. Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland, two principal characters of the movie, complained to the studio of Altman’s direction and asked him to be removed. Screenwriter Ring Lardner proclaimed “You have ruined my picture!” after seeing the outcome of Altman’s encouragement of improvisation for actors. And the producers saw the film as unreleasable due to its weak narrative and failure to mention Korea. Altman had purposely wanted the anti war message to be linked to the war in Vietnam, which the studio opposed.

MASH, eventually, does get released under an X rating. It was the third highest grossing film of the year and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Film, and won the Best Screenplay award.

Steve Martin

For me, I'm saying for me now...Steve Martin is the funniest man who ever lived. His comedy appears effortless, and cannot easily be described (I mean, one of his bits involved playing the banjo while wearing one of those fake arrow headbands, and it was hilarious).

In this interview at NPR, he talks about trying to find something different, original, and new in stand-up comedy, and he realized that most comedians rely on jokes and punch lines. "What if I could get real laughter," he asked himself, "like the kind you have at home or with your friends, where your sides are aching."

It seems simple, but a lot of the stuff that makes us laugh in everyday life are really simple gags, not constructed jokes. Martin's stand up routine feels more like performance art - comic performance art, of course - than, well...a stand up routine. He doesn't make witty remarks that offer insight into our culture, but he crafted a specific comic persona that doesn't resemble his real life mannerism, but also isn't a stretch - a little smug, falsely humble, yet at the same time rushing to please the crowd, begging for a laugh. His determined mantra would occasionally be: "This is funny, you just haven't gotten it yet."

In a Newsweek interview in 1978, he noted the vast difference in his onstage persona and the real guy - "The main thing is I don't want this information to distort my onstage character to the point that people don't believe it any more."

One of the things I like best about his routine is that, as the Newsweek reporter put it, he's unthreatening. He was never out to get shock laughs; his act is just silly. "What makes you laugh so hard is the sight of this reasonable man so shamelessly shedding his inhibitions, this boy who should know better gleefully acting naughty - and getting away with it."

In that article, a comedian of the time, David Steinberg, noted, "We are burned out on relevance and anger. He offers a special form of escape and there is no hostility in his act." And he's right. It's just friendly laughs. Even when he injects a bit of sex and drugs talk, it's still silly. Consider the following clip, in which he creates venereal disease with balloons.

It's comedy of the absurd if ever an example was available. But Martin has an oddly philosophical bend to it: "It [art] was the only thing that had real meaning because it had no meaning. In art, truth comes and goes according to fashion. It can't be measured. You don't have to explain why, or justify anything. If it works, it works. As a performer, non sequiturs make sense, nonsense is real."

Cloris Leachman

            This woman just won’t stop.  She’s done it all: comedy, drama, tv, film, beauty pageants, and Adam Sandler movies.  Versatile.   After being a finalist in the 1946 Miss America competition, she took the scholarship money she won and moved to New York to join the Actors studio.  Then she went to Hollywood and the hits started rolling out.  She’s appeared in many classic shows and movies such as Lassie, The Twilight Zone, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Scary Movie 4. 

What’s relevant to this blog post is her work with Mel Brooks.  And the fact that she’s funny.  After all she did have her own hit show, “Phyllis”.  Back to business.  Cloris appeared in several of Brooks’ hit movies including History of the World Part I, High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein.  She created very memorable and hilarious characters in all the movies.

            Despite being born in 1926, Cloris is still kicking…and punching.  According to Steve on Broadway’s Blog, Cloris Leachman challenged Mel Brooks to three rounds in the ring in 2007.   When Young Frankenstein was being brought to the stage, Cloris expressed interest in reviving her character of Frau Blucher.  Mel turned her down, saying that he didn’t want the 81-year-old actress to die on stage.  That was a pretty rude thing to say to an award winning actress.  But it's kind of funny.  Just like Mel Brooks' movies.