Volume 16, Issue 11-12 / November–December 2012

Film Comedy Double

This special double issue on Film Comedy has been in the works for a very long time, partly due to the task feeling so daunting, but I can proudly say, job (finally!) done. And at the same time say goodbye to 2012, as this marks the final issue of the year. If E.B White was right when he said that analyzing comedy is, “Like dissecting a frog, you can do it, but both tend to die in the process,” then to quote a famous thespian represented in this issue, I’m guilty of ‘moidering’ comedy! Each of the five essays representing the first half of the double issue center around the French philosopher who wrote eloquently about laughter, Henri Bergson, and the genius French filmmaker who created a small but vastly unique body of comic films, Jacques Tati. These five essays collectively serve to outline Bergson’s influential thoughts on comedy, expressed in a monogram written in 1900 entitled Le rire. The first essay serves as a general primer on Bergson’s comic mind, and then applies his ideas to Tati’s second feature length film, Les vacances du Mr. Hulot (1953). My essay finds many parallels between Bergson and Tati, but at the same time argues that Bergson’s views on comedy have become deeply ingrained in the subsequent (to when he wrote) development of film comedy, to the point where his central ideas have formed a basic primer for comic mechanisms, gags, structures, and character types. In my follow-up essay I contrast Bergson and another great thinker, Arthur Koestler, whose critical views on Bergson’s comic philosophy are contained in his centerpiece on creativity, The Act of Creation, 1964. Aspiring comic writer and student of comedy Jeffery Klassen continues with the Bergson lineage by adding a modification to his theory which he feels makes it better able to account for contemporary comedy, with the Mike Judge film Office Space as his case study for his Bergson-redux. The next two essays bring Bergson back to Jacques Tati, and his mildly satirical take on modernism, Mon Oncle. In the first David Addelman relies on both Bergson and Koestler to account for how Tati’s particular ‘democratic’ style evokes a Bergsonian ‘elasticity’ of mind and Koestlerian “two-plane thinking” (“biosociation”). Using close textual analysis Addelman demonstrates how Tati’s comic world operates on the “principle of the microcosm.” The next and final essay on Bergson/Tati is Pascal Déry’s study on the architectural design of Tati’s Mon Oncle and how the director proposes a thematic contrast between the “modern and the vernacular.” The second half of the double issue is a mirror opposite of the first, with variety replacing uniformity. By design, the subjects of the next five pieces are marked by their difference from each other. With one foot in the past and one in the present, the five essays/reviews range from Werner Herzog’s bizarre New Orleans, post-Katrina, irreverent, dark cop comedy, Bad Lieutenant; the triple threat comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen; the contemporary and golden age Hollywood romantic comedy; the wacky world of the Hong Kong action-martial arts comedy; and the irrepressible Three Stooges. Sacha Ornstein succeeds in his uphill battle to convince himself that Bad Lieutenant is a very funny film. Stephen Rife wonders why American viewers find it much harder to accept Bruno than Borat. Elaine Lennon surveys the past and present of romantic comedy (from rom com to zomromcom) and offers a dissenting view on much of the recent British variant (of the overly politically correct type). Vito Adriaensen does not bother with trying to prove that the Three Stooges were the funniest people on the planet (he just knows), but instead ‘outs’ their Jewishness by noting that their debt to Yiddish folklore, hilarious anti-Nazi satires, and sporadically alluded to Jewish cultural heritage was in fact a major influence on the next generation of Jewish comedians, from the Borscht Belt set to Gene Wilder, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. While Michael Bloom manages to separate the kicks in the guts from the belly laughs in his study of the wild and wacky ‘chopsocky slapstick’ world of Hong Kong cinema. After reading this packed (nearly 30,000 words worth, yikes!) double issue on film comedy I seriously encourage you to spend the weekend watching your favorite comedians at work. You deserve it! (Donato Totaro, ed.)

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