Film, like any other art form reflects its era. This is very true of comedy. In its early days it reflected it reflected its vaudeville origins. Comedy - laughter at the absurdities and humilities of existence - is a form of subversion. It pokes fun at authority and takes the mickey out of prejudice and fashion.
Last night I watched Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie made in 1925 ‘The Gold Rush’. Slapstick, pathos, sentimentality – I can understand how the Little River audience at the time loved it. Simple universality. Hunger leading to cooking and eating a boot. (It was made of liquorice). A cabin teetering on the brink of a chasm. Being chased by a bear.
And the anticipation. Charlie’s in love but his beloved scorns him. After a tiff with her suitor she asks The Little Fellow to dance with her. He’s in bliss. But his trousers start to fall down. Seizing a piece of rope he ties them up. The camera pans to the end of the rope and the attached dog. And then to a cat walking on the dance-floor. Back to Charlie’s blissful face. The audience knows what’s going to happen. And it does.
I’ve also been watching episodes of Dad’s Army on DVD – part of British nostalgia about the war years – a sitcom series about a Home Guard volunteer group. Arthur Lowe’s portrayal of the pompous, patriotic, brave Captain Mainwaring is comedy at its finest. His sergeant Wilson is the exact opposite, a diffident man, ‘do you think that’s wise sir’. Wilson is from upper class stock, a foil for his lower class captain. Though there is one heart-stopping episode when an unexploded bomb is in the bank cellar and the two men are left holding it. It’s a comedy. One knows they’ll survive. But it captured the camaraderie of that period when the common cause transcended class.
Like most comedies it relies on stock phrases. ‘You stupid boy.’ ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic.’ ‘They don’t like it up ‘em.’ ‘Fuzzie-Wuzzies’. ‘Permission to speak, sir.’ And stock characters, a comic source of much mirth.
Niece Jenny has a loan of the DVD second series of ‘The Flight of the Cochords’ starring New Zealand comic duo Jemaine Clement and Brett Mackenzie. It’s an unusual blend of witty, laconic dialogue, characterisation and acoustic guitar music. You might find it surprising but this wizened old buzzard loves it. It’s so different from Chaplin in style and tone and yet has so many characteristics. It’s hard to pull the chicks, for instance.
One episode will illustrate. Tired of using a rostered, shared coffee cup Brett has bought one for his own use. It cost two dollars, ninety-five cents. Their power-bill was that amount short. So the power was cut off. To restore it, Brett sells his guitar. So he has to mime the gig guitar-less. They ask their agent Murray for a loan. He reveals he has lent his money to an entrepreneurial Nigerian online. Their look says it all. But no. It was not a scam. It was valid. So it all ends happily except Brett breaks his cup.
I love them all.