the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Feeling Screwy

They just don't make films like this anymore.

I watched The Lady Eve last night. (This DVD came from the same friend's collection which produced National Treasure, so I suppose he's forgiven). I'd forgotten how much I love the Screwball Comedy. Zippy dialogue, pratfalls, zingers and one-liners, innuendoes and out the other. In a word: fun.

I know many people would count Eve among the best of the Screwballs. I suppose they're right, though I like others, such as Bringing up Baby and especially His Girl Friday better. (Though that may have more to do with the fact that were I able to become any actor in Hollywood history, it would, without a doubt, be Cary Grant).

Comedy gets a bad rap, even from me. Marooned on a desert island with a choice of only dramas or comedy films to keep me company, I'd pick drama and never look back. Maybe if more comedy films were like the Screwballs of yesteryear, I'd feel differently.

Most people feel the same way. They don't know it and would probably tell you exactly the opposite, but the sorts of films we honor show that we value drama over comedy. (Interesting that the emotions of agony and ecstasy are prized above those of levity and happiness).

I also might value comedy more if it weren't for the fact that what we call comedy today is little more than cinematic gutter vaudeville.

It's enough to make me ask, what would a modern Screwball comedy look like?

I'm imagining something directed with the flair and fun of Steven Soderbergh but written in the sort of whip-lash, too-smart-for-its-own-good, blink-and-you'll-miss-it pen of Aaron Sorkin.

Now that would be a comedy worth seeing.


Anonymous nate said...

Ahem. Or JOSS WHEDON. He is, and has been, in the vanguard of the trend to collapse the separate genres of drama and comedy into a single, hour-long animal different than what we’re used to seeing. In Firefly, and yes, once again, in Buffy, he had an intuitive sense in the interplay between the two, and how drama made the comedy funnier, (and truer), and the comedy made the drama more poignant. It’s probably split right down the middle. In fact, once you get on his wavelength, the separation that has been erected between the two in movies and television begins to seem superimposed and artificial, something that we will in the future look back on as quaint and simple-minded.
So much of my praise for Buffy centered on how the season has a tangible dramatic momentum, like each episode is building towards something, and it hooks you in. But maybe I neglected the most important quality of all – it is cry your eyes out, pause the DVD funny, and the funny is based within and originates from the characters, and is so deftly weaved with the drama that the two become a single storyline. There is not a serious “A” story and a lighthearted “B” story.
(Aaron Sorkin also has this ability – and Studio 60 was fantastic last night - but I think it remains to be seen if his characters can branch out and have different voices from his own, as in not so rat-a-tat-tat hyper-articulate all the time.)
So, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not necessarily that comedies these days need to be simply better, but that we need to stop pigeonholing them as simple fratboy hijinks and allow them to stretch and be something more, and we should also not be afraid to allow our dramas to be hysterical. I think it gives both more weight. Maybe the Greeks had it wrong all this time, with those stupid masks.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

Nate, I agreed with the first 90% of your post, but maybe you just didn't express yourself well in the last 10%.

I don't think "we" (the film snobs) are pigeonholing the crappy comedies of the last 10 years as fratboy hijinks.

They are pigeonholing themselves! In fact, they're digging the holes and jumping in with glee!

You know I could go on about this, but so many others have, and so much better than I could. BUT...a thought did just occur to me.

Most of these stupid movies are coming out of the Hollywood Machine. We know that the industry is now dominated by the MBA-weilding, Harvard graduate, mostly male, beancounters. Maybe they ARE (were?) all Frat Boys, and so we get stuck with what *they* think is funny?

No wonder Independent Cinema is blossoming and flourishing (and thank the gods it is!)

What's the biggest grossing (and that's such an appropos term these days) "mainstream" comedy this summer: Talledega Nights or Dead Man's Chest? Both with more than their fair share of stupidity or disgusting scenes.

I think I've just decided to go see Little Miss Sunshine AGAIN in the THEATER, just to increase the numbers.

*sigh* ever outnumbered...always my fate in life...

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Carrie Reeck said...

This morning, Paul said to me "Guess which actor Brandon would want to be- or have been." For a fleeting moment, I had a horrible thought that it was someone like Brad Pitt or another overrated actor. Then I thought about the past tense he used and I said the first old actor that came to mind- Cary Grant! So, since he is one of my favorites too, I thought I'd add a comment. I don't have any real good reason for liking Cary Grant other than the charming characters he often played. I know virtually nothing of his private life, so I did a little search and found this: Once told by an interviewer "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." I always thought it would have been fun to have married someone whose last name was Grant. Paul was not willing to change his name despite its odiferous connotation. But, I too would like to have been Carrie Grant!

1:45 PM  

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