Comedy in the Cinema

         The comedy is one of the most recognizable genres of film. There are many movies that use comedy, because audiences like to laugh. Therefore, cinematic comedy is a genre that has expanded enormously over the years. The comedic cinema has been used in many different ways throughout the years. It has been used for mere entertainment, as well as more satirical purposes to comment on society as a whole. There have been many leaders in the comedy genre over the years, from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks. This has created a wide variety of styles of comedy through the years across the United States and the world.

         Some of the earliest attempts at comedy began in the silent era. Slapstick was popular during this period because of the highly visual and physical comedy that it entailed. This led the way for later movies, in which physical comedy remained a mainstay. Comedians such as Charlie Chaplin relied on this sort of physical, slapstick comedy for laughs. Films such as The Gold Rush (1924) and the scene with dancing roles was slapstick at its finest. Mack Sennett, as a director, was one of the first people to pioneer this type of comedy in the cinema in his use of the Keystone Kops. The slapstick style of comedy was important in the evolution of comedy onscreen, since it helped to establish certain formulas for physical comedy that audiences continue to find funny to this day.

         The coming of sound in turn brought new aspects to the world of the comedic cinema. Comedies became more verbal, and the audience was exposed for the first time to jokes onscreen. This transformed comedies so that they were not totally reliant on the slapstick form any longer. This helped to birth the success of such comedians as the Marx Brothers, who starred in productions such as Leo McCarey's Duck Soup (1933). The Marx Brothers set up comedies full of absurd jokes that were funny and intelligent at the same time. The comedians such as the Marx Brothers also helped to usher in the era of satirical comedy, which served to point out the foibles of society. This satirical comedy has been used all throughout the globe to communicate messages about society in an underhanded manner. Often people will pay more attention to a movie if it approaches a problem or situation with humor, such as the series of Monty Python films, such as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), directed by Terry Jones, which satirizes religion.

         In the early days of comedic cinema, one would often see movies that showcased the talents of a particular pair or group of actors, such as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, etc. Elaborate jokes, especially verbally between actors, requires a pair of two highly-talented comedians. These teams of comedians often looked very different or had very different styles in order to enhance the comedy or interest different sections of the audience. Studios also often began making major comedies with both a male and female lead to draw both sexes to the movies.

         After the transition to sound, another type of comedy evolved, known as the screwball comedy. This type of comedy often involved the perils of a couple, and has very witty, quick dialogue. This genre was started by just classics as Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1931). Screwball comedies as a genre now seem to be out of favor, but there are many modern day movies, which retain aspects of these movies. Romantic comedies, such as Michelle Alexander's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) or Miklós László's You've Got Mail (1998), involve the antics of two people who are comically confronted with an interesting situation. This contest between the woman and man in these movies is very much like the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.

         There was certainly a shift in comedy after the devastation of World War II. The screwball comedy lost prominence, as darker, more thoughtful and subtle comedy began to take hold. Some films, such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) brought a satirical look at war and nuclear power. The cinema no longer ignored the issue of pain in the world, but many directors certainly tried to lighten the mood of the changing society. Many comedic movies lost their "bubblegum" or "romantic" overtones to focus on more worldly issues.

         One of the more recent developments in comedy is the use of the parody or spoof. These types of comedies are less to advance the particular message of a director, and more to simply make fun of other things in society, such as movies. These spoofs or parodies often offer a different take on a more serious or entirely different genre of film. Mel Brooks' movie, Spaceballs (1987), is obviously a take off of Star Wars, for example. Yet it seems as though many recent parodies are just to make some quick money from the teenage crowd, such as the series of Scary Movie films, which really seem to have little artistic merit but simply go for overtly sexual or disgusting comedy.

         Over time, one of the most successful comedy types has been the romantic comedy, because people seem to love to see a woman and man play off each other. I really enjoy the Rob Reiner's 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally…, because it really seems to capture the funny aspects between a pair of friends. These romantic comedies have a long history, but seem to be especially prominent throughout the last two decades. These films seem to draw many women to the box office, and they are a welcome change from many recent blockbuster action movies.

         Comedies are one of the greatest cinematic genres. Comedy on film started in the era of the silent film and has only continued to transform and grow. Cinematic comedy draws upon the past as it marches into the future, which I think is what makes this genre of film so unique and fun to watch.

Megan Locke

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