Where Have All the Comedies Gone?

         Out of all of the different genres of movies, comedy seems to be one of the best liked. However, just in the one field of comedy there are many other classifications of what type of humor is in the film. From the earliest stages of slapstick comedy, to what we call spoof, this genre can be broken down into many different stages. Over the years, comedy has changed drastically; and we have seen, what I feel, a drastic decline in the quality of comedy films in general.

         As well as being one of the most popular forms of cinematic entertainment, comedy is one of the oldest genres of film due to the fact that early films were silent. Directors relied on the physical and visual humor rather than sound to create a sense of entertainment. Therefore, the comedy used was genuine, original, and indisputably funny. Films such as The Gold Rush (1925), directed by Charlie Chaplin, and Duck Soup, (1933) directed by Leo McCarey, that we were able to see in class have a great quality of humor. By growing up in the generation that I have, I feel that I have been deprived of the type of humor that these older films encompass. As well as Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, comic artists such as Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and Mae West were all also famous for their skills in entertainment.

         Originated around 1912, slapstick comedy was first portrayed by those who were trained in the circus and specialized in performing. This is ideal for its time period with the void of sound in the industry. Slapstick masterminds used techniques such as hysical mishap, practical jokes, acrobatic death-defying acts, and wild car and train chases to name a few. Charlie Chaplin is an example of a comic actor who used slapstick in his acts.

The Gold Rush because it is a silent film, which I am not a huge fan of. When we discussed it was a comedy, I thought, how are they going to be able to portray a comical story line without the use of puns, and jokes, and ill remarks? But soon into the film I realized that the type of comedy that I have grown accustomed to is not exactly the sort of comedy used in these films. Charlie Chaplin is viewed to most as a comic genius. The scene in the 1925 film, The Gold Rush, where the house is tipping on edge, was one of the most humorous parts of the film, and he portrayed it with such ease. Even after sound was introduced into film, Chaplin would produce comedies with sound effects, however, with little spoken dialogue. He has an amazing ability to lighten the mood of a scene with a simple facial expression or an acrobatic stunt, which happens to be what he is famous for.

         After the introduction of sound in the late 1920's, the genre of comedy changed, giving the actors the ability to entertain with dialogue. Cruel verbal wit, sexual innuendo, and comic wit were the basis of film in this time period. Comedians such as the Marx Brothers dominated the industry at this time. Films produced during this time, Duck Soup, At the Circus (1939), and Room Service (1938) were all extremely popular and they all had the Marx Brothers, Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo, as the leading stars.

         The 1933 film Duck Soup, was a great comedy. I found it more enjoyable being able to watch it directly after The Gold Rush in class, considering that all the films previous to Duck Soup we viewed were silent. I was able to appreciate the comments, crude, but tasteful humor, and the comic acts of the Marx Brothers. Groucho Marx was brilliant with his wit playing Rufus T. Firefly in the film. While slapstick was very enjoyable and entertaining, the quality of the jokes and humor used once sound was introduced was legendary.

         These films that portray such genius with the humor and the jokes, while legendary and one of a kind, were eventually abused and overused. The cliché "too much of a good thing can be too much" plays a great important role in films today. The comedy films that I, in my generation, am watching are quite contrary to the ones in previous time periods. In recent films, such as Just Friend, (2005), by Roger Kumble, or Big Momma's House 2 (2006) by John Whitesell, it seems that directors and actors have lost the ability to distinguish between what is comedy and what is an effort to entertain. In a poor attempt to employ slapstick comedy in films, the directors have given us films that have been considerably disappointing. These films feel that putting a skinny person in a "fat suit" to represent someone else is humor, and audiences will find this funny as well. It is quite possible for the first film to present this stunt to generate success in comedy, however, to date there have been countless films to depict the same concept with a different story line and expecttations for the same great results.

         Another concept in comedy films that Hollywood has pushed to the edge is the rendition of the "spoof" comedy. While the "spoof" has been around since the 1930's, it became increasingly popular with the line of films, Not Another Teen Movie, directed in 2001 by Joel Gallen, the four Scary Movie films, and recently Date Movie (2006). I was extremely disappointed when I watched Date Movie, directed by Aaron Seltzer. It seems that even the "spoof" which outwardly I thought could never get old, has even run its course in the genre of comedy. Writers are scraping trying to find new humor and are resulting in crude or inexplicably ill comedy.

         After having the opportunity to view classics that hold such a high regard for being comedies, such as Duck Soup and The Gold Rush, I have been more of a critic of new films that are being released, feeling that I have experienced real comedy in a film. If directors now would shy away from the norm and watch films where comedy originated, the genre of comedy would be much more entertaining and successful. Thus, I hope the viewers of the next generation will be exposed to a more innovative and engaging type of humor.

Melissa Englert

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