Comedy Is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies

Comedy Is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies

Comedy Is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies

Comedy Is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies

Excerpt

This book is about slapstick in American movies in the fifty years following the earliest classics of the 1910s. The quality of the movies has risen and fallen and risen again according to changing conditions in the entertainment industry, but the taste for slapstick persists. So this book is more contemporary, less elegiac than the most important previous American book on the subject, Walter Kerr's indispensable Silent Clowns, published in 1975, which focuses on the lost age of silent comedy. I wrote this to give fans a body of criticism that doesn't see slapstick preserved in soundless amber, but rather as an always vital, universally enjoyable mode that we should take gladly where we find it.

The past decade or so has provided enjoyable proof of the permanent viability of slapstick. The current boom includes such heartening evidence as Raising Arizona, Evil Dead II, Beetlejuice, the Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer scenes in The Fisher King, Groundhog Day, the drag sequences in Mrs. Doubtfire, The Mask, Friday, the remake of The Nutty Professor, Kingpin, the action sequences in Grosse Pointe Blank and A Life Less Ordinary, and the postwedding scenes in I Think I Do, all of which indicate that something is consistently going right—a lot of people know what they're doing.

I think the explanation lies in the fact that certain of the aspects that made silent slapstick moviemaking so good still obtain. For instance, improvisational stand-up and TV sketch comedy have served in the stead of the old live theater routes as a training ground in physical comedy for a raft of exceptionally talented performers (whose appearance, like that of writers and directors, is one of the imponderables). In addition, although finished scripts continue to be far more important, all scripts are retailored to suit the star if the star has any stature, and it's expected that the lead comedian will continue to come up with ideas during shooting. (Some pictures make audiences aware of the spontaneity on the set by including outtakes during the closing credits.) Adam Sandler, for example, has called his stint on Saturday Night Live “a boot camp for movies.” He said that when a performer on the . . .

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