Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy by Saul Austerlitz

By Saul Austerlitz

Charlie Chaplin. Buster Keaton. The Marx Brothers. Billy Wilder. Woody Allen. The Coen brothers. Where could the yankee movie be with no them? Yet the cinematic style those artists represent--comedy--has perennially obtained brief shrift from critics, movie buffs, and the Academy Awards.  Saul Austerlitz’s one other nice Mess is an try to correct that wrong. Running the gamut of movie historical past from urban lighting fixtures to Knocked Up, one other advantageous Mess retells the tale of yankee movie from the viewpoint of its undesirable stepbrother--the comedy. In 30 lengthy chapters and a hundred shorter entries, every one committed essentially to a unmarried performer or director, one other fantastic Mess retraces the stairs of the yankee comedy movie, filling within the gaps and following the connections that hyperlink Mae West to Doris Day, or W. C. Fields to Will Ferrell. The first e-book of its sort in additional than a new release, one other wonderful Mess is an eye-opening, wonderful, and enlightening travel of the yankee comedy, encompassing the masterpieces, the box-office smashes, and all of the little-known gem stones in among.

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Sample text

The tension is ratcheted up with each slip, each faulty foothold; the sequence’s realism is affirmed by the perpetual presence, in the background of nearly every shot, of the street far below. We know now, from interviews and biographies, that Lloyd made artful use of camera angles and mockups for the sequence, but this knowledge hardly detracts from the mounting tension. At one point, Harold clambers onto a ledge, and a mouse crawls up his leg. Doing a frantic two-step to dislodge the unwanted intruder, he receives a healthy round of applause from the crowd gathered at street level, which believes him to be dancing a jaunty jitterbug.

The resulting effort is slipshod at best, offering compelling testimony to the technical difficulties of working in the new medium. Welcome Danger is painfully, exaggeratedly slow—something no Lloyd film had ever been before—and much of the dialogue is very obviously dubbed onto otherwise-silent sequences. Whatever the defects of his virgin sound effort, Lloyd learned quickly. The solution was in matching the dialogue to his plots, not—as Keaton had so blunderingly done—building his films around their talk.

After the technical and comedic triumphs of Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator, though, it could not help but feel like a regression. Keaton’s physical agility, dodging love-hungry women and falling rocks in the finale, is masterful, his pratfalls each small masterpieces of technique, but the plot feels slight, and the comic set-pieces not plentiful or multifaceted enough to make up the difference. Go West (1925) is a further step backward, a mock Western whose putative love interest is a cow named Brown Eyes.

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