Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Having A Laugh

Having been through the list of 500, I noticed that there are only a few comedies on the list. They are renowned for having us in hysterics in the back of the cinema, for being the instant hit over the Christmas break and for those dirty moments as a teenager growing up - but why is it that comedies can't seem to strike the funny bone in the movie reviewing world?

Throughout the world, society's sense of humour changes. In the United Kingdom, we're renowned for being very dry and sarcastic and thus it is black comedies that find their way into the living room - In Bruges or Dr. Strangelove are such examples. While slow, subtle humour is lost on other nations, the English persist in finding the droll moments in otherwise dull movies. Across the Atlantic, however, is the world of Jackass where falling over is deemed to be amusing. That's not to say that there is some crossover - Britain has Dirty Sanchez, while the US has Airplane!. While both are good at what they do, they're just not quite up to the standard of their counterparts.

Charlie Chaplin set the bar for silent comedy
Image Source: Wikipedia
Much of this variation in comedic taste is left over from the silent movie days. While the American Hollywood scene was lapping up the silent slapstick of Charlie Chaplin, us Brits were trying to figure out which way round the film goes in the camera. By the time Britain figured out how a falling piano had any comedic value, the outbreak of the Second World War called for the purpose of film was to have political propaganda imprinted onto it in order to keep the hopes of the armies alive. On that subject, Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of these created during the war years.

In 1932 sound film output finally overtook silent film output. As a result, in the years after the Second World War silent film all but vanished. This gave producers another medium in which to engage their audience. Along with this, the first televisions were beginning to become commercially available, allowing cinematic productions to reach a far wider audience - which resulted in for more experimental comedy. This also meant a decline for feature length comedy as regularly broadcast situation comedies (sitcoms) began their rise directly into the homes.

Nowadays, full length feature comedies are hard to come by. Often they are parodies of other movies or genres - such as Date Movie or Meet The Spartans - and because of their farcical nature often miss out on the strength of storyline that other films show and are ridiculed as a result. This isn't to say that they don't appeal to some cinema-goers, but moreover the film reviewers tend to have a target audience of more regular movie watchers - who will often have previously appreciated the film that is being spoofed.

Borat - Overly Offensive?
Other comedies can be hit and miss depending on if their target audience matches that of the film reviewer. For example, Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat could be seen by many to be severely offensive to Kazakhstan and its people, it could equally be seen as a film that redefined the boundaries that film could go to in order to portray something funny for a certain audience. Personally, I'm sitting on the fence on that point.

When creating comedy, directors tend to focus too highly on making the audience laugh rather than keeping a storyline flowing. As a result, this splits modern comedy into three categories: those that make the audience laugh while keeping a strong storyline throughout and remembering to tie up the loose ends; those that have the audience in stitches while forgetting about the storyline and; those that try way too hard to be funny, forget the storyline and end up being categorised as a contender for the worst film... ever.

Occasionally of course there will be an original comedy that impresses more than you'd expect - and, more often than not, their money-grabbing sequels will fall into the latter category, having failed to expand on any of the innovative ideas from the original film - for example, Scary Movie.

Ultimately, most films will fall into the middle category, not being able to live up to some of the epic films that are being produced in modern cinema. This results in a number of 4-star films. Of course, rom-coms will still be available and amusing for those soppy romantic weekends, but this, I'm afraid, is not in the realm of the 5-star reviewer.

Unfortunately these films still need a strong storyline to appeal to their critics and it seems that comedy directors have forgotten about the most important thing - laughing about laughing matters... matters.


  1. Good points on here. It's often lost on the public and reviewers that comedy can be as hard to act as drama. But there are definitely a lot of levels of comedy in my eyes. I mean, coming from Europe I often prefer the British to the American, and in Finland there's a very specific type of comedy that I don't think would work outside of it. I guess it has something to do with universality, the major dramas, the classics are often about big emotions: love, hate, passion, revenge, loss. Laughter isn't included in this 'important topics' category.

    Cool post! Linked you too, it's cool to see someone else working through an Empire list. I've been a bit slow so far but plan on hasting my pace now that my university work allows it a bit more.

  2. Yes, as I mentioned, comedy seems to be very geographically based. Much of the humour that is found in one country may be taken offensively in another country so it is difficult to strike the correct balance.

    I agree... finding the time to fit in films is extremely difficult - especially with a full time job to hold down as well! I also find that some people want to watch specific films with me so because I'm doing them in a specific order, it makes it difficult to try and plan around that too!