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Archive for April, 2012

Slapstick Comedy

When motion pictures originated, there was no sound to them, only visual aspects for the viewers to enjoy. The first subgenre of comedy that came with the development of cinema was the slapstick comedy. In 1915, Earle W. Hammons developed the Educational Films Corporation. Later, in 1918 this corporation began showing comedic short cartoon films on their weekly program. Then, to gain more profit he hired a director and a comedian to release slapstick films which instantly made money. Many comedians during the silent slapstick era felt that the fact that there was no sound gave them more freedom to elaborate against the norms of the normal world. Slapstick comedies generally have over the top elaborate acts of violence and pranks that don’t generally make sense in the normal world.  However, when sound was developed in the film making industry the slapstick industry rapidly declined. Many critics believe sound killed the silent slapstick comedy because sound started to become the art of film, with music and dialogue, while silence used to be the art of film. Furthermore, the average American was starting to have different views on what is entertaining and what is not. People were becoming more sensible and mature and started getting bored of all of the same pranks being repeated over and over (King, 2011).

When looking back at the slapstick comedy today, we now view it as an art form. “Comedy is seldom taken seriously in our culture, as if that were almost a contradiction in terms. Comedies rarely attract much attention at Academy Awards time, and those that do get nominated almost always have significant themes (e.g. relationship in the 80’s) or believable characters in highly recognizable situations” (Lehman & Luhr, 1988). In essence, comedic films that are created and produced today are all highly relatable to our American culture.  Although many situations in comedy films are unlikely to happen to the average American, they are still generally believable. “But the American slapstick tradition offers another, perhaps richer comic tradition. Physical gags allow for sophistication cinematic structures of space and time. The significance of what happens is often much less important than precisely when and how it happens” (Lehman & Luhr, 1988). What the author is trying to say is that slapstick used special and temporal elements in their films that helped contribute to the humor in the films, while modern day comedies focus more on the humor in what happens.

Some examples of old slapstick comedy stars are The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, and The Marx Brothers. All stars did elaborate pranks to produce humor; especially pranks that do not make sense in the normal world. For example, in The Three Stooges they are always throwing pies in their faces, slapping each other, and other elaborate violent pranks. Themes in the slapstick comedy include unrealistic impossible situations, pranks that hurt with no real consequences of injury or death, and a feeling of suspense for the audience.

Slapstick comedies are still created today, although they include sound. One example is the Jackass trilogy. Jackass started out as a show where a group of guys would do crazy things to each other to entertain an audience. After much success, the show was cancelled but then turned into three very successful movies. In the movies they do extremely violent acts to one another. Some examples of the acts of humorous violence are sticking someone in a port-a-potty and using a bungee to spring the port-a-potty in the air while the person is in it. The only difference is the Jackass movies are filmed in a reality sense while the original slapstick comedies were an actual film.

King, R. (2011). ”The Spice of the Program”: Educational Pictures, Early Sound Slapstick, and the Small-Town Audience. Film History, 23(3), 313-330

Lehman, P., & Luhr, W. (1988). Blake Edwards’ Engagement of the Slapstick Tradition in Blind Date. Film Criticism, 13(1), 20-32.


Race and Comedy

Throughout the history of comedies, there has been much discussion on how different races are portrayed throughout comedic films. Many theorists may argue that the increase of racial minorities in comedic films has increased racial tolerance and acceptance, especially of Asian men. On the other hand, when using different races in these films there tends to be a certain racial hierarchy of intelligence and often times the portrayal of these races succumb to negative stereotypes that society has already placed on them (Hoon, Gabbadon, & Chernin, 2006).

One example is in the film “The Hangover”. The four main male characters are all American and white. The one Asian man in the film, Mr. Chow, is portrayed as an evil enemy who has kidnapped their friend because the men supposedly stole his poker chips. Not only is he the enemy, but he is also homosexual. In real life, the actor for Mr. Chow does not actually have a Chinese accent. He actually used to be a doctor before he got into acting. Now, he is known for his Chinese accent with a lisp, and this is supposed to make his character funnier. Furthermore, in this film the only African American character is a character named Doug who Mr. Chow kidnapped accidentally instead of the original character’s friend. The four main characters refer to him as ‘black Doug’, inferring that since he is African American he needs a label to make it known that he is African American. Also, ‘black Doug’ is also a drug dealer, enforcing the stereotype that all drug dealers are African American males and vice versa.

Generally, if there are not stereotypes of races used for comedy then there is an absence of a diversity of races. For example, if you look at popular comedic films such as “American Pie”, “Superbad”, “Pineapple Express”, and many more, there is a clear absence of other races. The fact that they are so uncommon is racial oppression in and of itself. One film, “Not Another Teen Movie”, is a comedic spoof about all romantic teen comedies. It takes certain parts from a variety of teen comedies and elaborates and makes fun of the situations. There is one quote when they are all at a high school party when one African American male says to the only other African American male at the party, “What are you doing here? There can only be one black man at this party.” Then, the other African American male responds with, “Oh brother I’m sorry you’re right I’ll leave.” This makes it abundantly clear that it is noticeable as to how limited the diversity of races are in comedies.

Another problem with race in comedies is often times white actors’ play African American’s and uses stereotypes to produce the comedic elements. This makes the film even more offensive than if an African American is utilizing their stereotypes to produce comedy because it brings racial oppression into the mix. “This is especially true when that character is portrayed as an ignorant, sexist, semi-literate, homophobic peacock who condones drug use and car crime and is obsessed by both designer labels and the size of his penis” (Howells, 2006).

One film that has a white actor who uses black stereotypes to portray his character is in “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” Jamie Kennedy plays a white rich boy who wants to be black so he wears stereotypical African American clothes like Fubu. Furthermore, he acquires a “black” accent and is extremely ignorant throughout the whole film. He calls himself B-Rad and attempts to be a rapper. However, this film also is clearly making fun of the white male race who try to be African American.  Throughout the film he is ridiculed by the African American race and his vulnerability is what makes the film humorous.  He is kidnapped by African Americans and shown the real life of the inner city hoping to scare him into becoming more ‘white’. By even insinuating that he’s not white, is racial oppression on both the Caucasian and African American race. The fact that he is not accepted is racial oppression to Caucasian, and the fact that he is utilizing offensive stereotypes to ‘act black’ is racial oppression to African Americans.

In conclusion, comedies portray races using typical offensive stereotypes. Whether they are Asian, African American, or Caucasian, modern day comedies use race as a source of comedy. However, why this may be true the fact that we can talk about it as a society gives us hope. “If race is indeed the new sex, the fact that we are getting better at discussing it openly-and even allowing ourselves to have a sense of humor about it-does indeed suggest that there is hope yet that, like sex before it, we might just be able to break out from one of our most constraining social taboos.  We needn’t always be embarrassed to talk about race in the future” (Howells, 2006).

Ji Hoon, P., Gabbadon, N. G., & Chernin, A. R. (2006). Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2. Journal Of Communication, 56(1).

Howells, R. (2006). ‘Is it Because I is Black?’ Race, Humour and the Polysemiology of Ali G. Historical Journal Of Film, Radio & Television, 26(2), 155-177.

The Dark Comedy

There are many different subgenres when it comes to comedy. One that has had many criticisms over the years is the dark comedy. In general, the dark comedy uses satire to appeal to audiences. “At its best it was a genre that could produce a satirical comment on our society-at its worst it could create sophomoric burlesques on the fads and manners of the time which sometimes walled in humor of questionable taste” (McCaffrey, 1983). In many dark, or black, comedies the actual dialogue may be humorous to some viewers but the message behind the dialogue or what the film is portraying is often offensive to many viewers.

One example of a modern day dark comedy is the movie Bad Santa starring Billy Bob Thornton. While much of the dialogue is humorous, with his drinking and swearing, it can also be very offensive. Some people view Santa as a very sacred symbol to their beliefs and rituals, and this portrayal of Santa may be more horrifying than humorous to many viewers. For example, many wholesome families and children see Santa as an innocent and caring human being. By Thornton’s character being horrible to children, drinking all the time, and being an all-around rude person, this contradicts people’s views of Santa. Furthermore, many families still view the sanctity of marriage as something very important in their lives. According to the tale, Santa has and always will be married to Mrs. Claus. Thornton’s character as Santa is always sleeping around with random women and treating women badly. To go even further, the main female character first sleeps with him because she actually has a fantasy about sleeping with Santa. Now, everybody knows that this film is obviously fiction, but if children were to come across this film their beliefs could be obstructed and may cause controversies with many families.

Many critics also view the movie Dogtooth as a dark comedy. “There is humor in some exchanges, but it is not of the kind that will provoke laughter. Dogtooth’s funny moments-and there are many of them-instead induce a queasy discomfort that bears some resemblance to the humor analyzed by Adam Kotsko in his book, Awkwardness (Zero Books, 2010)” (Fisher, 2011). This movie is about a Greek husband and wife who have isolated their children from the outside the world. Their children have never left their barricaded land and do not know anything of what is real; they do not even know what a cat is. The parents have brainwashed these children and even force them to behave in sexual acts with one another. When the children talk, they think words mean different things than they actually do. To the audience, their dialogue might be funny because it makes absolutely no sense to the average individual, but the idea that the children actually think that this is normal makes it completely offensive.

A similar film to Dogtooth is the film The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey. This is a film where Carrey’s character thinks that he is living his normal life because he does not know anything different. However, little does he know his whole entire life is purely for entertainment for the actual world. His best friend, his wife, even his work is all a set up for a reality television show that has been following him his whole life. While there are many funny parts throughout the film, the idea behind it is very offensive to some people. To the older generation today, reality television alone is offensive. The idea that someone is place on reality television for their whole entire life, making all their experiences a set-up and a lie, can be very disturbing. Not only is his whole life a lie, but the producer of the reality television series prevents him from actually finding his true love. For the audience member, it is heartbreaking and disturbing to watch Truman go through these struggles to finding out the truth about his life. For me, it is almost like his whole life he has been in prison without knowing it. He does not know what it is like to go outside of his bubble. This film really puts the audience in his shoes and could offend a lot of people.

So, the subgenre of comedic films, dark comedies, uses satire throughout their whole film. While some parts of the movie might be humorous, many people tend to be offended by these comedies. These films use problems and fears going on in the world to make money and make people laugh, and many critics believe this is the wrong way to make a film.

McCaffrey, D. W. (1983). The Loved One-An Irreverant Invective, Dark Film Comedy. Literature Film Quarterly, 11(2), 83.

FIisher, M. (2011). DOGTOOTH: THE FAMILY SYNDROME. Film Quarterly, 64(4), 22-27.

The Shot: Deep Focus and Cross-Talk

When making a movie, a film maker has to take into great consideration how they are going to compose each shot to make the scene the best it can be.  There are many methods a film maker uses in order to compose their shot. One method is using deep focus. Deep focus is used when it is necessary for the audience to see what is going on in the foreground and the background; when all planes are visible to the viewer’s eye. This technique also simulates that objects in the background plane are farther away than objects in the foreground plane.  According to Ramaeker (2007), many directors use something called a split-diopter lens to achieve this effect.  “Basically, the split-field diopter lens is a supplementary lens, augmenting the camera’s primary lens in order to create depth of focus not possible with the primary lens alone…the split-field diopter lens simply permits focusing on a very close object on one side of the frame, while a distant subject is photographed normally through the uncovered portion of the primary lens; in this way, the shot may be focused on both near and far subjects simultaneously” (Ramaeker, 2007).

Comedy films generally use deep focus framing to enhance comedic elements of the film. For example, the movie “The Proposal”, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, is a film about a horrible Canadian female boss who is getting deported so she makes her male assistant, who despises her, marry her. To make the marriage believable she has to travel with him to his hometown of Alaska to visit his family for his Grandma Betty White’s birthday.  In one particular scene, she is outside on the phone with one of her superiors and she accidentally lets the family dog out, which she was previously instructed not to let out of the house because of the vultures that will try and scoop the miniature dog up. While on the phone, the vulture catches the dog and she is running around trying to get the dog back. She finally does, but then the vulture comes back and takes her phone. So, she runs after the vulture carrying the dog screaming at the bird to take the dog instead of her phone. Then, the shot jumps to Reynolds’ character’s mother and grandma who are now in the foreground of the shot. Bullock running around trying to give the dog to the vulture is in the background but still in focus, hence the deep focus aspect of the shot. The grandma and mother exchange dialogue about how they think it is so sweet that Bullock’s character is playing with the dog after she had previously implied she did not like the animal. To the viewer, this creates humor because we know that she is trying to get rid of the dog, but her future ‘in-laws’ think she is trying to play with the dog.

Another aspect a film maker has to take into consideration is the dialogue of the shot and what will be visually scene throughout the dialogue. Back in the early 1930s, George Burns and Grace Allen utilized something called “cross-talk” in short film comedies. Cross-talk is basically verbal banter through cross-channel conversation (Wolfe, 2011).  So, witty banter is exchanged but also simulates spatial differences between participating parties.

Cross-talk is still used today in comedic films. For example, the movie Bride Wars is a film starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway and is about two best friends who have been inseparable since they were very young and now want to have their wedding at the same place and on the same day.  Before they get into a fight, there is a scene when they are on the phone exchanging witty banter and are both doing different things than they say they are doing. This brings the audience into the film and relate to the characters because the fast paced talking forces the audience to pay close attention to what they are saying in order to understand what they are saying. The quick responses and witty one-liners add comedic elements to each character individually and also helps the viewer relate to each character.

Ramaeker, P. (2007). Notes on the split-field diopter. Film History, 19(2), 179-198.

Wolfe, C. (2011). ”Cross-Talk”: Language, Space, and the Burns and Allen Comedy Film Short. Film History, 23(3), 300-312.

Editing Techniques

When making a film, a film maker has to take into consideration how they are going to edit a film to get its point across, no matter what genre the film is taking. In comedies, film makers should try to edit the shot to come off as funny as possible. One form of editing in films is called elliptical editing. In elliptical editing, “such instances construct a view from elsewhere; a perspective which is not directly represented or addressed in the text but which at the interstices of these threads requires the spectator to reconsider” (Watkins, 2010).  So, it’s when your main attention is on one scenario, but then they cut to other scenes that visualize another situation going on. Also, this type of editing is generally used when trying to imply that there has been a decent amount of time between situations.

For example, in “The Break Up” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, uses elliptical editing in the very beginning of the film. The film starts off with Jennifer Aniston on a first date at a baseball game with a man, who is essentially irrelevant to the film. Vince Vaughn’s character is sitting a few people away from her and starts flirting with her. In this scene, Jennifer Aniston’s character makes it clearly evident that she is not interested in Vince Vaughn. However, then the opening credits are shown. The opening credits consist of a series of pictures of her and Vince Vaughn’s character simulating that they are in a serious relationship. Then, after the opening credits the film resumes with them living together in a very serious and very committed relationship.  Clearly, they had been dating for quite some time, but obviously us as viewers are not going to watch their relationship unfold for what seems like years. So, the director used elliptical editing to show the elapsed time using pictures.

Another common editing technique used is analytical editing. “Analytical editing is the practice of organizing shots in accordance with narrative information, so that spectators infer logical relationships among shots” (Berliner & Cohen, 2011). In essence, it is when a character narrates a flashback and the audience visually sees the flashback while they listen to the character’s narration of the situation.

An example of analytical editing in a comedic film is in the movie “Superbad.” The scene starts off with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera’s character eating lunch in the cafeteria at their high school. They start talking about Michael Cera’s crush Becca and Jonah Hill’s character explains to Cera how he does not like her. In this case, the director chose to use analytical editing in explaining the story as to why he does not like her. Jonah Hill narrates the story of how Becca publically embarrassed him in elementary school, but us as viewers are no longer visually watching Cera and Hill have lunch, we are now watching Hill’s flashback of what happened when they were little. This has effect on the viewers because we get to see character reactions in the situation and the flashback helps bring comedic elements to the film.  This also helps us to understand more in depth about Hill’s character and later the struggle of his dislike for Becca brings to the relationship.

Watkins, L. (2010). A View From Elsewhere: Ellipsis and Desire in Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971). Parallax, 16(2), 107-117.

Berliner, T., & Cohen, D. J. (2011). The Illusion of Continuity: Active Perception and the Classical Editing System. Journal Of Film & Video, 63(1), 44-63.

Genre Analysis: Screwball

Comedy has been around since people understood the meaning of laughter. When there were hard times, people would use comedic entertainment to let themselves feel joy in a time of struggle. When cinema came about, film makers decided to use the idea of laughter to sell movies and make money. There are two important things when it comes to the idea of comedy. “ A speculation: each theory of comedy faces a double task- to account for comic forms, i.e., the laws of comic discourse, literary/dramatic/(filmic), and to account for the phenomenon of laughter, and of course to relate the two” (Henderson, 1978).  In essence, a comedic film will have writing and directing that take the form of comedic discourse but also include the laughter aspect to a comedic film.


One sub-genre of comedy is considered the screwball comedy.  Generally, in a screwball comedy all of the characters are perceived as crazy and zany. Generally, if all of the characters are crazy in a comedy there is no mean or standard of behavior to which the character is held to (Henderson, 1978). “But in what is called screwball comedy there often is comparative judgment of behavior and therefore at least an inchoate “philosophy of conduct” (Henderson, 1978). So, what Henderson is trying to say is in general comedies the standard of behavior is held at the standard of the character. However, in a screwball comedy all of the characters are ‘screwballs’, but the norm of conduct is still there and that is what makes the screwball funny humorous.


Common themes of the screwball comedy include escaping constraints of authority figures, playing out different roles, and shedding an old identity for a new one (Greenberg et al., 1992). Other qualities of a screwball comedy include characters who are polar opposites; poor or rich, conservative and liberal, male or female, etc.


One example of a screwball comedy is “Thelma and Louise.”  The two main characters in the film set out to escape their current identities and lives. One is controlled by her husband who has authority over her and the other is escaping her life as a waitress.  Throughout the film, they are portrayed participating in screwball acts and acting against the law and their lives in a humorous way.



One movie that some theorists claim to be the modern version of the screwball comedy is the movie “Role Models”, starring Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott. In this film, the two men are polar opposites. Paul Rudd’s character is a conservative and stern individual while Sean William Scott’s character is more carefree and goes with the flow.  Towards the beginning of the film, they get arrested for driving their company’s truck away from a tow truck and inevitably damaging both trucks. Afterwards, they are sentenced to do community service at a big brother program. Although this is not the original screwball comedy from the 1930s and 1940s, it still contains many themes and motifs from the screwball comedy genre. To start with, the two main characters are completely opposite and a lot of the humor comes from witty arguments that Rudd and Scott’s character get into. Furthermore, their little brothers they are assigned in the film are complete opposites from them. Rudd’s character is assigned a boy who is far from what he would consider normal. Rudd’s little brother is into a completely imaginary life while Rudd is very much cemented into reality. Scott’s little brother is a tiny boy who has a mouth worse than Scott does.  This movie also portrays the screwball comedy because Scott and Rudd are trying to escape the constraints of authority. By doing this little brother program, they are trying to free themselves from the law and get their record clear. While doing this, they face many ‘screwball’ like situations which helps to portray the humor in the film.


Screwball comedies really originated and became popular in the 1930s and 1940s. These films were released around the times of The Great Depression.  Many films released during this time had a depression motif and screwball comedies were one of the most popular films people came to see (Taylor & Stricker, 1976). As previously stated, themes of the screwball comedy include escaping identity, escaping authority, and the idea of having polar opposites in the casting. The popularity of screwball comedies may have stemmed from the similar feelings people had about The Great Depression and WWII. For example, W WII, as in any war, had two polar opposite sides. By making screwball comedies, people were able to laugh about opposing views instead of fear them as many people did. Furthermore, the idea of escaping authority and escaping one’s identity can relate to WWII and The Great Depression. Many people during this time wanted to escape their identity for many different reasons. If they were not American, they would not have to be going off to war and would not be living with such little luxuries. Furthermore, the idea of escaping authority may reflect people’s feelings about being drafted. Many men may have wanted to escape their identity as an American man to avoid the draft. Many woman may have wanted to escape their identity as an American woman and be an American man so their loved ones did not have to go away to war. Or, many people would want to escape their American identity altogether so they did not have to deal with the heart ache of war. By putting these subliminal meanings in the movies, people were able to laugh about these issues without having the fear and pain of the war and The Great Depression.


In conclusion, a screwball comedy takes the idea of escaping one’s identity and authority and puts it in a comedic light. Although these comedies may have been more popular in the 1930s and 1940s due to economic and political issues that were going on in society, themes of screwball comedies are still used in modern films. Comedy has been around for ages, but many of the themes still hold true.

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