Instructor: Arner –
In Classic Film Comedy, we will view and explore films that are funny, I hope, but that also aim at and accomplish something larger than simple entertainment. These selected comedies present, often in an absurdist manner, important social, historical, cultural, political, and/or personal anxieties that concerned people and the world at the time the films were made and that are not irrelevant today. This will be evident in our first film, a short movie entitled Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, released and produced by Edison Studios in 1902, in which one of the main points of the film is how not to see a movie or behave while attending one. Other early silent films include samples of the Keystone Kops and the comedy of destruction, Charlie Chaplin’s Easy Street (1917) and The Gold Rush (1925), Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) and selected short subjectssuch as The Blacksmith (1922)and Cops (1922), and Laurel and Hardy’s Big Business (1929) and Two Tars (1928). From the 1930s, when films could at last talk, we will consider The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933) and the quite different screwball comedy Bringing up Baby (1938). Also from 30’s, the list of films includes W.C.Fields’ The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), while his The Bank Dick (1941) initiates the next decade. In the 1950s, Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959) seems to me to stand out, as does Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove from the early 1960s (1964). We will close with a “sleeper” film, Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), starring Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland, and a trilogy of films directed by Woody Allen: Bananas (1971), Annie Hall (1977), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Some of these films and comic actors may be names of which you have not previously heard, especially those invoked during the early part of the course, but overall this collection of films attempts to present an outline of the history of comic movies and the industry from the beginning of the twentieth century when film was in its infancy until near the end of the same century, as well as a variety of comedy’s cinematic modes and modalities.