Saturday, May 12, 2007

Downfall of comedy I: Where it stands today

In response to an interesting question: What's a good "stupid" comedy?

I'm going to assume by "stupid" the person mean films that don't have the respect of critics or film academics. The truth, however, is that comedy usually doesn't get the respect of critics as much.

Although comedy is an integral part of movies and a respectable genres, you have to think that comedy isn't as well-respected as it used to be by the critical community, or not a lot of it anyway. Successful comedies today include:
-Indie hits like Little Mrs. Sunshine and Lost in Translation,
-Dramedies with good scripts and good dialogue by the likes of Alexander Payne, James L Brooks or Charlie Kaufman. It's no small coincidence that these guys win screenwriting rewards at the Oscars
-The Coen Brothers seem to be an outliar among comedic directors and that they seem to be put into a class well above other comic filmmakers by film critics. They're film scholars who are well-versed in film history (as if someone like Mel Brooks or Vince Vaughn isn't?) and it usually impresses the film critics that their movies are usually innovative in their technical aspects or clever uses of refences to past films (i.e. Man Who Wasn't There is based on film-noir, Intolerable Cruelty is based on screwball comedies, and Big Lebowski is based on The Big Sleep). A lot of casual movie fans like the Coen brothers too and have given them a large cult following. The reputation of the Coen brothers is continually being inflated through a mutual enthusiasm between the critics and the casual movie fans that "well, we at least agree on something on the comedy front."
-I could also see the critical community being split between many other comic autuers who would have had more critical respect if the comic genre itself was more respected such as Kevin Smith, Adam McKay, and Judd Apatow (and there might be some other examples in here). Kevin Smith has gotten some good reviews by Ebert and Roeper but I doubt more serious outlets like Sight & Sound or Premiere Magazines would give him the time of day on their review columns.

Comedy used to be equally viable in film achievement on every level back in the day. Columbia Studios became a major power player through the success of the pure comedy, "It Happened One Night" from 1935 which won the oscar that year. Screwball comedies dominated cinema in the 1930's and 1940's and Billy Wilder forged a great career out of comedies. What I find interesting is Mel Brooks' career and how it figures into that transition (which I'll cover in the next post)

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