Archive for Farrelly brothers

The Three Stooges of Grief

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2019 by dcairns

Okay. After further Stooge-viewing, I can offer more “insights.”

(One) Watching with company helps. For me, there’s still a point of depression that kicks in after two shorts, but you obviously get bigger laughs with a friend present, and I can imagine a big cinema audience would amplify things further.

Old womanhaters.

(Two) Some of the shorts have more to offer than others. It might be the presence of a guest star — expected, like Billy Gilbert, or unexpected, like Lucille Ball. Or it might be an actual plot, as in PUNCH DRUNKS, where we get to see the Stooges meet up as if for the first time — Moe is a fight manager, Curly a waiter, Larry a violinist, and Curley becomes an unbeatable berserker whenever he hears “Pop Goes the Weasel” played. Or it might be all that plus the whole thing being a kind of grotesque operetta, as in WOMAN HATERS, an ode to/spoof of misogyny, performed in song and recitative.

Curky does his celebrated Jean Cocteau routine.

(Three) Curly is the most appealing actor. Moe is a horrible character, played with some skill admittedly (and as a unit, the Stooges are exemplary in what they do, if you can admit the need for anybody to do it at all). Whenever Moe gets a closeup, any laughter you might be working on dies before reaching the throat. And then you have a dead laugh lying on your stomach. Larry, apart from his fiddling, seems less of a character all round, and doesn’t really suggest the required dumbness. When you look at Moe and Larry together they seem like they ought to be starring in a film which would be called BILL AND TED GET ACROMEGALY. But Curly has all these weird mannerisms and non-sequiturs, which have nothing to do with real human behaviour — the strange butterfly movements, the dances, the abstract vocalisations, the nonsense utterances — “victim of circumstance” — “that’s a coincidence.” And he’s the most creative, adding flinches everywhere, as if constantly fearing the violence he is, in fact, going to receive.

Look at this image. Now try to think of something amusing.

(Four) I do have a fascination with unfunny clowns, or clowns who are only intermittently funny (Jerry Lewis is the King of Intermittence, but he can get me HYSTERICAL). I’ve watched less than ten Stooges shorts, and two of them begin with the Stooges begging on the streets. Not busking, like L&H, but merely BEGGING. And I think you’d find it hard to argue with the contention that we’re basically being asked to laugh at beggars. The way to enjoy this is to turn the laugh on the filmmakers, and laugh any time there’s a good joke but also laugh at the twisted nature of the endeavor, the tasteless, clueless approach to popular entertainment. There’s a contention that comedy is valuable when it punches UP and disagreeable when it punches DOWN. The Stooges shorts certainly contain a lot of punch-ups. But whereas Laurel & Hardy films have this strange duality (at least when Stan was in charge), where the boys are both the butt of the joke and the sole focus of our sympathy, in the Stooges films we are meant to laugh at the respectable citizens who get hurt and also at the idiots responsible, and we have no sympathy for anyone. I’m reminded of Fassbinder. Yes, I am: “I look to the left, and I look to the right, and I FIRE IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

Censored sequence from FIEND WITHOUT A FACE.

(Five) In POP GOES THE EASEL, a deaf dowager type is introduced. We wait for some kind of comedy based on her mishearing, or forcing people to repeat themselves, but no. She’s merely PELTED WITH CLAY. Her deafness is introduced (by writer Felix Adler, who also worked for Lloyd and Stan & Ollie) merely because it was assumed that smacking a disabled person with clay would be even funnier than doing it to a not-yet-disabled person.

(Six) In MEN IN BLACK (!), directed by Leo McCarey’s tragic brother Ray, the boys are turned loose in a hospital. They knock their boss unconscious with a hammer, transport him to the Operating Room, open him up with a road drill and then leave all their instruments inside him. Ha. Ha. Ha. J.J. Hunsecker’s line about “cheap, gruesome gags,” seems an apt one here.

(Seven) It would be wrong to traduce all Stooges fans. But anyone who likes the Stooges above and beyond other vaudeville-type comics, I would view with suspicion. Sam Raimi, Mel Gibson and the Farrelly Brothers are the main Stoogites I can think of, and I feel their preference tells us a lot about them. I simply won’t watch Farrelly films, they make me laugh a fair bit but there’s always something that depresses me for days. And they are not well-made films. Mel Gibson, enough said. I’m told he includes an hommage (“Spread out!”) in APOCALYPTO. Think of it. His films really are all set in a nightmare world of continuous mayhem, just like the Stooges. Raimi at least incorporates his stoogisms into a burlesque vision of grueling horror, which seems like the right place for them.

Is it a mistake that Moe is labeled with the chemical formula, not of water, but of hydrogen peroxide? Was that a well-known formula the audience would laugh at?

(Eight) Behind-the-scenes-of-chaos personages in the early shorts include Clyde Bruckman, ace gagman and Keaton’s co-director on THE GENERAL, who later shot himself with Keaton’s gun. See HORSES’ COLLARS and learn why. Then there’s the truly magnificent anti-talent of Jules White, co-auteur of the Dogville Shorts, which I kind of adore for their sheer horror. I showed the canine reconstruction of WWI to students and asked, “How did it make you feel?” “Just angry,” came the reply. White also presided over the destruction of Buster Keaton at MGM. Lou Breslow, misguided genius behind reincarnated dog detective movie YOU NEVER CAN TELL, is also in the mix. But it never seems to make much difference who is involved. If you’re in hell, which particular imp is stirring your pot may not matter too much.

The Williams Boy

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2008 by dcairns

 Robin Williams Syndrome

Lots of people have been reading the post “Roddy, Prince of Darkness,” apparently looking for information on Williams Syndrome. I feel kind of bad about this, because that post was just me venting some stress after our slightly horrific Christmas experience with my partner’s brother, an adult with this non-inheritable genetic condition. I also didn’t want to have to explain the story to everybody who asked “How was your Christmas?” so being able to say “Read the full story here,” seemed a good solution.

Bad Xmas

But that particular tale is maybe not going to be that amusing for anyone with a Williams kid looking for insight and encouragement and hope, so now that the trauma has faded a bit I thought I’d try to write something more upbeat.

Fiona just got back from an emergency meeting called to try and tackle Roddy’s weight problem and phobias, and they seem to have put together a sensible plan, which involves Roddy going out to buy food with one of his care-workers every day. This provides a little exercise and fresh air, hopefully controls the amount of food brought into the house, and allows Roddy to get used to spending time outside, so his anxiety about falling over will be reduced. We’ve seen how his ability to handle stairs improves markedly within just a few days if he’s staying with us, so it could be that this new regime will produce positive results quickly.

So things are a bit better than they were. Like many people with learning difficulties, and many without, Roddy isn’t the most disciplined character, so he really needs encouragement to do what’s best under these circumstances. His natural instinct would be to glue his ass to the couch and hook three litres of full-fat milk to an I.V. So there’s a balance to be struck between treating him as the adult he is, and making sure he takes care of himself. I don’t know quite where one should draw the line, myself.

tummy trouble

But, MY MESSAGE OF HOPE: Williams Syndrome is a complex thing, and the way it manifests itself seems to vary. People with W.S. may share certain passions, phobias, skills, but they’re full of surprises. They are people just like anybody else. Part of the condition seems to often involve an outgoing, sociable nature (even when he’s trying his best not to leave the house, Roddy is chatty and charming with anybody who comes IN), so my advice would be to enjoy the person, appreciate them for the good company they are, and gently steer them to make the best of themselves (Williams folks may need to be encouraged not to hog the conversation or to interrupt others with their own little obsessions, but it’s fairly easy for them to learn this).

A Williams person will grow into adulthood, while retaining certain childhood traits. It’s unlikely they’ll “grow out of” their childhood enthusiasms (in this, they resemble a lot of film-makers). One of Roddy’s school report cards details an incident when he went missing, and was found in a field, looking at a tractor — his love of heavy machinery is as strong today. But he’s a grown man, even if some of his emotions are childlike (maybe ALL emotions are, and it’s just experience that allows us to focus them in “adult” ways?), and his literacy level is well below his verbal functioning.

The rules of thumb with Roddy is that he can do a lot of things for himself, but he needs a bit of supervision. It’s good to encourage him to widen his abilities and do all he can do, as long as you keep an eye on him. Once he’s learned the right way to do something, he’ll need a refresher course once in a while because he’ll let things slide, whether it’s personal hygiene or tucking his shirt in or getting a reasonable amount of exercise.

*

Williams people don’t score too well at reading others, which makes them terrible liars. Roddy will try to avoid trouble by the tried and true method of DENY-DENY-DENY, but he’s not good at judging whether his account is at all credible. “Somebody’s spilled Coke,” he explained, when I came in the door one time. A bottle of cola, previously sealed, was now open. Some was splashed on the floor. The front of Roddy’s jumper was wet. He likes Coca Cola to an excessive degree. He was alone in the house.

“Was it you?” I asked.

“No.”

*

It’s uncertain what Roddy’s future will be: he’s overweight and he has a dodgy heart, and there are other complications which can beset Williams sufferers. There has already been a bit of a drop-off in his functioning. But he’s still happy, he enjoys what he sees as a good quality of life. How anybody else might judge it doesn’t matter to him, and why should it? He’s made it to his late forties. He’s held down a part-time job for some of that time, and the U.K. system of “care in the community”, which has had some terrible failures when looking after the mentally ill, has been pretty successful with people with learning difficulties. Roddy enjoys a degree of independence that his parents would probably never have believed possible.

smelling the grass

Since this is supposedly a movie blog, a quick word about mental handicap in cinema: this is one of those things that movies nearly always get wrong. Lars Von Trier, in THE KINGDOM and to some extent THE IDIOTS, seems to believe people with Downs Syndrome are “gifted with innocence,” or are “holy fools,” a belief system that went out of style around 1500 AD. Sam Peckinpah carries on the “village idiot” approach with David Warner’s character in STRAW DOGS, whose “simple-mindedness” is all plot device and no diagnosis. Jaco Van Dormael’s THE EIGHTH DAY, much-praised for its “sensitivity,” is in fact a sinisterly sentimental tissue of lies with a eugenically-inspired ending where the Downs character thoughtfully takes himself out of the gene pool by rooftop suicide, and everybody sings a sweet song. It’s not “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead,” but it might as well be. The filmmaker, who has a sibling with Downs, is obviously struggling with some hostile feelings he is completely unable to analyse, and so they wind up expressed in a false and offensive way. Which makes the film a failure as a piece of art.

I think it’s pretty bad when the best handling of the subject comes from the Farelly Brothers, who at least recognise people will all kinds of handicaps as PEOPLE, and therefore suitable material for comedy — I don’t think they’re poking fun, they’re just having fun. But their decision to cast a “regular” actor as Mary’s learning-disabled brother in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY may one day look like the casting of blackface whites in earlier Hollywood films, since THE EIGHTH DAY did at least show that people with chromosomal disorders can still be good actors.