Archive for Men in Black

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.

Apocalypse Pow

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by dcairns

Alex Proyas’s KNOWING had the rep of being one of those awful treacly and misbegotten Nic Cage movies that make you despair of the strange, droopy-faced action star (until something like KICK-ASS reminds you of what a funny and interesting presence he can be) but I wanted to give it a shot, since I always felt Proyas had some kind of talent and some kind of unfulfilled potential.

“Go towards the Ladd Company!”

How nice it would have been to be a lone voice of praise for the movie. The first half-hour, in fact, setting up its intriguing presence (a document written by a child in 1959 and sealed in a time capsule turns out to predict every major 20th Century disaster), is compelling and exciting, although there are aesthetic fractures peeping through the shiny veneer. In fact, maybe the shiny veneer is the problem: everything is so glossy and pretty, from Cage’s unnecessarily vast and gorgeous house, to his improbably beautiful dead wife (seen in home movie form). Proyas can certainly compose a striking shot, but as with his fellow antipodean Vincent Ward, he often seems to mistake aesthetics (literally, making visible, ie creating the perceptible form of an abstract thought or emotion) for prettification (and the CGI alien heaven at the end is horribly reminiscent of Ward’s WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, a dreadful milestone in the history of the trash afterlife). By the end, the movie had become a rather horrible exercise in post-9:11 apocalypse kitsch. If only they’d played to their strengths and marketed the film not as a CGI demolition derby, nor as a SIXTH SENSE boogeyrama, but as the film in which Nic Cage steals a door from a school gymnasium. Because you don’t see enough of that kind of thing.

The more attractive parts of the film are the mysterious ones, resistant at all attempts at neat wrap-up. The Men in Black characters never make any sense, which is pretty true to real-life accounts of such persons, but alas they’re not crazy in the evocative ways the real MiBs excel at.

“After grinning madly at me for what seemed like ages — but probably only a few seconds — the man’s whole body jerked, then he said, ‘Have you got insurance? Is it now?’ His voice was most odd. Like a robot’s — jerky and without feeling. Looking back, I’d say it was more like a computerized voice. You know, the sort that says, ‘Printing completed'”.

Adele thought there was something very peculiar about this (“Is what now?” she thought, mystified), but politely said that her parents would know about insurance but they were out, suggesting that he came back later to talk to them. At that he seemed, quite suddenly, to “sweat from every pore”, removing his hat to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand — revealing a completely bald, and totally white, head. The florid “complexion” was now revealed to be a thick layer of badly applied stage makeup, some of which came off on his hand. Still smiling fixatedly, he looked her in the eyes and said: “Can I see a glass? Of water?”

~ from The Mammoth Book of UFOs by Lynn Picknett.

Nothing in MEN IN BLACK or KNOWING or THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (the real-life accounts of which are swarming with MiBs — none appear in the movie) compares to this kind of Lynchian absurdity, which admittedly might be harder to deploy in a conventional narrative movie.

UK buyers: Knowing [DVD] [2009]

US buyers: The Mammoth Book of UFOs (Mammoth Books)