Steve Martin: Comedy Of Non-Realism

 

”Humor is enormously complicated and its very hard to come out with any generalized truths. I think what makes up comedy, like a chess game or a baseball game, are million psychological knows and unknowns. If something makes you laugh, its funny.” (Lax: 2009: 66)

Starring with his first film The Jerk (1979), Steve Martin plays a man who is a complete idiot, he tells the audience ”I was born a poor black child” when he hears music (blues) he tells the audience ”I don’t know why but it depresses me”. There is a lack of reality in the film, why is a white man raised by a black family? Just think about how he gets rich, completely unrealistic, Steve Martin comedy is produced by absences of reality.
In The Man with Two Brains (1983), Martin plays a brain surgeon, he is a brain surgeon like he is black. There is nothing realistic in the way brain surgery is depicted, he performs brain surgery by screwing peoples scalp back on and off without any surgical equipment. When performing two brain surgery at once (another impossible thing), the audience watching the scene is an Indian who is dressed like a Native Indian, an Arab and Lone Ranger. Even the little girl he meets at the beginning of the film turns out to be an extraordinary person, who can remember an impossible things, which no ordinary child would be able to remember. When he runs over a girl, it turns out it was not an ordinary woman but a femme fatal (a dangerous girl who is after men).
When the women wake up after surgery, he reads her a poem by a one-armed man, who was killed by the worlds first car, the poems themselves a ridiculous, the poet was not a real poet, but a play on realistic expectation.
The further we are removed from reality the more comic the scene seems to be. From his name (Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr) to the elevator killer who works with a mad scientist, when asked what he wants for a drink he says Tahitian Tingle (a nonexistent drink).
In Roxanne (1987), the film losely adapted from Cyrano de Bergerac, about a man with a long nose, who is also a fire cheif, when the girl he loves (Roxanne) is locket out of her apertment, naked, she calls Charlie (Steve Martin) to open the door for her, he tells her alright, he just going to get his tool box, he does so, when they arrive at her house, he opens the box, we see in the box only a master card.
There is always an element of non-realism in Steve Martins comedy, in Three Amigos (1986), the three actors become what they pretend to be, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), his journey is completely unrealistic (not that we expect realism), in Little Shop of Horrors (1986), he is a dentist, who acts more like Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) then any real dentist.
The first image we see on the screen in the film L.A. Story (1991), are of beautiful girls, by the swimming pool, tanning themselves then all of sudden a giant hot dog floats by. In the film Steve Martin is a weatherman (non-realistic of course, he is more of a comedian), while on the highway, he hears the news that its the first day of spring, his girlfriend start loading the gun, then everyone on the freeway begins shooting at each other, it is never explained why people in L.A become violent when it is spring.
Again while on the freeway, the freeway traffic condition sign, starts writing him messages intended only for him to see. If the non realistic element of the film hasn’t broken through to you yet, then when he gets home, a dog start barking at him, he tells the dog to be quiet, while he enters the code for the house alarm, after he turns it off, the dog stops barking, it turns out, that the dog was the house alarm.


Steve Martin With Cary Grant.

In the films of Steve Martin comedy is in constant battle with realism, you hear a dog barking, you assume, immediately that there has to be a dog. The logic of non-realism is tested to its utmost limit in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), the film supposed to be parody of noir films, but what they have done is insert shots of Steve Martin into old noir films, so that it seems Steve Martin is talking to Barbara Stanwyck or is in the same space as Ingrid Bergman. Woody Allen tried something similar in Zelig (1983), where he inserted himself in every historical event, he could find footage of.


Monty Python: Comedy Of Stupidity

It is difficult to describe the comedy of the British group Monty Python since they don’t play one continues character, but change constantly, the structure of their films is created through multiple comic sketches, which form into a future length film. In their first feature, And Now for Something Completely Different (1971), taken from their TV series Flying Circus, with minimal changes.
We can see Monty Python ask in every scene, one question, the question of intelligence, the intelligence of the audience, the intelligence of the characters portrayed in the film, and the intelligence of makers themselves. At the beginning of the film And Now for Something Completely Different, there is a sketch about (how not to be seen), when a man invisible is asked to stand up, he does, he is then shot because he is now seen.
Then another man is asked the same question, although he remains invisible, he is also killed, the first one was stupid to stand up, the second one was stupid to choose a bad hiding place.
We can see that the Monty Python play constantly with the question of intelligence in order to make the audience relax, and be able to enjoy the stupidity. Case and point the sketch ”A man with a tape recorder up his nose”, which is a film about a man puts his finger up his nose, and music starts to play. A couple goes to a marriage counselor, the husband suspects the wife of cheating, then the marriage counselor and his wife start to make love in front of the husband, how stupid is the husband? A scientist is going on an expedition on Mount Kilimanjaro in order to find the last years expedition.

We could describe this comedy as a comedy of stupidity, a man goes into a laundry shop, thinks it is a bank and tries to rob it, which he does by getting some pants. Although they play various characters, in different situations, there is a common thread, between all the characters they play, that of an idiot and an ordinary man. There certainly never has an idiot portrayed better than a Monty Python film, take the example I have already mentioned, the scientist is a complete idiot, who sees two people when there is only one (he is supposed to be cross-eyed). We have to note that again comedy is on the side of the idiots not on the side of the ordinary, is there anybody more idiotic then King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)?
King Arthur who runs through the country, pretending to have a horse while banging to coconuts together, he is like Don Quixote with a minimal difference, King Arthur knows he has no horse. When he sees an old woman from behind, it turns to be a young man, a peasant, who is much more intelligent then King Arthur (almost every one in the film is more intelligent then King Arthur). This isn’t saying much, when a guard asks Arthur, where did he get the two coconuts, Arthur gives him some stupid answer.
There is the stupidity of the characters, but there is also the stupidity of the film itself, when the King Arthur and the knight of the round table, meet their ultimate enemy in the quest for the Holy Grail, it turns out to be a rabbit, a rabbit so deadly that they resort to using a hand grenade to kill it. Another element that contributes to the fact of stupidity in the films is the fact that all the characters are played by the same group of six men, even the woman, for the most part, are played by the Monty Python’s. Therefore all the more comic, since all of the sudden you can see the six men play all the characters at once, we laugh when they die in one character then appear as another in a later scene, they are everyone and no one.
The theme of stupidity continues in their nest film, Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), where Brian an ordinary man lives at the same time as Jesus Christ, who becomes a prophet through by accident, people as idiotic as him start to follow him, asking him all sort of question. We can see a gradual process in the theme of stupidity, in the first film, we see the stupidity of the characters, in the second the stupidity of the film, in the third the stupidity of the people. That is like King Arthur they miss-perceive, while one or two people see Brian as an ordinary man, the masses see Brian as the savior. In their final film, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), is supposed to reveal the meaning of life, but it is more like the Monty Python’s had something else in mind when making the film «It is a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.»


Short Films From China

A great way to think about Film Festivals and Films in general, is to see whether you remember anything. Last year, I tried to to see everything i could, at the Amandus Lillehammer Internasjonale Studentfilmfestival.
A year has gone by, just to mention a few film that was shown at the festival, Utover Øvre Ål, a music video with Stein Torleif, a Scifi short film, Finite ”Dir: Marius Rolfsvåg” made by students at The Norwegian Film School and a family drama, Glasshus ”Dir: Erik Ivar Sæther”.
All of this is good, but nothing had more impact, then the Baltic Highlights, five films from the Riga Baltic Student Competition Program (2016). These short are made in another planet, they show you, another world, a world you had no idea it existed. From sexual experience in Seven Awkward Sex Scenes ”Dir: Liene Linde”, to strange man working in botanical garden ”Fading Beauty: Dir: Tormi Torop”. The most memorable film, Warm Silence ”Dir: Rinalds Zelts”, a Baltic film similar to Into the Wild (2007), with Tarkovsky aesthetic and not to mention Everybody Misses Pranas Ivanauskas ”Dir: Vygantas Bachmackij”

In this year program, they were showing nine films from China, five made by women ”China Women’s Film Festival”, four by men, first they showed the films by women, which included Seguedille ”Dir: Gao Ge” and Hunting ”Dir: Ting Cheongyu” both inspired by the Opera Carmen with Tony Scott style filmmaking.
The absolute masterpiece among the five was, The Test ”Dir: Jinsui Song”, a comedy film, about a mother, who wants her son to go to kindergartens in Hong Kong. The film starts like a documentary, giving the audience facts about, the conflict of enrolling children into kindergartens in Hong Kong «children in order to be accepted has to take a test».
The whole film is about a mother trying to teach her 3 year old son, Cantonese ”which fails in a comic manner”. Unbelievable portrayal of a mother by the Chinese actress, she is so believable that, you forget, you are watching a fiction film. For instance, her conversation with her husband, who is working in another city, the way she collects toys laying around the house, or the way she cleans sweat of her son. For about 25. minutes you are laughing at the situation, the son reminds you of you when you were a little boy, the mother reminds you, of your mother.

The day after, they showed, the four films made by the men, among them was the film, Pink Pill ”Dir: Xie Xiaoshan”, which is based on a true story, about a girl who gets bullied in school for being a lesbian, but done in a manner if i may use Jacques Lacan’s terms The Real. There is something of the real in this film, you encounter a piece of reality, transported to China, you feel you know them, while being perfectly aware that you have never meet these characters before.
And finally my personal favorite, is the short, The Night of Arzu ”Dir: Taobike Nizhamiding”, a film about a girl and a boy, it reminded me of the long tradition of films, set in cities, Sunrise (1927) being the first. You are exported to another planet, when the couple go to a hotel, police shortly after enter the room, scanning their passport, asking them all sort of question, Li Dan «Festival Director» explained, that hotels by law, have to call the police, when foreigners «Chinese from a different city» rent a room «to see whether they are terrorist».
Again thanks to Li Dan, who told me that these two characters were not Chinese, since they looked a bit different but are Turkish Chinese minority called Uyghur, who have been living in China since 8th-century, maybe earlier.

One thing, me and the director Taobike Nizhamiding, have been discussing, is the ending of the film. After the police leave, the girl falls asleep, he then proceeded to write his number on piece of paper, and leaves.
Expecting her to call him later, my question to the director, was why did he leave her, all alone in the hotel? Now it would be wrong to give you his answer or mine, hopefully you will have yours.


The Lightness Of Dance

I Think, Therefore I Dance – Descartes.


Repetition

Repetition, to repeat, already repeated. In Hollywood Cinema, the master of repetition, is Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino admits to repeating, stealing, paying homage to what already existed before him. Reservoir Dogs (1992) is City on Fire (1987), Kill Bill is Lady Snowblood (1973), Django Unchained (2012) is Skin Game (1971). Even the evil character played by Samuel L. Jackson in Django, is taken from Lars Von Trier Manderlay (2005).
In the Sidney Lumet film The Offence (1972), a detective kills a suspect, who have been accused of raping a young girl, Kenneth Baxter the child molester, notices while being interrogated that the detective has the same enjoyment (for young girls) as he does. Therefor in killing him, the detective is trying to destroy something within himself, the film message is basically that the detective and the child molester are the same person, although one acted on it, the other didn’t. Now fast forward to 2008, this motive is repeated, in Christopher Nolans Batman The Dark Knight, what the Joker is trying to make Batman realize is that they are the same (two side of the same coin).
In Skyfall (2012), James Bond is fighting a villain, Raoul Silva who was a former MI6 agent, the film has a very nice message, throughout history we thought we were fighting badguys, it turns out that we are the bad guys. What’s is the difference between Bond and Silva? Early in the film, Bond is shoot, all the fury of the main villain against MI6 and especially against M, is disavowed violence from James Bond himself.
Now can you guess who the villain might be in the new Star Trek Beyond (2016)?
If you didn’t guess it, it is a former Starfleet officer.