By Saul Austerlitz
Charlie Chaplin. Buster Keaton. The Marx Brothers. Billy Wilder. Woody Allen. The Coen brothers. Where could the yankee movie be with no them? Yet the cinematic style those artists represent--comedy--has perennially acquired brief shrift from critics, movie buffs, and the Academy Awards. Saul Austerlitz’s one other high-quality Mess is an try and correct that wrong. Running the gamut of movie heritage from urban lighting fixtures to Knocked Up, one other effective Mess retells the tale of yank movie from the point of view of its undesirable stepbrother--the comedy. In 30 lengthy chapters and a hundred shorter entries, each one dedicated essentially to a unmarried performer or director, one other high-quality Mess retraces the stairs of the yank comedy movie, filling within the gaps and following the connections that hyperlink Mae West to Doris Day, or W. C. Fields to Will Ferrell. The first e-book of its style in additional than a new release, one other wonderful Mess is an eye-opening, wonderful, and enlightening journey of the yankee comedy, encompassing the masterpieces, the box-office smashes, and the entire little-known gem stones in among.
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Additional resources for Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy
Keaton’s physical agility, dodging love-hungry women and falling rocks in the finale, is masterful, his pratfalls each small masterpieces of technique, but the plot feels slight, and the comic set-pieces not plentiful or multifaceted enough to make up the difference. Go West (1925) is a further step backward, a mock Western whose putative love interest is a cow named Brown Eyes. indd 22 6/28/10 5:06 PM BUSTER KEATON 23 steadily decreasing loaf of bread, the miniature revolver Buster keeps in his oversized holster, tied to a string—but the film itself feels shapeless and unfocused, a loose string of horse-opera gags tied to nothing at all.
Keaton was sidekick and crony, his straightfaced sluggishness a welcome accompaniment to Fatty’s childish petulance. In shorts like The Garage (1920), the last and possibly the best of their collaborations, Keaton and Arbuckle are pie-tossing, water-spraying, motor-oildrinking pump jockeys. Their antics are straight Keystone, but there is a hint of something Keatonian in the mathematical purity of the gags, like when Buster, having lost his pants to a rabid dog, is lifted up bodily by Arbuckle, sliding his legs into a pair of trousers hanging on a store rack.
We laugh at McKay heir Keaton’s gormlessness when, early in the film, he momentarily borrows a revenge-minded Canfield’s pistol and fixes the malfunctioning trigger, or when he opens an umbrella while standing under what turns out to be a Niagara-size waterfall. Keaton appreciates this laughter, but it is all building to another, deeper kind of amusement. Keaton’s perfectly timed leap, at the film’s climax, catching his girl as she is about to plummet over the falls, and swinging her back to safety, is comedy with pretensions to the dramatic—even the epic.
Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy by Saul Austerlitz