FLS 241 Screen Comedy

Jefferson Hunter, M W 11:00 AM-12:15 PM

 This Film Studies course, cross-listed in English, is a survey of screen comedy from a variety of places and times.  After an introduction to the subject focusing on Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot and on the film version of the Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, we’ll look at:

• onscreen battles of the sexes (Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, and a British Ealing comedy, Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets)

• the silent comedy of Charlie Chaplin (Mutual two-reelers, The Gold Rush) and Buster Keaton (Sherlock Jr, The Cameraman, The Navigator), and the nearly silent work of the French filmmaker Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle)

• political satire from Cold War America (Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) and from Italy (Federico Fellini’s Amarcord)

• parodies (Juzo Itami’s noodle Western Tampopo and Christopher Guest’s mockumentary Best in Show)

• the word-based, fast-talking comic cinema of the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup) and Woody Allen (Annie Hall), and the television comedy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus

• the adaptation of a classic comic novel (Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones)

• as a summation, Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, and a final screen comedy chosen by the class.

            Along the way, we’ll look at a few cartoons, as epitomes of comic style and theme.

All this amounts to a long list: you should be prepared to watch two films a week.  The assigned films will be streamed through Moodle and available for you to watch when convenient; DVDs will also be on reserve in Neilson.  Readings, regular but brief, will be in film criticism, film history, and the theory of comedy.  Prerequisite for the course: a college course in film or literature, or permission of the instructor.

 Besides doing as much justice as possible to several comic masterworks, I’d like to explore some specific questions in this course: What are the subversive, anarchic, or therapeutic functions of film comedy in our culture?  What besides laughter do we get out of these funny movies?  Comic plots and characters tend to be persistent and traditional—but have our attitudes towards what’s funny changed?  Is what’s funny in Japan or Britain or France different from what’s funny in the US?  Above all, I’m interested in speculating about the possibility of a purely cinematic comedy: works that draw laughter from things that only a film can do.

 Course requirements: these will depend on the size of the class, but will probably include a midterm exam, a medium-length essay, and a final exam, plus occasional exercises, in and out of class, graded pass/fail.