Tuesday, August 15

The Struggle for Humour in the Visual Medium

While travelling, uninvited thoughts often make an appearance, some of which you never might have thought of otherwise - for me, this is not an incidental advantage, but the real substance associated with travelling. While sitting on the Kasargod bus stop, with my short but substantial 3-day tour of the Kasargod district about to end, my mind simply wandered over to the state of humor in visual medium, especially cinema, and how it has evolved (if it has).
At one end of the spectrum is Groucho Marx - definitely slapstick, but intelligent nonetheless. You had to catch his point if you were to laugh, and the fun was that his point used to be a many-pointed one usually. The more points you catch, the more you enjoy him, and his brothers (of course, more grotesque humour there). At the other end is the TV shows with canned laughter - they already assume that the audiences going to watch them must be dumb (that's why they are watching them), so they prompt them, nay exhort them, to laugh wherever they should "technically" laugh. Witty sarcasms and crude humor abounds. And along the continuum, we have so many to vary our experience of the world. Don't be surprised that Chaplin hasn't got a mention yet - but for me, he is not the start of the spectrum. Chaplin is once again more crude; though Buster Keaton is very probably more slapstick, yet Chaplin is cruder, he has the more cruel gameplan to make people laugh. Watching Chaplin many of the times gets me angry instead of laughing (something definitely wrong with me in two things, first the reaction to Chaplin itself, and the second the effrontery to call Chaplin something else than great or classic) - hitting other people, paining other people is not fun for me, which is what keeps on happening most of the times in Chaplin films, unless he is tying some bootlaces together.
I've got the same problem with Tom & Jerry. Its great for an animator to learn squish and squash from it, but the whole gameplan is to keep characters chasing each other, colliding with each other, and burning/exploding each other, repetitively in every episode, and make people laugh at each hurt, at each explosion, at each thud into the earth from some unimaginable height. Doesn't anyone think that all this could actually be making people insensitized to pain, to hurt, to things which are behind some of the most basic to some of the most profound human emotions? Of course, because of a simple plot and action which even a toddler can grasp, the T&J cartoon is hugely popular and usually at some stage of the life has remained everyone's favourite. It used to be a favourite of mine, but in my case the reason was there used to be few cartoons available for viewing in those days when I was a child. At the other end of the spectrum is "2 Stupid Dogs" - by the same people, and yet so different. It isn't even slapstick, and that's why never became popular. But it's so funny, it has made me laugh the most in my life ever. The whole humor's not something which can be pointed to, not something which you can tell and expect that now the audiences are going to roar - many of the people will sleep, or simply change channels (what is the fate usually with today's audiences even when they are enjoying something - people love so much the feeling of power, that to manipulate the TV at will itself is corruptingly pleasant for them). Yes, this cartoon also has cruelty as one of its elements - but at least, it is more apparent, it is manifestly a dark side, the viewer need not be sidled into something, he may not imbibe unconsciously something negative from here.
I don't have any problems with Hitchcock's dark comedy "The Trouble with Harry" - the audiences know that it is a dark comedy. Audiences need to be told that what are they doing, what are they watching, what are they reading, what are they voting for - otherwise, they are simply brainless. I am here talking about the audiences in general. That's why, for me, democracy's only virtue is that no better political system exists in general - mind you, in general. An enlightened despot is always better than all the democracies of the world. So, once the audiences know Hitchcock, they are going to take all his darkness very lightly only, gathering all his meaning but skimming over the surface lightly, and thus actually letting all Hitchcock's powers be waste. But this problem was due to Hitchcock's already-established reputation. What would be my viewpoint if the same film would have been made by a debutante, and no promos were held as such, and the audiences would have gone unsuspectingly. Still, the audiences would have realised very easily that its an uncharted territory (because, for most of the audiences, "dark" is equivalent to "uncharted"); so no question of any large-scale influences on their psyches.
Humor is dying a silent death today. Neither there is subtle humor now, nor there is the slapstick one - all one has is crackling shows of humor, explosions, which hold only for a second and vanish not only from the scene but the viewer's mind as well, to be replaced with another one in the space of less than a minute, less than an hour, less than a day. The aesthetic senses have become like the cravings for food and sex - you fulfill them for some time, move on, fulfill them, move on, and keep on digesting and excreting. The subtle "Cactus Flower", due to subtler Ingrid Bergman who transforms the film (and salvages it) into a serious comedy, is panned since you don't have enough "laughing moments" and is remade into a typical horrendous Hindi blockbuster, a great superhit. Johnnie Walker is forgotten and Mehmood remembered. Charlie Chaplin lives on, and not many people even know who Buster Keaton was; Gene Kelly's great "The Three Musketeers" is said to be the worst film on the book ever made; "The Incredibles" doesn't get as much credit as did the predecessors "Ice Age" and "Shark Tale".

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6:17 pm  

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