My sister finished her thesis a couple weeks ago, and I edited it for her, because I'm awesome. It was on Moliere's Misanthrope--an incredibly funny and thought provoking play (though I like Tartuffe better)--and it was a very fine analysis of the play, and, by means of the play, Comedy itself. Her college requests that the thesis is only about 30 pages long, and she picked the subject both because she loved it, and because she thought she could handle it in about 30 pages. Yet when she was done she said she was embarrassed by it: its unseriousness, its length, its perceived lack of depth.
A lot of her concerns were simply nervous dismissal of her work. While her classmates tried to tackle Kant and Heidegger in 30 pages (the thought is absurd!), she handled an appropriate subject in the space given to her. But some of her concerns were with the levity of the subject. "If I am laughing out loud as I'm reading my paper, perhaps it's not serious enough for my thesis."
It is the dismissal of comedy as "un-important" that worries me. (Not really in my sister's case: she is by far the funniest Perry, and a genuine lover of comedy.) RCA and I had a similar discussion a few weeks ago, when she said "I just don't see the point of Comedy." I'm still a little shocked by that statement--it has left me speechless for three full weeks, because, it seems to me Comedy is, in some way, the point of everything. Dante's journey through the afterlife is called a "comedia" for a reason. And while slapstick and puns and romantic comedies are not la comedia in this fullest sense, they share something of it's nature. Comedy is about justice and about reason--even at its most absurd. A pun is funny because it surprises our reason with a new connection. Slapstick is funny because no one deserves a pie in the face. The Misanthrope is funny because he is absurd, and yet, we pity him and see ourselves in him, and the only way to deal with such absurdity in ourselves is to throw up our hands and laugh.
|Jaques Tati in Playtime|
I was reminded of these thoughts this morning as I found, in my inbox, Image Journal's annual list of the Top 100 Films of Art and Faith. This list, compiled and voted on every year by members of the Image Journal online forum, is a fine resource for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of film as an art form; some of the greatest masterpieces of cinema are among the favorites. But it is so serious.
In the list there are only two films I'd classify as comedies: Playtime by Jacques Tati (we love him, as you know), and the Preston Sturges classic Sullivan's Travels, with Joel McCrea (we love him too, you know). There are a few others that are comedies in a broader sense (for example, It's a Wonderful Life and the musical, Fiddler on the Roof), and there are a few cartoons (yay! Iron Giant!).
Finishing off the top ten is Babbette's Feast, which is, in the broadest most la comedia sense, a comedy as well as being actually funny at times. The saints films are "comedies" too, in the Dante sense, though The Passion of Joan d'Arc (#1) is not funny, Becket and A Man for All Seasons are funny (the latter is so to the bitter end). And then there is Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, which I haven't seen in ages so I can't speak to it, except that it has two story lines: a comic and a tragic. (I hope comic wins. This is going straight to #1 in the queue.)
But the list is mostly heavy, serious--and yes, shockingly beautiful--films: Ikiru and Ran by Kurosawa, The Decalogue and Au Hasard Balthazar, and many many more. These films are all worthy, at least, those I've seen are. But I dislike this dismissal of comedy as unserious or somehow less worthy than drama, or even than tragedy (because some of these films are great tragedies in the classical sense). We still read The Iliad and The Odyssey (tragedy, comedy). We still read Sophocles and Aristophanes.
I must develop this thought more later...in the meantime, I will direct you to the list (and their introductory notes), which, for all my complaining, is filled with marvelous and worthy films. And next year, I'll be sure to vote, and see if we can get a few more comedies up there, too!