Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why I Love the Marx Brothers, vol. I

...was watching a bit of A Night at the Opera on my daughter's computer (I am a technological baby, and it never ceases to amaze me that we can watch movies on a laptop! Hello!), and came away wondering why it is that I can watch most Marx Brothers movies over and over again, to the point where I know most of the lines...but I still laugh. (Wanna see this in action? Just say “Help is on the way!” at the right time. Trust me on this.) There are a number of reasons for this that have to do with my personality, of course. I just love their brand of humor. I especially love Groucho. (Like, who doesn't love Groucho?). He can set me off with one arch of those classic eyebrows, not to mention the one-liners… Why aren’t people funny like that anymore? You have to wonder. Have we really grown so “sophisticated” as a culture that we can’t appreciate classic Marx Brothers humor? I don’t think so, because the last time I rented this movie from a video store, the guy behind the counter—considerably younger than I—took one look at the title and said, “Ahhh, one of the great ones.” After which we both said, in unison, “The stateroom scene!” I take heart that every new generation seems to rediscover the Marx Brothers, if they’re lucky enough to have smart parents and/or friends who introduce them…although it’s sad that they have to be “introduced” at all to this classic comedy. I mean, we have Comedy Central on cable that’s devoted to nothing but being funny, right? So shouldn’t they be showing those movies as routinely as breathing? They’re not—for reasons that baffle me, if indeed they have any—so it remains to those of us who “know” to introduce the kids to this kind of humor. And it seems to me we’re doing them a service every time we do. Why? Because those were the days when comedy was still fun. Because as double-entendre laden as Groucho’s flirting always was, it never crossed the line of decency. Because Harpo could fall all over a pretty girl—literally—and it was perfectly innocent. Because Chico was free to talk with an accent all the time—a good Jewish boy, faking a hard Italian accent (!)—and no one thought it “ethnically insensitive.” Above all, though, this kind of humor needs to keep being interjected into the marketplace to counter all the crap. Because in those days, they all knew they didn’t really need to use even one word of strong language to make anyone laugh. Because Margaret Dumont, God rest her, was the “straight man” to end all straight men. She didn’t need to use any phony devices to telegraph to you that “this is funny, so you’re supposed to laugh now.” You knew it was funny. You didn’t have to be told. Kids of all ages need to be reminded that you don’t have to say naughty words to be funny. That being funny doesn’t have to happen by means of being cruel to someone else. That “snotty” and “clever” are not the same thing. And that bodily functions cease being a source of humor somewhere before seventh grade, so if you’re still laughing at them… They need to know that before Borat said outrageous things for laughs, Groucho was saying better ones. They’re still better, and they’ll always be better, if for no other reason than you can watch a Marx Brothers movie and not feel like you have to take a shower afterward. Wish I could say the same for most of Comedy Central. Thoughts? Janny


The Koala Bear Writer said...

I'll second that! Especially after putting up with the outrageous, stupid, not-worth-watching humour of people like Adam Sandler... so here's to the old classic humour of the Marx Brothers (even if I haven't seen them - so I'll add them to my movies-to-watch list!).

Janny said...

Well, I do have to take one small exception to the Adam Sandler criticism...which will probably surprise you. :-)

Don't get me wrong, there's stuff he does that is absolutely sophomoric and not funny besides. BUT if he could ever get a hold of that core of sweetness that runs through work like THE WEDDING SINGER. MR. DEEDS, and even HAPPY GILMORE--and take out the sexual comedy--the guy could end up at the end of his career being considered one of the great ones.

He probably won't, because he's got a) in some cases, bad taste and b) probably, some bad advisors...and even market tests supposedly show that the stupider, crasser, and less mature Adam Sandler's roles are, the more money his movies make. So that change ain't coming any time soon...

...but I am praying for him to become a Christian. Think of it. That comedic timing, his absolute willingness to make a fool of himself...if he was doing it without any slime involved?


My thoughts,