Son of The Return of The Conversation, starring Ben Livant
Today's agenda: Buster Keaton Exonerated! Featuring many of the great films of Keaton, including The General, Sherlock Jr., The Cameraman, The Playhouse, Neighbors, Spite Marriage, Seven Chances and Steamboat Bill Jr.
For all his massive technical creativity and considerable conceptual inventiveness, he is first and foremost a master of action. Alas, I continue to be unable to refrain from comparing him to Chaplin. I already asserted that Chaplin is less truly filmic and more rooted in the elements of literature and theatre. To state this positively, his characters are more complex and his stories socially and morally richer than those of Keaton. These narrative elements are almost just an excuse for Keaton to get into the lights, camera, action! He has in common with Chaplin the little guy, underdog, victim in adverse circumstances as a basis for comedy. Past this, they part ways. In our original discussion I differentiated the mugging Chaplin from the stone faced Keaton in terms of language-based "feminine flight" and physically-based ''masculine fight" respectively. I hold to this, as long as we don't take these concepts literally; i.e., I don't mean that Chaplin never bops somebody on the head or that Keaton never runs away. What I am getting at is that while both are compelled into action against their wills, Chaplin's persona looks like he would prefer to talk his way out of it if he could, whereas Keaton's character is absolutely resigned to (literally) wrigling his way out of it. Chaplin came out of the British music hall revue, the English equivalent of vaudville. I don't know about Keaton but the man is a complete acrobat. He may or may not be a better mime than Chaplin but he is definitely better at hanging off of a cliff. No wonder he took to film like a duck takes to water. If nothing else, "motion pictures" can capture motion and Keaton is all about the motion, the action.
Yes, I have seen Our Hospitality and Sherlock Jr. The former offers many entertainments - what a wacky train ride - but it all comes down to the river and the climactic waterfall. The quick cutting between real locations and sets is magic and the final saving of the girl - we had to look at it in slow motion more than once to confirm the use of a dummy. I enjoyed the funny bits when they are trying to hunt him down but I was just flaggergasted by... the action.
Sherlock Jr. is everything you promised. There are perceptual levels within levels and therefore epistemological implications on top of already questionable epistemological grounds. I am happy to report, however, that Keaton does not take us into Marienbad-land. I think we should resist the temptation to subject Sherlock to a full postmodern work-up. This is not hypertextuality with no referent. Quite the contrary. Like Playhouse but even more so, Keaton is overturning the literary and theatrical parameters that used to define the terrain of imagistic possibilities. His movement between and ultimate connection of the two stories\worlds is not the big or original feature of Sherlock. It is rather, his passage to and fro between the real-physical of the theatre and the reality given on the screen. That the visual potential of the latter for fantastic fantasy is greater than that of the former is driven home when the reality on the screen becomes entirely arbitrary and incongruent. And it does this at top speed. (It's almost as if Keaton is saying, ''Let's see you stage hands change sets this fast." ) So the key moment seems at first to be when he walks out of the audience and up into the movie they are watching. In fact, he does nothing of the kind but actually walks into a theatrical staging which he has filmed to appear as if it is a screen presentation. This would be a triumph for theatre at the expense of cinema and at first I thought this triumph was occurring. But no. A thousand times no. Suddenly he really is in a screen presentation, a screen presentation of a thousand settings no less, flying by impossibly in life - and theatre - but perfectly possibly in movies. That this screen presentation is itself presented within the larger film we are watching, this is a cool meta-moment, to be sure. But again, this is not the fundamental issue and is no more an argument for postmodernism than the ol' play within a play in, say, Hamlet.
Two additional scenes almost as mind-bending as the one addressed above are when he jumps through the attache case/stomach of his associate/fence (what the hell!) and the ending when he watches the movie in order to copy the moves of romantic courtship. The latter is so meaningful, it's positively overdetermined, to use Freud's concept. First of all, it is poignant in its own right, pure and simple. Secondly, it speaks to the place of cinema in the wider society as a repository and disseminator of cultural codes. And thirdly, the way the projectionist's window constitutes a picture frame just as pronounced as the theatre proscenium containing the movie screen - this is a fuck-with-your-head mirror-ontology that makes you look twice, in every sense of the phrase. But again - and unlike the mirror-ontology in Tarkovsky; hello, which way is up? - Keaton does not make us question reality. He just turns it inside-out and upside down for our amusement. Sherlock Jr. is everything you promised.
At this point I too am starting to cringe at my comment, ''Chaplin is the thinking man's Keaton." And yet, he is deeper. Deeper art. Heck, maybe because it's not so smart.
Great read of the Playhouse. Spite Marriage, which is in the next group of Keaton's awaiting your Male Gaze, has some terrific meta-material on the art of stagecraft as well. It's one of his lesser known films, but I really like it.
The General and Sherlock Jr. are my favourite Keaton's, so I'm anxious for you to see the latter. And while you are certainly right that The General was a remarkable technical achievement, and that the train crash near film's end is an amazing bit of filmmaking, you will probably be surprised to hear that the film bombed at the box office. It was Keaton's most ambitious and expensive project, and his greatest failure (with the public). Go figure.
My feelings about the knowledge that Max prefers Chaplin to Keaton are ameliorated by the knowledge that he prefers The Gold Rush to City Lights. Heh heh.
Saw The General, Playhouse and Cops. I thought that I had seen The General years ago but I was wrong. I have seen Cops before and can't remember what else but not Playhouse.
After watching this disc, my boy, Max, said without being asked that he liked it but not as much as Chaplin. I share this with you simply as an segue to saying that I continue to adhere to my position in the Chaplin/Keaton contest. At the same time, I also feel that the contest is bullshit. It's not like comparing apples and oranges but it is true that invideous comparision is a pretty shabbby way to treat TWO geniuses.
I almost (almost) didn't laugh at The General. I was so blown away with, well, what everybody is blown away with. I mean, I was lecturing my family afterwards and Jacob interrupted me by pointing out that my opinions were there for him to read in the paragraph printed on the disc case. The way the guy moves - on moving objects no less. The diamond-cutting precision of the interaction with sets and props. The man invented a science of staging for the screen. All the while, the composition of the shots and the camera movement is staggering. As if this wasn't enough, it's all brilliantly paced and cut. But you know, what really caught me by surprise was the authenticity of the period detail. Nevermind the slapstick, the film is valid in the historical genre. The trains, the telegraph lines, the uniforms - just knocked me out. I kept telling the family as we watched, "that's a set you know." When the train went down on the burning bridge - they got it, they got it. Action to fucking rival Die Hard man! Even today. The effect it must have had on the audience in 1926, I can't imagine.
Even though I just said it is stupid to compare them, given the discussion we had way back when, I do feel I owe it to cinephiles everywhere to acknowledge that Keaton more than Chaplin advanced the art of film-making as such; i.e., beyond existing literary and theatrical conventions to discover just how moving pictures may be used for a new mode of communication.
On this score, Playhouse stands as an declaration of independence for the emergent medium. Keaton is not only exposing the technical means by which the theatre generates illusion, he is also demonstrating that theatrical illusion is no match for the wool that film can pull over our eyes. I was so impressed by the epistemological ramifications, I even started to interpret the twin women as signalling more than just a mistaken identity gag. His portrayal of the orangutang alone is worth the price of admission. For me, this was the funniest of the three.
The second we were into the ladder on the fence, I knew I had seen Cops before. Lighter fare than the other two but still something to see. That's a lot of humanity running around like chickens with no heads. Hilarity aside, again I noticed the excellence of the long shots, the camera movement and the cuts. Stupendous. Looking forward to the next disc.
I like what you have to say about Sherlock Jr., because no matter how mind-bending we might think Keaton is trying to be, what his film's nearly always comes back to is a sense of delightful playfulness. He's interested in making us think, for sure, and the way that identity and meaning are manipulated by our relationship to film in Sherlock Jr. are thoughtful and interesting. The notion of film as a dreamscape is also explored in thoughtful way. But when push comes to shove, he really wants us to be thrilled and to laugh, and I can't think of two films (along with The General) that deliver any better in that regard.
By the way, Keaton comes from pretty much the same background as Chaplin--his family was in vaudeville, and Keaton was raised on the stage. In fact, he got his nickname from Harry Houdini, who witnessed the kid falling down a flight of stairs at some tender age (three, maybe?) and emerging from the experience without uttering even a single whimper. This is also where he learned the value of being stonefaced, as it brought out the laughs when he used the same sorta stoicism on stage.
I really do think that we really should put the comparisons between Keaton and Chaplin to bed. Who's smarter or more inventive or affecting? Well shit, they both are.
I have more to say about all you've been saying, but I'm being called to dinner.
His film-making style employs editing and framing techniques that are more closely aligned with modern sensibilities than the melodrama of other films of the day. His style of comedy and humor has been called timeless, in contrast to other silent comedians whose approaches are more rooted in their own era.
Buster Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd are remembered as the great comic innovators of the silent era. Many regard Keaton as the superior filmmaker of the three, although Keaton never made such comparisons. He enjoyed Lloyd's films highly and often praised Chaplin for his genius
Then - "I promise, I promise" - Ben
Keaton and Chaplin were big fans of each other. In Limelight, one of Chaplin's last films, he invited Keaton to play a scene with him, even though Keaton had been out of the business for many years due to his alcoholism.
I love both these men, for reasons both disparate and alike.
Seven Chances: Why is it Katherine's favourite Keaton? The running around of so many extras, as in Cops, is a hoot and the rolling boulders are spectacular, although not entirely convincing. (I would like to see how it plays with the beer barrels in What - No Beer? [Great title or what?]) The parlour room stuff is good too, sexism notwithstanding, but I did feel for the first time watching Keaton that this material would work better with sound. Him being rejected by all those babes is screaming for dialogue. One nice thing about Keaton for the other actors, because he doesn't mug the other players can. I really liked the ugly lawyer this time. Cracked me up. Tell me who colorized this print so I can kill him with a blunt instrument.
Neighbors: This is the shit baby. I love this film. Eighteen minutes, no dramatic digressions, everything an excuse for non-stop action, all of it exceptionally staged and wildly inventive. That the setting is working-class is not trivial because so much of the comedy rests on the proximity of the, uh-huh, neighbors. The rich don't have to rub shoulders in this way. (Keaton makes fun of their spatial separation at the beginning of The Navigator when the wealthy dork has his chauffeur drive him across the street.) What I also like in this film is a twist on Keaton's persona. He has not yet (1920) committed himself to his hapless-victim thing. In this picture he is himself the shit-disturber. Also a reflection of the earliness of the film, some of the physical bits he does - I'm not comparing them, I'm connecting them - are more like Chaplin than anything else I've observed. I am thinking particularly of the little dance he performers in front of a policeman - I'm laughing as I type - in an attempt to appear innocent. So funny. Love it.
The Balloonatic: Maybe it was just because I was so thrilled by Neighbors. This one never quite got off the ground for me, (sorry). I thought the balloon bits were neat but by the time he was messing around with those bears he had essentially lost me. Something about the interaction with the lady camper, I dunno, maybe I was just out of steam, late at night, the last of much Buster.
I am so glad you singled out Neighbors, as it and The Playhouse are my favourite Keaton shorts. I haven't seen it in quite awhile, so I cannot comment on too many specific moments that I love, but did you catch the bit where half of Keaton is blackfaced, so he gets harassed by the cop, then he turns around and is in "whiteface" and nobody says boo? Keaton as the social critic informs so much of this one (as you have noted in your post), which is one of the reasons I love it so. That, and it is ridiculously funny.
Balloonatic is boring. As for Seven Chances, Katherine loves the idea of hundreds of women attacking a man. Go figure.
Smart girl. I did say that the sexism in Seven Chances is notwithstanding. Seems Katherine isn't bothered by it to the extent that the collective Sisterhood runs Buster's ass out of town. Meanwhile, the newspaper ad annoucing that a guy to get seven million bucks is available to marry - this is actually happening today on so-called "reality" television. Such commodification makes pre-liberal arranged marriages look progressive.
Picking up on your treatment of whiteface/blackface in Neighbors. I grant that above and beyond the mechanics of the story, there is a social critique with respect to race relations. But confined to the mechanics of the story, it boils down to the point in the plot where Buster simply does not have time to wipe all of his face clean. The cop doesn't say boo to Keaton's white side because Keaton was in black face when he committed the crime, so the police are chasing after a black man. Aren't they always?, Keaton (and Johnny Cochran) are asking us, you are telling me. And, again, I give it up to you. The whole thing is much too heavily loaded to be just a sight gag for a stupid-flatfoot double-take.
Keaton's treatment of blacks merits a study in its own right. As I already indicated, The Navigator is a very low point. Seven Chances seems to me to be quite a high point. Not only are there just more black characters in more scenes than any of the other films I've seen, they are portrayed as intelligent beings who are part of the general social fabric. And yet, the most important black character in the film is played by a white actor in black face. I'm not entirely sure about this, but I'm pretty sure. Ultimately, Keaton's work would have to be compared with that of his contemporaries.
Pulled someting of an all-nighter. Watched The Camerman, Spite Marriage, Free and Easy, So Funny It Hurt (doc) and Steamboat Bill Jr. in that order. I won't go on and on... too much. In general, though, I want to thank you for educating me. For I have finally learned my lesson. The man is incomparable. A genius.
I am with you that nothing tops the head-shrinking of Sherlock Jr. And The Playhouse is a good solid second place when it comes to the theme of illusion. But for full-on action, can anything beat "Storm"-boat Bill? All of the train business in The General and all of the river/waterfall in (shit! forgot the title) is fantastic but the storm - come on! It figures that I had seen Steamboat before, or at least the action climax. You suggest that Sherlock is his signature STATEMENT and as a fellow nerd I concur. But it seems to me that his signature SCENE would have to be the storm. It's just too fucking much! I watched it again and again, more than five times, in slow-motion, once at 1/8 speed. Is this or is this not one of the all-time greatest scenes in the history of cinema? I can't get over it. No, overall, complete film against complete film, Steamboat is not as good as The General or river/waterfall movie (shit! title?) But, I'm telling you, if a Martain came down and asked, "what's Buster Keaton?", I would show the alien the storm scene.
But wait, there's even more to it. Because the storm scene is not just ("just"? - ha!) action. For it contains a scene-within-a-scene that deals with the theme of illusion which is conceptually on par with the treatment we get in The Playhouse, if not Sherlock, the latter in a head-case class by itself. I am referring to the scene in the theatre in the middle of the scene of the storm. A number of cool things happen but I highlight the following. He is frightend by a ventriloquist's dummy when the building shifts. This signals the illusory power of theatre. That this power is fundamentally based in verbal and not visual acts is an additional signal insofar as the doll is that of a ventriloquist, but this subtlety is secondary to the basic suggestion that theatre can fool us. Fine. Then he performs a standard magician's trick, a disappearing act involving a falling shower curtain, which he immediately unmasks by revealing the false-floors of both the stool and the very stage itself. Bam. The illusory power of theatre is killed dead dead dead. And just in case you missed the point, he encounters the dummy a second time just before leaving the building and, naturally, this time he pushs away the theatrical prop for being the useless flotsam and jetsom it has become. Then it's back outdoors, back to the "real world" where seeing is believing, right? But in fact it's back to Keaton's "reel world" where illusion - visually based, who needs sound anyway? illusion - makes us accept more falling buildings and then dropping out of the sky buildings and finally flying fucking trees! I'm telling you, the storm IS Keaton. It's all in there.
Because wait again, there's still even more. We've got the wildest possible action and we've got some full-on meta-statement head-shrinking. But last and in no way least, perhaps even most of all, pure and simple, we have the most intense and insane - solo, solo I say! - slapstick. The business he does on the street against the wind... Lord have mercy. Nobody else and no props. No man vs. man, no man vs. self. This is man vs. nature at the most elementary level of being. His physical performance, the technical staging of it, the dramatic pacing of it... like I said, I watched all of the storm scene many times, in slower and slower motion, and every time and no matter the speed, this slapstick made me laugh. Made me laugh hard. I'm laughing now as I remember it. Keaton wins. Me with my big analytical brain, listen to me, how smart I am, subjecting Keaton to academic scrutiny. Fuck me. Bullshit. Under a microscope a hundred times - still funny. He wins. The man is a genius. The storm says it all.
The swimming pool change room scene in The Camerman, a riot. And unusual for Keaton. He generally works in wide open spaces. So it was a treat to see him work the room, as it were, milk confinement for laughs.
Putting his drunk new wife to bed in Spite Marriage, hilarious. And lets give full props to his female partner in the scene. Speaking of illusions, slow it down and you'll see that she doesn't simply play dead, itself not as easy as it looks. No, she does move into his lifting in order to make the movements fluid, fast and funny.
I won't rail about the crime MGM committed against Keaton. Suffice to plug the appropriateness of Marxism in providing theoretical means to explain the subjugation of Keaton to a factory system of production ruled by the logic of capital. But let's keep it personal. I knew most of the story told in the documentary but it was new to me that he was married to his second wife for the last 25 years of his life, a beautiful young woman. I reckon she kept him off the bottle and the program spun that he was happy enough. This made me cry. Clown so profound deserves to be happy.
What a surprise. I went on and on too much.
No, you did not go on and on too much. It was, in fact, just right. I am more pleased than I can put into words that you found all this and tears too in your marathon session with Keaton. It is a credit to both Keaton AND you that simply listening to you describe and analyze these scenes out of these great Keaton film has my laughing aloud, while not exactly with you, given the temporal disconnect, at the very least along with you.
Yes, The Storm in Steamboat is (rightly so) the stuff of legend. When that building fell down around him, that was a fucking insane bit of slapstick. Get it wrong by six inches, goodbye Buster. But it's not as if that's the only time Keaton put himself in death's way; like the wits say, dying is easy, comedy is hard. And his final battle with the wind is positively Shakespearean. Like Lear battling his demons on the heath, Buster is railing against all of nature's forces, refusing to give in, but not really standing much of a chance either. Again, much like Lear. Only significantly funnier. Thankfully. And the flying trees. Is this Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane Hill? Jesus, I've gotta stop reading that shit. All that tragedy messes you up for appreciating the great comic statement Keaton is making. And here it is that we face again that dichotomy. Is comedy superior to tragedy? Is Keaton a greater artist than Shakespeare. I shudder to think that he is even in the same league. Apples and oranges, perhaps, but is there a profundity in Keaton to match that of that British twat?
Oh, I'm glad you mentioned the work of the woman who played his wife in Spite Marriage. I thought she did some marvellous work in this film, really working her body in order to conform to Keaton's comic wishes in supple and subtle ways. You talked about the obliteration of the magic of theatre in Steamboat, and you saw more of it in Spite Marriage as well. I thought that the theatrical scenes in this film were a mite bit more obvious in their intent than those in Steamboat, but were funny as hell regardless. It was interesting to see how Keaton essentially sold those scenes to Red Skelton so he could use them in his own films little more than a decade later. How soon the public forgot poor old Buster.
More later, when I can squeeze in the time, but I must say that reading your rave sure did whet my appetite for some Buster.
Four comments. Two about the storm scene with respect to technique and illusion and two in response to your reading of the scene in terms of Lear.
One: Yes, when the house falls down around him... this is perhaps THE essence of Keaton, if we must distill his potent brew down to a single drop. And please keep this scene at the front of your mind when I offer my second comment. But now I have to say that for me, even more than the house falling down around him, it's the house falling out of the sky later on, the one that drops in the foreground, on a perverse angle, and then he walks out of it - this is so fantastic, it's almost (almost) surreal. Coming after the house falling down around him, it's just too much for our minds to accommodate without running scared psychologically into the notion that this is all a (bad!) dream. But unlike The Love Nest (see my critique under the Nautical Buster subject heading), this is not a dream. The varacity of it all is reinforced in a number of ways, including the killing of theatre's illusory power which I've discussed. So by the time he flys on a tree, we are prepared to believe anything.
Two: I have talked a lot about Keaton pulling the rug out from the illusory conventions of theatre while using celluloid to mesmerize (mess-more-eyes). Now I want to make sure we don't get lost down a postmodern rabbit hole. So often this leads to a warren of de-materialized nonsense; i.e., idealistic epistemology. Good old fashioned respect for Keaton begins with our marvel at his personal acrobatic prowess and the methodical rigor of his choreography. Make this good old fashioned appreciation an intellectual ground for our fancy interpretations of Keaton's statements on the nature of illusion and we won't go down that rabbit hole. Because here's the thing sports fans - he actually did that shit! This ain't your new fangled compter generated special effects. You can shove your floating Kung-Fu masters up your ass. Buster really is hanging off a moving train by a pubic hair. Or is he? Ahaaa... illusion. And yet, there are those moments when we know that the camera is simply telling it like it is. Otherwise the man really (really!) would have been hurt and that's not in the film. The house falling down around him in the storm is the the defining case in point. For all his meta-statement deconstruction of theatrical illusion - that sucker is staged down to the last 3/4s of an inch. Keaton's action is real, more or less. It is real bodies really moving in the real physical world. Later on, Chuck Jones at Warner Brothers would advance from Keatonian action the only way an advance could be made, in cartoons, the absolute inversion of slapstick into a deathless universe for an art of pure illusion. But Buster is down on the ground, struggling with matter itself. In 2006, when the mystifying ideology of virtual existence is being sold to us 24/7, Buster's art, for all its illusory tricks, is experienced by us as an intense form of realism.
Look, I don't know how serious you are about your comparision of Keaton and Shakespeare or your picking up of my previous discussion dealing with the relative weights of comedy and tragedy, but I can't help myself. So...
One: Isn't the matter resolved by remembering that you are reading Keaton IN TERMS OF Shakespeare? My point is not based on the fact that Shakes pre-dates Buster. Nor is it based in the fact that Shakes worked the entire dramatic field whereas Buster worked in only one domain of it. Nor is it based in the fact that Shakes is recognized as one of the greatest geniuses of all time, throughout all of human civilization, period, whereas Buster is plainly not of the same world historical significance. No. My point is based rather on your use of Shakespeare to understand Buster. Of course, you did this because of all that other stuff I disregarded, but take my disregard to heart. I'm not out to put Elvis Costello and Albert Einstein on a level playing field. I'm way too much of a stupid white man snob for that. I'm merely recommending - on a case by case basis - that we observe who helps us understand whom. Although it didn't happen this time, you might find on another occasion (e.g. teaching high school English) that it is helpful to understand King Lear in terms of Steamboat Bill Jr. and not vice versa.
Related Sidebar: Contrary to Tarkovsky, haiku and any paradigm of linguistic minimalism - humans are hungry for words. We can talk till we're blue in the face about how we're feed up with words, but the talk continues as our faces become positively purple. Silence may be golden, but conversation is platinum. Speech is to civilization as water is to life. Shakespeare is the word-smith of doom and Buster is, well, quite quiet on most subjects.
Two: You refer to a "dichotomy" of comedy and tragedy. Shit Dan, you know I am methodologically opposed to dichotomous categories. I'm always pushing for dialectical relations of categorical interpenetration within a larger conceptual totality. Comedy is not "superior" to tragedy aesthetically. It is not better somehow in any sense. But dialectical relations are dynamic and where there is motion there is asymmetry. It can be said in symmetrical Yin/Yang fashion that comedy is tragedy overcome and tragedy is comedy unfulfilled. But this is superficial and a failure to really enter into the relation. It is idealistic dialectics. Materialist dialectics reveals an asymmetric relation because materialist dialectics are not abstracted from time, they are historical. Call me an existential downer but tragedy is experientially prior to comedy. It hurts to be born, we come into the world in helpless pain, with fear and trembling. Sure there's lots of pleasure and even some joy, but death hangs over - or rather sits under - it all. I have established this psycho-ontogenetically here, but I could just as easily present it socio-phylogenetically too. So, tragedy is ground zero for the human condition in history, the first existential thesis, if you will. Comedy is its antithetical response. As such, comedy is "larger" than tragedy. Of course, it is subsequently the case that tragedy responds to comedy and as such Yin/Yang reasoning appears perfectly correct. But the proof of my theory is that comedy "needs" tragedy in order to work. Humor is a negation. Tragedy does not "need' comedy in order to work. It is the first position to begin with, the recognition of life given to us as struggle. This proof is itself still theoretical, however. The practical proof of my theory - the real proof for a materialist - is that it is easier to make people cry than it is to make them laugh. It is easier to be realistic by ending the play with death. It is harder to give the play a happy ending... and still be realistic.
Interesting thesis re: Tragedy and Comedy, one giving birth to the other, or being born into and out of the other. I often tell students that in order for comedy to be really effective, there has to be the possibility of tragedy. This supposes a different definition of comedy than most students, who assume that all it requires for it to be comedy is audience laughter, are comfortable with. Comedy is found in the happy ending, not necessarily in the laughter. There is, after all, plenty of humour in Hamlet, but it sure as shit isn't a comedy.
Anyways, if you believe, even for a (milli-)second, that the house will annhilihate Buster, this allows the explosion of relief when it doesn't. In this release, we have comedy because we see the possibility that even in the most disastrous-looking situation, there is a chance (or even Seven) that things can work out. Comedy gives you hope. Tragedy strips it all away.
I know that the strict definition of comedy is not funniness as such but a rather a story with a happy ending. And you are right to not let me equate comedy and humor. Still, I would counter that their connection is intimate, but again asymmetcially. There is all sorts of humor that does not lead to a happy ending. But is there a happy ending that occurs without humor to deliever it to us? Sure. Happens a lot. But not in comedy.
I also agree with you that tragedy is about despair and comedy is about hope. My theory is about the "logic" (for lack of a better term, I've read too many Germans) underpining this.
If tragedy sits under everything because death awaits us all, isn't comedy, which rests on the hope of something better, akin to religious delusion?
Hope may have a basis in religion and the religion may have a faith in the afterlife. But it is hardly necessary to hold on to a metaphysic in order to have hope for something better than pain, suffering, exploitation, oppression, the whole tragic package. I'm not Tarkovsky. I do not reject history. I believe that there has been some development, evolution, progress, call it what you will. This has been rife with contradictions and I haven't heard of anybody transcending death yet, but if we actively enter into history, we can hope. Indeed, if we have the courage to consider the future - a courage Tarkovsky may have had personally but certainly not ideologically - we cannot live without some hope. But only a fool would count on it to get from one day to the next. The wise man - or rather the wise guy - relies on humor.
Check it out, even my salutation is hopeful.
True enough. Laughter in the face of oblivion is trite (and hollow) if you don't look outside of your own existence for signposts to meaning. That has led many to religion, it pushed Plato to his Ideals, and ushered humanists towards one another.
Then (Finally) Ben:
For what it's worth, the dialectics of hope in the Marxist tradition are theorized by Ernst Block, whose central concept translated into English is "the not-yet." Compared to Soviet thinking and even other German Marxist philosophy from the period, Bloch is generally regarded as a utopian socialist. He was not religious but he certainly attempted to secularize an approach to hope that had hitherto been the province exclusively of religion.