Cinema Toast

Can We Be Silly for Just a Moment?

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This morning I’m having a difficult time being serious. Last night our family watched Ladyhawke from 1985, starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. Now when this film came out, nobody considered it a comedy—at all. It’s a tragic love story, a fable perhaps, about a couple cursed by an evil bishop. It’s set in medieval France, and features sweeping vistas and castles and monasteries in ruins.

Why did I giggle nearly all the way through the movie?

I watched it with my husband (we were married the same year this film was released), my two sons, and my older son’s fiancé. The “kids” had never seen the movie, but they love Broderick from Ferris Bueller and Pfeiffer from Stardust.

Sam (son #1) says something like this: “This is one of those eighties movies that’s set in the dark ages but the music is still done with electric guitars.” Sean (son #2) leaned against my shoulder and he and I whispered silly comments throughout the show. He’s seventeen years old, and I really love that he still leans on my shoulder.

We appreciated that though the names were very French—Etienne, Isabeau, and Phillipe—the accents were all over the place. The boys especially liked that in the end credits, under “Titles and Visual Effects,” there was only a list of three people. Though IMDb.com credits a total of twenty-two people in that category, it’s still certainly a far cry from the hundreds of technicians listed in today’s movies. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that this is a film in which two of the main characters transform from humans to animals multiple times in the story.

This movie isn’t silly. We made it silly, with our “enlightened sophistication” and goofy mood, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. The point is that sometimes, despite the way things actually are, we need silliness. It’s good for us. Laughter is healthy exercise. Smiling keeps us young.

My family has a nice collection of silly movies and TV series. We enjoy the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, and especially the Bing, Bob and Dorothy ensembles. These are the masters of the classic madcap comedies. The one-liners and physicality of their shtick keep us giggling.

The same goes for Monty Python productions. They introduced the “Ministry of Silly Walks.” They understand and embrace the ridiculous. In the same way, Mel Brooks has assembled casts of comic geniuses for films like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Producers, and Spaceballs. Every one of these movies showcases the recommended daily allowance of stupid.

Larry Blamire’s casts of characters pay homage to the best of the B Movies, and provide us with memorable lines that embroider even the most serious situations with smiles. “Ranger Brad, I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in anything.”

Saturday Night Live (SNL), SCTV (Second City), MADtv, and In Living Color have also graduated celebrated idiots like Steve Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Gene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Jim Carey, Michael McDonald, the Wayans and many others.

This morning I asked Sean about his favorite silly movies, and I must say that my husband and I have raised our boys well. His favorites—in his own words—are “all of the Larry Blamire movies, The Three Amigos, and Princess Bride.” Good boy.

Comedy helps us deal with situations. It diffuses tension. It provides common ground with others. Highbrow comedy tests us, dark comedy reveals us, but slapstick comedy just allows us to be, and to enjoy it. Hooray for hilarity!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Toast

Are You In?

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One of my favorite films of all time is the 1940 classic, His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s a lightning-fast-paced movie about love and journalists, and what they’ll do for a scoop.

Two quotes that always catch my attention as I watch the movie, both by Grant, have me laughing out loud, though usually I’m the only one in stitches. Grant plays Walter Burns, whose ex-wife Hildy Johnson, is about to leave his paper to marry Bruce Baldwin. Of Baldwin, Walter says, “He looks like that fellow in the movies—Ralph Bellamy.” What’s funny about that? Well, Bruce Baldwin is played by actor Ralph Bellamy.

In another scene, when told that his newspaper career was through, Walter comes back with, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach, just a week before he cut his throat.” All Cary Grant devotees know that his real name was Alexander “Archie” Leach.

TV has been known for its “inside jokes” as well.

On an episode of NCIS, Kate Todd asks Gibbs what Ducky looked like as a younger man. Gibbs answers, straight-faced, “Illya Kuryakin,” in a nod to actor David McCallum’s character in the 1964 series, Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The NBC series Chuck is known for its guest star turns. A couple of seasons ago Brandon Routh joined the cast as Daniel Shaw. Though Shaw appeared every bit as wholesome and perfect as Captain Awesome, Chuck assured his team that Shaw wasn’t some sort of “Superman.” Brandon Routh had indeed played the Man of Steel in the 2006 feature, Superman Returns.

Why do movies and television shows throw us these silly lines that only make sense to those “in the know”?

I believe it serves two purposes. First, all the people who do “get it” instantly become part of the story and action. After all, inside jokes are for people on the inside. It’s a way for the directors, actors and producers to tell the audience, “You’re part of the family. We know you.”

Second, it works like bait. The filmmakers know there are plenty of viewers watching that will catch the joke, and they will most certainly tell their friends. They in turn, will seek out the work or actor in the reference, thus generating more revenue for Hollywood.

Everybody wants to be “in.”

Sometimes the filmmakers are more subtle about their references. Last week my husband and I went to see Brett Ratner’s new film, Tower Heist, starring Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. This film also stars Steve McQueen’s 1963 250 GT Lusso Ferrari, dressed in a lustrous red coat of paint instead of the true chestnut brown. Broderick and the car share a suspenseful scene that tickled at my brain.

I recalled a film from 25 years earlier in which Broderick spends some quality time with a 1961 250 GT California Spyder Ferrari, also bathed in red. The movie was John Hughes’ 1986 classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I laughed constantly through Tower Heist—everybody in the theatre did. I also felt a connection between this new movie and a favorite from my past. I felt included. I felt “in.”

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!