Can We Be Silly for Just a Moment?

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 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.

It Takes All Kinds

Over the last few weeks, I have watched several movies from varying genres. I enjoy everything, well—almost everything.

I watched the silent film, Metropolis (1927), and found myself mesmerized by it. Though it has 25 minutes of footage that has lost its battle with time, the story still holds up. Watching the movie for the first time (I had seen excerpts before, but never the whole thing.) I discovered how the masterpiece had obviously influenced the entire movie industry. Some parts were comically Seussian, and others were dark and Orwellian. The film was certainly ahead of its time cinematically.

I revisited a few of my favorite comedies like Young Frankenstein (1974), Haunted Honeymoon (1986), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and Duck Soup (1933). These silly features range from horror spoof to western to political satire. In Duck Soup, Harpo Marx takes the idea of running with scissors to the extreme.

I watched a few action flicks, too. I tried to watch Gamer (2009), but the whole thing sickened me and I turned the movie off after about eight minutes. I can count the number of movies that I’ve quit on one hand, so this is a big deal to me. This is NOT family friendly, and I don’t recommend it at all. Considering the cast, I was extremely disappointed.

On the other hand, I enjoyed Source Code (2011) much more than I expected. It included twists and turns and explosions, and just enough romance to keep your attention. It was a little bit like Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap, but with a serious tone. I especially appreciated the nod to QL with Scott Bakula playing (voice) the main character’s father. It was smart and witty, and, even with the mind-bending twists; the audience empathizes very quickly with the leads.

We watched the 1965 version of Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians.’ With a cast that included the manly Hugh O’Brien and the beautiful Shirley Eaton, we guessed right away that this interpretation would not stay accurate to the book’s ending, and we were right. Fabian and Wilfrid Hyde-White added their unique touches as well. It was still fun to watch, and the fashion was terrific!

We finished the parade of our private Spring Break film fest with the first installment of Mission: Impossible (1996). Our boys hadn’t seen the first three of the M: I series, and we wanted them to have a background before we watched Ghost Protocol. As we watched, I marveled at how much I had forgotten about the story. If you haven’t seen it in a while, watch it again. It honors the 1960’s TV series, and brings the technology into the present. The fact that in 1996 email was new and cell phones weren’t common made me wonder at the rapid advancement of technology. It’s fun.

I like watching different types of movies from different times. It pulls me away from my tendency toward mysteries and romantic comedies. It helps me notice and appreciate camera work and technical details in film. It encourages me understand the artistry and passion that goes into each film.

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

“Vollowing in his grandvadder’s vhoot-shteps!”

Wilder and Garr over the Monster, played by Boyle

What do you get when you cross Mary Shelley with Mel Brooks? One of the funniest motion pictures of all time, Young Frankenstein, of course!

Did the genius director set out to create a cinematic masterpiece? Probably—that’s what makes him a genius director. But then again, not every film by Brooks has acquired such a following that it morphs into a successful musical three decades after its original release.

What makes YF special?

Let’s start with the obvious—the cast. In 1974 Gene Wilder was on the A List for comedic actors, having starred in such greats as The Producers, Start the Revolution without Me, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and others. In ’74 he celebrated the release of no less than five feature films, including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. This man understands humor. He is a master at deadpan, slapstick, puns and innuendo. He creates a sympathetic hero with little more than puppy eyes and a drawn out grimace. His pronunciation of “Frahnkensteen” recurs in my life more often than one might expect.

Continue to Madeline Kahn. She is every bit Wilder’s equal when it comes to comedy. She was a fiery redheaded beauty who commanded attention with the raise of an eyebrow. Her portrayal of Elizabeth cracks me up. I quote her lines constantly. “Taffeta, Darling,” is a term of endearment that my husband understands and appreciates. I just wish I could sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as she could. She was one of my heroes.

What about Marty Feldman? Like Wilder and Kahn, he was a common fixture in Mel Brooks’ comedies. His bugged eyes and extremely slight build made him the perfect Igor. My oldest son sings “I Ain’t Got Nobody” just like Feldman, and it makes me laugh every time. He’s a bit “Abby Normal,” too.

Teri Garr’s Inga is just lovely. Her innocence compels us to love her. Her timing and facial expressions, as well as her canned Transylvanian accent develop her character so well, that I can’t help but imitate her whenever I get the chance. “Put. Zee Candle. Beck!”

Cloris Leachman is enjoying a second youth these days, but in 1974 her Frau Blücher was a scream. There is a myth surrounding her character’s name. Whenever anyone spoke her name, a horse neighs. It’s often said that ‘Blücher’ is German for ‘glue,’ and that the horse is afraid to be sent to the glue factory. Though that would be funny, it isn’t true. The German word for glue is leim.

The last cast member I’ll extol here is the monster himself, Peter Boyle. He is one of my favorites for so many reasons. His monster makes you laugh, cry, and at times, roll your eyes. His village debut, a duet of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with Dr. Frankenstein, receives thunderous applause before disintegrating into chaos. Just the sight of Frankenstein’s monster in top hat and tails makes me giggle. He was the most adorable “zipper-neck” of them all.

Add to this mayhem Kenneth Mars’ Inspector Kemp, some incredible sets and just a touch of music and you have all the makings of a film like nothing coming out of Hollywood today.

The story has just the right set-up and twist. Brooks’ direction is amazing. His props and gags keep you watching for details that you missed the last time you watched. The actors not only perform to Olympian standards, they also have tons of fun with their characters, and it shows.

“Pardon me, boy! Is this theTransylvania station?”

“Yah, yah! Track tventy-nine. Oh, can I give you a shine?”

From start to finish this movie is utterly quotable. If you haven’t seen it, go get it right now. Don’t bother renting it; you’ll end up purchasing it anyway. It’s a Halloween tradition that will make a monster-lover out of everyone.

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

Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle