Trojan Tub Entertainment

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Make 'Em Laugh!

One thing implicit in the 2011 Arts & Faith Top 100 Films is that nothing truly human is alien to the faith. As Steven Greydanus acknowledges in his commentary, many of the films on the list make no overt connection to the faith—any faith. Not that I see this a problem. However it may be for other faiths, Catholicism has always recognized that grace builds upon, rather than destroys, nature, so that films that portray truths about human nature, even without explicitly connecting those truths to the faith, can be viewed as “preambles” or “parables” of the faith. Thus it is perfectly appropriate to find on the list films that bring to light mysteries of the human condition other than religious ones—films such as Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

That being said, expanding the scope of consideration in this way leads one to think of other films that might deserve a place in the Top 100. My first impression on seeing the list was how—shall we say, lugubrious—it was. Where are the comedies? I mean comedies in the straightforward sense—films that make us laugh. I see that M. Hulot’s Holiday (an inspiration for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean), on the shortlist in the past, didn’t make it this year. There is one Woody Allen film, Crimes and Misdemeanors—a great film to be sure, though more of a dramedy than straight comedy. And granted, there are plenty of films on the list with comic elements, like Fiddler on the Roof. (Is Sullivan’s Travels a comedy—or social satire?)

But by and large, it’s a list heavy on the drama. No Marx Brothers, no W.C. Fields. Not even Chaplin made the list.

Don’t feel bad Charlie, Shakespeare and Jane Austen didn’t make the cut either. But Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing might deserve a nod, as might either the A&E version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or the BBC/Masterpiece Theater version of Persuasion. (I don't think we need fuss that these films were originally made for television).

I wouldn’t mind seeing one of the Ealing Studios’ comedies on the list, whether Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Ladykillers (both starring Alec Guinness). Some might well argue for one of the Coen brothers’ dark comedies (Fargo or O Brother, Where Art Thou?), or a Pixar film (my vote would go to either The Incredibles, Wall-E, and Toy Story 3). Others will protest that any list without A Fish Called Wanda, or The Princess Bride, or The Court Jester, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or one of Peter Sellars’ Pink Panther films, or one of Hugh Laurie’s and Stephen Fry’s sublime turns as P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster, is not a list worth listening to.

It may be said, “Of course all of these are funny. But they’re not great films.” To which I answer, “Why not? Is there some lack of artistry in them? Poor cinematography? Bad acting? Clunky dialogue? Arguably not—at least in some cases. So is it rather that the ridiculous is being judged less important than the dramatic? Yet isn’t the ridiculous just as human as the height of human suffering? Indeed, the ridiculous just is the height of human suffering, portrayed with an exaggeration (which creates a distance) that allows us to laugh at it.  

So I say we need one or two more big, broad comedies on the list—to remind us that we are also made to laugh.
When it comes to other kinds of films that depict the triumph of the human spirit or its tragic defeat, other films not on the list spring to mind:

Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V
John Huston’s adaptation of James Joyce’s famous short story, The Dead
Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront
Merchant & Ivory’s Howard’s End
Two adaptations of Evelyn Waugh novels: Charles Sturridge’s A Handful of Dust and the BBC/Masterpiece Theater version of Brideshead Revisited

I’m sure others will keep springing to my mind--and yours. But isn’t that the fun of attempting to restrict one’s favorites to a finite number?

Moreover, I can't claim to have seen many of the films on the Top 100 list, so a reshaping of my Netflix queue is in order. 

But to finish with the issue of outright religious films, was I the only one surprised to find Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ not on the list? However one feels about Gibson’s portrayal of the violence of Christ’s passion, it seems very odd to find it left out of a list of the top 100 religious films of all-time. 

No comments:

Post a Comment