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01 April 2005 @ 11:10 am
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou  
Wes Anderson is my kind of filmmaker.
He makes my absolute favourite kind of film: comedic drama.

I think it's important to make the distinction, and not to assume that any film that is funny is necessarily a comedy.
For instance, lukeii tried to claim that Casablanca is a comedy, which I think is absolutely not the case (although it is definitely funny).

Robert McKee has an interesting definition of comedy, which I don't necessarily agree with 100%, that states that if you take out all the dialogue and all the non-essential action, and you just retell the story, if that alone makes you laugh then it's a comedy, if not then it's a drama (funny or not).
By that definition, Casablanca is absolutely not a comedy, since the story itself is all about heartbreak and Nazis.

However, that definition of comedy is in turn both too narrow and too specific.
Too narrow because it means that there would be very few movies that would actually come out classified as comedies (think of the story of, say, Wayne's World, which would come out of that analysis as a romance and a David and Goliath type drama, and it is quite obviously a comedy, by anyone's reckoning).
Too specific because of films like those of Wes Anderson (I got back to the topic eventually).

Take out the dialogue, and lay bare the story of a Wes Anderson film (most of you are probably most familiar with The Royal Tenenbaums), and there are plenty of elements that are in themselves funny, but then of course there is plenty of "drama" and sadness.
Anyway, my point is, I feel that his films are dramas, but at the same time they make me laugh so hard I think I'm going to wet myself.

All in all, I thought The Life Aquatic was a fantastic film, although not quite as good as The Royal Tenenbaums (but to me that's like saying Kerry Packer is not quite as rich as Bill Gates).
And I absolutely have to get the Life Aquatic soundtrack, but I won't say why because it would be a spoiler.

Another observation that I made was about Willem Dafoe.
He seems to have an uncanny knack of stealing the show, when he is not the main actor.
See also: Spider-man, The Boondock Saints and perhaps even Finding Nemo.
Look out for him in XXX2, or don't, since it has Ice Cube instead of Vin Diesel.

Alfred Molina is also a true master of this particular trick (Spider-man villains = show stealers!).
See: Spider-man 2, Magnolia and, in particular, Chocolat.
Outlier Manlukeii on April 1st, 2005 01:25 am (UTC)
I didn't try to claim that 'Casablanca' is a comedy - I succeeded at claiming that. It's pretty hard to try to make a statement and fail. Whether I succeeded in convincing people is another question, although I do believe I convinced insomnius as well as Morgan of the Boots.

I don't see how anyone could not have thought it was a comedy. Sure, a romantic comedy, but a comedy nonetheless.

It's not funny because they are so obviously overacting that it makes it funny, the old 'So bad it's funny', the lines are all deliberately funny. If so much of a movie is deliberately funny, how can you say 'it's not a comedy'?
Jacobyak_boy on April 1st, 2005 03:41 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
Because a comedy is a film whose primary purpose is to make you laugh.

Casablanca tries and succeeds to do much more than that.

It has a serious story, it explores serious issues and, whilst it does make you laugh, it also makes you think and feel a lot more deeply about the characters than A Day at the Races or Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And I certainly never claimed that it wasn't trying to be funny.
I think Casablanca is very successful with its humour.
However, I think calling it a comedy doesn't do justice to the depth of the film.

Don't get me wrong, I love comedy, but at it's heart Casablanca is a tragic love story (which I think is totally different again to a romance).

And sure, I might be arguing some pretty pointless semantics, but I think it's an important distinction to make. Because if you tell someone that a film is "a comedy" the kind of impression they are going to get is one of Wayne's World, Ace Ventura, Vacation, Spaceballs, etcetera, which you have to admit all share a certain tone that is not shared by Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fargo, Fight Club and Donnie Darko, even though all of the movies in the latter list make me laugh quite a lot.
Outlier Manlukeii on April 1st, 2005 04:17 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
Because a comedy is a film whose primary purpose is to make you laugh.

Well, I disagree with this statement.

While I agree that Casablanca is a different class of comedy than Monty Python etc, I think your premise that calling it a comedy is not doing it justice is false. I think not calling it a comedy is doing it more harm.

In fact, as I said before I convinced insomnius and Morgan that it was a comedy. Until I explained how funny it was, Morgan was against watching it, as he believed it was a romantic tradgedy. So, you can keep your classifications and your snobbish views that it shouldn't be lumped in with such things as Monty Python, but I'm going to continue doing what's best for the film and telling people they should watch it as it will make them piss themselves with laughter.
Jacobyak_boy on April 1st, 2005 04:52 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
I'm sorry that you think that actually thinking about the genre classification of film is "snobbish".

From now on, I'll just stick to the old pillars of Comedy and Tragedy, shall I?

Telling me that calling Casablanca a comedy is the only way to get narrow-minded, "I'll only watch movies that are funny or have explosions", type viewers to watch it, is hardly going to sway me that it's a good idea to classify it as such.

In fact, anyone who won't watch a film because they think it's "too serious" or whatever, deserves to miss out on Casablanca.

Anyway, all you've done is disagreed with my definition of a comedy.
Why don't you offer one of your own?
It's easy to say "i don't agree", but you haven't offered an alternative.

Are you seriously suggesting that any film that makes you laugh should be defined as a comedy?

If so, I really need to redefine how I think about probably half the films in my collection.
Outlier Manlukeii on April 1st, 2005 05:19 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
I'm sorry that you think that actually thinking about the genre classification of film is "snobbish".

I think saying "We couldn't possibly want Casablanca compared to Wayne's World" is snobbish. Oh, and following your rebuttal of not being snobbish with this sentence Telling me that calling Casablanca a comedy is the only way to get narrow-minded, "I'll only watch movies that are funny or have explosions", type viewers to watch it, is hardly going to sway me that it's a good idea to classify it as such. is rather amusing.

Are you seriously suggesting that any film that makes you laugh should be defined as a comedy?

I'm saying that a film that is deliberately funny through most of it's length is a comedy. I believe I did say this already. Casablanca is not funny by accident nor is it funny occasionally. I think saying "It's not a comedy because it deals with serious issues" is rather fallacious. I barely stop laughing throughout that movie, and it is because they are trying to make me laugh. Yes, it has it's serious side and is indeed dealing with a tragic situation, but throughout it all it maintains it's humour. I wouldn't call Fight Club</a> a comedy just because it makes me laugh in parts, because it doesn't try to make me laugh all the way through. Casablanca does.
Jacobyak_boy on April 1st, 2005 06:03 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
I think saying "We couldn't possibly want Casablanca compared to Wayne's World" is snobbish.

No, I was just saying that they are obviously totally different kinds of films. I love Wayne's World, but comparing it to Casablanca wouldn't be fair, they're like apples and oranges. Which is why I am so adamant that you can't classify Casablanca as a comedy, because it is just not the same sort of film as all the other films in that category.

Oh, and following your rebuttal of not being snobbish with this sentence...is rather amusing.

Well, what I was complaining about there is people who will only watch certain kinds of films, whereas I try to keep open-minded about what I'll watch (although, I admit I do have some prejudices, I'm not claiming to be perfect). So complain about other people only watching a certain type of film and your a snob, only watch a certain kind of film yourself and you're a snob. Damned if you do...

Okay, I'll concede that it's not up to me to decide what films other people should watch, but it does annoy me how quick a lot of people are to dismiss films that they perceive as too serious. I like to think that cinema is not all about mindless escapism. I'm passionate about wishing more people had more of an artistic sensibility, so sue me.

Your final paragraph has me scratching my head.


Because it was going to be the next argument I pulled out against you.

I would say that a comedy can be judged on the "laugh-a-minute" scale. That is, if they at least attempt to make you laugh at least once every minute, then it's a comedy.

Now, maybe I'm misremembering Casablanca, but I didn't think it stood up to this test, but you apparently think it does.

I seem to recall a great many scenes that are neither funny nor attempting to be: all of the flashback scenes in Paris, for instance.

But, perhaps I need to rewatch it.
Maybe it really is a laugh-a-minute.
Outlier Manlukeii on April 1st, 2005 06:15 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
It may not be laugh-a-minute but it's close.

Certainly the flashback scenes aren't all that funny, but to use another of your arguments against you, the romance scenes in SW: Episode II don't mean that movie isn't an action movie.
Jacobyak_boy on April 1st, 2005 06:34 am (UTC)
Re: Casablanca
But I think comedy is a more specific genre than action.
I don't think the "laugh-a-minute" rule can be directly translated into "blast-a-minute" for action or "scare-a-minute" for horror or thriller.

I guess that's really what I'm getting at.

Other genres have more pressing concerns than the doling out more of the defining feature of the genre. In (a good) action film, story and characterisation are more important than explosions and fight scenes. In a good comedy, whilst story and characterisation are still important, they are actually secondary to getting out the yucks.

For example, think about the plot of Flying High (aka Airplane!).
Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it.
Neither do the characters, they're silly stereotypes.
But that doesn't matter, because the plot and characters are just vehicles for delivering jokes.

And I guess that's ultimately my point, the plot and characters of Casablanca are not just vehicles for delivering jokes, they are the primary focus of the film. The humour comes a distant second. The fact that there is so much humour regardless of this fact is merely testament to the brilliant craftsmanship of the film.

So, I guess that's my definition of comedy.
Which is what I said to begin with.
A comedy is a film in which the primary priority is the delivery of jokes. Maybe we should call that "pure" comedy or something.
Mr Sinisterglintsinisterglint on April 1st, 2005 02:34 am (UTC)
Caught this the other night. Loved it. Sat there as the credits rolled and felt satisfied. And although I didn't like The Royal Tenenbaums, this film made me want to go back and re-watch it.
Jacobyak_boy on April 1st, 2005 03:47 am (UTC)
I find that very interesting.

You liked The Life Aquatic but you didn't like The Royal Tenenbaums?

But they were so similar.
At least in tone.

Although, Wes Anderson took the implausability of The Royal Tenenbaums and pushed it past the point of fantasy in The Life Aquatic, which to me was a very good thing.
Robet Éivaayvah on April 1st, 2005 09:05 am (UTC)
Well, I guess we're not talking the old, Greek "feel-good" definition of comedy?

If Robert McKee's definition of comedy is true, then I've never enjoyed watching comedy. "Comedy" would be just half-arsed story-writing to me.
Jacobyak_boy on April 1st, 2005 04:08 pm (UTC)
How is it half-arsed to write a story that's funny?
Robet Éivaayvah on April 1st, 2005 09:46 pm (UTC)
When the story itself is "funny", it means the story's illogical/nonsense.

And I've never watched, and really enjoyed, a comedy without a logical plot.
Jacobyak_boy on April 2nd, 2005 01:19 am (UTC)
Since when does funny necessarily equal illogical?
Illogical can be one kind of funny, but not always.

Take the basic plot of ¡Three Amigos!:

Three actors famous for their film portrayal of heroic cowboys are mistaken for the real thing by a simple peasant woman who has never seen a movie before. Desperate for someone to save her village from a ruthless gang of bandits she asks the actors for help. Through miscommunication the actors think she wants them to put on a show for the town, and it isn't until one of the actors is wounded with a real bullet that they realise the mistake.

It's a classic mistaken identity plot, that makes perfectly logical sense (hinging mostly on the fact that our "heroes" are incredibly stupid, but it's still logical). The story itself, whilst it probably won't make you laugh out loud on reading it, can still be recognised as "funny". And that's what McKee was talking about.

Mistaken identity is a staple of comedy that Shakespeare used quite extensively, but was ancient by the time he got his hands on it. Of course, mistaken identity can be used for tragic purposes too, like in Oedipus Rex, for example. But in the above example it's pretty clear that it's a funny mistake. Because, whilst on face value it seems kind of tragic (tha actors are, after all, in mortal peril), it's the kind of hyper-tragedy that therefore equals comedy. In other words, the situation is ridiculous, but that doesn't make it illogical.
Robet Éivaayvah on April 2nd, 2005 09:40 am (UTC)
Hmmm... I still don't know whether I'd call that a funny plot...

I haven't actually seen that movie, but thinking of a similar one... (I can't recall the name, but it stars Tim Allen, and is a parody of Star Trek.)

I don't know. It's far-fetched... but I guess for me to think of a "funny" plot, it'd have to be one that could only fit on a comedy.

I don't know... Maybe these are an exception (in my mind) because if you take away the exaggerated circumstances, the plot itself is really quite normal.
finfin on April 10th, 2005 11:51 am (UTC)
I haven't seen The Royal Tenenbaums, but I *loved* Rushmore... I dunno - it kinda reminded me strangely of myself during high school, and even uni, where education was so not the point of going to school... *smirk*

But yeah... definitely seeing the life aquatic some time soon...