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Posts Tagged ‘Buster Keaton

“Peels of laughter” by Olivier Mongin, (January 24, 2009)

The French book “Eclats de rire” by Olivier Mongin is 325 pages long, divided in three parts and of 17 chapters in total. I will review what made sense to me. There are three chapters dedicated to women in the business of comical situations. The epilogue is a wonderful chapter that delves into questions of why we laugh, how we laugh, who laughs, and whom we are laughing at. 

Laughter has undeniable qualities, physically, emotionally, and mentally. 

We have to learn to laugh; otherwise the tragic stresses of everyday would force us to dive from buildings.

Charlie Chaplin had the art of transforming traumatic situations into heroic posturing. The loser in Chaplin ends up mutating into a savior. Thus, personal misfortunes are converted to shared happiness.  When the character falls, and he frequently falls, he jumps back on his feet and endeavors to make others fall.

Buster Keaton prefers his main character to be subjected to the situations and never to voluntarily intervene.  Keaton tries hard to escape, but situations always involuntarily catch up with him and he is condemned to be a victim or a runaway.

The French Jacque Tati created the character Mr. Hulo who is not necessarily a moral person, and who has no inclinations to offering moral lessons. Mr. Hulo happened to be just here, trying hard to stand tall and erect, using an umbrella for the appearance of equilibrium. 

The character of Mr. Hulo feels to be in a precarious instability or physical disequilibrium, worried of succumbing to adversity or free-falling, but he never falls. Tati makes sure that his character feints immobility, but he is not to fall as was the tradition for generating laughter: For Tati, falling is not a typical human attribute that should generate laughter.  Tati is “inventing what already exists, and that not many people had realize that a country (France) has started the modernization process

Why we laugh? 

People laughed when movies were silent, and thus, the body structure, gestures, and movements are the prime element in inducing laughter.  Fundamentally, we laugh because we tend to discriminate in gender, social classes, profession, knowledge, abilities, attributes, tradition, culture, and all sorts of idiosyncrasies.  We laugh because we have the impression of our “own superiority” toward the other characters. In a way, we laugh at the “expense of others”, until we feel that this fictitious superiority is fleeting and unfounded. 

When we laugh we are exposing our hidden characters so that we try to link up with our group, friends, or community. We laugh the harder when we are amidst a “homogeneous group“, otherwise many of the spectators will refrain from sharing in the merriment.  

Shakespeare said in Henry V something to this effect “To our inadequacies, supplemented by our thoughts: divide each man to a thousand for creating an imaginary army

French author Stendhall offered four conditions for successful comical situations in order for the message not to deteriorate into a sign of superiority.

First, the comical situation should be exposed clearly so that we may keep a distance from the “stupid” character

Second, our reflection should come as a total surprise, lest we have time to reflect on our own condition. 

Third condition pertains to avoiding us the feeling that the suffering of the comical character is not associated to a potential suffering, which we might experience later. Thus, the suffering of the character should be mild and bearable. 

The fourth condition for a healthy laugh is that the comical character should be presented as endowed with estimable attributes, otherwise we might be encouraging “superiority complexes” among the masses that will turn “a good laugh” into very dangerous tendencies.

In summary, we laugh by comparing our “superiority” to the comical characters and consequently, in order to generate a healthy and inoffensive laughter, the laughing individual should not feel an overwhelming sense of “superiority”, or the perception that there is a high odd that the suffering of the character might eventually turn on him later. 

Laughter is necessary, but we should not take comical situations and conditions lightly because they have potent political messages among the masses.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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