I was challenged recently by a Facebook friend to list “10 Movies that Impacted Me” (I won’t mention her name, but it starts with the letters “Marla”). The catch? I was only allowed to post an image, no explanation. No explanation? “While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”! (The Princess Bride). I complied, but realized I had—had—to say something about the movies that have influenced my filmmaking, my writing, and even my worldview.
So I agreed to the inscrutable FB posts, but decided to do a series of blogs, as well, in which I would explain why and how certain films have changed me. (Hah! I win, Marla! Or, um, you know, whatever her name is.) I decided to separate the blogs by genre. I’ll start with comedy.
Why comedy? I don’t know. Maybe because it has much more impact on people than they realize—it disarms them, causing them to view life differently than before the lights went down. Or maybe simply because I’ve always had an incurable comic bent. Even my dramatic work is marred (by which I mean “blessed”) by it.
As a kid, I loved the Three Stooges, and then, as I acquired a smidge of subtlety, Laurel & Hardy and the great Chaplin (I still love good physical comedy). Mark Twain mentored me as an aspiring writer (my earliest pieces were blatant imitations of him). But Twainian irony scooted over to make room for absurdism when I discovered Alice in Wonderland. The Disney movie was mild, but it introduced me to the rapturously ridiculous word play of Lewis Carroll, and I soon realized nonsense was my native tongue. A cherished farce (and still one of my favorite films) was Billy Wilder’s manically brilliant Some Like it Hot (Wilder remains one of my top filmmaking heroes).
My love of the absurd took a giant leap forward when, as a teenager, I discovered the Marx Brothers (Margaret Dumont: “Hold me closer!” Groucho: “If I hold you any closer I’ll be in back of you”). Duck Soup still runs through my veins. Then, beginning with Blazing Saddles, I developed a love for parodies (a.k.a. spoofs). Airplane, Young Frankenstein, and This is Spinal Tap each had a role in shaping my comedic sensibilities.
But the film that connected all the unconnectable dots (because that’s what great comedy does) was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I returned to the theatre again and again, deciphering its nonsensical sense: The Black Knight pointed out the absurdity of superfluous “manliness;” the witch trial illustrated the incoherent cruelty of unsupported accusations (“She turned me into a newt!” Pause. “Well, I got better”). The underlying truth of absurd humor, I realized, was the fact that humans are absurd. Yes, they can sometimes be noble, and yet–
Blog post ends suddenly and unexpectedly (even, one might say, rudely).
“Now, go away or I will taunt you a second time.”