Comedy — and a bit more

David Hudson

As part of its ongoing Film Season, the Guardian's been rolling out top 25s for various genres and today's list is comedy. In the #1 spot: Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977), "the high-water mark of Allen's gift for sublimely touching and funny screen comedy," declares Peter Bradshaw. "It is a gloriously convincing romance, packed with superb gags." Sure, but here's quite a claim: "Annie Hall also virtually invented the relationship comedy in both movies and literature; it made possible the now degraded romcom genre, and on TV it spawned Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City, and Entourage — though none of these have anything like Annie Hall's passionate romantic pain. It is an ancestor of the work of Charlie Kaufman, which comes closer to Allen's own darkness."

In Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy, Saul Austerlitz reminds us that Annie Hall "had begun life as a loose-jointed mystery story before preview screenings decisively demonstrated that audiences preferred the relationship drama to the ostensible suspense plot (which would later be resuscitated for 1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery). Even without the mystery story, Annie Hall is still two films in one: one a loose-jointed comedy in the vein of Sleeper, and the other a tender romance offering the first glimmers of Allen's serious side. Annie Hall owes an enormous debt to [Ralph] Rosenblum, its editor, who devised the film's allusive, stream-of-consciousness cutting. The fractured narrative is not merely a matter of design; it is essential to Annie Hall's air of unsettled melancholy."

"Annie Hall has loomed so large for so long in our collective pop-culture consciousness that its very familiarity can cloud your vision while you're attempting an appraisal of its original impact," writes Joe Leydon in Movies You Must See. "Indeed, even those of us who bought tickets to see it during its first-run engagements can all-too-easily forget what a risk-taking, rule-breaking stunner it seemed in 1977."

One of the jokes Allen tells in that opening monologue up there is borrowed from Groucho Marx and, as it happens, there's a triple feature playing one more night (tonight!) at the New Beverly in Los Angeles: The Marx Brothers in Monkey Business (1931) and WC Fields in Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941). For Vadim Rizov, writing in the LA Weekly, the program "presents a chance to consider two different approaches to comic rage."

To the present, though, and the #1 film at the box office: "WIth a mammoth opening weekend estimated at $50M dollars, Jeff Tremaine's Jackass 3D sent a ballistic missile to the crotch of all previous nonfiction film box office records, easily and decisively becoming the most successful launch of a nonfiction feature in history." That's one way of looking at it, and it's hardly a surprise that the fine documentary filmmaker and Cinema Eye Honors co-founder AJ Schnack would see it that way. But for Josh Sanburn, writing for Time, Jackass 3D is first and foremost a comedy, and this milestone, such as it is, offers an opportunity to sketch a "Brief History of Slapstick Humor" reaching back "virtually to the beginnings of civilization."



In Offscreen's "Books in Review" issue, you'll find Daniel Garrett on Toby Talbot's The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes from a Life at the Movies and Gary Giddins's Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema, Meryl Suissa on Raz Yosef's Beyond Flesh: Queer Masculinities and Nationalism in Israeli Cinema, Alireza Vahdani on Sybil Anne Thornton's The Japanese Period Film: A Critical Analysis and Offscreen editor Donato Totaro on "The Art of the Interview Book."

The October 2010 issue of KinoKultura: New Russian Cinema is up.

The Chicago International Film Festival is on through Thursday, but most of the awards were presented over the weekend. Nick Davis has the list at the top of his CIFF page. Marilyn Ferdinand has indexed her coverage, too.

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