Monday, August 15, 2011

The Timing of Comedy

Last night I watched the movie, "The Producers", with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. It has been a long time since I watched that Mel Brooks movie and I remember laughing until I cried. I still laughed when I watched it last night, but it was different. I found parts of it not as humorous as I once did. I had changed. I still found the whole plot line funny and the play within the play of "Hitler In Springtime" hilarious; but I have altered my viewpoint. I did not like what role Mel Brooks had placed women.

In the film, women were sexual excuses for cheap jokes. There was the Swedish receptionist who wanted to have sex all of the time and who's idea of work was dancing with grinding motions or elderly women who had nothing better to do than play sexual games with a fat producer and give him money for his Broadway plays. The real emotions were those played by men in bonding. Even gay men were not excluded from those same tasteless jokes especially transgendered men. it was all done for the sake of a joke.

When I watched this same film years ago, I did not see the offensiveness of this movie and I don't remember the current remake. I think I have changed in what I consider funny and it is possible Mel Brooks has as well. I watched a more recent Mel Brooks film and as usual found it very funny and far less sexist. I still think "The Producers" is a good film. It's just that I have changed.

I remember re-reading a Mary Stewart novel and was shocked to read of the protagonist being physically abused by the romantic hero. He twisted her arm bruising her wrist. She wore a bracelet hiding the injury. She found him alluring and certainly did not run away from such a brutal man or even file charges. She married him. At the time I read it, I found it a romantic story. Now, I am shocked that I would have thought so. I was a teenager at the time. The novel did well then. It is buried now. People have changed. Nowadays, people would protest such a story line.

There are other stories that I watched or read that I did not object to but find it shocking now. I find the "The Philadelphia Story" staring Kathrine Hepburn to be an awful movie although I loved it the first time I saw it years ago. Hepburn divorces her first husband because he was an alcoholic and somehow it is her fault because she did not trust him enough. Then in the film, Hepburn's father blames her for his extramarital affairs. In "Camelot" with Richard Harris, it is Guinevere's fault that Camelot failed. Lancelot is held blameless. When I first saw it, I was enthralled with the story and did not see the underlying "hatred of women" theme.

It would be a rare thing if comedy stayed funny no matter when it was performed or when it was written. Comedy is based on what was funny at the time. We are all products of the times we live in. I watch old movies and can see how much I and the current mores have changed. How people look at people of color and at women is so obvious in movies. I can see how the image of gay, lesbian and transgendered people have changed in recent years. The altitudes of people have changed along with it so that more people are in favor of same sex marriage than they were only a few years ago. When I was a kid, television was a small round screen with Eddie Canter dancing and black face dancers were common. That would never happen now. These changes are in my lifetime.

In television, when someone asks for a doctor or a lawyer one can encounter a man or a woman in that role and nothing is thought about it. I remember during my teen years when to be a woman doctor was a rarity. I remember engineers, scientists looking for work and not finding it because they were women and if they were women of color they could just forget it. I remember the demonstrations in San Diego when people insisted that bank tellers be hired that were people of color because up to that time they weren't. Unfortunately, they were men and they could support families and buy houses. Now, many tellers are women and buying houses on their income is uncommon.

Things have changed for me since the old movie, "The Producers", came out. I don't think Mel Brooks was a sexist and I still enjoy his movies such as "Young Frankenstein". He made movies that attracted the audiences and they certainly did. No one stays the same. Movies change. I was glad they did for I was getting tired of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies when the hero chased the virgin until she married him. It wasn't based on any sense of reality. I love Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers movies and watch them frequently. Many people do. Our tastes change in what we consider funny and on a personal level I change. One day, I will go into a movie house and see a movie that I love and still find very funny and the younger people sitting around me will be sitting stone-faced. It will happen.

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