Saturday, July 21, 2012

Humor as great literature

It seems to me that if text, speech, photographs, movies or other art get most people aroused in a sexual way, they will refuse to consider the source to be great.  This sort of bias is sometimes said to have its source in the Puritans or the Victorians or some other group.  It seems much more basic than the ideas of any particular group.  I still think much restraint in this area has to do with the simple proximity of sex organs and elimination organs.

I guess I am more puzzled by what seems similar restraint in the area of humor.  If text, speech or other material makes people laugh, either gently or deeply, it seems as though they will again judge the material to be second rate at best.  Why?  Great art isn't supposed to make us laugh?  

A friend and I were comparing favorite movies.  I realized that probably all of the films I really like, the ones I have watched repeatedly are funny.  The two movies I have watched the most times are "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" and "In the Spirit", the former available in more places than the latter.

"Russians" is a wonderful exploration of the humor of terror.  The Russian sailors on a sub have gone aground on a sand bar off the coast of a New England island, despite their pleading with the captain who was too curious about America to pay attention to the sonar warnings and the crew's warnings.  This is during the Cold War, when the US considered the USSR its deadly enemy.  Being a Russian naval sailor could easily result in death immediately and the crew is quite aware of the danger.  Neither group, the island American residents nor the Russian crew has anything to fear from the other accept their terror, which might motivate somebody to shoot somebody.  The whole mess is a great demo of reactions to fear and rumor.  It is tender and funny and I have watched it through 14 times.  A great demo on humans when frightened.

"In the Spirit" is available from Amazon but I accidentally bought the censored version.  Normally, I like less rough or earthy humor.  My friend reminded me that words mean what I want them to mean and all but I still usually find more wit with less 'blue' language. (Seems an odd color for off-color words.)  But in this case, a group of older middle-aged people are dining together and trying to be friendly and open.  An older man asks a young attractive woman what her occupational background is.  "I used to be a porn star but I never swallowed anything", she matter of factly replies -- if you are watching the original.  Jeannie Berlin is the actress who plays that part.  She is the daughter of Elaine May and Berlin is the writer of the screenplay.  May and Marlo Thomas are the hilarious stars who are trying to escape bad guys who ought to have no reason to be after them.  The dialogue comes quite fast but is worth paying attention to.

"Ruthless People" with DeVito, Bette Midler is unforgetable but full of laughs.  "Johnny Dangerously" with Michael Keaton and some great others will never make a top 10 list unless it is mine.  My Cousin Vinny, Love Potion No.9, Three Fugitives, Short Time, Breaking Away, Cold Comfort Farm have all done as much for my spirit and my brain as Silas Marner or The Scarlet Letter.

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