by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, 1/14/21
Last night I laughed out loud several times while watching a little British film from 1953 called Genevieve. My friends Mike and Betsy had discovered it on Amazon Prime. They have a knack for mining old movie gold there. It also appears to be on YouTube.
The older I get the less I laugh out loud, so I have to appreciate it when I do. The famous Chinese curse is to wish your enemies lived in interesting times. I don’t know who cursed who, but we definitely need comedies in these times.
I had never even heard of Genevieve before, and neither had Mike and Betsy. Wikipedia has quite a write-up about it. Evidently, this comedy found a bit of success back in 1953, winning awards in England, and even garnered couple Oscar nominations over here. Rather sad how good pop culture fades – don’t you think? Genevieve even has a slight connection to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, another film I had found funny this summer that made me laugh out loud countless times. Quite a few people still remember that one and still watch it.
It’s hard to laugh when thousands are dying every day and we have a president that’s shitting all over our democracy. On the other hand, spending all my time worrying about the decline of America isn’t good for my health. I’m reminded of the film Sullivan’s Travels, about a Hollywood director wanting to make a serious film about the depression during the depression. Through a series of misadventures, Sullivan, the director, ends up on a chain gang in the deep south and discovers what people in the depression really wanted – laughter.
During 2020 the sophistication of what tickles my funny bone has taken a hard hit. I can’t handle Saturday Night Live, or other contemporary satire, but linger on scenes from The Three Stooges, Bob Hope, and Jerry Lewis movies while clicking around the streaming services. My favorite comedy during 2020 was Bachelor in Paradise.
I used to hate slapstick and other lower forms of comedy because I saw myself more sophisticated than that. I once took a graduate course in humor and know what I should be watching, but high level humor doesn’t always soothe the soul in stressful times. I’m younger than that now.
Actually, Genevieve had most of the levels above, but It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World stayed pretty close to the bottom of the pyramid. I loved it. And I loved Genevieve, staying up way past my bedtime to finish it.
I was surprised that this 1953 British film seemed a good deal more sophisticated about sex than American films during the 1950s. The story is about two guys who take their wife and girlfriend on an annual antique car rally from London to Brighton. At one point actor Kenneth More laments that every year he brings a new girlfriend on this trip hoping to have an emotional experience but something always gets in the way. Not quite how they express things today, but funnier I think.
Tonight after my dose of the nightly news, I’m going to step out of reality and watch The Nutty Professor. I used to wince at comedy routines of Jerry Lewis. Now I marvel at tiny bits of cleverness. For example, Jerry sits in a chair where he sinks deep down into the cushions about a foot. He gets up and takes a small pamphlet off the desk and lays it across the chair seat cushion, and then sits down again. It holds him up. That was enough to make me happy.
4 thoughts on “Finding Laughter in Interesting Times”
I recall seeing Genevieve when it was first released. Because of my British heritage, I enjoy British humour. I liked the last cartoon on this post! And yes, laughter is definitely needed during these difficult times.
Over the last few years I spent a lot of time reliving British television situation comedies “One foot in the grave” “Last of the Summer wine” the latter of which reminded me of my childhood spending time with my elderly uncle walking up the banks.
I sometimes watch an episode of “Rising Damp” or on occasion appreciate the odd episode or “Cheers” but again its a little long in the tooth!
I’m not optimistic about modern entertainment, most of what I see and listen to in recent years is manufactured rubbish, I think the late 70s and early 80s still benefited from the 50s-60s where some degree are artistry was demanded.
I have started appreciating the controversial sense of humour offered from the stand up comedy of Frankie Boyle, whom I would not have given the time of day a few years ago, purely becasue I believed he was normalising the sickness, but having listened to him reason why his comedy is so dark, I realised he’s not suggesting his comedy has the moral high ground, but perhaps its appeal is that it’s honest enough to remind us what we have become and if the viewers realise he’s mocking them, the future might decide we want something better.