[1940] The Philadelphia Story

This powerhouse film dramatizes relationship-building to cathartic effect. Over the course of seemingly less than a week, we exhibit the full cycle of most of The Philadelphia Story‘s main characters’ synapses realigning as they come to realize their past mistakes, present unhappiness and future malaise simultaneously and work effortlessly to redefine themselves as modern people in the modernist sense: that self-consciousness is the righteous path and function, in their case, life, follows form. The Philadelphia Story huffs through almost two hours and the audience is better for it, almost, in the most modern way: that there exists a strived-for completeness, when in fact the audience must know that this is the question. In a way, whether intentional or not, through a modern lens The Philadelphia Story defines modernism through postmodern means.

Because through hyperrelapse behavior and infinite loops of information, the modern (in a contemporary sense) man and woman knows that the ultimate goal is to strive for completeness with the full intention of achieving a sliver of happiness completes his or her journey. Ever the pessimist, he or she is honest, which is the key component to the argument against The Philadelphia Story. At its core the film is art and the sped-up premise is meant as a plot device, eschewing reality for core competency; after two hours, the audience must leave with an impression – good or bad – that the film did not flounder. It is reasonable that the film is somewhat dishonest because I think that the writing and acting is compelling enough, and through seasoned performances from Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), Katherine Hepburn (Tracy Lord) and Jimmy Stewart (Mike Connor), it is slightly obvious that the production team was in on this joke. Continue reading

[1940] The Great Dictator

On its surface, comedy seems apt for the present, because characterization is not an inherent responsibility of the author to ooze why her joke is funny; “funny” is largely a function of its setting. If the “high” goal of comedy is simply to encourage laughter, we, the audience, should tune our own understanding to the present laugh factor: is this joke funny or not, right here, right now? If not, can and do we find humor in comedy outside the immediacy of “comedy?” The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin’s most seminal work, proves that we do.

The Great Dictator, 1940’s tongue-in-cheek Nazi satire, is a comedy first and a pièce de triomphe second. Chaplin aims to leech the bad blood and the sadness of Adolf Hitler’s tyrannical and megalomaniacal Third Reich through a mish-mash of slapstick comedy and cartoonish caricature. Within the loose confines of a story of immediate relations, there’s Marx Brothers-esque pan-smashing and paint-throwing and lots of falling, sliding and slipping. Sure this comedy is easy – our natural schadenfreude loves to watch and relish in the misfortune of others – but its simplicity is essential to setting a mood. Because comedy has a foil – tragedy – that runs all too deeply through The Great Dictator. Chaplin plays two characters (an essential plot device): one, Chaplin is a Jewish merchant injured and amnesiac from The Great War; he conveniently revives and attempts to resume normality only to find that his normal activities are stymied by Adenoid Hynkel and his regime, “The Double Cross.” The humor is plentiful in this whole set up, ripe for a serious demolishing of the current regime and its antics. The other: in a likeness is purely coincidental, obviously, is Adenoid Hynkel himself. He is a more obvious allegory to the specific Führer and because his real-life counterpart is ubiquitous and completely characterized, the comedy is simpler, if not funnier. As with chess, comedy follows an important paradigm: simplify to exploit. Continue reading