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Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Chaplin’

“In life I wasn’t funny. I felt on stage or in movies I could do whatever I wanted. I was free.”
Gene Wilder

WillyWonka

It’s hard to write something about Gene Wilder that hasn’t been written since he passed away two years ago. But I’d like to touch on his Midwestern roots and how he found small victories on his way to greater success. After all, that is a key aspect of this blog all these years.

Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a youth, he entertained his mother with humor to try and help ease the pressure of her bad health. He began studying acting at 13, his older actress sister got him a spot doing summer stock when he was 16, and when he was 18 he followed her theatrical path and attended the University of Iowa because of its reputable theater program.

He was in four plays his freshman year alone (Note: It’s not easy to get stage time as a freshman in top drama programs), and graduated in 1955. Kim Howard Johnson’s book The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close mentions that Del Close claimed to have been a roommate of Wilder’s at Iowa. Wilder didn’t mention that in his autobiography, but they were within a year of each other age wise and did both attend Iowa so it’s possible.

If true, it certainly would have made for an incubator of creativity. While Wilder would go on to Broadway and Hollywood success, Close would make his impact mostly in Chicago being a early part of improv (Second City/Upright Citizens Brigade) and whose students included; Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley,  Mike Myers, John Candy, Jon Favreau, Tina Fey,  Harold Ramis, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner (who would eventually marry Gene Wilder).

“Many have called Del Close the most important comedy figure of the last fifty years whom you’ve never hear of.”
Kim Howard Johnson

Close was only at Iowa one semester, but I’d like to believe that he and Wilder had some late night discussions in Iowa City about “pure imagination,” in the Willy Wonka sense.

The first time I saw Wilder was in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was ten years old. Watching Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Silver Steak and Stir Crazy are like entertaining sign posts through my middle school and high school years. In a time before cable and the Internet—and back when hit movies had lines to get in—Wilder was memorable because he made me laugh.

But he wasn’t Steve Martin funny. And when you look at the path he took after Iowa and you seem to see a disconnect—until you learn that Wilder said seeing Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman was what made him want to become an actor. Wilder went to New York and studied with Lee Strasberg (where Wilder said he was only two actors out of 1,200 accepted into the actors studio when he applied).

He yearned to be a serious actor.

Opportunities in off-Broadway and Broadway plays brought him into contact with the person he claimed would change the direction of his career.

“I was miscast in that production [of Mother Courage and Her Children] … but it was with Anne Bancroft, whose boyfriend at the time was Mel Brooks, and that made my — I can’t say my day, it made my life, in a way.”
Gene Wilder
NPR/Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross 

Wilder co-starred in The Producers (1967) which Mel Brooks produced and directed. They team up again on Young Frankenstein (written by Wilder) and on Blazing Saddles (where Wilder was The Waco Kid).

The disconnect: Wilder was seriously funny.

So while Wilder was influenced by the seriousness of playwright Arthur Miller, he also wrote in his autobiography that another giant influence was Charlie Chaplin. He specifically points out the brilliance Chaplin in the hot dog scene from The Circus (1928).

“The acting lesson from this film seems so simple, yet inspired me for the rest of my career: if the thing you’re doing is really funny, you don’t need to ‘act funny’ while doing it.”
Gene Wilder
Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art

Wilder wrote, directed, and starred in movies through the 80s, but seemed to walk away from Hollywood after his wife, Gilda Radner, died in 1989. But he had a great over ten year run that included his best work with Brooks and Richard Pryor, and as Willy Wonka, and that brought me some of the greatest joys of childhood and teenage years.

P.S. The University of Iowa is home to the The Gene Wilder Papers. And a nice Iowa tie-in is Cloris Leachman, who plays Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa.

Scott W. Smith

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“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
Screenwriter David Mamet
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?

Everything looks worse
In black and white
Kodachrome by Paul Simon
(I love this song, but everything doesn’t look worse in black and white)

Today wraps up a series of posts taken from Jerry Lewis’s book, The Total Film-Maker. These insights are from chapter 14—OTHER FILM-MAKERS, OTHER FILMS.

“I’m convinced that the best example of a total film­ maker was Chaplin. He was totally in, on, and all over his films. He created them in the fullest sense of the word: ex­perimented to see how widely, how cleverly and skillfully he could work.

“Chaplin also had a powerful family of fine comic people who worked with him picture after picture. He often used one actor for three different roles within the same film, changing costume and make-up to change characters. Ford Sterling played three completely different roles in City Lights.

“…Older men like Chaplin and Hitchcock were masters of their craft during their prime years. They were great artists with people and with the tools of their art. George Stevens, in directing A Place in the Sun, Giant and The Greatest Story Ever Told, shows mastery in almost every frame.

“…The work of a Fred Zinnemann comes from knowledge, care and lots of sweat. Films like High Noon, The Sun­downers and A Man for All Seasons are the product of a master craftsman. Any young director can learn quite a lesson by watching what he did with the camera, how he handled the actors and treated the subject matter as the result of both.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

P.S. Those first 30 seconds of the clip from the 6-time Oscar-winning film A Place in the Sun (including Best Picture) where Liz and Monty meet and greet is a great example of fine filmmaking. So much subtext in each other’s “Hello” and great exposition in her line, “I see you had a misspent youth.” In fact, that line covers about 100 pages of the Theodore Dreiser novel— An American Tragedy (1925)— from which the Michael Wilson (a two-time Oscar winner from  McAlester, Oklahoma whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia) and Harry Brown based their screenplay. BTW–Patrick Kearney wrote play on the book that premiered on Broadway in 1926. And to come full circle, I have read that Russian Sergei Eisenstein spent some time in Hollywood wrote a screenplay on the book in 1920 that he hoped Charlie Chaplin would produce. If anyone has a link to Eisenstein’s version I’d love to read it. Josef von Sternberg directed the 1931 version of An American Tragedy from a script by Samuel Hoffenstein. If there was ever a timeless title in our 24-7 newscyle era it’s An American Tragedy.

Related Posts:

Comedy, Cruelty, Chaplin
Chaplin on Embracing Cliches

Scott W. Smith

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“I’ll tell you what I did to become a film-maker. I had this drive and I was curious.”
Jerry Lewis
Actor, producer, director, writer, composer, etc.

“You’ll be unstoppable if you become technical as well as creative.”
Robert Rodriguez
Writer, producer, director, editor, cameraman, composer etc.

“Where do you start? There’s no Monopoly board. No Start. Do Not Pass Go. I think you start out by just being there, and being curious and having the drive to make films.

More important: make film, shoot film, run film. Do something.
Make film. Shoot anything.

It does not have to be sound.

It does not have to be titled.
It does not have to be color.
There is no have to. Just do.
And show it to somebody. If it is an audience of one, do and show, and then try it again. That is how.

It sounds simple.
It’s not. Then again, it is.”
Producer, director, writer, actor Jerry Lewis 
Prologue to The Total Film-Maker

Keep in mind those words were first published in 1971 when making a film meant literally shooting and editing film.    There were hard cost to buying and developing film even if you owed or borrowed a camera. But in the digital age today it’s easier than ever to “Do something” and to “Shoot anything.”

I just shot an edited a promotional project for a talent agency and looking back the only hard cost involved was a few gallons of gas. While the cost of gas has risen greatly since 1971 (when the average gallon cost 36 cents) the cost of shooting something and showing it to an audience has dropped considerably.

Maybe not a feature film full of CGI, with the most expensive acting talent, and the latest equipment—but if you’re resourceful and driven you can do something today—as in this very day— for less than a tank of gas. It may just be you producing, directing, writing, shooting, editing–even being on camera—and that’s okay. “Do something” even “If it is an audience of one”—i.e. “The Total Film-Maker.”

“Charlie Chaplin was the first great total film-maker.”
Jerry Lewis

To round out this post, let’s go back to Lewis— “I believe that the quickest way to find out your capacity for being a total film-maker is to determine whether or not you have something to say on film.”

P.S. If it helps, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez started out making videos of his family for his family. Today the producer/director/editor/cameraman/composer/actor/etc. is the epitome of The Total Film-Maker.   Somebody at the Austin Film Festival, South by Southwest, or the Aloma Drafthouse Cinema in Austin needs to arrange Robert Rodriguez interviewing Jerry Lewis before the 88-year-old Lewis makes his final stage exit.

Related Website: Justin Bozung has a site called The Jerry Lewis Internet Archive; A Research Hub Dedicated to the The Total Film-Maker—Mr. Jerry Lewis.

 

Related Posts:

Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Creative Learning 2.0
Overnight Success
The Path is Gone
A New Kind of Filmmaker
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood
The 10-Minute Film School (with Professor Rodriguez)
The Rise of Storyteller with Cameras (It’s okay to create “a thousand layers of garbage”—it’s part of the transformative learning process.)

Scott W.Smith

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One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenfeffer incorporated
Laverne & Shirley theme song

schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt 
schlimazel: a chronically unlucky person
Words flow from Yiddish/Hebrew/German words

Jerry Lewis is a one-man hero with 1,000 faces.

Some people first think of Jerry Lewis as the actor, director and co-writer of The Nutty Professor (1963)—where he played three characters in one movie. Others think fondly of his 45-year run as the host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day telethon, some think of him as the side kick of Dean Martin, and yet others recall his role in the Martin Scorsese directed film The King of Comedy (1982) which he co-starred with Robert De Niro.

But few think of Lewis as a real life college professor—so real that one of his students was George Lucas. From 1967 to 1977 he was an Adjunct Professor at the USC film school.

In 1971 Professor Lewis published a book called The Total Filmmaker which has long been out of print and copies are on sale at Amazon go for as high as $999.99.  But since earlier this year the excellent website Cinephilia and Beyond has a PDF of the book available for free. 

Today I’ll start a run of posts taken from that book. Here’s lesson one:

“I do not know that I have a carefully thought-out theory on exactly what makes people laugh, but the premise of all comedy is a man in trouble, the little guy against the big guy. Snowballs are thrown at the man in the black top hat. They aren’t thrown at the battered old fedora. The top-hat owner is always the bank president who holds the mort­ gage on the house, or he’s a representation of the under­ taker.

In the early days, working night clubs, I learned that taking a pratfall in a gray suit might get a few laughs. But I had to get up quickly and start another routine. Take the same fall dressed in a $400 tuxedo and I could stay on the floor for a minute. They would howl when the rich guy took the tumble.

Or it is the tramp, the underdog, causing the rich guy, or big guy, to fall on his ass. In this respect the sources of comedy are a simple matter of who’s doing what to whom. They include, of course, what the comedian does to him­self.

Chaplin was both the shlemiel and the shlimazel. He was the guy who spilled the drinks-the shlemiel-and the guy who had the drinks spilled on him-the shlimazel. In his shadings of comedy, and they were like a rainbow, he also played a combination of shlemiel-shlimazel. In Mode­rn Times, diving into six inches of water when he opens the back door, which is one of the great sight jokes in com­edy-film history, he does it to himself.”
Jerry Lewis

P.S. In an interview earlier this year on The Talk the 88-year-old Lewis said he began writing at the age of eight and that the idea for The Nutty Professor was to do a comedic version of  Jekyll and Hyde. (Either the Robert Lewis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or one of the many movies based on that book.)

Scott W. Smith

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“My top ten tips for tilting your film. 1. The shorter the better…”
Chris Jones (Co-author of The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook)
Top Ten Tips For tilting Your Movie

“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Novelist/essayist Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)

Gravity-1

There’s no “rule” that says movie titles have to be short, but it’s a pretty good proven principle to follow.

I noticed this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees followed a trend I began to see clearly back in 1998 with the release of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list. The vast majority of great movies titles are three words or less.

The original AFI list sits right about 75% with titles with three words or less. (Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Godfather set the tone right out of the gate.) Best Picture nominees this year have only one of the nine pictures with more than three words in it. And 66% have two or less words including four with only a single word; Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena.

Historically, going all the way back to very first Academy Award ceremony (1929), more than 60% Best Picture winners have titles with three words or less, but ever since Rocky won Best Picture in 1977, only three winners (out of 37) had titles of more than three words.  (And each of those three was a novel first.)

That’s a pretty good case for picking short titles. One reason is it’s easier to recommend  Gladiator or Platoon than it is The Bridge on the River Kwai or All Quiet on the Western Front. Hitchcock’s best films had short titles including Vertigo, Psycho, and Notorious. Even a list of breakthrough indie films (filmmakers who seek to be unconventional from the Hollywood norm) has its share of short titles: Memento, Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Before Sunset, El Mariachi, Slacker, Metropolitan, Rushmore.

Shakespeare at his best? Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Henry V, and Macbeth. 

Woody Allen’s most referenced films these days? Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors,  Midnight in Paris, and Blue Jasmine. 

Chapin? City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and The Gold Rush.

And if I haven’t made the case for picking a short title clear enough consider Pixar’s titles; Toy Story, Cars, Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life, Brave, Monsters, Inc., and Trains. In fact, Pixar has never had a feature film title with more than three words.

up_

That doesn’t mean bland and slightly long title (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)—or even a bland short title (The Shawshank Redemption)— can’t find an audience. Or that Up in the Air isn’t the perfect metaphor for George Clooney’s character. (A character whose only real purpose appears to be collecting frequent flyer miles—everything else is up in the air.) Or even that it’s unheard of to have a very long title like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. (Although, when that last film came out in 1984 I remember people referred to it as Buckaroo Banzai.)

The point is short titles rule. Why fight an uphill battle?

Movie titles are important. How do you pick a good one?

Some writers talk about starting with a title and going from there, and others talk about struggling to land on a title even after they’ve finished their book or screenplay.

But the most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event. Of the non-sequel films (or non-comic based films) at the top of the all-time box office include Avatar, Titanic, Skyfall, and Jurassic Park. (And audiences tend to abbreviate sequels/comic-based movies around the water cooler calling them Batman, Star Wars, Pirates, Spider-Man, Twilight, Iron Man and Harry Potter.)

CHARACTER(S) OR BEING:
Citizen Kane
Lincoln
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Alien
Erin Brockovich
Patton
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Norma Rae
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull
Bridesmaids
The Artist
Annie Hall

A PLACE OR THING:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Bridges of Madison County
Pearl Harbor
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca
Fargo
Oklahoma
Wall St.
Philadelphia

AN EVENT:
12 Years a Slave
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
3:10 to Yuma
Flight
2001: A Space Odyssey
This is 40
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice
Mutiny on the Bounty
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

(Or a person, place, & event: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (Again all were books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience, and gives them the advantage of a built-in audience when the movies hit theaters.If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt if the title is a common phrase like “up in the air.” Even still, I heard people called Up in the Air,  “The new George Clooney movie.” (More words than the actual title but easier to explain to a friend when picking a movie.)

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? What are some of your favorite bad titles?

Some of my favorite titles are the lesser remembered movies Them! (1954) and  Zulu (1964).  And I like titles such as Psycho, Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built-in conflict, mystery and intrigue. They hit you at a gut level.

When I think of bad movie titles it tends to be because I think the movies are bad. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the movies listed at The 100 Worst Movie Title are longish; The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

I should add in closing that just because you have a short title doesn’t guarantee success as Ishtar and Gigli prove. But even in an internet driven age where viral reviews may trump movie titles, short titles still seem to work best because word counts are as important as ever.

P.S.  One blogger wrote a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back in the day.

P.P.S. My own longest and worst title for a script I’ve written—When the Cold Winds Blows. More novel-friendly, but I should really be forced to write an apology letter to James Taylor for sampling the lyrics from his classic Fire and Rain. And in case you think I’m kidding—here’s the tattered title page from over a decade ago.

photo-2

Updated from the post: Movie Titles (tip #32) published in 2010.

Related posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 2)
Irony in Movies (Tip #79)
Average Length of Movie Scenes (#21)
Choosing a Title for Your Script  “A good title could get your script moved up from the bottom of the stack of to-read scripts to the top — and change your life.”—Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek)

Related links from others:

Choosing a Great Title “Will the title look good on a poster and will it intrigue passersby?”—Julie Gray
Screenplay Tip #6: Title  “Sometimes dramas will have a lengthy title like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but this seems less now and I certainly can’t remember the last time I saw such a long title for a drama in the spec pile.”—Lucy V. Hay
Reader mail—titles “You know what does stick with me? The clever titles, the unique ones.”—The Bitter Script Reader
The Ultimate Guild To Screenwriting Titles

Scott W. Smith

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“Clichés, in particular, have always baffled me. You’d think it’d be as simple as, ‘Don’t use clichés,’ but it isn’t. I’ve fallen in love with plenty of great movies that others have insisted were riddled with clichés. Many times I have to admit they’re correct, and yet I still love the movie. The ending of Die Hard has Bruce Willis limping up to the bad guy with a gun, who’s holding his wife hostage. It’s the most cliché of cliché situations. And yet I’m riveted. I am riveted by a classic cliché. This implies that there are actually plenty of instances where you want to use clichés.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow Article — A Cliché Article

Warning: A couple of spoilers today since I talking about movie endings.

Writer, director, actor Charlie Chaplin once said The Gold Rush was “the picture that I want to be remembered by.” It not only has a happy ending, it has two of them. One version of the film has Chaplin as the Tramp and a saloon girl he’s fallen in love with by an old house and the other is the above ending where they kiss. Anytime the guy and girl end up together there are plenty of people crying “Cliché!”

“I’m not afraid of doing a cliché, if it’s right. We don’t wade through our existence with any sort of originality. We all live and die and eat three meals a day, and fall in and out of love, and the rest of it. So people say, that’s been done before.

“So what? In avoiding clichés I think one can become dull—it’s like Shaw. I love Shaw, but he’s afraid of the clichés. For instance, Pygmalion. Shaw in his afterward goes to a lot of trouble to explain the fact that Liza did not fall in love with the professor. It seems that Shaw has gone out of his way to avoid it, which makes the ending false. I don’t believe it. I believe the girl would finish up as his mistress. Instead, after this man has created her, she falls in love with this cluck who doesn’t mean much at all. 

“Your story begins—once upon a time—and then you can’t escape. It either finishes happily or tragically. And there you have the clichés. And if you’re going to leave it unsaid, then it isn’t perfectly written. Leaving it up in the air—that’s become very clichés now—is to have no curtain to a story. I get so bored with that.”
Charlie Chaplin Interviews edited by Kevin Hayes

The first time I remember seeing a film hammered by critics for having a clichéd ending was An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) written by Douglas Day Stewart. But I wasn’t a jaded film critic when I first saw the film, I was a 20-year-old working for a factory one summer between my sophomore and junior years of film school. I worked along side people who had spent ten, twenty, even thirty years of their lives in the factory making boat windshields in Central Florida. My boss told me if he didn’t take quaaludes he wouldn’t make it through the day. I worked with a grandmother who was only 32-years-old and an attractive young woman who first explained to me what a sugardaddy was as she told about her experiences living at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood—her expenses paid for by a married guy from Long Beach.

Work in a factory can be boring, but the people are usually interesting. I’m sure that experience shaded my perspective watching the the movie. At the end of the movie when Richard Gere struts into the factory and sweeps Debra Winger off her feet it was exhilarating. I only worked in the factory for three months but I could relate to the Winger character and more than I’d like to admit I connected to the Richard Gere character.

I was at a point in my life where the film just resonated with me in emotional ways that I couldn’t explain until many years later. When VHS players came out it was the first tape I bought. And it was also many years later that I appreciated what director Taylor Hackford pulled off on a limited budget.  I felt, to borrow filmmaker Edward Burns’ phrase about It’s a Wonderful Life, that Hackford and Stewart earned their ending.

Time has been good to An Officer and a Gentleman and actually critic Roger Ebert was an early champion of the film.

An Officer and a Gentleman is the best movie about love that I’ve seen in a long time…This is a wonderful movie precisely because it’s so willing to deal with matters of the heart. Love stories are among the rarest of movies these days (and when we finally get one, it’s likely to involve an extra-terrestrial). Maybe they’re rare because writers and filmmakers no longer believe they understand what goes on between modern men and women. An Officer and a Gentleman takes chances, takes the time to know and develop its characters, and by the time this movie’s wonderful last scene comes along, we know exactly what’s happening, and why, and it makes us very happy.”
Roger Ebert review of An Officer and a Gentleman

You can end your screenplay with a happy ending, a sad ending, an ambiguous ending, or an ironic ending—that’s all the choices you have. Take those options and do the best you can to come up with an Insanley Great Ending.

So I think my take away from all of this is partly, “There’s nothing new under the sun” mixed with the fact that good writing engages you in a story and you don’t care what techniques are being used, while bad writing or less effective storytelling makes it easier for audiences and critics to point out the flaws of the movie.  Cliché belongs on the same shelf as voice-overs and flashbacks—screenwriting books and teachers are always saying to not use them, but you don’t watch the Citizen Kane, Casablanca—or more recently Moneyball— and say “Wow, those would have been better films with out those nagging flashbacks.” Nor do you watch Sunset Boulevard, The Shawshank Redemption—or more recently Moonrise Kingdom— and say, “Those filmmakers really missed the boat using voice-overs.”

P.S. I like to believe that Zack and Paula from An Officer and a Gentleman lived happily ever after in a nice house on Whidbey Island overlooking Puget Sound. (If you know otherwise—I don’t want to know about it.)

Update 1/4/13: Found this interview where Richard Gere thought while shooting Officer that it had the “dopiest ending” and it would never work, but later when he saw the edit with the right music said he got chills on the back of his neck.

Related post:

Movie Clonning (Avoding Clichés)
Writing & Rewritng “Pretty Woman” (Part 2) “It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.“—Director Garry Marshall

Scott W. Smith

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“All humor is rooted in pain.” 
Comedian Richard Pryor

“I think humour does save one’s sanity. We can go overboard with too much tragedy. Tragedy is, of course, a part of life, but we’re also given an equipment to offset anything, a defense against it. I think tragedy is very essential in life. And we are given humour as a defence against it. Humour is a universal thing, which I think is derived from more or less pity… Cruelty is a basic element in comedy. What appears to be sane is really insane, and if you can make that poignant enough they love it.
Charlie Chaplin
Interview with Richard Meryman
(via Diary of a Screnwriter and Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema by Jeffrey Vance)

If we slide the Internet of today back 100 years I think Charlie Chaplin would have been the first social media superstar. No question Chaplin would be all over Facebook, the first to have 1 million Twitter followers, and the first You Tube celebrity.  His career  producing, writing, directing, acting, editing, and composing music (and I think even shooting at times) began in 1914 with the short film Kid Auto Races At Venice, California.

Chaplin would sometimes get an idea in the morning and shoot it in the afternoon and edit it as soon as the film was developed. You can rack up some credits—and experience—making short films in a day or two. It was the popularity of his short films that opened the door for his comedic masterpiece features; The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940).

“The best ideas grow out of the situation. If you get a good comedy situation it goes on and on and has many radiations. Like the skating rink sequence [in The Rink]. I found a pair of skates and I went on, with everybody in the audience certain that I was going to fall, and instead I came on and just skated around on one foot gracefully. The audience didn’t expect it from the Tramp. Or the lamppost gag [in Easy Street]. It came out of a situation where I am a policeman, and am trying to subdue a bully. I hit him on the head with a truncheon, and hit him and hit him. It is like a bad dream. He keeps rolling his sleeves up with no reaction to being hit at all. Then he lifts me up and puts me down. Then I thought, well, he has enormous strength, so he can pull the lamppost down, and while he was doing that I would jump on his back, push his head in the light and gas him. I did some funny things that were all made off the cuff that got a tremendous laugh.”
Charlie Chaplin
Interview with Richard Meryman 

The lamppost gag on Easy Street begins at the 4:45 mark of the link below. (Also notice that both Chaplin’s skating and lamppost examples build on key elements that also work for Hitchcock’s thrillers—anticipation, fear, irony and danger):

P.S. I don’t know what year that Chaplin interview was done but if it occurred in the last year of his life—1977—it’s possible when he said “I think humour does save one’s sanity,” he was referencing Jimmy Buffett’s song Changes in Latitudes , Changes in  Attitudes“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”— which got a lot of air time on the radio when it was released in 1977. Maybe not the case, but gives me a smile to think that’s the way it went down. The bottom line is if Jimmy Buffett and Charlie Chaplin agree on something it must be true. (Though it doesn’t quite explain why so many comedians/ court jesters have walked down the path of destruction . Could it be that while delivering the cure the messenger is killed?)

Related Posts:
Telling the Truth=Humor
Tasting & Smelling Comedy (Tip #61)
The “Stuckinna” Plot (Tip #63)
The Bomb Under the Table (A Hitchcock phrase and something all classic movies are said to contain.)
Jerry Seinfeld (Part 2)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (part 1) 

Scott W. Smith

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