Sunday, June 26


Still poppin' here in Hell.

Hoo boy! What a shame I was one of less than two dozen people at the Yerba Buena Center's screening of the 1941 phantasmagoria Hellzapoppin' this afternoon. Still, the room was filled with more laughter than I've heard at so-called "comedies" playing to fuller crowds in larger theatres. Especially during the first 20 or so minutes, during which we were treated to the most hyper-hectic vision of the netherworld imaginable, the extraordinarily rapid banter of our hosts, Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, and so many opportunites taken to demolish the fourth wall that you almost expect them to start in on the fifth, sixth and seventh. I'd thought I'd seen the Ur-texts for Richard Elfman's Forbidden Zone when I saw the cartoons of Max Fleischer (particularly Bimbo's Initiation and the ones featuring Cab Calloway). Well, this is most definitely the other one. The remaining hour of the film is almost as wild as the opening. Between outrageous comedy bits from every corner of the imagination, there's a romantic subplot in the style of those found in a Marx Bros. film. But in this case, the gags overwhelm everything, to the point where they cease to feel like gags; they've become the fabric of a completely unique approach to movie-making, only approached by the most illogical moments of Tex Avery and Busby Berkeley. There's also the most incredible display of the Lindy Hop one could ever hope to see on screen. And to think its all directed by H.C. Potter, the man who made the oh-so-stodgy The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.

It was as if to remind me that "hilarious" really wasn't the right word to use to describe Aki Kaurismaki's Man Without a Past to the friends I showed it to last night. For one, the plot, which begins with a man getting beat up and nearly dying, is simply not a comic plot. It is really taking a classic trope of Hollywood comedy, amnesia, and treating it with seriousness. To a degree. In tone the film is still a comedy, if an understated one. And what I remembered best in the film were its many moments of humor, such as the exchanges between M (the protagonist, played by Markku Peltola) and Anttila, aka "the Whip of God", or the entire sequence revolving around a bank heist. It was good to revisit the film and be reminded of details like the eloquent lisp of M's lawyer, and the skittish demeanor of the attack dog Hannibal. And to appreciate Kaurismaki's eye for composition. Oh, and my friends liked the film anyway, even if they didn't find it "hilarious."

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