Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Grant Park Films: Duck Soup


The Marx Brothers are good once or twice a year. Anything more would cause seizures. But I took my yearly dose tonight in Grant Park. Before the film started, everyone in the audience received a free pair of Groucho glasses. Apparently we set a world record for the most people wearing funny glasses in one place for ten minutes. I'm not sure what the record was before, but i think there were about 4000 people watching Duck Soup tonight. They were all wearing that funny nose and glasses piece. What a sight it was.

Oh, silliness. It is a part of life. But sometimes, we're too serious. Sometimes we don't know how to be silly. That's when we put these funny glasses on. These glasses are instant silly. Even if we're in the middle of presenting dissertations or raping animals, wearing these glasses makes everything silly. All seriousness is removed as silliness takes over.

But the source of the silliness is to blame for these immortal glasses. Groucho Marx is the awful hero of Duck Soup, the smart-alec of the century and unrivaled king of the bad pun. I groaned so many times tonight. But I couldn't stop smiling either. When Groucho asked Harpo what his name was and Harpo showed him a tattoo on his arm of his own face, I nearly lost it. Then after asking where he lives, Harpo opens his shirt to reveal a tattoo of a doghouse on his chest. Groucho leans in, meows, and a real dog pops out of Harpo's tattoo barking. I nearly died.

I mean, what the hell were these guys on?

If things were this silly in the 30s', we really haven't come very far in the comedy world. Family Guy seems outrageous to the teenager, but the mature comedy fan knows just how fluffy it really is. The Marx Brothers, now that's hardcore. That's timeless comedy.

"Ah, to be married... I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. ...But I can't see the stove..."

I feel exhausted by the Marx Brothers now. It's too many jokes in a short period of time. It becomes an intellectual exercise after a while. I've heard that Groucho was a very intelligent person, I'll look into that and verify. But I wouldn't be surprised if he was a genius. Comedy is not mindless. Quite the opposite really, it's incredibly intense brain-work. The trick is making the jokes seem effortless and ridiculous. That's what's called "wit." And there may not have been anyone with more wit than those Marx fellas.

I forget who said it, but it usually doesn't matter who says things, once they're said the sayer gives up all of his saying rights. So I guess I'm saying it. Seriousness is weak, because it closes off the possibility for playfulness. Seriousness is single-minded and elitist. But playfulness is strong, because it includes the possibility for dealing with seriousness, and oftentimes makes light of it. Playfulness is open-minded and free.

The Marx Brothers help us towards playfulness, open-mindedness and freedom. Every time Harpo gives somebody his leg, it's like the political world falls to pieces. Religions forget that they're arguing over ultimate truth with each other when Chico says, "At's the mattah for you?!"

Comedy isn't a way to pacify the serious trouble that exists in the world, it's the way to laugh at it. Laugh or be laughed at, dear readers. Laugh with me. Otherwise I'll make fun of you.

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