Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Cheap laughs.

I need to hate on George Clooney's Good Night, And Good Luck for just one more second. But to do so I need to digress, so here we go. After seeing Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous in the theater, I had a conversation with my friend Fraser. We both loved it, but Fra absolutely nailed a problem we both had with the film, a problem I've come to call "Fraser's rule of cheap comedy." (I guess one could also call it "anachronistic humor.")
There are two truly hideous examples in Almost Famous:
  • Ben Fong-Torres: A Mo-Jo, it's a very high-tech machine that transmits pages over the telephone! It only takes eighteen minutes a page!

  • Dennis Hope: If you think that Mick Jagger will still be doing the whole rock star thing at age fifty, well, then, you are sorely, sorely mistaken.

Isn't that the worst? But you know everyone in the theater laughs at that base shit. Because that humor is so ridiculously easy and pretty much guarantees a laugh (no matter how cheap), the writers of period pieces just can't seem to resist it. Which brings us back to Clooney.

In GNAGL, Clooney tries to inject a couple moments of levity into the proceedings. He lets a vintage Merit cigarette commercial run in full (titter titter... can you imagine? They used to advertise the smoothness of cigarettes... har har) and, in a move that's really dubious, he recreates a Murrow interview with Liberace. Of course, the big joke there is Murrow asks Liberace a series of questions about marriage. The audience I was with roared because, nudge nudge, we all know Liberace was queer. Ho ho ho, we can laugh 'cause we're all good-hearted liberals, right guys? Sigh.

There is justice in the world, however. Armond noticed and didn't let Clooney off the hook:
Murrow's "Person to Person" interview with flamboyant pianist Liberace provokes laughter even though in human terms the circumspect Liberace is only being as forthright about his personal life as he dares. He's no more secretive than Murrow, just fully aware of the era's threatening hurricane of homophobia. In Clooney's pompous cultural artifact, Liberace is the TV entertainer we're free to ridicule and question, not Murrow's TV saint.

C'mon, you knew I'd somehow work Armond into this discussion.


At 12:49 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

But sometimes anachronistic humor is effective. Like, in "Topsy Turvy" when Sullivan is startled by a resevoir pen. It's very funny, but mostly because of his jolly wonder at discovering something new, not precisely because we can just condescend to it.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Agreed. I should've have made clearer that it's the condescension that makes me insane. It's so amusingly arrogant; as if Michael Bay Jr. isn't going to be making movies with iPod jokes in 25 years.


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