'Slapstick' or 'Refined' Comedy - Take Your Choice
By A. H. Giebler
WHAT makes you laugh at a movie comedy? What amuses you most, accident or incident? Do you burst into peals of silvery laughter at the sight of a man falling downstairs? Does it move you to mirth to see one comedian slap another in the face with a pie?
Do you get more fun out of carefully worked-up situations that finish with humorous climaxes, or the rapid-fire, plotless work of the slapstick artists?
The movie makers have many ways of making people laugh, but all screen comedies may be grouped under two general heads: Slapstick comedy and refined comedy.
Each school has many followers. There are many good citizens of both sexes who will sit unmoved through a screen rich in subtle humor and never crack a smile yet they will laugh their heads off when Max Linder falls down on a ballroom floor.
And there are also many good citizens of both sexes, on whom Chaplin's best efforts will have no effect, who will hold their sides at some of Madge Kennedy’s drolleries.
Although not set down in any book or anatomical chart - indeed, its very existence is denied by some of our best medical authorities there is a member of our osseous structure that will produce the psychological phenomena known as laughter when given the proper encouragement and stimulus.
Just where in the human system this funny bone is located is a subject of much discussion.
The devotees of refined comedy say that the funny bone of an admirer of slapstick is located at the top of the spinal column and extends from the medulla oblongata up over the skull and downward to a point between the eyes.
Mostly Point of View.
In other words, they intimate in their high-brow manner that anyone who can guffaw at the sight of an elderly gentleman sitting down suddenly on a slippery sidewalk is a plain bonehead.
And by the same token, the followers of Linder, Chaplin, Ham and Bud, the Keystoners, and others of that ilk, say that their high-brow brothers have no funny bone at all and are utterly devoid of humor.
The great problem of the producers of movie comedy is to please the followers of each school, and although the followers are pretty evenly divided, more comedies of the rough-house kind than the others are made, for this reason:
The Persons who say their sense of humor is quickened more easily by the subtleties of comedy than by what the studio people call "rough stuff," manage to get a lot of fun out of it, and oftentimes the dignified citizen who will profess distaste and even disgust at the pie throwing brand of comedies is the one who will laugh the loudest.
Indeed, a dignified citizen was heard to say not long ago that while he did not see anything funny in that kind of comedy, he could not help laughing at it, because it was so utterly absurd and foolish.
The poor soul does not realize that absurdities and foolishness are two of the largest stones in the foundation of humor.
But while the rough-stuff comedy will please a large number of the followers of the refined school, the more subtle comedy, that depends on innuendo rather than action, will not register with those whose sense of humor is nearer the surface. Therefore, more rough stuff is made.
The producers are wiser than many people give them credit for in this respect. They have their fingers on the funny bones of the people just the same as the doctor has his fingers on the pulse of his patient.
It does not matter how high our brows may get, or how great the dignity we may attain, or whether we have a funny bone or not, a ludicrous incident will always make us laugh.
We may sympathize with a citizen who falls down on a slippery pavement, but we always laugh at him first. Many a good Samaritan who has stooped to assist a fellow-being to his feet after an encounter with a treacherous banana-skin, although strong with outward sympathy, has been so weak with inward laughter that he was of poor assistance.
Of the two kinds of comedians, the slapstick school has much the easier time in making people laugh. The refined comedian sometimes works through two or three scenes, and up to a climax for the result that his brother of the slapstick gets with one well-aimed pie, or one well-directed squirt from a seltzer bottle.
What Producer Strives For.
In the early days of movie comedy, everything was quick action and quick laughs, and oftentimes a few wild yelps from an audience was acceptable as evidence of the picture's success.
Max Linder is probably the "inventor" - at least he is the instigator of the rapid-fire comedy known as slapstick. Linder is a Frenchman, and he has been in this country only a short time, but his work is well known to movie audiences and has been for years.
Linder is known as the Chaplin of Europe, and there is much that is similar in the work of the two comedians, so far as action is concerned, although there is great difference as to costuming.
Chaplin wears old shoes and baggy trousers, while Linder is always the well-dressed and dandified chap.
It is said that Linder brought forty-seven trunks of clothing and haberdashery with him when he came to this country.
Linder is a great favorite in France and England, where he is regarded as a great hero. At the beginning of the war he gave up his work, which was paying him handsomely, and joined the French army. He served as a soldier and an aviator, and was wounded so severely that he was discharged, he is now suffering from a gun-shot wound in the lungs which caused him much trouble.
Madge Kennedy is a well-known exponent of the politer brand of comedy, and is just beginning to make her mark in pictures.
She is well known to the regular stage as the star of "Fair and Warmer," "Little Miss Brown." "Twin Beds" and "Over Night." Miss Kennedy has the rare ability of looking and feeling the parts she plays, and her very manner on the stage is enough to get the laugh effect that the slapstick comedian has to resort to violent action and tricks to attain. (The Ogden Standard, Jul. 28, 1917)