[So, um...hi. I intended to write an LJ entry of moderate size, but 4,000 words later, I appear to have an essay. I feel like this might be a metaphor for my life.]
My most recent vid has inspired me to poke some more at my screwball comedy vid. I have several films lined up for it, but I figure I could probably use more, and I might want to switch some of them out for better representatives of the genre. Which led me to the question, apparently rather difficult to answer, of what exactly constitutes a screwball film, or even screwball comedy as a genre. More than most genres, it seems to be a case of "I know it when I see it."
Still, I figured there had to be some kind of guidelines. For answers, I turned to James Harvey's Romantic Comedy in Hollywood from Lubitsch to Sturges
, which the internet tells me is one of the most highly-regarded texts in this field. I skimmed a couple chapters of it for my Modernism and ballroom dance (with a special appearance by Fred and Ginger) paper in grad school, but due to time constraints never read the rest of it.
It's a very good book: extremely readable, well-argued and supported, covering a good breadth of material, making a thorough analysis of specific films or scenes where warranted. Harvey's also an unexpectedly funny guy; the text is aimed at an educated popular audience, but it's still written mostly in academese...except when he calls this character a "dumbass," or says these characters are "talking shit." 1
He also has this hilarious vendetta against Ronald Reagan (the book was published in 1987) that he carries out in the footnotes and which even intrudes into the text in the concluding chapter. He links Reagan to Capra's socially conscious films like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
, which he deplores basically for being boring and false. This was my favorite bit: "[Y]oung people, who get restive at the high romanticism of old movies...sit rapt and unprotesting and apparently moved through the platitudes of Meet John Doe
and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
. The Capra vision isn't dead. [footnote] Unhappily. Reagan in the White House (a Capra event in itself, though certainly no joke) 'explains' his economic policies to reporters by quoting 'lengthy passages' from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Harvey and I agree on many things. Our views on Capra are very similar; I find his movies bland and platitudinous, except for It Happened One Night
, which is in my top five movies (Harvey loves it too). Like me, his favorite Astaire/Rogers film, at least scriptwise, is Shall We Dance
. We both find My Man Godfrey
overrated. But we differ on Irene Dunne, and specifically on The Awful Truth
, which he considers the epitome of screwball comedies, and which I couldn't even make it halfway through, I found it so painfully unfunny.
He's a little too into the director-as-auteur theory for my tastes, which I think influences his tendency to ramble on about an individual director's whole oeuvre, from westerns to melodramas, rather than focusing on the romantic comedies. The book could do with tightening there. But overall, it's excellent.( It also helped me define screwball comedy for myself. Well, sort of. Mostly. In a way. Because it is a very tricksy genre. )
Anyway, ALL OF THIS IS TO SAY...what are your favorite screwball comedies? What do you think makes one? OMG, TALK TO ME PLZ.( Footnotes )