Laughs Of The Decades: A History Of Comedy In Film

Comedy has always been not only one of our most popular forms of entertainment, but has also acted as a vehicle for social and cultural commentary, a reflection of the good and bad in society, and a way for individuals to diffuse the hardships of existence with an hour or so of uninhibited laughter.

The subversive nature of comedy can be traced all the way back to some of its earliest stars. Charlie Chaplain became well-known for his outspoken political views. Indeed, he paid a steep price for this, as his political views were seen by many as radical at the time, leading to his eventual exile from the U.S. Though he eventually re-entered the country to be honored at the Academy Awards in 1972, the controversy permanently damaged his relationship with the nation.

The power of comedy didn’t buckle to societal pressures. With the 60s emerged a revitalized interest in the incorporation of social and political commentary into comedic film. It became commonplace for films to incorporate sensitive social and cultural issues, using comedy to make statements about them. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, parodied the Cold War mindset of the time, pointing out the absurdity of the concept of mutually assured destruction, bringing us memorable one-liners like “No fighting in the war room!” Similarly, The Graduate commented on the rapidly changing sexual attitudes of the time, presenting sexuality in a groundbreaking and up-front manner that was considered incredibly provocative at the time.

Social and cultural subversiveness in film carried on into the 1970s, with films such as  Catch-22, which continued to communicate an anti-war message. The lampoons of satirical film extended beyond just social and cultural concepts, but to other films, with the advent of parody. Directors such as Mel Brooks helped pioneer the parody genre of film, releasing films such as Young Frankenstein.  

The premiere of Saturday Night Live in 1975 was a pivotal moment in the comedy industry, bringing the subversive ideals of comedy film to television. Simultaneously, numerous new faces entered the realm of standup comedy. Eventually, comedians such as Richard Pryor, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Steve Martin and many more who found there start in stand-up and on SNL would go on to prosper in the film industry, spawning such classics as Animal House, Harlem Nights, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, The Jerk, and numerous others.

The parody genre went on to spawn other highly influential parodies, such as the 1980 disaster film spoof, Airplane!, which is considered by many to be the quintessential, fast-paced gag and spoof-based film. As the 80s carried on, however, comedy began to evolve drastically.

The 1990s saw a continued evolution of the comedy genre, with a renewed interest in romantic comedies. Films such as When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless in Seattle helped usher in a new wave of films which incorporated both romantic and comedic elements.

Comedy today is much different than it once was. Like any other art form, it evolves with time. 2001’s Zoolander was a fan-favorite, and developed a cult following, but its release, only weeks following the tragic attacks of 9/11, severely impacted its commercial success. In some ways, Zoolander can be seen as a bookend to an era of comedy film known as “joke-based comedy.” Films such as The Hangover and I Love You Man, pioneered a different approach to comedy, deriving humor from the journeys of characters, and plot-driven, relatable situations.

What’s in store next for this pivotal genre of entertainment? Will the new era of jokeless comedy continue define the genre? Will we get something entirely new? Only time will tell…

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Check out classic comedies at the Media and Reserve Services! Dr. Strangelove, Zoolander, and many many more are available now!

New Titles – April 14th

Feature Films

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Despicable Me

When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds their love is profoundly changing him for the better.

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Frozen

Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

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It’s a Disaster

Four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together as the world may be about to end.

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Anime in the Spotlight: Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) is best known as the “God of manga” for his great contributions to the golden age of manga, but he was also extremely influential through his dedication to making anime versions of his manga.  In 1961, the same year he finished medical school, Tezuka created the anime studio Mushi Production, where he directed and animated works through 1968.  Mushi Productions made the anime that Tezuka is most famous for, and they continued to animate adaptations of Tezuka’s works through 1973, when they declared bankruptcy.  In 1968, Tezuka also established Tezuka Productions, another anime studio that has primarily adapted Tezuka’s manga series and currently is helmed by Tezuka’s son, Macoto Tezuka.

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Star Wars Episode 7: A New Star Wars

In case anyone’s been encased in carbonite for the past few years, there’s a new Star Wars film headed our way, with J.J. Abrams at the helm. After years and years and years of “Hells to the no” from George Lucas, regarding the possibility of further Star Wars films, we received a singular “Ehhh, maybe.” And with that “Ehhh, maybe.”, a whole new era was born.

Folks, we’re not dealing with just one new Star Wars movie here. We’re not even dealing with three. We’re talking five confirmed films, likely more, an animated TV movie and series, and possibly a live action TV series. They’re putting a lot of eggs in this basket, and who can blame them? With all the money, mind-blowing visual effects, and A-list casting that will undoubtedly go into the revival of this beloved franchise, how could anything possibly go wrong?

Why stop there? This is Disney we’re talking about The bar is set a little bit higher in this case, and we here at Media Beat step in to take some of the workload off our friends at the Walt Disney Company, with some ideas of our own as to how best to make the most of the Star Wars franchise.

Wookie Sitcom

Look, who doesn’t love Wookies? No one, that’s who. Chewbacca’s a good guy! He deserves someone special. A beautiful wife. A family. A couple of kids, a house in the suburbs!

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We think the day-to-day life of good ol’ Chewey trying to adapt to family life would be just plain ol’ wacky! Good fun for the whole family, we think.

The Late Show with Yoda

Letterman’s recent announcement of his retirement has us all asking who could take up the much-coveted position as host of The Late Show. The entertainment world is buzzing with chatter regarding the supposed front runners, but as usual, the gossip is way off base. Stephen Colbert? Puh-lease. Chelsea Handler? NEXT! Jon Stewart. Oh, you slay me, internet!

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When will those suits at CBS gonna just cut to the chance? We all know the clearcut heir to the Late Show throne is none other than our pint-sized Jedi Master, Yoda. We all know that doing voice-work for animated versions of himself is a heinous under-utilization of his many talents. He’s certainly not one to buckle to the pressures of late night television hosting, because as we all know, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” And there are plenty of taglines already written for advertising! Just read his quotes! “Size matters not!” I can already see the billboards.

Darth Vader Standup Special

Look, folks. We all give Darth Vader too much flak. The guy’s got feelings, and I think we tend to forget that. And man, oh man. You think the guy doesn’t already have enough on his plate without all our yappin’ at him to stop killin’ people and blowing stuff up?

At the end of the day, Vader’s just a normal guy like the rest of us. And even the most droll, boring galactic dictatorships have those little moments that we just gotta chuckle about. And what better way is there to achieve that goal than for Vader to take to the mic!

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The jokes practically write themselves! “So what’s the deal with the way people always get all weird at you when you obliterate their home planet!?” Hilarious!!

Any Disney executives looking to develop any of these ideas should contact us via the comment section under this post. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Star Wars Episode 7 is hitting theaters in December 2015! For now, be sure to check out all the cool Star Wars media we have right here in the Media and Reserve Services!

Correction: “Home planet” was erroneously misspelled as “home plant” in the original posting of this entry. I apologize for this error, and want to make it clear that Darth Vader’s agenda has always been, and will remain, 100% pro-home plant. I think he even has a few ferns in his office. See? I told you he was a normal guy.

Correction: I have been received complaint letters from several home plants complaining that the ferns in Darth Vader’s office do not qualify as “home plants”, and that their location in his office renders them effectively “office plants.” I apologize profusely for this error.

Director Spotlight: Wes Anderson

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Wes Anderson

Born Wesley Wales Anderson this filmmaker from Houston, Texas has in recent years become, in my humble opinion, one of the most innovative commercial film directors of the last decade. Granted, I have only been alive just shy of two decades, but still, the man is a genius: let’s talk about why.

In the early 90s,  just as he was about to graduate from The University of Austin Film School and armed with two of the best friends a man with his aspirations could ever wish for (The Wilson brothers, Owen and Luke, with whom he collaborated on several films), Wes co-wrote, directed, and produced a short film entitled “Bottle Rocket.”

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New Titles- March 31

Feature Films

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12 Years a Slave

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

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Gravity

A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in orbit.

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Spellbound

A psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.

TV Series

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Alice

Everything you know about Alice’s adventures in Wonderland is about to be turned upside down in this modern-day miniseries event. Stars Kathy Bates, Caterina Scorsone, Matt Frewer, Harry Dean Stanton and Tim Curry.

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The Magic Of Food Brings Back Jack

Warning. Spoilers are found in the post below. They’re mostly for the 8th season of 24 which aired like four years ago, so there’s almost no reason to put a spoiler warning here, but as someone once probably told me, “You never know in life.”, so to all the people who are four years behind on their television-watching, I hereby alert thee to spoilers. By the way, TV-watching is probably the only thing you can get away with being four years behind on, so don’t push your luck. Are you four years behind on your laundry, too? Gross.

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Games for Educators Newsletter

Games for Educators targets primarily school teachers, home educators, and librarians.  It provides an informational framework for the types of gaming activities being instilled and learned at an early age.  These gaming techniques can help educators in higher education better prepare for the next generation of college students.  Of particular note:  click on Articles > For Librarians.

Mission:  The Games for Educators web site and newsletter are dedicated to supporting the use of games and toys in education. We want to help educators of all types fully engage the minds of children, and take advantage of all the benefits that play brings.

Anime in the Spotlight: The Wide World of Anime

At Media and Reserve Services, we have recently begun expanding our Browsing anime collection.  Previously, we had the major works from Studio Ghibli and Satoshi Kon, as well as popular anime series like Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-6) and Cowboy Bebop (1998), but there has definitely been room for growth.  During this expansion, we have focused on collecting some fan-favorite shows, like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009-10), but we have also paid attention to the major creators of anime.  We currently have a display across from the desk as an introduction to our expanded collection, and this blog series will focus on discussing the major creators whose works we’ve added to our collection.

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As any anime fan will tell you, anime’s much more than a genre.  Anime, or Japanese animation, is a complete visual medium, with all of the variety and experimentation and repetition than any medium has.  If you ask most Americans, they’ll probably have heard of a few big hitters, like Hayao Miyazaki, who won an Oscar for Spirited Away (2003), or Pokémon, which began running on American TV in 1998 and hasn’t stopped since, or maybe even Akira (1988), which was one of the first anime films to see a theatrical release in America.  Outside of a select few, though, American appreciation of anime in its many forms is largely confined to a small but fervent fanbase.  Despite this lack of mainstream attention, anime is still an important part of film and television, which is why we’ve focused on developing our collection.

There are several ways to approach anime as a whole.  Generally, anime fandom focuses on the different demographics within anime–is it for men or women, boys or girls, or general audiences?–or on major genres, like magical girls or giant robots.  Though these perspectives work well for most current TV anime, they leave many holes through which more complex films can fall, like Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988), which addresses the struggle to survive during the firebombings of Kobe during World War II.  Grave of the Fireflies is a historical drama that’s difficult to pigeonhole regarding its target audience, since its main characters are children, but it addresses very mature themes that are difficult for even adults to come to terms with.  Some TV anime series are just as complex, like Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997), which appears to be a fantasy series for teenage girls but explores themes of identity, sexuality, and agency in increasingly abstract ways.

Because of the complexities inherent in great anime, this blog series will approach the medium from a chronological and thematic perspective, addressing one or two major players within anime per blog post.  Most of the posts will look at directors, like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, while others will look at important studios, animators, manga authors, and character designers.  Due to the breadth of anime and the amount that has not been released for American audiences, this series will by no means be comprehensive, but it will cover most of the big names within the industry, beginning with Osamu Tezuka (best known for Astro Boy (1963)).  I look forward to seeing you next time!