Walter Thielemann on the Film Comedy

The Film Comedy

Walter Thielemann on the Film Comedy

Walter Thielemann, Film-Kurier no. 94, April 26, 1922

The aesthete enjoys upbraiding cinematography for having no sense of humor, and for passing off as humor what in fact is just ignorant tomfoolery that has nothing to do with the noble qualities of qenuine humor.

It can hardly be disputed that a person of refined taste finds little to enjoy in the usually base sort of humor known as kientopp comedy. The discriminating spirit will hardly find it funny to see a chimney sweep fall in a vat of flour; nor will he find it amusing when thirty people run into each other, knocking over the streetlights. If cinematographic humor were to be judged solely based on these examples, then we would have to come to a sad conclusion. But here, too, the truth lies in the middle!
Film manufacturers have often remarked that making comedies is not profitable, that theatre owners are uninterested in such films. This is untrue, for experience has shown that comedies can be just as attractive as serious dramatic films. I am thinking here of the successful Ufa serial ”Der Mann ohne Namen”# [The Man Without a Name, 1921], of various films starring Henny Porten and Ossi Oswalda, and especially of the Chaplin comedies. There is no doubt that the art of the photoplay is as capable of sophisticated humor as of social satire; and the informed director of a movie house must and will recognize those standards of quality that his audience recognizes, too. We have seen pictures in the cinema whose humor vividly reminded us of Dickens, and satires whose silent mode of expression was in every way equal to the incisive power of words. The old masters did outstanding things with situation comedy; and works that have proven unstageable by the usual means have been taken up by the art of cinema and recreated in new form.

The dearth of truly good comic performances, however, is everywhere apparent in the cinema. Current programs are too often filled with ridiculous subjects, and truly good comedies are few and far between. Aside from the triviality and foolishness that in many a comic film offends the fine taste of cinema-goers, comic scenes are frequently interspersed with things that it were better not to show. Even for comedy and humor there are limits that ought not to be transgressed. It is quite regrettable that the film industry only rarely gives sufficient care and attention to either the sideshow comedies or the featured comedy films. The humor of the average film comedy runs along the most rutted of paths; it continues to be under the sway of vapid situational humor, inane clowning, and a piquancy that often pushes and goes beyond the limits of the permitted and the tasteful. The less harmful examples of this make do with the all-too-familiar caricatures from humor magazines: the old maid, the harridan mother-in-law and her harried son-in-law, the frantic frying fish, and the mean schoolyard bully. But it is rare indeed to enounter comedy that inheres in characters, in roguish pranks, or sophisticated humor.

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