Recently I’ve had two students in for a weekly tutorial on film and comedy. We’ve been wrapping our heads around the mercurial question: Why is something funny on the screen? What makes it chug? What keeps me in my seat, and laughing? It’s been a pleasure to dissect a few films, and revisit three really good comedies in particular, funny for three really different reasons.
Some things never get old. I’ve seen MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY at least 2 dozen times and I still laugh out loud during the tennis racket scene. The same goes for PLAYTIME, the first of six newly struck and lovingly restored 35mm prints of Jacques Tati’s films, now being screened at MoMA. PLAYTIME was a phenomenal flop when it was first released in 1967, but Tati’s radical use of sound, color and meticulously choreographed, city street chaos make it my personal favorite. By 1967, Tati had been playing the beloved Mr. Hulot for 14 years and he was ready to try something new, but audiences weren’t yet ready to let go. In fact, Tati wasn’t going to include Hulot in PLAYTIME at all, but without him he couldn’t secure much-needed funding for the film, money that Tati quickly blew on his outrageously costly set design.