For this project I am required to develop a more refined and cognisant approach to my film making, and so will be focusing on each individual aspect of my practice in order to define more clearly a specialist route I can pursue. My aim is to produce a short film that works in the comedy genre as I find this style of storytelling, when done right, creates memorable films which I find myself re-visiting much more often that other genres. This is a genre that I’ve always enjoyed and had at least a surface level knowledge on how it works, but I hope to gain a much deeper level of understanding through this project and learn the mechanics, techniques and processes that come with this genre of cinema. In this post I will discuss the comedy genre and focus on the aspects I hope to apply to my film.
Comedy in cinema can be organised into 7 key categories:
- Slapstick Films
Home Alone (1990), The Pink Panther (1963) and Dumb & Dumber (1994) all fit into the Slapstick comedy film category. They use exaggeration and boisterous gestures and actions to create unlikely comedic scenarios. This style relies mostly on visuals to communicate its humour and so is seen a lot in silent comedy films too with stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton becoming well known for their performances in this style.
- A comedy of manners
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Lost in Translation (2003) and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) are all examples of this category. A comedy of manners is a style of comedy that criticises in a satirical way the mannerisms, traits and/or behaviours of a social class. it typically uses stock characters, or cliches to create a representation of a certain class and generates its humour typically through witty dialogue between characters.
- A fish out of water comedy
The Big Lebowski (1998), Big (1988) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) are 3 examples of comedies that fit the ‘fish out of water category’. These types of comedy are based around a character who finds themselves in an unusual environment. The main drive for the humour in these types of film is how the character deals with their new environment.
- Parody or spoof
Films such as Space Balls (1987), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The Starving Games (2013) are examples of spoof films. This style of comedy is similar to ‘a comedy of manners’ in that it looks satirically at a subject, but in this case it looks at films rather than social class. It uses sarcasm, stereotyping and mockery to generate its humour and makes a joke out of film genres and classic movies. This is also where cringe comedy originates from.
- The anarchic comedy
Brazil (1985), Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975) and Duck Soup (1933) are all examples of anarchic comedy. like the name suggests, this form of comedy is often seen as completely random and comes across as a stream of consciousness. usually used to ridicule or lampoon a form of authority.
- Black comedy
The Worlds End (2013), Fargo (1996) and Dr Straingelove (1964) are 3 films that fit the black comedy category. These are films that use typically taboo subjects within their comedy and essentially make jokes out of topics such as death, war, murder etc.
- Gross out films
There’s Something About Mary (1998), American Pie (1999) and Superbad (2007) are all examples of gross out comedies. These types of films rely on “toilet humour” to gain their comedic value and use themes of the vulgar and the sexual in its jokes.
Note: These are the main recognised categories of comedy, however many films will combine these in different ways to create sub-categories which possess features from each. This is also a result of overlap between the characteristics of these categories. One director in particular who’s work I find excels in satisfying many of these areas of comedy is Edgar Wright.
Edgar Wright – How does he do it?
Jokes in films can be delivered in a variety of ways, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Visuals, dialogue and sound effects.
Edgar Wright is arguably the modern-day master of visual comedy. He delivers the jokes in his films through clever visual arrangements, and well timed actions as well as sound effects. Although he does use dialogue to add some comedic moments to his films, he relies almost entirely on visuals. Here are a few specific examples of when this approach to comedy works particularly well in his films: (Include screenshots)
- Dramatic lighting ques
- Well timed sound fx
- Matched scene transitions
- “There and back again”
- (Fence jumping/ repetition of jokes)
Wright is also known for using dark humour in his films, especially with ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘The End of the World’. These films make jokes out of less acceptable subjects which makes the style of comedy dark. He focuses on death and violence as his subjects of comedy by making these themes seem less serious and carrying far less consequences in these films than it would in the real world.
The fish out of water style of comedy is one the appears a lot in the Coen Brothers films, though not always to a comedic effect. ‘A serious Man’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’ are two examples where they have produced a humorous effect using this category of comedy.