Wednesday, February 17, 2010


If you love film, and you love good writing, I hope to goodness you've been paying attention to the massive output of work that Drew McWeeny (original Moriarity of Ain't It Cool News fame, and now a massively productive columnist and editor over at HitFix) has shoveled in to the public sphere over the course of the last ten years or so. I can't remember when I started reading McWeeny, but each and every article he writes is a must read, regardless of what the film is. He's a bastion of film knowledge and manages to bring both humor, personality and a sense of himself to each and every piece he composes. On top of that, every piece isn't just a separate read on its own (though all of them are excellent in that regards as well) but a poke, a stab, a peek at the general culture of film as it exists today. Drew McWeeny has always inspired my own writing, and his ability to watch the amount of films that he does is baffling to me.

Praise gushed (something I've been meaning to do for years), I write about McWeeny for a reason. He's started a, how you might say conversation with William Goss of Cinematical, entitled "The Basics". Here's what it is: McWeeny will throw out a film that he considers a must see for any film fan, a film that Goss (a film lover in my own vein, versed but not encyclopedic) will watch and respond to. What McWeeny hopes is that in discussing these classic films he'll not only give readers an assortment of films to peruse in their own time, but also start a conversation about these important pieces of culture.

I think it's a fucking fantastic idea, I've decided that invited or not, I'm going to follow along. McWeeny chose Duck Soup (the 1933 Marx Brothers film) as his first film, and oh how it shames me to admit that I've never dipped my wick in the Marx Brother's candle. I've always meant to I just never have.

Before you read my response to the film catch up with Drew McWeeny's post HERE, and then read William Goss' excellent response HERE.

The Marx Brothers are fucking insane. I swear after dunking my head in to the fictional political state of Freedonia and its satirical leader Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), I'm bloody well certain that Groucho, Harpo, and Chico Marx are all certified lunatics (I exclude Zeppo, because, well from his looks and abilities he might be adopted). The humor at play in the comedic sibling's 1933 political satire Duck Soup isn't refined or subtle, oh no, there is a manic, almost surreal quality to laughs generated in this film that feel like a whirlpool at times.

The film begins with the make-believe land of Freedonia poor and in need of a new leader. And who better to lead this destitute nation than the wise-cracking, cigar-chomping figure of the one, the only Rufus T. Firefly. What occurs in this 74-minute film is a lambasting of not just the government of 1930s America, but government in general. In its satire this film is timeless, a savage bit of pugilism that just shucks and jives, punching until you don't think there's anything left to hit.

If anything I'd describe the film's humor (as there really isn't anything to the film but the torrent of humor, the plot is merely a shaky outline for the Marxs Brothers to inject their insanity) as the best sort of downward spiral. As a modern day film viewer, one used to plots and meaningful conversations, I found Groucho's non-stop patter to be off-putting at first. I kept wondering, why are people singing? Why would anyone elect this man in to office? What in the hell is going on in this film? But as you keep watching and the jokes just keep coming, and Harpo and Chico suddenly cutting pockets and burning hats, you can't help but enjoy the madness. And when the film wraps on a ten minute banjo dance-off, you blink your eyes and shake your head and wonder just what the fuck happened ... and that, I imagine, is exactly what these masters of comedy intended.

What's interesting about this film to me is the way it swings with no gloves on. The humor isn't always friendly or politically correct or hell, logical (a live dog comes out of the tattoo on Harpo's chest, indeed), but that character of humor never falters. The film is always quick and downright mean, and when it ends you feel a dirty chuckle still resonating in your chest.

I have a special place for the absolute insanity of Harpo Marx, as I was completely stunned at his broad sense of physical comedy each and every time he stepped on screen. His scenes with the lemonade stand owner are as funny as anything I've ever seen, and I absolutely believe that if you met this gentleman in real life you'd leave your meeting with scissor-shorn pockets, a burning hat and a look of absolute confusion sprawled across your face.

Absolutely excited to continue on this Basics kick. I love a recommendation.


Criterion Counsel: I tell you it's been busy and Jacques Tati is just sitting there waiting, staring at me with his silent French eyes.

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