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Thursday, 28 July 2016

What's so Funny? (2) - Eddie Cockrell suggests alternates for the greatest comic director of the second half of the Twentieth century

Blake Edwards
In a recent post on this blog, David Hare suggested that Blake Edwards was one of greats. Discussing the new Blu-ray of Edwards’ masterpiece Victor/Victoria, David heaped praise.”The integration of music, and the pacing, neither missing a beat or ever proceeding a step out of time are the work of one of the few great masters of American screen comedy,” In a link on my Facebook page I got a bit extravagant... “The master of American comedy in the second half of the Twentienth Century,” I said. Which lead Eddie Cockrell, the esteemed critic for Variety, and many other publications, to raise an eyebrow. When Eddie’s objection was received by email I asked him to name me fifty better comic directors. He took up the challenge….

“The master of American comedy in the second half of the Twentieth Century,” you say? I count four films that fit that description: the unassailable VICTOR/VICTORIA and S.O.B. (he loved himself some punctuation), the first PINK PANTHER film and THE PARTY.

Edwards and spouse Julie Andrews
My challenge with Edwards has always been his leaden approach to slapstick and his leering take on women and sex (his finesse of the latter is a large part of what makes VICTOR/VICTORIA work, and it is just the opposite approach that renders S.O.B. so hypnotically watchable). He’s a very self-conscious filmmaker, I think, and that has always worked against him for me. Having said that, the glow-in-the-dark condom swordfight in 1989’s SKIN DEEP is an inspired piece of business. And the less said about 10, the better.

Your challenge was to come up with a list of 50 or so directors who distinguished themselves to greater effect in that time period. Edwards certainly didn’t lack for box office successes, though his not infrequent bombs—primarily the later work done as he suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and depression—were heard round the world. A list of 50 directors is certainly do-able, but would include a phalanx of lightweight filmmakers whose directorial styles extend no further than this week’s fad. So let’s focus on those whose reputations have spanned a few decades over that period. In no particular order, here we go:

Billy Wilder
Jerry Lewis
Mel Brooks
James L. Brooks
Harold Ramis
John Hughes
The Coen Brothers
The Farrelly Brothers
John Landis
Woody Allen
Wes Anderson
Christopher Guest
Robert Altman
Mike Nichols
Richard Lester
Ted Kotcheff
Peter Bogdanovich

Pleasant if shallow box office successes have been churned out late in the previous century by Amy Heckerling, Penelope Spheeris and Betty Thomas, but if this list were expanded to embrace international talents it would certainly include Doris Dorrie. And Percy Adlon. And, last but certainly not least, Jacques Tati.


Arguably, each of these men and women have as many or more than the four successes I attribute to Edwards above. And very few of those titles are as ham-fisted and sexist as even Edwards’ best films, much less the remainder.

2 comments:

  1. Eddie let's also add Cukor. If only for comic tone which god knows is rare enough. EVen up to his final masterpiece, Rich and Strange Cukor's deft humor never flags.

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  2. Let's add Cukor indeed, perhaps alone amongst the Old Guard in understanding just what the heck was happening to Hollywood after about 1967.

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