Welcome to Part Two of inspirations and references for The Fitzroy. This week we’ll be looking at comedy. I’m really excited about this. I adore comedy and can’t wait to share some of my favourites with you.
The only thing I know for certain about comedy is that it is hard – really hard. It’s a cliché to say it but it’s true, I’ve done two comedic short films (directed one and written the other) and they were both incredibly difficult.
Goodness knows why I’m trying to do a comedy as my first feature film. I should be doing a slasher or horror film or something else, anything but a comedy. I don’t really know how to write a joke, timing or delivery!? All know is what I like.
Something For Everyone
I do have one theory of comedy though, and that is to base it all on the opening number from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Stephen Sodenheim (the film was directed by Richard Lester – who, as you know from the previous blog, I hugely admire).
Comedy Tonight really sums up comedy for me. It’s almost like a recipe for creating the funny – stick to this and make ‘something for everyone’ – that is my motto.
The Silent Greats
I grew up watching movies on never-ending rainy Sundays. These were usually crusty old westerns or Laurel and Hardy films. I guess this was where my love of physical comedy came from. As I got older, I started to discover the other silent comedians and fell under their spell. For me it’s pure cinema – visual and music. Of all the silent comedians, my favourite is Buster Keaton. I love his physicality and sense of the surreal.
This newspaper gag perfectly illustrates what I mean. Besides someone falling over is always going to be funny.
The Fool Triumphant
One of the age old characters in comedy is the loveable fool. From Charlie Chaplin’s tramp to Borat, he is a staple in comedy.
This is for two reasons – everybody loves the underdog. They want desperately to see them ‘get one over on The Man’, and succeed. Who can’t relate to that? The fool character also allows the comedian to work in a great deal of physical comedy.
One of my favourite jokes from Charlie Chaplin is a very small one. The gag comes from ‘The Kid’, when Charlie wakes up to find a hole in his blanket. He turns this hardship on it’s head and into a positive, all without batting an eyelid. This simple quiet little moment sums up his character perfectly and does so with an understated laugh.
The ‘fool character’ is something I have tried hard to build into the script of The Fitzroy. It is the opportunity to work with status and power that I really want to play with.
I’m a big Jerry Lewis fan and this scene from The Ladies’ Man uses the fool and reversal of power to its best. It is such a great scene and there is so much to admire – the writing, the staging and the performances are all brilliant. I could watch it over and over (if you listen carefully you can hear Jerry cracking up near the end).
The other huge references for The Fitzroy are the other type of comedies I was brought up on – British sitcoms, in particular the work of David Croft. His sitcoms have become a corner stone in British comedy. The list is remarkable: Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served?, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi! and ‘Allo ‘Allo. I mean, come on! What a body of work!
The thing for me that makes these shows so wonderful is the ensemble nature of them. They are groups of individuals thrown together through circumstance. The characters are all so well-defined and complete individuals that it becomes comedy gold to watch them bash up against each other. The shows are also written with such affection and warmth that it is impossible not to laugh.
The rifle inspection scene from Dad’s Army illustrators this group dynamic that I would love to capture for our film.
I can’t go on without mentioning Officer Crabtree, the policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo, He’s probably not politically correct, but he is delightfully silly and cracks me up every time.
The Fitzroy is a dysfunctional hotel and I would be amiss if I didn’t touch on the daddy of all British sitcoms – Fawlty Towers.
Fawlty Towers is rightly hailed as one of the greatest British comedies ever. What I love about it, and tried to incorporate into The Fitzroy, is it’s level of energy and sense of panic – the feeling that this hotel is only barely being held together, that it is just one situation from falling into complete chaos.
Well that is just a few comedic references for The Fitzroy. There is still so much more that I would love to share. The work of Jim Carrey, Rowan Atkins, Jacque Tati, Spike Milligan and many many more.
Maybe I’ll do another blog at a later date and talk about some of those.
Hopefully a little of the magic of the above comedy giants will rub off on our little film. And if it’s not funny I’ll just pretend that it was meant to be a serious drama and you’ll just have to keep quiet.
Follow us on twitter where I’ll be tweeting some more of my favourite comedy references.
Keep an eye out for Part 3 of inspiration and references all about the music for the Fitzroy.