Among the most common elements of a film is comedy. In essence, like almost any other element, comedy plays a unique role in enabling film as a form of art to meet its objectives, particularly that of entertainment. In this regard, comedy as both an artistic and cinematic element mainly functions to attract the attention of the audience to the film. This is further enabled by the ability for comedy to appear in different forms such as satire, farce, slapstick or cringe comedy, a fact makes suitable for almost every film depending on the form that is chosen. For instance, in the film “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves,” one realizes an increased use of comedy as a cinematic element to make the film effective. This is also seen in the film “The Great Train Robbery” where comedy, for instance, slapstick comedy, is employed to make it entertaining. Considering this, this paper will compare and contrast the use of comedy as a cinematic element in the two films in the bid to determine how they employ it to achieve effectiveness.
To achieve the above, it is first important to have a comprehensive overview of what comedy entails, especially as a cinematic element. Comedy can be explained as the cinematic element that employs humor as its driving force (Charney, 2005). Even more, it is an art that is used to elicit laughter or make one excited. The art in comedy, like in almost any other genre in cinema or film, is enabled by particular special effects geared at creating a certain illusion that invokes laughter or excitement (Sikov, 2010). To a great extent, because of its nature, comedy validates the argument that cinema arguably remains the greatest and most significant of the industrialized art forms that have dominated and remain prominent in the twentieth century cultural life (Well-Smith, 1996). Thus, when employed in a film, the main aim of comedy is to elicit laughter among the audience, thereby, making the movie effective in achieving its objective, especially if it was meant to be a comedy film. This means that even when the storyline is of a different form when it employs comedy it does so to make the film entertaining to a certain degree.
What makes comedy this flexible as a cinematic element is such that it can be employed in almost every other film to evoke feelings of excitement, of laughter in its multiple forms. In retrospect, there are different forms of the element that allows it to be applicable in different situations (Charney, 2005). Some of these forms include slapstick, cringe, dark, anecdotal, satire, parody, musical and insult comedy. Slapstick comedy, for instance, includes comedy that is based on deliberate clumsiness that is humorously embarrassing while, while anecdotal comedy refers to funny personal stories which may be true or even partly true though embellished (Dirks, 2015). It is also worth pointing out that comedy itself mainly emerged in the field of film to enable the delivery of certain feelings and emotions. At its inception, the importance of film was attached to the novelty of witnessing real-time scenarios from the daily life, deviating from the telling of stories. However, with time, there arose the need to invoke and deliver certain feelings and reactions. It is here that comedy joined with films in the bid to invoke the feelings of excitement and laughter.
Looking at the two films, one realizes that they both rely on comedy to fulfill their purpose. This is despite one being a cartoon and the other being a story of actual people that focuses on a robbery. Humor is a significant element in both films as it is employed in almost every scene. It is as if the primary intention of the two films was to excite their audience. For one, the film “The Great Train Robbery” significantly relies on comedy to excite the audience despite the storyline being about a robbery. There is the realization that comedy may have been employed here to help tell a story that may have been dull to tell otherwise, too realistic to the day to day to excite the audience. Unlike the film “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves” where the characters are cartoons, the former, as suggested earlier, focuses on actual people, which makes comedy an important tool in making it an interesting work. Through comedy, it is able to make a serious occurrence funny, while also finding it easy to animate real people.
One of the most common things about the two films with regards to how they both employ comedy is their use of physical comedy. Physical comedy regards the manipulation of the body to achieve a particular humorous effect and can include other forms of comedy that include slapstick, physical stunts, clowning, making funny faces or even mime (Dirks, 2015). The two films both employ and increasingly rely on physical comedy to make characters and scenes funny in the bid to create funny storylines and consequently attract the audience. While this is true, it is important to focus on how the two films employ this form of comedy, particularly its various forms.
Among the highlighted forms of physical comedy that the two films employ is slapstick humor. As earlier pointed, slapstick comedy refers to engaging in deliberately clumsy actions that are also humorously embarrassing in the bid to invoke the feelings of excitement among the audience (Dirks, 2015). The use of slapstick humor is increasingly evident in “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves”. Looking at the film, there appear to be multiple scenes where clumsy actions are deliberately made so as to excite the audience. For instance, at the beginning of the film, precisely from minute 1.07, one recognizes the clumsy portrayals of the horses in their running to make the action comic enough to entertain the audience. Considering that this film is primarily a cartoon, it warrants suggesting that making the horse portray such a weird run aligns with the basis of the existence of cartoons, especially in this context. Cartoons can be described as drawings, symbols or representations that make witty, satirical or humorous point. A cartoon film, as such, is that which is developed using animation rather than live actors, especially when it is a humorous film meant for children (Rai, Waskel, Sakalle, Dixit & Mahore, 2017). While there are different types of cartoons, they all share a common denominator that is humor. Thus, the application of slapstick humor in the Popeye film as a cartoon, especially at its beginning, foremost helps to announce the concept of humor. To an extent, it helps prepare the audience that humor is what drives the film.
The above conclusion is validated as the film continues. Still at the beginning, at minute 1.22, the man on top of the horse, who appears to be Ali Baba, can also be seen acting clumsy yet humorously. The scarf that was initially around his neck suddenly jumps to his face covering it as he continues to sing. Even more, while covering his face, the scarf aligns with it forming another humorous one with a weirdly protruded mouth. This appears to be an effort to not only paint the man as clumsy but also as funny while giving the film its comic feel. On his side, as can be seen from minute 2.02, Popeye is presented as having a funny walk that is deliberately clumsy. This walk, one realizes, is primarily geared as presenting him as entertaining, hence, worth watching. The more oddities a character possesses, the more the audience’s attention is captured, regardless of storyline. The other sailor waiting for Popeye in the boat also makes significant use of slapstick humor. He is presented as having a weird and clumsy eating style that is purposefully meant to be funny. The next scene where Popeye, the other sailor, and a woman venture into the air is similarly replete with slapstick humor. Both the characters act clumsily, while the boat, which has now somewhat turned into a plane, is also animated and similarly appears to be acting in a weird manner, primarily to invoke the subconsciousness of the audience into noting the strangeness and therefore better holding their attention. From these examples, it is evident that slapstick humor is the backbone of the film. It is employed in almost every seen and consequently allows the film to execute humor in the most effective means possible.
Similarly, the film “The Great Train Robbery” also employs significant amounts of slapstick humor in its narration of the story. For one, it takes the form of silent films where characters do not speak and the audience has only to rely on visual actions. What else accompanies the story is music, which helps in the telling of the story by not only keeping the audience entertained but also highlighting certain actions and emphasis in the film. Considering that the film is a silent one, it borrows significantly from physical humor, especially slapstick comedy to make up for the lack of speech (Cousins, 2015). However, slapstick humor is employed to achieve much more; to draw the audience to the film, keep them entertained and to tell what would have otherwise been a boring story without some excitement to it. Slapstick humor is first mainly encountered in the movie in minute 2.07 going on to minute 2.10. In this scene, the robbers enter and a shootout between them and a third individual who appears to be a train attendant ensues. However, the attendant is shot and then deliberately falls down in a clumsy manner with the clear intention to invoke some feelings of laughter. Even when he falls down, he still has his arms weirdly stiff straight, a completely obscure act that would most likely never occur in the real world, which essentially is the reason the audience is there. If it wasn’t innovative in its creation there would be really no good reason for someone to stick around when they could go about their daily lives and see similar stories take place all around them. Similarly, in the scene where one of the passengers tries to run away from the robbers, the film also employs slapstick humor to not only dramatize his falling down when he is shot but to also invoke laughter among the viewers. He falls down puposefully clumsily with the intention of entertaining the viewers. Additionally, the use of slapstick humor can be seen in the last scene where the robbers are eventually caught and shot. While being shot at, they fall down weirdly and deliberately so, with the sole purpose of exciting the viewers. This similarly evidences the significance of comedy, of offbeat, not normally encounterable behavior to grasp attention.
However, while both films employ slapstick humor as a form of physical comedy, it is the film on Popeye that significantly depends on it to achieve effectiveness. It uses slapstick humor in almost every scene with the characters acting clumsy and embarrassingly humorous. Popeye himself keeps on presenting slapstick tendencies in order to maintain his character as a funny act. On the other side, the film “The Great Train Robbery” while it also depends on slapstick humor employs it a lower degree compared to the latter. Basically, unlike the first film, it only employs this form of humor in certain scenes. Regardless, despite the difference in the degree to which both films employ or rely on this form of humor, it still remains effective in enabling the films to emerge humorous as intended. Even more, this form of humor successfully allows both films to effectively tell their story. However, one realizes that while it was used sparingly in the second film, it is this that significantly benefited from it. In hindsight, without this form of humor, the film would have most probably remained dull, leaving the audience uninterested. However, considering that the first film was basically a cartoon, it is difficult to determine the effect of slapstick humor in it. As a cartoon film, it would have still found other ways to remain funny. Nonetheless, cartoons are generally deliberately clumsy, a fact that makes comedy instrumental in their beings.
Another form of comedy that is prominent in both films is black comedy. This form of humor generally relies on making viewers uncomfortable, while evoking laughter and excitement from taboo subjects like murder, politics and sex (Foote, 2017). The use of black humor in the first film is first encountered in minute 9.25 in the scene where Popeye meets Ali Baba’s 40 thieves. Here, black humor is employed to sanitize the concept of danger and also to make it comic. For instance, one of the thieves of Ali Baba dangerously attacks Popeye but the danger remains subtle and removed from the scene with only the comical aspect left for the viewers to laugh at and grasp onto. Even when Popeye is left hanging upside down, the scene still remains comical with the help of black comedy. Perhaps, this form of humor is perfectly applied to the act of stealing, which is commonly a taboo. More elaborately, while the act of stealing exercised by the 40 thieves of Ali Baba probably makes the audience uncomfortable, the viewer is left laughing by the manner in which it is done. Thus, it is increasingly recognizable that like slapstick humor, black comedy similarly aids in the execution and delivery of the film.
In the second film, black humor takes center stage especially in a film that is about robbery. For instance, while murder and death are often taboo topics, the film in more than one occasion employs black humor to remove the sensitivity to them and instead qualifies them as comic acts and scenes that consequently invoke laughter and excitement. For instance, earlier on the in its beginning where the robbers and the train attendant engage in a shootout, the film uses black humor to sanitize the situation. This is further witnessed when the attendant is eventually shot and instead of the act being unacceptable and sorrowful, it turns out to be comic. This is also seen at the end of the film where the robbers are eventually shot to their death but instead of the scene being purely uncomfortable; it also draws laughter because of the manner in which death is achieved.
From the above, one realizes that like slapstick humor, black comedy also plays a significant role in the two films. It enables them to maintain their intention to entertain even when focusing on serious issues that are commonly seen as taboo. However, compared to the first film, this form of humor may have been more effective in the second movie. Once again, this may have been because the second film was based on real people and sanitizing issues such as death can be challenging in such circumstances. Nonetheless, with the use of black humor, the film eventually managed to achieve this and even remain exciting.
Considering the revelations above, it is safe to conclude that like almost any other cinematic or film element, comedy was instrumental in enabling the two films above to remain effective in their delivery. The films particularly made significant use of physical comedy to evoke excitement and laughter among the audience, while also maintaining their focus. For instance, using slapstick humor, they were both able to invoke laughter in the simplest means possible, thereby, doing away with boredom and keeping the viewer glued and guessing what humor is coming next. However, cartoons are naturally entertaining, it is safe to suggest that the second film benefited more from the use of comedy compared to the first. Regardless, comedy as a cinematic element was increasingly instrumental in the delivery of the two films.