21/08/2016

The Italian Job - The Tragicomic And The Feel-Good

Quick Thoughts: The Italian Job (1969)

Fresh our of prison, Charlie Crooker plans to steal 4 million dollars off the streets of Italy.


This is definitely one of the great British films. It serves as an entertaining action crime thriller, but more importantly a comedy - a prime example of British comedy. We see this in the paradigm of the plotting, the rise and fall of action, anti-parallel to conflict. In other words, as levity and excitement rise, disaster creeps closer, waiting to pounce just when you think everything is going to be all right. This genre of comedy is quite iconically British. Many comedians such as Stephen Fry, Russel Brand and Ricky Gervais have made this larger point before me, making clear the place British comedy has in entertainment - especially in juxtaposition to the comedies coming from America. British comedy is self-deprecating and preferring to be laughed at than walk away to whoops and applause. This was all explored in a video by Now You See It (link here). The video serves as great commentary toward the American dream and British cynicism, giving an explanation as to why the two different types of comedies come from the two different side of the Atlantic. But, I believe there's more to be said in regards to why these two types of humour exist, functionally, structurally as technical comedic forms. I think the reasoning for the difference mirrors the cinematic dichotomy of films and movies. Movies are pictures where the main goal is to entertain. Films on the other hand hold meaning over entertainment. The easiest way to understand this is to compare Hollywood blockbusters to European dramas. The difference between stereotypically British and American comedy mirrors this as the self-deprecating, tragicomic form can say or mean more. This isn't to say that British films have more meaning in them, instead, it's best to stop classifying the two kinds of comedy by country, but by approach. There's the tragicomic and the feel-good. Feel-good comedies are for the most part throw-away entertainment. We can watch these films and have a good time, maybe many times over if the film is good, but there's few questions raised by the narrative, neither is there a plotted structure we feel we must pull apart or delve into. With The Italian Job, we're forced to ask why, when everything is shown to be going so well, that Crooker manages to have everything turn tits-up. Because, coming back to the paradigm of this films structuring, that's exactly what we're given time again and time again. The films shows Crooker getting the beautiful women, then having his girlfriend catch then scream and shout at him. It shows the gang's elegant cars, the awe-inspiring scenery - the back drop to a James Bond film - and then takes it away with shame, showing Crooker and his gang as next to nothing in face of the Mafia. And finally, we have a successful robbery, one scuffed up by celebrations, ending on a literal cliff hanger, one that Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels seems to pay homage to.

With an aspect of tragedy in comedy, an element of being on the losing side, comes a lesson of caution. The true difference between American, British, feel-good, tragicomic humour is in a philosophy of how we learn and how we cope. Laughter is how we point out weakness, it's how we say you're doing this wrong, or you've out-smarted me. It's also a means of reflecting on subjects whilst feeling good - conditioning our minds and bodies for positivity. With the purpose of laughing being in learning and teaching, is it more important to reflect success with feel-good comedy that we may imitate, or is it more important to reflect failure with tragicomics to be avoided?

What I love is that this is not a question to be answers with ideals. It's a question you answer with how you behave. What is funnier to you, tragicomics or feel-goods? What is your favourite joke or comedy, and how does that classify? What does that then say about you, how you perceive the world and how you learn?




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