04/10/2016

It's A Gift - Comedy Of The Fallen Tree In The Dark Woods

Thoughts On: It's A Gift

Harold Bissonette lives a clumsy, cluttered and clamoured family life in a small town, but with plottings to move to California and into the orange business.


This is a highly enjoyable film, a fine comedy. I wouldn't push so far as to say it's great film, however, this is arguably a great comedy. This is because it presents a sterling example of an iconic niche of comedy. It's difficult to define what exactly that niche is, but it sits in the realm of character comedy and slapstick. More than this, the film takes its character and imbues the almost surreal inflections of his behaviours and world around him with the very crux of what you might call physical comedy...






Physical comedy has two elements. There's the trap...



... and the there's the fool...



.... bring them together, and...


... the rest is comedic gold. You see this paradigm time and time again throughout all physical comedy. There's the set-up, the idiot to fall for it and then the pay off. It's A Gift is probably the clearest example of how to imbue this comedic paradigm into a narrative and character. It manages this because there's an inherent recognition of the singular driving force of the paradigm: oblivion. Just like The Tramp is blindfolded, so is the love struck and determined Johnny Gray...


... so is the impossibly naive Mrs. Teasdale...


... so are perpetually troubled Laurel and Hardy...


It's because the players in these films deny such a thing as a comedic world existing around them that they never see the incoming danger, the traps to fall into, the punchline of a joke to be avoided. It's seeing this that we can begin to understand the existential meanderings of something as silly as a Marx Brother's picture, a Laurel and Hardy movie, a W.C Fields film. We don't realise it, but this genre of comedy, this comedy of oblivion, has us accept and revel in an idea such as fate or inevitability. There are darker takes on this theme...


... much darker...


... much, much, darker takes...


... but, with oblivious comedy, we see both an acute and jarringly obtuse portrayal of fate in us knowing...


... the happy endings we seek in this mad, mad, mad, mad world aren't the ones we're going to get. Nonetheless, whilst there is this pessimistic acceptance of the inevitable, there's simultaneously a nihilistic bubbling within us all, a care free chortle, a burst of levity yearning to spill from deep within us, ecstatic waves of convulsive reprieve waiting to follow; face to face with fate, we laugh.

Now, that... that's something to brighten up your day, right? The fact that the deeper truth of comedy is tantamount to an existential fuck you...

    

... puts many things in perspective, makes clearer the shades of human perception.

And it's here where we come back to It's A Gift. This film embodies this very notion. In fact, played with a different pacing and tone, the vast majority of this movie would be as tragic as Bridge On The River Kwai, Bicycle Thieves or Irreversible. But, because of an implied inevitability, the obvious fact that Harold will fall...


... be undermined...


... ignored...


... made to look the fool...


... we know we are amidst the premise of a joke, that we are being prompted to laugh. This is, conjecturally, morally paradoxical behaviour. We have all failed, got things wrong, had shit just pile on us, and in the moment, it felt like... complete shit. Externalise that though, put our pain in someone else's shoes, and we come upon one of the most joyous things about living - being able to smile or laugh. The possible conjecture in this is the misunderstanding of 1) our essential selfishness and inherent capacity to stop handing out fucks, and, 2) the self-deprecation that drives Fields' comedy. With Harold Bissonette, Fields portrays the 'everyday man'. He has a wife that nags, gripes and moans endlessly, a small business that is the unshakable pain in his ass, kids that don't appreciate him and a dream he must fight to indulge. However, there's no need to excuse his first world pines, he doesn't shout, he doesn't complain, he doesn't rant, bitch, whine or cry - he has us laugh at him. And the revelation in this, the reason why Fields' comedy works is that we see parts of ourselves in him, we understand his strife, and so we laugh at the mirror he holds up to us. This is what this comedy of the oblivious teaches us. It humbles, grounds and soothes our egos.

So, through It's A Gift we can see firstly the existential side of comedy, the fact that it deals with fate and the inevitable -  the doorway idiot A will walk into or the rake idiot B will stamp on. Secondly, we see the mechanics of the 'idiotic' wanderer in this fatalistic milieu trying to relate to us. Which lastly brings us to ourselves and our use of comedy as to reflect, to face fears, quite literally, with a hop, skip, smile and laugh. But, more importantly, it's this genre or niche of comedy that has the oblivious walk with confidence. And in a world so easily caught by the 22s of pessimism, inevitability and fatalism, this seems to be the only way to keep walking at times. But, such is just the gift of comedy, just ask Harold...







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