University of Newcastle upon Tyne Centre for Research into Film & Media

The Birth of Parody
Nihilism in Art-Comedy, from the Marx Brothers to South Park

047045549 Supervisor: Dr. Douglas Morrey September 2005

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the MA in Film Studies in the Centre for Research into Film and Media, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. I declare that this work is entirely my own and that in all cases where I have drawn on the work of any other author, either directly or indirectly, this is fully and specifically acknowledged in the text of my dissertation and the work cited in the bibliographical references listed at the end of the Dissertation.

Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy inquires into the life-affirming qualities of tragic art and its aesthetic sublimity, whilst denouncing the fraud of realist art. This dissertation will extend this project by looking at another aesthetic category, the ridiculous or laughable, and apply this to academically neglected comedy films. These ridiculous films are identifiable by their divergence from Classical Hollywood realist narratives, in addition to a successfully ludicrous, or playful, approach to life. The amorality, surrealism and anarchy found in the films of the Marx Brothers, for example, will allow us to term this genre “art-comedy”, because of its resemblance to art-cinema. We will find that this genre reflects the strain of joyful nihilism advocated by Nietzsche in response to the death of God; the Marx Brothers relish the opportunity to be meaningless, so as to confront and affront the absurd. Despite art-comedy’s neglected status, we will be able to conclude that such movies represent a counter-cultural challenge to the prevailing intellectual paradigms and moral establishments. It was for these reasons that there was a strangulation of the genre in the middle of the last century, and from it emerged a meaningful, psychoanalytic comedy. It was now necessary to laugh at oneself, but never at society. In a bid to reappropriate some of the lost ridiculousness, auteurs such as Blake Edwards and Chuck Jones used the parodic device of meta-cinema to use and abuse cinematic language and narrative conventions. Although these parodies drew a firm line between reel and real, Jean-Luc Godard employed pastiche to blur the division between cinema and genuine conscious experience, enabling his laughs to have truly absurd resonance. We will see that his laughter, however, like that of the parodist Woody Allen, lacked the joy and optimism of the Marx Brothers. Allen emerges as a disciple, a high priest of comedy, moving from his early ludicrous (if a little meaningful) slapstick into a nihilistic consideration of how the Marx Brothers may save your life – and indeed, endow it with meaning! Finally we will see how parodies themselves are parodied in South Park. Comedies, realist texts, real and mythological figures from throughout the culture, a mountain town and four children become designations of intensity, all of equal invalidity due to interminable, and hilariously meaningless conflict. These tropes restore a Nietzschean and metaphorical approach to interpreting the world, and reflect a similar species of nihilism, advocating laughter, and indefatigable will to embrace, with pleasure, the horrors and absurdities of being.

Table of Contents
Abstract ............................................................................................................ 1 Table of Contents ............................................................................................. 2 Table of Figures ............................................................................................... 3 Acknowledgements .......................................................................................... 4 Meet The Marx Brothers................................................................................... 4 Introduction – From the Sublime to the Ridiculous............................................... 5 The Boys of South Park ................................................................................... 8 The Marx Brothers as Authors, Artists and Nihilists............................................. 9 Introduction.............................................................................................................. 9 The Brothers and their Surreal Disguises.............................................................. 11 Groucho ............................................................................................................. 11 Harpo ................................................................................................................. 13 Chico.................................................................................................................. 15 Zeppo................................................................................................................. 16 Nietzsche and the Philosophy of Play ................................................................... 17 Jokes and a Return to Childhood....................................................................... 17 The Laughter of the Nihilists .............................................................................. 18 When They Stopped Playing (And We Stopped Laughing) ............................... 20 Mental-Images and Dream-Images ....................................................................... 22 Art-Comedy and Parody ......................................................................................... 24 Wake up, doc!........................................................................................................ 24 Godard and the Laughter of Death........................................................................ 30 Three Examples of Post-Godard Parody............................................................... 35 1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (T. Jones and Gilliam, 1975) ..................... 35 2. The “spoof”..................................................................................................... 36 3. Woody Allen: From faire-faux to quotation.................................................... 38 The Optimism in South Park .................................................................................. 42 Justifying South Park............................................................................................. 42 South Park and South Park; Simultaneously Real and Reel................................. 43 Ludicrous vs Ridiculous......................................................................................... 46 Conclusion............................................................................................................... 51 Filmography.................................................................................................... 54 Bibliography.................................................................................................... 57


8 Taken on 29 August 2005 from Comedy Central at http://press. 1964). 15 Three screen captures of Duck Soup’s “mirror gag”. 1949). 48 3 . Duck Soup. 4 Promotional still for South Park (Comedy Central.jpg Figure 13 Screen capture from “A Very Crappy Christmas”.com/BMRofficialsite/id1.tripod. Duck Figure 12 Still of “Chinpokomon”. 1933). 16 Screen capture from Fast and Furry-ous ( th 45 Captured by The BRM Official Club Website.html Figure 14 Captured by the author Figure 15 Captured by the author Screen capture from “The Death Camp of Tolerance”. South Park. downloaded 29 August 2005 from http://www.comedycentral.gothamist. 13 Screen capture of Harpo Marx in bed with horse. th 43 Downloaded from South Park Episodes on 29 August 2005 from http://southpark. 47 Screen capture from “Die Hippie Die”. South Park.jpg Figure 3 Captured by the author Figure 4 Captured by the author Figure 5 Captured by the author Figure 6 Captured by the author Figure 7 Captured by the author Two screen captures from Bad (Scorsese. South Park. 40 Screen capture from “The Simpsons Already Did It”. th 44 Captured by Gothamist.unas. 1997+).Table of Figures Figure 1 Captured by the author Figure 2 th Screen capture of the Marx Brothers from Duck Soup (McCarey. downloaded 29 August 2005 from http://scorcher_fx. 1987). 28 Screen capture of Woody Allen in his Stardust Memories (1980). 1953). 23 Figure 8 Captured by the author Figure 9 Captured by the author Figure 10 Captured by the author Figure 11 Screen capture from Duck Amuck (Jones. 25 Screen capture from The Pink Phink ( South Park. 15 Screen capture of dog leaping from Harpo Marx’s chest.

Douglas Morrey.Acknowledgements For extensive and insightful comments on my drafts. Meet The Marx Brothers Figure 1 – (l-r) Zeppo. I must offer my gratitude to my supervisor. Dr. Harpo and Groucho. Ann Davies. But is this a still from Duck Soup or Hannah and Her Sisters? 4 . Chico. I am also indebted to Dr. who offered advice on the title and the preliminary ideas that gave rise to this dissertation.

including Neale and Krutnik’s (1990) rather technical book. how they are related to the problem of a Godless world. and the related genres of screwball and social comedy. Silent comedy. This dissertation is devoted to why we laugh at films. Mast (1979: ix) made the point. is able to find comfort. this seems to have provoked a few more engaging titles devoted to the genre as a whole. In spite of the fact that books on Allen emerge at the same rate as his films. W. highly respectful of the visual. and how these nihilistic films differ from the traditional comic fare offered by the film industry. The great directors of the genre have also had many books written about them. Mast argues however. Fields and Mae West were hybrids. Jacques Tati also used sound uniquely. that the anarchistic. Babington and Evans (1989) and Sikov (1994). The genre has been exhaustively and brilliantly covered by Cavell (1981). community and purpose after a chance viewing of the Marxes’ Duck Soup (McCarey. with sound effects dubbed on later. the latter unravelling some of the more subversive aspects of laughter provocation. in which a suicidal atheist. Yet none of these names can boast substantial 5 . as Mast (1979: 23-26) points out. too many theorists have been unable to assail comedy’s disregard for convention. but the silent comedies also boasted artistry that many have found lacking in the sound cinema’s lazy reliance on dialogue to propel narrative. it is easy to chronicle something finite. a laughter at the nothing behind everything. driven mad by the meaninglessness of a world without God. that there had been a shockingly small amount of critical attention paid to comedy films. This is backed up by the fact that narrative studies (including those above) will frequently concentrate on Hollywood romantic comedy. as his films are virtually free from dialogue. C. in part due to their involvement in other Hollywood genres. 1933). and his “Laughter of Being”. Karnink and Jenkin’s (1995) socially aware study and Horton’s (1991) somewhat random bag of essays. Matthews (2000: 17) correctly observes that the dearth in the research occurs due to a focus on spectacle over narrative. only Borch-Jacobsen (1987) has seriously considered this question. whilst introducing his excellent study of the whole history of film comedy. in particular talkie comedies. using it to launch a study into the French pornographer and philosopher Georges Bataille. Fortunately. early 30s comedies of the Marx Brothers. and its masters have also been well covered. and in particular Hollywood.Introduction – From the Sublime to the Ridiculous This study is concerned with answering the following question: “Why will the films of the Marx Brothers save your life?” The question is motivated by the conclusion to Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

This distinction was. This being film studies. but not comic narrative. the latter unintentional. 174-205) has provided a recent exception to this. and the Hollywood “spoof” genre have also been largely ignored. and how they differ from conventional films and comedies. I disagree: it would appear to explain much of Tati’s or Wile E. demands a philosophical and psychological response. we will see in Chapter 1 that whilst this helps us understand the ludicrous (the playful) origins of humorous action. whilst never adding anything to a study of the Marx Brothers’ entirely organic anarchy on the gag or narrative level. Monty Python. 1953). This is fine. The laughter of many theorists is concerned with cultural or political readings. although introductory texts by Bordwell and Thompson (2004) and Nelmes (2003) both discuss Duck Amuck (Jones. especially Bakhtin. Bergson believed that we laugh at human action being reduced to mechanical action. like Matthews and Karnink and Jenkins.research (the Marx Brothers will receive a full literary review in Chapter 1). nor can the groundbreaking cartoon shorts produced by Warner Bros. says that the theory works well with certain varieties of gag. who makes much use of this. and Freud’s (1905) theory of jokes. The former is intentional. 6 . This study is not merely devoted to looking at some under-appreciated films. Blake Edwards. Coyote’s narrative struggle with a mechanised world. although Luhr and Lehman (1989) is devoted to Edwards the auteur (Neale and Krutnik also discuss some of the jokes in the Panther films). The much-maligned slapstick of Jerry Lewis. often deriving from Russian literary criticism. although Horton (1991: 25-42. drawn without respect for either etymology or common sense. whilst Matthews (2000: 12-51) briefly concerns herself with Python and parody before becoming concerned with the right-wing ethics of Steve Martin and the domestic comedy genre. there is also a healthy subscription (led perhaps by Neale and Krutnik) for psychoanalysis. and MGM. Mast (1979: 3-4). it does not help us comprehend the sheer philosophical weight of the ridiculous (the laughable) 1 . except that it is clearly 1 Neale and Krutnik (1990: 66) use Olsen’s distinction between ridiculousness and ludicrousness. Palmer’s reading of the “logic of the absurd” suggests that laughter is caused by a naked gap between our expectations (Neale and Krutnik. certainly the cultural and political dimensions of Allen’s films always take a back seat to his existential crises. The question of how one’s life can acquire meaning through the watching of the Marx Brothers however. but at developing a genealogy of laughter to explain why they are under-appreciated. 1990: 68-71). Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges is critically neglected. it seems. which is to be a key text in this dissertation. Although this is important.

time and reason that clothes our phenomenal experience. and although there are very few books on Bataille. which is an expectation exceeded by all measure. To escape the perceived limitation of ridiculousness by psychology however. 2 7 . What is meant by expectation is the transcendental aesthetic of space. but there is a vast amount of material on literary It is important to note that due to the sprawling and idiosyncratic nature of the volumes written by these two authors. in the second chapter. 1991: 79-90) went “In Search of a Radical Metacinema”. 1985) he manages to say absolutely nothing about why Allen might have employed the device. 2 A similar attempt has already been made for literature. 3 Mamber (in Horton. Kant however. therefore. only Bataille has entered into a detailed discussion of his laughter. comedy releases us from the “repellence of the absurd” (1993: 40). there is as we have seen. Little has been written about cinematic parody and metacinema 3 aside from Siska (1979). nothing). although Nietzsche’s laughter re-occurs as a major theme throughout his work. in being ludicrous. where Nietzsche attempts to apply the sublime to tragic art. the careful selection of secondary texts will be imperative. ludicrous (in action) and ridiculous (to the receiver) we will note a decline in this cheer. In The Birth of Tragedy (1872). in an attempt to be ludicrous. a large essay devoted to his laughter! The principal task of this dissertation will be. finding two films that were not meta-cinematic in the slightest (The Shining (1980) and The King of Comedy (1983)). in spite of everything (or rather. he reflects that whilst sublimity humbles horror. Hauck (1971: 3-8) mocks Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus (1942) for its humourlessness.Kant’s (1790: 333) theory: “Laughter is an affect that arises if a tense expectation is transformed into nothing”. fails to note the similarity between the ridiculous and the sublime. just like Sisyphus – happy. We will see that Bataille and Allen do share a similar laughter – albeit of a rather less joyous variety to the Marxes and Nietzsche. many of whom are listed above. Unfortunately he was a little too radical. resort to modes of parody. Despite the libraries of books available on Nietzsche. to uncover Nietzsche’s theory of the ridiculous and its relation to the absurd. Although in the first chapter we will be able to define the Marx Brothers and Nietzsche as cheerful nihilists. re-appropriate and distinguish it from Bataille’s and see how it can be applied theoretically to comedy films and the question posed in the first line. after the Second World War ridiculous comedy becomes psychoanalytic and meaningful. We will be surveying these films and filmmakers. in being subject to the ridiculous: they are “cheerful nihilists”. Sadly this is not pursued further. Although he does successfully identify The Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen. many filmmakers. but states that American humorists have long been involved in the absurd act of creation of meaninglessness.

2002) and poststructuralist (Ulmer. Should the dissertation be successful. due to its comparative newness. 8 . require me to indulge in close textual analysis of episodes. the case could be made for more attention to be paid. both to comedy films. Although Larsen cites many of the same thinkers as me. In the final chapter we will look at the emergence of a genre of animated TV sitcoms. Waugh. whilst amusing.parody (Rose. The Boys of South Park Figure 2 – (l-r) Kenny. 1987) approaches are also relevant here. his focus is undoubtedly the defecatory humour within South Park. The paucity of sources will. has yet to be subjected to much academic scrutiny. 1989+) and Larsen’s (2001) essay on South Park will be of relevance. Cartman. 1997+). Only Irwin et al’s (2001) book on The Simpsons (Fox. and to neglected philosophical approaches to film studies. serves only cultural interpretations. therefore. 1984). argue for their significance in film studies as cinematic parodies. Kyle and Stan confront “Death”. which. 1993. and find within them the mad and playful nihilism of Nietzsche’s aphorisms (with the help of Deleuze’s (1973) masterful interpretation). The cartoon to be analysed is South Park (Comedy Central. which. Post-modern (Hutcheon.

to interpret (Vattimo. more pessimistic varieties of Clown Comedy including the films of Jacques Tati. 1975) are highly descriptive and subjective. 1995. but also because of their unique uses of humour. rather than on analysing the formal aspects of the Marx Brothers’ contribution to the cinema. Superior engagement with their films is to be found in the best books on the comedy genre (Neale and Krutnik. after looking at each brother. frequently focusing on what they enjoy or dislike. it will be necessary to distinguish from Bataille. 1985) and Bordwell (1985) we will see that the Marx Brothers reflect. 1995: 156) has been unmatched. we will set the Marxes’ Clown Comedy apart from the genre of Comedian Comedy and other. for the sake of future chapters. Finally. all of these books focus 9 .The Marx Brothers as Authors. for this is the difference between their art-films and their Hollywood films. Nevertheless. both in their genealogical place in comedy film. This optimism. whom. and the books and essays devoted to them (such as Eyles. The themes thrown up by this will lead us inexorably to Nietzsche. Charney. the concerns of the tradition. differ profoundly from most of those that have succeeded them. Chuck Jones and Jerry Lewis. Work on the Marx Brothers has been sketchy. In spite of the Great Depression they appear to have possessed an optimism that the Hay’s Code frowned upon. whose theory of laughter Borch-Jacobsen (1987) relates the Marxes to. We will need to distinguish early Marx Brothers from late Marx Brothers. meaning and man’s relation to the world and others. Then. We will begin by looking briefly at the history of the Brothers and the patchy critical history surrounding them. and belongs outside the rigidity of Hollywood morality. 1979) who find the Marxes’ important. Using Deleuze (1983. works to subdue fraudulent social orders and expectations. expressed through a Nietzschean will to power. the Marx Brothers. identity. a realm typically dominated by cerebral films that deliberate on issues such as existence. Their embodiment of a wilful pre Hay’s Code “Clown Comedy” (Karnink and Jenkins. we will dissect their use of humour with an eye to surrealism and to Freud. 1985: 124). They could be considered part of art-cinema. Artists and Nihilists Introduction Used by Woody Allen to examine the closeness of tragedy and comedy by setting them alongside the existential issues explored by more “serious” filmmakers. or rather. 1990. amongst the first talkie film comedians. unconsciously or otherwise. 1974 and Jordan. and that filmmakers have struggled to repossess through the modernist and post-modernist eras. 1978. Karnink and Jenkins. Mast.

These five are the films being considered here. Leo McCarey appears to have had more understanding of the Brothers than the other directors. the Marx Brothers cast doubt on there being a “true world”. but fascinating philosophical readings are also available from Žižek (1991) and Barthes (made even more incomprehensible by Ullmer. After their Broadway successes. and comes from Deleuze (1983. and Ulmer (1986: 56) suggests that pedagogy may be improved by placing the Marxes’ nonsense alongside common-sense and science. Obtuse. each film employs each brother in the same way as in the previous film. 1929. Naturally. moreover. Žižek (1991: 73) suggests that a Groucho Marx gag illustrates that. This led to three more Paramount releases: Monkey Business (McLeod. which were. Barthes. Common to each brother.on the more traditional cultural (frequently Bakhtinian) readings of comic discourse that here we are moving away from in favour of something more aesthetic. this chapter will not be looking closely at the directors’ contributions to the films. is also the most aesthetic. Horse Feathers (McLeod. their plays The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers were filmed by Paramount (Florey and Santley. 1987). It is quite difficult to say that the Marx Brothers were auteurs when they did not write. 1932) and Duck Soup. As a result. This is noteworthy as much of my argument shall focus on how. “man alone is capable of deceiving by means of truth itself”. the man who Woody Allen’s character in Manhattan (1979) gives as a reason for living. who we will be looking at in more detail later. 1930). is that they were the children of émigré European Jewish parents. Barthes was excited by the exploration of language conducted by the Marxes’ use of puns. it will become clear that the Marxes treated their directors and the Hollywood system with a disdain similar to that they employ within the films. 1931). 1935): “The logical future of metaphor would therefore be the gag” (in Ulmer. on viewing their Night at the Opera (Wood. in the Nietzschean spirit. and in each case I think it is possible to show how these personae embody distinct aspects of their world-views and personalities. and an important point. direct or produce their movies. on the other hand. The most interesting reading of the Marx Brothers. Heerman. much of the difficulty in finding references is due to the quality of genre readings over auteurial readings. These characteristics were the creation of their respective owners and developed whilst they were Vaudeville performers. made in the studio system. and they were brought up in an impoverished New York ghetto. 1985). 1987: 46). 10 . and in the next section we will be looking at the personalities the Marx Brothers portray in them. We will start with Groucho. each time with the same traits and personae. Admittedly. and several of his shots from Duck Soup will be discussed. another link to Nietzsche. suggests that. Nevertheless. It will be argued here that the Marxes produce metaphors rather than similes.

he plays an hotelier. which was later marketed and became a classic disguise. With his painted-on moustache. Spaulding and Rufus T. but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot”. 1974: 20)) and language finds expression in a rhetoric beyond reply. 1974: 62). 11 . named as such because of his dour world-view and financial prudence (“grouch-bag”). it is necessary to mask his origins as a Jew from the ghetto. The gravity of a situation may be undermined by an avalanche 4 Monkey Business is an exception to this rule. Eyles (1974: 156-157) suggests that Senator McCarthy was also in the Groucho mould. cruel insults and pathetic physical inadequacy. His brave African explorer faints at the sight of a butterfly! He seems very much in the spirit of Jeffrey Archer. Groucho’s characters have clearly conned their way through life into privilege. he looks very much like a self-assured middle-aged man worthy of respect – or at least he would. and look like an idiot. a college dean and a dictator 4 . an African explorer. of symbolic acts and abstract relations […] Groucho pushes the art of interpretation to its final degree because he is the master of reasoning. and it never rains but it pours?”. Groucho has three types of joke: reams of nonsense. what is it that has four pairs of pants. of arguments and syllogisms which find a pure expression in nonsense.The Brothers and their Surreal Disguises Groucho Groucho. The characters in the films have no reason to suspect he is not a perfect WASP. hence his character has pompous Anglo-Saxon names such as Jeffrey T. if it were not so blatantly a costume! Those around him do not appear to notice this. leading to a surreal image: “I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it” and questions for which there are no answers: “Now. Deleuze (1983: 199) suggests that he is a “man of interpretations. and getting away with it. statements where the double meaning of a word changes the entire meaning of the sentence. always wore a striking costume.” His understanding of thought (for he knows what everyone else is thinking (Eyles. We never witness any of the acts of daring people describe. If his costume is therefore a tool to infiltrate high society. One might expect that his jokes would give him away. His nonsense features expressively delivered. Firefly. courageous and successful. and in most of the films he is received as famous. but empty assertions: “Chicolini here may talk like an idiot. using illogic and arbitrary associations against his enemies. lives in Philadelphia. although Groucho was reportedly unhappy with the way the film was written (Eyles. or see him work at the jobs he has. frock coat and cigar. bushy eyebrows.

1986: 201) says: “Carnivalesque discourse breaks through the laws of a language censored by grammar and semantics and. he addresses the camera in Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers. Eyles (1974: 22) suggests that: “Groucho so misuses the clichés of form and expression that they stand exposed for the tricks of argument they so often are. the Marxes are an onslaught against it. More seriously it could be the ignorance of a general who insists that trenches be bought rather than dug. has a “strange interlude” and soliloquy in Animal Crackers and continually diverts attention from the plot with fruitless assertions and actions. or the semantic terms giving concepts significance could be taken apart. Much of his illogic also derives from his selective memory. is a social and political protest. again using the double meaning of a word: “How happy I could be with either of these two if both of them just went away” or using a cliché to savage someone: “You're just wasting your breath. As Eyles (1974: 36) says. Groucho even reinterprets the rules of film form. When he does not have the room to swing a cat – the problem is that he has neither the room nor the cat. his use of language mocks those who believe in their institution.of clichés. he seems embarrassed by the communal singing of songs. to be limited by narrative is to be in bad faith. A character in a realist narrative is bound by the plot. we recall what makes them different from other characters. much like life. handing Margaret Dumont a playing card and telling her to keep it. We are told. One sees through the eyes of a Hollywood hero.” Like his ridiculous costume. which is part of the Ontological argument’s farce: in a logical system. Much like Sartre’s existentialism whereby nothing is the boundary. not what makes them human”.” Yet. at the same time. in particular the highfaluting types who regard him as charming in spite of his bad manners. it does not follow a coherent narrative. These things prevent a subjective association with him as a lead character. and especially if he diverts your attention from the story you are meant to be following. pink broccoli exists as readily as God. that God must exist – this is the Ontological argument. the Marxes are not. Bound by words and society. as Karnink and Jenkins (1995: 274) argue: “The Marx Brothers express a demand for personal freedom and selfexpression. Groucho’s transgression of norms would initially appear to be carnivalesque. This is why Groucho communicates in insults. Groucho’s point is that you can prove anything you want with the right turn of phrase. the WASPs are unable to see through their own image of a 12 . As Kristeva (in Stallybrass and White. but one cannot if he turns his eyes back on you. These are directed at everyone. In his soliloquy he procrastinates about love with his suitors. sanctioned by society in a protest against itself.g. in a logical system. and that's no great loss either”. e. The carnival is a shared occasion. The plot is subordinate to events and experience.

asking him ridiculous questions. One must fight with what one has. Harpo is Groucho’s polar opposite. who. talk becomes a weapon. he frequently exhibits cowardice. As Mast (1979: 282) suggests. and that he had bluffed his way through Wesley Snipe’s brute force with a reinterpretation of space and sound. Against the force of the abiding morality and the strength of social powers.left) was a lie. whereby the listener is captivated and carried away from their objection. only for someone to take his coat and the whole one-piece academic costume with it. they are dismissive of Chico and Harpo. the final shot (Figure 3 – right) reveals a delicate and pale man. It sometimes seems as though Groucho infiltrated society only to dismantle it. it seems fitting to suggest that Groucho’s movement is like Michael Jackson’s combat dancing. the ingenious (or perhaps the ingenuous) can always find a way around. In Monkey Business. he is lucky if he has a name or a job. Figure 3 This then is the admission of Groucho. and Groucho is certainly without strength and dexterity. is also the one who cannot fight with words. and belittling his gun and intellect. and he is useless with objects. in Animal Crackers he is introduced as the Professor. They are incapable of interpretation. As Deleuze will compare Tati and Lewis’ comedies to ballet. and although unconditionally accepting of Groucho. He cannot crack jokes because 13 .person. It becomes like a dream. amusingly man-handling a ball in Duck Soup. he faces down a mobster by reinterpreting his assertions. the insults are carried away on the stream of selective memory and false inferences. The muscular and adroit brother is Harpo. suggesting that Jackson’s gang of dancers (Figure 3 . He is clearly the slightest Brother. the ghetto child in the surreal disguise. Far from a foothold in society. When Scorsese was able to interpret it for Bad (1987). Harpo Dressed in a shabby overcoat and a big curly wig. by way of coincidence.

by fighting. the real Harpo was described as. by stealing and destroying things. Understandably then. enjoys getting into fights and chasing women. 1981: 101). and I also think that the repression of childhood is expressed through Harpo. he thinks that his kleptomania and girl chasing is sexually motivated. and the complete lack of respect for social humility they represent. Moreover. and his actions bear striking similarities to those of dogs. Eyles (1974: 27) suggests that Harpo is “not bound by the limitations of words”. but as Mast (1979: 283) says. and he is prone to random acts of destruction and. Like a dog or a child. Certainly. by putting his legs between people’s armpits. He also constructs a dream-like language by presenting various of his hoarded objects to make visual puns. proximity. represents unconscious desires. in Norman. such as in the Animal Crackers gag where he presents a flute. 14 . Dogs play incessantly. he is capable of displaying an angelic innocence and naivety that enables people to forgive his aberrance. One could say he was the animal found in four of these films’ titles. Harpo takes on the reinterpretation of conceptual schema through music and his gentle harp playing. as such.he is dumb. and a dog emerges from his tattoo (Figure 5). and they do this by chasing those who run away. When Harpo cuts neckties (Mast. in a shot that could be from L’âge d’or (Buñuel. he perhaps shows us why we have dogs – for the play. Leo McCarey seems to agree with me. Figure 4 Figure 5 His are often the most surreal images. banishing the world of work. If Groucho explored these limits. in Duck Soup Harpo sports a kennel tattoo. He’d walk into a room and dogs and children would go to him” (Krasna. Matthews (1971: 32) argues that the nature of Harpo’s fetishes and impulses is surreal and. “a famously well-loved man. using the talkie cinema for silence was somewhat innovative! He appears to be completely devoid of social etiquette: he is a kleptomaniac. and this is why people own dogs. 1979: 284). 1930) he is found in bed with a horse (Figure 4).

and that is Chico. showing its rules for the lies they are.g. the strategy of effort and resistance”. he. whistles. he speaks in the films with an Italian accent that he originally sported whilst hustling in New York. as honest as it is deviant from social conventions. Chico’s false identity does not need to adapt to survive. flush and some flesh in response to Chico’s demand for a flash. Chico often appears to know people in the films. he plays piano in a visually entertaining way to charm high society. such as the meetings and lives of facial hair in Monkey Business. existentialist writers have criticised the inauthenticity of idle chatter and the workmanlike utilisation of tools. This action takes the form of a nonsense suited to each individual situation. leading to surreal conversations. and the WASPs. One would never get this from Harpo as every object and action is used to make a statement. Harpo is disguised as Groucho. Chico does his best to remain on the periphery – he is the immigrant who will not melt into the American Dream pot. because of its assumed stupidity and its interpersonal prowess. and they repel each other’s mirror image for several minutes. A film with just Groucho and Harpo could not work because they cannot communicate. As Deleuze (1983: 199) says. more than the others. “take on action. flask. In Duck Soup. Groucho is the corrupt leader who arises from it. but this is to misunderstand the disingenuous nature of the disguise that is being employed. Chico Named Chicko for his womanising ways. Frequently. he cracks one-liners and spouts illogic to baffle his employers. but never revealing his authentic identity or understanding. “How did you become an Italian?” asks a fellow conman in Animal Crackers. actually required a false identity to survive. he even pretends to misunderstand illogic. It is only Chico’s casual intervention as a 15 . the initiative. he spars with Harpo. forever hoarding ways to communicate and interpret the communications of others. a reinterpretation of communication. As an inveterate gambler. the duel with the milieu. and he always knows Harpo. as Mast (1979: 282) says. Eyles (1974: 25) cannot abide his “stupidity”. and he is the only person who can turn Groucho’s illogic against him. These. He is the gland holding the Marx Brothers together. Chico uses Harpo’s fetishism to. his mimes. why-a-duck/viaduct. Perhaps he never really has one. He feigns ignorance against the villains by making puns (e. Unlike horn honks and experiments with musical instruments create visual and sound imagery that is as rich as it is unconventional. who perch in high society. he is the impassive act of the combination of consciousness. why-afence/wire fence). Only one person appears to be able to figure out Harpo’s associations however.

It is fitting then. In our lives we are the stars of a narrative peopled by insipid characters. the fourperson ensemble is very rare in comedy – South Park is another that employs it. to society. On the stage he was the understudy to his brothers and apparently a good Groucho. that it was Chico who charmed/inveigled most of the Brothers’ contracts.third Groucho that shatters the mirror and takes them to the next scene (Figure 6). and so the one brother who does not wear a disguise is offering the reality of film form and star system for our scrutiny. So why include Zeppo in the films? He seems to represent that antithesis of consciousness that links every solipsist. Figure 6 – Chico breaks the mirror Zeppo Jordan (1975: 114-115) is at a loss to understand why Zeppo appears to be like the “insipid” characters populating the bit parts of the films. His minute roles. Yet it is they that frequently allow the world to function. it is Chico who applies them to each other. 16 . as Hirsch (1981: 189) says. Although Groucho and Harpo give rise to events. however tentatively. meaning he must have been a versatile comic. see him employed as a straight man. Perhaps the problem is that there is no room for a fourth comic type. Secretaries are not celebrated. and enabling them to fly up onto the screen as a series of related (perhaps conjoined but more probably disjoined) events. If society takes people for granted. usually as a secretary with a white-collar name like Jamison. to the world. it would be wrong for the Marx Brothers to treat their stardom without irony. they are perceived as peripheral.

Artaud. 1990: 70-71). 1973: 144). Freud suggests that such humour is linked to a pre-social childhood unrestrained by the world. For children. often with no motivation or physical possibility. 1971: 29-37. both Nietzsche and the Marx Brothers have been called nihilists (McCann. the Marx Brothers have frequently been likened to the surrealists (Matthews. 1905: 227). one image inexorably leads to another. 1905: 225). and Nietzsche are unrestrained – and humorous (Deleuze. ludic (Borch-Jacobsen. Deleuze (1973: 143-144) says that Freud (with Karl Marx) formed the dawn of our intellectual culture. memory. action. logic and causation. particularly. it is for children. The Marxes. it makes sense to look at the Marx Brothers in relation to Freud’s theory of jokes. Jokes originate in the unconscious (Freud. so humour restores us to that carefree state of play. 1973: 147). and as Nietzsche says in the subtitle to Twilight of the Idols (1889). such as the same collapsing of boundaries of space and time. 1905: 302). be it in conversation. jokes share certain similarities with dreams. Harpo and Chico all have unique. not dreaming. but always with immense self-confidence. According to Nietzsche. coincidentally or otherwise. Yet the Marxes are joking. This comparison seems well-founded. 17 . it is a game. a play with words. humorous ways of reinterpreting language and communication. is the name of Groucho’s character in The Cocoanuts. regaining the lost pleasure of childhood happiness (Freud. The Marx Brothers go from one impossibility to the next. According to Freud (1905: 230).Nietzsche and the Philosophy of Play Jokes and a Return to Childhood Understandably. 1974) due to the peculiar imagery and the breakdown of memory and causation. which. although they are forged by play in childhood (Freud. in which case there is no need for restraint or the cessation of the ludic. which is a process of investigation into. Freud was involved in codifying madness. the world is not dangerous. “we are still only children” (Deleuze. 1987: 738). When dreaming. We have seen above how Groucho. or narrative. just like a dream. and in this context explaining away laughter as a form of anxiety – laughter is wrong. As surrealism often drew on Freud’s theories regarding dreams. philosophy should be conducted with a hammer.

As we said earlier. cannot call itself comedy or tragedy. like Hollywood is founded on rationality and morality. This would naturally explain Harpo’s hippophilia! So the Marx Brothers must be mad. language is tied to relations of power in society. accomplices. because it is only the tragic and comic. One might also suggest. Marx writer S. 1981: 98) evokes both Apollo’s lyre playing. Art suffers however . we are looking at the Marxes’ childish surrealism as distinctly life affirming in its deconstruction of old values. and forgetfulness. especially with regard to language. his own world winneth the world’s outcast. It is only in the drunken dreams responsible for our will to interpret that we can be happy. the Marx Brothers’ masks and disguises are clearly recognisable as untruths. to tame absurdity (Nietzsche. a holy Yea. 2001: 158). in favour of living people living their lives.the Platonic art. a new beginning. and the Will to Power is accessible 18 . 1985: 25). the science of non-agreement. and is found in the dreams of Apollo and the intoxication of Dionysus. rather than focusing on their deaths (Nietzsche. called art. and these are recognisable as untruth and they demonstrate the untruth of the true lies. Nietzsche. Nietzsche despises the moral art. Perelman’s description of a “harpist afflicted with satyriasis” (in Norman. It is the madman who proclaims the boldest deconstruction. a game. because it is a decadent lie posing as truth. and they use them to explore the untruth of the moral truths. a first movement. Sartre’s bad faith is a true lie (a mask). and Dionysus’ mischievous. Aye. The enjoyment of tragedy and comedy is open only to those who can bear to live without ultimate solutions (Vattimo. 1985: 140). 1997: 22 As this quote suggests. Some “lies” uttered within the language become “truth” and therefore morality. they are irrational and illogical. Curiously. 1991: 110 and n. that of the death of God. and it is the wellspring of cheerfulness in the Gay Science (2001: 77). There are other lies. my brethren. As Vattimo (1985: 27-28) understands Nietzsche. which.J.The Laughter of the Nihilists Innocence is the child. that they are mad. 1993: 40). or. Madness is also the source of comic and tragic art (Sallis. for these too would be lies. there is needed a holy Yea unto life: its own will willeth now the spirit. psychoanalytically. in the case of comedy. 23). for the game of creating. or “mad” art that can help us bear life (Vattimo. Madness is anti-social. they are comic and artistic. a selfrolling wheel.

When deconstructed. as it is part of interpretation and therefore interpreting. as comedy tames absurdity. but something fabricated. as we have discussed. or rather there is nothing more than the seriousness of a child at play (Nietzsche. Certainly Bataille (1992: 152) agreed with this interpretation of Nietzsche as the philosopher of play. 1985: 124). it cannot be defined. Yet this theory seems as domineering as the societies and values it is levelled against – the sucking of being into a laughing “I”. more complex hybrid identities can be created”. and history (Vattimo. Laughter becomes sovereign (golden?) because he who is laughing appropriates the being of that which is laughed at. the true identity is deprived in Nietzsche as it is in the Marx Brothers: “the subject is not a given. This is the problem of laughter for him. Nietzsche and the Marxes both gunned for the same moral idols: causation (Nietzsche. Philosophers must indulge in “golden laughter” at the expense of the seriousness of morality (Nietzsche. textual deconstruction is involved in breaking down the foundations on which knowledge and philosophy are based. 2001: 113). The Marxes and Nietzsche are not involved in a Freudian game of revisiting the unconscious for ephemeral happiness. Indeed. 1985: 125). 1990: 218).only through constant reinterpretation and investigation (Vattimo. As Ansell-Pearson (1992: 313) says whilst discussing Nietzsche’s overman. but by being an artist in one’s approach towards life.fundamental absurdity. and. 1990: 94). It follows then that Aycock (1993: para. not just by enjoying art. No wonder Sartre said it was “bitter and strained” (in Bataille. The chaos in Horse Feather’s college also satirises the institutionalising of knowledge. 1) should suggest that a deconstructionist writer such as Derrida is “playful” due to his language games and his puns. Borch-Jacobsen (1987: 748) makes an attempt however: What is laughed at is drained of being. The “insipid” characters in the Marx Brothers film do not laugh. becoming nothing but joy. something added on” (in Vattimo. it is laughter at the dead 19 . There is nothing to be serious about. and the madman who could not possibly accept them. 1992: xiv). Even the ego. which must be expressed. 1971: 33). they do not question. 1985: 80) which the Marxes make light of with their musical medleys and costume changes towards the end of Duck Soup (Mast. perhaps most tellingly. that of the child who has no need of final solutions. but in carving up the perceived truth and reality of the ego and superego. 1979: 285). We can therefore understand Artaud’s remark that the Marx Brothers are destroyers of “all reality in the mind” (in Matthews. The task of philosophy has become the game of deconstruction and interpretation. Similarly he prefers to remain in interpretation rather than to become conceptual. it becomes apparent that play “or uselessness” amounts to the same thing . there is a “free play of signs in which new.

and they do not even appear to be stories. 2000: 37) and hence he wrote his journal On Nietzsche. and bring the films to farcical conclusions. but tellingly) accused of “playing himself”. Not 20 . Bataille is rigidly subjectivising himself. A child creates the entire event anew and starts again right from the beginning Benjamin. they were both concerned with life and with living life free from restraint. In Duck Soup we see Groucho prosecuting Chico. especially in The Cocoanuts. the only Paramount Marx film with a relevant title (it is set on Cocoanut Beach). It is the insipid characters who choose to have a plot. It also suffers one other major flaw. Their play and the laughter it provokes are a direct affront against restrictions preventing the living of life in life – although Allen and Godard all have a certain death fetish. doubtlessly a permissible experiment at the beginning of sound cinema differentiates their films from Classical Hollywood. in the belief that Nietzsche is laughing with him from the grave. This childishness. the four masked and doubly pseudonymed Marxes have continually oscillating identities due to their inadherence to dogma. Welles famously said that making films was like playing with trains. Nor has anyone ever seen Nietzsche. appropriating his corpse. Unlike Allen who is (perhaps ridiculously. The Marxes too are disinterested in cadavers as images of themselves in eternity. and going to war with him. and it is the Marx Brothers who interrupt it. 1987: 740) and the fallen. shy.(Borch-Jacobsen. When They Stopped Playing (And We Stopped Laughing) An adult relieves his heart from its terrors and doubles happiness by turning it into a story. singing and dancing with him. but it seems that later comedies fall into parody to tell the story of stories! The Marx Brothers’ films are not parodies. of placing his subjectivity on celluloid. No one ever sees a real person. this is not apparent with the Marx Brothers. 1999: 120 The birth of parody may well be due to this sagacious observation. moments later defending him. “Bataille” liked to think he was the same as “Nietzsche” (Noys. The task of this dissertation in the future chapters is to consider how this pessimism comes about. and places them closer to art-cinema. modest individual wrote like Groucho spoke and Jackson danced – in flamboyant performances apparently transcending their societal selves. Furthermore. Obviously this was necessary to avoid Hollywood morality and causality. and. the Marxes are not subjectified. Nietzsche and Sartre did not concern themselves with death. the crippled.

only is there no plot, but a story space impossible to explicate – where did the characters come from? Where will they go after? Mast (1979: 287) takes all this to be a poor use of the new talkie cinema, but it seems that the directors were confused by what they were faced with. Groucho said of the directors of Cocoanuts that, “one of them didn’t understand English and the other didn’t understand Harpo” (in Eyles, 1974: 16). Indeed, their fights with directors and disrespectful conduct on the sets (Eyles, 1974: 17) would explain much of the chaos. Victor Heerman resorted to locking them in cells on set! Bordwell (1985: 157) states that a Classical Hollywood film should have a heterosexual love story and a work related success story, both of which must be clearly resolved by the end. The Paramount Marx films are free of, or exterminate these stories, let alone have resolutions – especially Animal Crackers, which concludes with Harpo knocking everyone out, including himself. Certainly, the films seldom employ continuity editing or direction in such a way as to open up a coherent space-time. When realism represents coherence amongst events, the Marxes clearly differ, and match up well to Bordwell’s (1985: 206-207) definition of art-cinema. They certainly explore themes such as “alienation” and “communication” with their respective detachments from society and from normal language use, but most crucially, it explores character over plot, and just as the Marxes are involved in the interpretation of their own characters, so are we. Also in common is the use of nonactors (clowns), and there being no causality or deadlines – a Marx film could feasibly run continuously. Duck Soup did not run continuously, it flopped, and Paramount sacked the brothers. Jenkins and Krutnik (1995: 156) would call the Paramount films “Clown comedy” because a clown is socially aberrant – Fields is another example – whilst Bob Hope can be socially integrated and is therefore a comedian. There was increasing pressure coming from the Hay’s Code of standards killing off the clowns. In addition, the producer Irving Thalberg decided that the Marxes needed a more Hollywood direction, because women, apparently, do not like things that are not causally motivated (Mast, 1979: 286). The Marxes would go to MGM and make comedian comedy A Night at the Opera – a proper movie with a heterosexual romance, and an opera success story. The Marxes facilitate these plots, demonstrating their new moral direction. There is no Zeppo, Groucho pays his way, Harpo is a proletarian with a disability and Chico is firmly rooted in his surroundings. Unsurprisingly, most critics, especially Jordan (1975: 147) and Mast (1979: 285),


note a relentless decline in quality from this point 5 . Thalberg was right though; they took a lot more at the box office this way. Soon the American-made clown comedies of the Marxes, Fields, and Mae West were gone and replaced by social and moral and financially successful comedies by Capra, and romantic comedies by Hawks and Cukor. Some clowns would remain but perhaps fittingly, they were not taken seriously by Hollywood or America. They include Jerry Lewis, loved only by the French, almost as much as their own: Jacques Tati. Their clown comedy was different however, for it marked a shift from what Deleuze terms the Marx Brothers’ “mental-image”, to the “dreamimage”. The final section of this chapter will evaluate this shift, and analyse how the two images affected subsequent comedy.

Mental-Images and Dream-Images

According to Deleuze (1983: 199), the affection (Harpo), association (Chico) and interpretation (Groucho) of the Marx Brothers gives rise to “mental-images”. These are used symbolically to denote abstract relations, leading to pure images, independent of plot, that break sensory-motor links to the world (Deleuze, 1983: 218). Such images are to be found in the films of Godard, and Allen’s favourite, Antonioni (Deleuze, 1983: 205-217; 1985: 1-13, 18-25) – films that could feasibly be called existentialist, and certainly art-cinema. Although many users of the mentalimage seek to find a relation to the world, the Marx Brothers look for dissociation, much like Godard’s amoral, thrill-seeking characters. Beyond interpretation and the mental-image, lies the dream image, whereby action is replaced by a “movement of world” (Deleuze, 1985: 335). The pure images that dissociation gives rise to “enter into a circuit which turns back on them, then launch another circuit” (Deleuze, 1985: 65). No longer is it the choice of the clown to bedevil the machines of society, as the clown is carried, swept away by them – it is the world devouring life (Deleuze, 1985: 66). Tati’s M. Hulot is carried on a wave of carnage in which machines breakdown; such as the ruthlessly regimented holidaymakers of Les Vacances (1953) or the factory and house of Mon oncle (1958). Deleuze believes it to be like a musical, or a ballet (rather than one man dancing in pretence, defence and offence) – disconnections and reconnections. It is not an act of interpretation, but a dream, something that must be interpreted.
In fact, they did their first two MGM films for the money. Harpo and Groucho were not interested in doing more, but relented when it became apparent that Chico’s life was in jeopardy thanks to his horrific gambling debts (Norman, 1981: 104-105).


Its tragedy is in Hulot’s constant quest for life in the loneliness of the dream, with his fondness for his nephew in Mon oncle or his quest for activity in Les Vacances (Mast, 1979: 294). His dream is a nightmare to be escaped. Far more tragic is Chuck Jones’ Wile E. Coyote. He does not seek trouble, but a means to survive. I have a recurring dream in which I am challenged and every punch I throw is without force. This is Coyote’s problem – the world moves out of his way, and he is trapped in a Sisyphean nightmare of failed punches (Figure 7). Nothing he attempts has consequence. All attempts to interpret, as in Fast and Furry-ous (1949) where he dresses up as Superman (the Ubermensch!) and attempts to fly, he is equally damned to frustration. Jenkins and Krutnik (1995: 160-161) discuss a post-Hays and post-war tendency for clowns to look within, rather than out. The dream-image reflects a psychological problem. Whilst the mental-image enables reinterpretation of a problematic world, the dream-image demands that it is your neuroses, that you are mentally severed from the superego. As Jones said: “As you develop any character, you are, of course, looking into a mirror, a reflection of yourself, your ambitions and hopes, your realizations and fears” (in Schaffer, no date). The mirror is a fixed act of interpretation, as is the interpretation of the dream over which one has no control. They are virtual and mimetic. In Duck Soup, Groucho looks into the mirror and sees Harpo, a static image that is then shattered by Chico, leading to a new discovery. Nietzsche held that life was only justifiable as an aesthetic experience, that life must always be metaphorical; yet as Henderson (in Horton, 1991: 155) suggests, the cartoon character is denoted by a fixed identity over which he has no freedom. Interpretation within the text is no longer possible; the world is fixed, scientific, and one’s issues within it need to be resolved through their interpretation, rather than a new world created out of them. The world is immutable, given and may be glimpsed only through psychoanalysis. It seems that adults can no longer play in the post-War, Freudian world. Laughter becomes the confession of mental illness. In the next chapter, we will see how Jones, Godard and Edwards faced this problem, and sought solutions to the nightmare in meta-fiction, and in parody, in an attempt to move from introspection back to the Marxes’ examination. In every Allen film we see him with therapists; is every film he makes an attempt to get away from them?
Figure 7


This is especially the case with Allen. Throughout the chapter we will retain and expand upon the dialectic between Nietzsche and Bataille that began in the last chapter. art and laughter will emerge as an escape from being. the former the exponent of cheerful nihilism. his miserable jester and disciple. by Allen. because the director is able to put the established world of realist film out-of-joint. This is true also of art-comedy because the director of the dream-image film becomes aware that meta-cinema re-enables play with the world – albeit a purely fictitious one. doc! If one creates the dream. Freud for example held that art. writes that the art-cinema’s “increased self-consciousness had led to an art whose subject matter has unabashedly become the nature of art and the role of the artist”. parody becomes an almost obligatory part of comic movie making. is able to wake his dream-image star up to the realisation that it is not all in his head – he really is divided in some way from the world. and his ludic explorations of absurdity. from comedies that move from parodic dream-images. Psychoanalysis and the interpretation of dreams come with answers. is reawakened. not just the psychological state of the performer. 1963). With the decline of the Nietzschean in the works discussed here. over the dream-image. and ludic works by Monty Python. One must denounce the self-assured “truth” of the interpretability of phantasy or else. the latter. like the mirror. but the world that he inhabits. his films are not cheerfully nihilistic – they are closer to Camus’ humourlessness. as virtual images offering new ways of seeing. We will distinguish the empty commercial parody of Hollywood from the artcomedies. then the play. it is a virtual image of reality. Yet we will see that in spite of this. Meta-cinema has therefore become a necessity. using 8½ (Fellini. rather than as a new way of being and investigating.Art-Comedy and Parody Siska (1979: 289). From Godard on. like Jones or Edwards. 24 . who is saved by the Marx Brothers because they emerge as a new faith – a paradoxical faith of meaninglessness. Wake up. like laughter. deranging. A director. of making one’s own life art. This changes with Godard. whose unique use of parody illustrates the way in which it has become impossible to not see the world filmically. thereby restoring the immediacy of the cinema to thought and the mental-image. to reams of quotations devoted to accepting the absurd. the discovery.

continually changes. 1984: 34).g. and he becomes trapped between two celluloid frames causing him to be doubled. or shatter the image he has of this anxiety. the cartoon concludes in an abstract blue and red realm. but Daffy. and secondly through the positing of this consciousness beyond the text. he could then deconstruct. The most profound message of the Birth of Tragedy is that realism cannot reflect a real world – it will make us reliant on a false image of one. it is here the director who interrupts the performer: “Let’s get this picture started!” cries Daffy as “The End” descends on him. Jones can cast doubt on his ego. can be toyed with. But whereas the Marx Brothers interrupted their fiction-crafting directors. Thompson (in Nelmes: 2003: 220) is incorrect to say that Duck Amuck is an “ego-on-the-line Figure 8 25 . without even the punctuation of editing. If Chuck Jones’ characters were reflections of his personal anxieties and fears. Although dream-image films follow simple plots that sweep away their stars (e. whereby art and laughter again become play. shows that one’s identity. That this is all revealed to be the doing of an omnipotent and malevolent director (Bugs Bunny). just as Chico shatters the carefully constructed virtual image and rule-bound quiescence Harpo and Groucho create in the mirror gag. Like the Marxes. like the Marx films. intransigent and insistent on realism.compensated us for our lost sense of play (Waugh. Duck Amuck. In Duck Amuck (1953) he instead finds himself in an experimental film where the scenery. 1967) describe the activities lucklessly pursued by M. very much signifying where free-play can take us. the camera antagonises him with an excessively extreme close-up. “Where am I?” he asks. “sea picture” and war film) that splits the film into a series of moments and gags. features a continually interrupted plot (in the same shot the scenery and costumes renders it swashbuckler. Daffy Duck represents the desire to be significant – a Hollywood star. This is possible firstly through the introduction of another consciousness. It is clear that this distinction needs breaking. arctic adventure. is devastated mentally (Figure 8). suddenly a semi-diegetic excuse for a star. The soundtrack cuts. Hulot). but the cartoon is also asking “Who” and “What” is “I”. and the world it inhabits. denoting genre and therefore the way he should act. Les Vacances and Playtime (Tati. In Jones’ hands. He is even rubbed out completely. and that the ego which has been so painfully constructed in a mirror-image can be reinterpreted meta-fictitiously.

As Sartre says. “I” is. One of its writers was also responsible for the screen adaptation of Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder. as it necessarily posits it in the process (Waugh. Yet in these films the intrusion of Clouseau. and he and Edwards quickly developed Inspector Clouseau. Even psychoanalysis requires a therapist. just as one of Sartre’s books requires a reader. This process of sublimating the Cartesian subject occurs. suggests that reason “can no longer function in a post-Freudian world in which desire and the irrational define much of experience” 6 7 My italics. We are then attempting to sublimate one or “I”. but in live-action film the possibility for creative interplay is heightened. 1984: 27). joking with his own identity. Edwards’ television career exhibits a significant interest in solving mysteries. just as Nietzsche (1889: 31-32) does when illustrating how its place in language leads to the establishment of empirical facts or “things”. Both movies were filmed simultaneously. Jones split himself into two to efface himself. a fable or a selective construction. Clouseau would invade a serious. 1989: 70). world and others break down. This of course is why psychoanalysis is a form of bad faith to him. as Deleuze had discovered with the Marx Brothers. films of inner chaos paralleling their unconventional production. Anglophone mystery narrative. Shot in the Dark was a Sellers vehicle based on an Agatha Christie style stage-play 7 . Again. 623). just as one plays alone when one is a newborn baby. Hulot (Lewis. one is not permitted to view a coherent text that is the product of one person’s searches through the unconscious. We cannot describe our own experience of consciousness without it becoming caught up in the ego. When this happens. transforming the film into a comedy. He dropped out with Peter Sellers filling the role. and the assumptions that give rise to such dreams. One dreams alone. and his use of illogicality and libido to solve crimes. grasping in the dark (Piaget. Pink Panther would have been a glamorous gentleman-jewel-thief movie with Peter Ustinov playing a Poirotesque detective. Lewis (1994: 625) suggests he enjoys seeing “the man who restores order to a chaotic world”. according to Ulmer (1987: 42) in Night at the Opera with the Marxes joint deconstruction. 1994: 256. 1957). The ludic phantasy must therefore be a communal game. consciousness cannot be used to analyse consciousness purely. affection and interpretation that divisions between self. 1951: 161). in the trichotomy of relation.dream” 6 like a lonely Coyote cartoon – it is Jones playing. like a realist film. an apparently incongruous slapstick homage to M. 26 . in every sense. It is. but here I wish to argue that a similar process is underway in Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers’ The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964). with clashing dual auteurs. Sellers demanded that the director be sacked and that Edwards be brought in (Luhr and Lehman.

He stars in a film in which he is the most obvious outcast. he will be thrown to the floor or scalded. he is at the whim of a cruel metteur-en-scene. to be a suave leading man. 1989: 102). and each suits him rather better than his own. Sellers was as notorious as Brando for causing disturbances on the film-set (Lewis. as in (some of) the other Panther films. beautiful women and charismatic gentlemen.(Luhr and Lehman. Clouseau cannot speak in either an English or French accent. whilst imposing on it a believable. His attempts to be cool are interminably thwarted by his catastrophic association with the mise-en-scene – should he attempt to look casual by resting on an object. great dignity” (in Lewis. Clouseau is incapable of producing music with his violin. precisely because of his longing to star. In Shot in the Dark he is proven right. something that is contradicted here. Indeed. moving between the Orient. The Pink Panther is a very glamorous film set in a luxurious Alpine resort filled with royalty. Paris. Moreover. In Pink Panther Clouseau is delighted to discover that he is being framed for the crime he had failed to solve due to the notoriety he now has – he is Niven at last. Edwards simply casts the wrong man. and his attempts to communicate fail as he muddles his sentences and mispronounces his words. he is a man of “great. he cannot use his illogic against people. the mise-en-scene represents “things” and Clouseau’s problem is his formidably French “I”. “I” leads to “things” and Clouseau emerges as the antithesis of the Marx Brothers. Edwards admits his predilection for the incommensurate during the opening to Pink Panther. Like Daffy. Although Chico used his poor accent and misunderstanding to confound people and make jokes. and yet utterly non-causal conclusion. Ulmer also suggests that the sublimation of the Cartesian subject is a Freudian phenomenon. Edwards manages to keep a sensible narrative going. It starred the charming David Niven and was marketed as his film. Rome. and yet whilst Daffy expected a classical realist narrative and the Marx Brothers avoided it. the humour comes from Clouseau’s attempts to be like Niven. which he can never master. and unlike Groucho. Yet in these comedies. Both the dream-image film and the Hollywood film are escaped through their imbrication. Here. As Sellers said of Clouseau. 1994: 623). Harpo refuses to acknowledge any boundaries between him and other things and always appears adroit. 1994: 624) – in particular he never kept to the script and would intentionally make (frequently funny) mistakes. in every Clouseau film we see him don various disguises. which. Hollywood and the 27 . but Freud merely follows the same Germanic tradition as Kant and Nietzsche. despite arriving at his conclusions arbitrarily. Yet he was forced into the sidelines by Sellers’ invasion. so as to subvert the realism. Waugh (1984: 82) points out how plot takes precedence over character in detective fiction. Ironically.

leaving him exasperated. Dreyfus. He wields his directorial power by pushing Sellers out. We are reminded that the director imposes Clouseau’s ludic success upon him. Yet Edwards gets away with it because he makes it apparent that we are watching a film. it is Clouseau who demands on there being a plot. The figure of the cartoon Pink Panther. finds that rationality is no weapon against Clouseau’s comedic conviction. apparently to Edwards’. he turns to the camera – breaking the subjective Figure 9 frame – and shrugs. ultimately resorting to international terrorism and supervillain stereotype in an attempt to regain a grip on rationality and reality (The Pink Panther Strikes Again. and that adultery is rife. Our dreams and art are play. making them ridiculous. As both were comedies. Inspector Morse immediately springs to mind.Swiss Alps. is psychologically devastated by the carnage. 1976). The dark shot appears to refer both to the murder and the filming! Clouseau adopts the persona of the ingenious detective who thinks one move ahead – who sees past the easy answer to the underlying complexity. 1989: 101). who is hired to bring disorder to his life at all times (Luhr and Lehman. 28 .just as they do not notice that the bad guy gets away with it and that the irreproachable policeman is jailed. After Clouseau has correctly “deduced” the identities of the murderers. as realized by Friz Freleng (Figure 9) is Edwards. to deconstruct. Dreyfus. that the criminal is a pillar of the establishment. Except in this case it is patently obvious that there is no mystery. that it is fine for the myth not to work without a real hero at the centre. 1989: 80-81). On several occasions he even ends up breaking the law! This would also explain his servant Cato. in contrast to Pink Panther. No one watching notices or questions this . In Shot in the Dark. is a disorientating way in which to open narrative space (Luhr and Lehman. it makes sense only to conclude that people were distracted by the meta-fictitious element. No wonder that in later Panthers Dreyfus regards him as the world’s greatest menace – Clouseau has been permitted to spread ridicule. they collectively begin to argue and ignore him. Stupid (1964). but it becomes clear that it can only happen on the level of the text or the myth. and the cast’s confusion. His boss. “I will decide what is ridiculous!” he declares. The director is a sneaky. the Panther series’ exemplar of reason. he cannot leave a room without breaking something. concealed force toying with phantasmal entities. The Catholic Legion of Decency condemned Billy Wilder for far less in Kiss Me.

in particular by taking what would have been generic films and turning them into slapstick by admitting an utterly incongruous actor/hero. In this case. it is realist art and its poor representation of both. they are setting out a space in which play may be allowed. Rather than being-playing. like a realist narrative a voyeuristic insight into a life. It seems that Freud’s assertion that art compensates us for lost play remains true. Rose (1993: 52) defines parody as “the comic refunctioning of preformed linguistic or artistic material”. 1984: 34) says. or. He took the hammer to the underlying ontology of realist art. that it hides within time honoured constructions suggests more of a formalist approach. According to these parodies it is not reality that is questioned. not just in the performing. it occurs in the direction. and yet here it is merely the art that suffers. That this occurred through the use of two creators is suggestive of parody’s tendency to kill the author (Rose. 1993: 186). the opportunity to engage in anarchy. and the destructive capabilities of the clown. the rejection of logic and causation. the rules of realist film are questioned and the mirror shattered. albeit at the expense of the realist text. The realist text here wears the mask of ridiculousness. but realist texts that have been made ridiculous. and deconstruct their assumptions. these films also admit their own lack of immediacy. Our mad world closes down into a sane one due to the ruled games.For the Marxes. Piaget (1951: 142-145) suggests that when a child matures. This filmmaking does not provide a mirror to the author like a dream-image. Nietzsche worried that parodists would merely wear a mask. In the above films we find many of the key Marx traits: the subversion of morality. The misuse of formal conventions. whilst acknowledging it. “A story is a game someone has played so you can play it too”. these parodies are not absurd or ridiculous texts like the Marx films. clearly fits this definition. Instead. or. Instead of the infallible ego of the Hollywood film’s leading man and an invisible director. whilst these films parody Hollywood and the dream-image. 29 . It is sanctioned and carnivalesque. This is why Nietzsche (1990: 152) thought parody was unoriginal and despairing. As Sukenick (in Waugh. rather than the pastiche of elements of other films. and the director making his presence felt. play becomes progressively more and more rule-bound and that the ego is subordinated to reality. like a Marx film. but all the while it remains the meta-being of its creating creators. nor our ego. This time however. makes the films discussed here parodies. we see a fallible ego taken to pieces. cinema was an inconvenient medium in which to express their being-playing. such as Shklovsky’s theory that parody is used for “laying bare the device” (in Rose: 1993: 281). Edwards’ seeming disregard for convention.

If it could be objected that Godard is not strictly a comedy director. Jean-Paul Belmondo’s death scenes are funny. his is a pessimistic message.The next step for art-comedy must therefore be to abolish this distinction between life and the phantasm. The mission in this section is to identify how these concerns are reflected in his uses of ridiculousness and laughter. lights it. The lack of justification for any of them leads Lesage (1979: 14) to suggest that they are absurdist. the purpose of which was to look too real. Finally. but also why. and to see how they affect him as someone who plays or interprets. replete with gags and puns. Lesage (1979: 13) describes them as playful and witty. imprisoning image of psychoanalysis. Raoul Coutard said that Godard’s films had only two principal subjects: death and the impossibility of love (MacCabe. We will see how he avoids the virtual. should be the epitome of cool. and explodes. remarks what a stupid thing it is to do. Belmondo. of course. We see that by disavowing a filmic assumption. living and creating. More importantly however is the pastiche – what Deleuze (1983: 213) calls faire-faux. 1984: 3). In these instances. In Pierrot le fou (1965) he straps dynamite to his head. we will look at how Godard set the agenda for parody in the cinema throughout the 70s and onwards. or the apparent nonchalance with which corpses are treated in Pierrot. we acquire a new image that looks false only because it seems 30 . His counterpart in Une Femme est une femme (1961) similarly attempts suave with the exaggerated movements he makes whilst throwing his scarf over his shoulder. A parody. Godard and the Laughter of Death Godard’s frequent cinematographer. and yet his suits are ill fitting and his socks do not match his shoes. A neo-realism is introduced by undermining the gravity of a cliché. ultimately. and it is his contribution to the artcomedy film to which we now turn. such as the unjustified piles of smashed cars in Week End (1967). or meta-fiction must be established whereby the world becomes metaphoric (Waugh. as film star. Jean-Luc Godard seemed to have such a project in mind. as in À bout de souffle (1960) where the ubiquity of someone shutting a dead man’s eyes is inverted by Belmondo shutting them himself. used to incite laughter. Godard’s films are ridiculous. 2003: 123). In Bande à part (1964) a man’s death becomes farcical as he staggers around in an overstated manner. He embodies that strain of the comic that eases towards the sublime and tragic. Godard also uses surrealism. then we could go on to argue that Monty Python and Woody Allen are Godard forlaughs. the things that evoke humour are of a lethal and immoral nature.

Chuck Jones has a high amount of control over all aspects of his films. like Frank Baxter in The Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen. as described above. But who is he when he turns to the camera and grins – a real person? Or is the character seeping out of the screen and engaging with us. but provide interruption to the conjunction of images. existing in a film apart from us. Matthews (2000: 18) suggests that parodic gags in films frequently interrupt the flow of the narrative. Indeed. Alfred Lubitsch. When watching Godard. Lesage (1979: 11) says that Godard has always been divided by his wish for collective art. whilst the sound cuts apparently at random. At one moment Belmondo is a realistic character. at the inspired chaos that abounds. render the images experiential. as with the directors discussed above. Just as the Marx Brothers’ cinema is about pure being as opposed to being “I” in relation to “things” and “then”. the art is a cumulative effort. just as Tati would maintain control by directing. or the dash through the Louvre undertaken by the Bande à part. This all leads to a mentalimage (where the sensory-motor schema breaks down into moments). Godard’s cinema never fully reflects himself because of his unique way of making films. Deleuze (1985: 165) uses Artaud’s considerations of the cinema to explain Godard. 278-279) calls them. and in Godard they not only change the tone of the image. and his position as a lone creative genius. Godard is a rather more elusive auteur. as Deleuze (1985: 180-181. 1985)? This is similar to the question asked over Groucho’s asides to the camera. much of Godard’s general strategy is found in frequently comic interstices. Just as Artaud had praised the Marx Brothers. such as the seemingly pointless sequence of musical poses Anna Karina and Belmondo adopt in Une femme. albeit of a far more aesthetically sophisticated variety to that found in the Marx Brothers’ films. With Godard. Scenes will often fail to follow from the preceding ones. Another way in which Godard’s humour is Marxian is the way it interrupts the plot. one will often feel confused. and action will be interrupted or replaced by non-diegetic or diegetically impossible images. but one may begin to laugh. he would write criticism under 31 . As an animator. Such “irrational cuts”. which brings together a censure or repression with an unconscious made up of impulses)”. rather helplessly. In this way it gestures to that which is psychologically unthinkable – addressing Sartre’s concerns over the study of consciousness mentioned previously. acting and even writing and producing. The shocks of the mental-image are conducive to thought and this is beyond mere surrealism and the dream-image: “[bringing] together critical and conscious thought and the unconscious in thought: the spiritual automaton (which is very different from the dream. Godard’s cinema represents pure thought. rather than compatible for integration within a coherent story-space.genuinely real. montages will be chronologically disordered.

In Pierrot le fou. novel styled voice-over in Bande à part relates the characters’ inner-life and contrasts it against their physical manifestation on the screen. Godard’s omniscient. 1962) further illustrates how the content of the films has come from without. there is no difference between the abstract and the concrete. permitting the text to sprawl outside of its celluloid confinement in time and space. 1972: 111). Une femme. as in Bande à part when Karina demands a minute of silence and the atmospheric sound cuts in obeisance. rather than a concrete one. almost by appearing to relax it! Like the Panther films. Coutard. but even through the unconcealed style of visual and sound editing that makes us aware of all the stages of post-production. Camera. begins with the cry “Lights. This enables it to collect the consciousnesses of many creators (one could say they are not “Godard films” but “films by Godard”) and explains the desire of the characters to find intimacy. paintings. Morrey (2005: 27) suggests that the two characters in Pierrot are opposed through Belmondo’s linguistic 32 . they ultimately betray or kill each other. forcing them to become nightmarish or like “events redrawn from the memory” (Bergala in Morrey. Action!” to a credit sequence inter-cut by the opening of the action. and the community of identity in his films is similarly confused. quotes from books and even philosophers and their philosophies (as in Vivre sa vie. Godard’s use of ready-made items. 1998: 14). comic strips. so as to force them into improvisation. He makes sure the performances of his actors are not honed to an image that he has – he scribbles the script down at the time or even shouts it to the actor on the set. a former photo-journalist. When Barthes argued for the death of the author he described the text as. He asserts his directorial control. 2003: 124)) and his gaze is forever hidden behind dark glasses (Brown. 2005: 22). A “Godard” film is such a text. Bordwell (1985: 320-332) describes Godard’s method as palimpsest. does his best with handheld cameras to get the spontaneity into the can – in Pierrot’s escape scene. Bugs Bunny manipulated Daffy’s voice and body to make him become an abstract entity. as with the Marx films. and to question how each of its contributions was composed. According to Godard (in Sterritt. Similarly the direction or post-production appears to obey the demands of the performers. the characters’ confused dual-narration complicates and disorders the images. songs. the camera darts around unsure of whether to focus on Karina or Belmondo. space and reason schemas. for example. 1993: 186). Finding it impossible to relate. there is a dependency on a collection of individual personalities and their whims. “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (quoted in Rose. The loss of “I” in other people melts the time. such as real locations and buildings. Yet his characters are usually confused by what this entails.another name (Hans Lucas (MacCabe. revealing its chronological development not only through the ready-made items.

renders the ending absurd. Nevertheless. Morrey (2005: 26) says that a Godard character. always attempting to explain what something is “like”. choking the previous ones. either to become an actor or actress. engaged in fruitless activities. Realist film established a distance between people and the world. Hence Michel attempts to meet Bogart’s gaze. due to the quotation and faire-faux. it apparently has far more meaning than any “real” world around him. different plots and pictures emerge. 1972: 30). Play in the cinema becomes impossible because one is never free of parody and its Nietzschean connotations of bankruptcy – that one becomes a “clown of God” (Rose. like Bugs and Edwards they play with another’s identity. Although naturally. but have their own played with. It is not metaphors that emerge but This is elsewhere translated as “God’s buffoons”. like the icons of Christ and the Saints. As clichés from different genres collide. although the clown seems more appropriate as it is an intentional entity. 1985: 171). The characters pool their generic experiences seemingly drawing clichés into a surreal melee. the comedy of his death. usually film-noir icon. or to become a filmic. Godard creates new images from the communal imbrication of the genres he picks on to show this impossibility of acts of originality. Such an ambition would suggest that Godard saw man as essentially lonely. where he crawls around pathetically and pulls silly faces. but their beings are interlocked and frustrated. 1993: 189) 8 . So why in so many of Godard’s films are the lovers damned to death and despair? Godard had considered adapting Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus (Brown. just as Pierrot’s disordered escape montage is a “complicated story” that cannot quite be told or explained. Perhaps this is the result of the parody. his afterlife as text and icon.abstraction and Karina’s phenomenological concretion. “It is not we who make cinema: it is the world which looks to us like a bad film” (Deleuze. And yet why should this be more absurd than actually being a film star? Godard’s parody is in fact an admission that. It is only looking towards death. mentioned in the introduction as the cornerstone of humourless nihilism in the post-death-of-God world. We can only play games that have been played before (Sukenick’s stories). they cannot communicate. Essentially. is always forced to act “in the style of” something or someone. As Deleuze (1985: 20) points out. or tread the same paths as Sisyphus. that he can endow his life with meaning. one sees a cliché and puts it to use in putting a plot together. madness and death. His heroes are usually motivated to become significant. À bout de souffle’s Michel is a petty thug who idolizes Bogart – he stands in a cinema foyer looking adoringly at a poster of his idol. insisted that it be perceived through screens and through dark and shaded eyes. and the result is a combination of frustration. 8 33 .

erotic). Like his murderous protagonists. Far from a psychoanalytic mirror. Realism was a misleading disguise loathed by Bazinians.similes. The “like” of simile makes art a window to an inaccessible reality. In À bout de souffle it is. and the only way to get through the window of simile appears to be to jump out of it to certain death. Through these. Godard’s. in deranging the divide between films and the world. It is not a dream or phantasm however. whereas Nietzsche. but did so by moving into continually new relations. In Godard there are no original acts and therefore no acts ludicrous enough. If the dream-image was the self-created world that highlighted inadequacies within that self. yet it seems the only satisfactory response is a comically crazed. the creator/created divide is pierced (Hegarty. is to wear a mask in deference. as anything other than dead icon. death becomes the only solution. other selves and the world. 2000: 158-161) and both would appear to believe that the self could be transcended only through communication: laughter and its madness (le fou). but the result is fractious and blurry. “I want to be like you”. and for them to comment back on the universe outside of film. In Pierrot the characters are engaged in the process of saying. erotic death. it seems. eroticism and ultimately death. is a spider who becomes lost in a web of new relations. Perhaps this is why his death scenes are so ridiculous. it results in complete division between the self. They clash their clichés in an attempt to lose themselves in each other (to be lovers. affirm both the cinema as an educator and reify the world as apart from a self it reconstitutes. much like Camus’ Outsider. must be read as a somewhat cheerless nihilism. The Marx Brothers. like lovers using poems and symbols in abortive attempts to attain unity. but the subsequent neo-realism is again a mask in front of the underlying truth of a real world. There seems to be a great sadness in such fatal laughter. Godard’s incompatible clichés devour each other like black widow spiders. a dream. 34 . It is then only in death that they can lose themselves in each other. To be a clown of God. Both Bataille and Godard shared this fascination for the frustrating “silence” or impermeable spaces between people (Hegarty. 2000: 97-98). who wishes for a great crowd at his execution. thanks to the images’ neo-realism. then the trans-textual parody enables both selves and worlds to be taken apart. the stake on which to impale subjectivity and to finally commune one’s consciousness with the world. the failure to be ludicrously happy and loved in the world. Godard’s world is real and lethal. the sky blending into the sea. “I like you”. according to Derrida (1978: 101). with their metaphoric masks fought. it is a lived nightmare like that of Sisyphus. Yet it would seem that if Edwards’ films are too easily recognisable as films.

Gilliam. including that of Woody Allen. Holy Grail is without a sensible narrative space. and it does this by colliding platitudes and doubting its authors. but textually-bound Monty Python.Parody remains the principal conduit for the ridiculous and the ludicrous through to the present-day. Three Examples of Post-Godard Parody 1. Those responsible 9 DVD commentary track. By taking the traditional story they can indulge in play. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (T. whilst acting. but also the questioning of their questioning. without subjectivity or any assertion of fact or truth. not by telling the story. The following section surveys the methods and substance of these various styles. Whereas Allen seeks to answer philosophical questions with film. 1979). only to be reproached by the actors for stalling. much like Godard’s palimpsests and the Benjamin quote above about creating the event. in effect. and the adulatory Hollywood spoof genre. because that a far more conventional parody of the biblical epic. only to re-emerge later to explain that the Black Beast has ceased to be. 1975) Of Monty Python’s two vaguely plot-oriented feature films (the other two are. with straight faces reminiscent of Clouseau’s dignity. have coconuts because the budget could not fund horses. frequently verging on the satiric over the parodic. Holy Grail layers its six authors’ interpretations of Arthurian myth on top of one other in a bid to question. Terry Gilliam says that this film was merely an attempt to create a world in which to introduce ridiculousness. 9 Yet it may appear that this ridiculousness is confined to textual criticism. I have chosen this over Life of Brian (T. The recent DVD release begins with the first five minutes of Dentist on the Job (Pennington-Richards. is hushed by the cast for drawing attention to the fact that they are collectively beholding only a model of Camelot. Jones and Gilliam. due to the animator suffering a heart attack. Jones. He is finally stabbed. 1961) before someone “realises” the error. rather than telling the story. and since Godard it has taken on a number of forms. not only the foundations of the myth. but by commenting on the processes of its creation. There is a staggering amount of interplay between creator and creation. compilations of sketches). The actors. 35 . The narrator makes comments about the acting. Jones and Gilliam. 1983) and their Flying Circus (BBC. to whom Godard and Bataille may be readily compared. The Meaning of Life (T. including the ludicrous. 19691974) would appear to engage more with what is outside of textual confines. Indeed.

and leaves you with nothing but a film to laugh at. This would explain why characters frequently draw attention to the sets. 2001-3). These gags however. Reality. when it actually finds time to have a narrative. and the way it is perceived. and then pastiche the surrounding genres. Initially popularised by Mel Brooks’ genre pastiches such as Blazing Saddles (1974. the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jackson. administers itself with deadly serious acting. “Mount Doom” would seem comparable to Python’s “Bridge of Death”. causing a change in the style of the credits from Bergman to Carry On. Two examples are Airplane! (1980) and Hot Shots! (Abrahams. by contrast. 1991). but it is not ridiculous.for the credits and subtitles are sacked. an overblown orchestral score and archaic dialogue delivered in the epic fantasy genre’s Queen’s English. Indeed. and film conventions in general. or demand that other characters “look” at the way things really are (Hardcastle. These clichés are confronted at every turn by modernity. The “spoof” One of the most popular and lucrative of recent Hollywood genres has been the spoof. pyromaniacal wizard claims the rather anticlimactic name “Tim”. Godard’s palimpsests. it simply dismisses them. just like Godard’s palimpsests. the transcendental aesthetic. including the creation of credits. It is ludicrous. its surrealism is there because of LSD. real world shields us from absurdity. because a secure. The movie. target only the film and every single stage of production. 2. Abrahams and Zucker who would target particular films. a western). as the film does not criticise the various levels of truth a film may have or not. with lines such as “We must make haste!” were a throw back to this tradition. not because there is anything to see beyond the phenomenal. Perhaps it is because the five English members of Python were at Oxford and Cambridge that they ended up indulging in parody for positivism. The conclusion is interrupted by an intermission and finally shut down by the police. These meta-fictitious devices serve to draw our attention to the processes involved in crafting film. That Monty Python are involved in producing a delectably pointless level of silliness is irrelevant. is never questioned by the Python team. Python’s references to the “man from Scene 24” and “Sir-not-appearing-in-this-film” ensure that we never mistake anything for reality. but we can feel free to enjoy 90 minutes of wanton silliness at the expense of the film. a peasant questions the legitimacy of magic to establish a system of government. and a formidable. which parody 36 . 1993). take very real characters that find themselves in filmic situations and express themselves through montage and camera address. they became highly popular through Zucker. It is like Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

most importantly for our purposes. a gangster in ZAZ’s Police Squad! (Paramount. but as we have discovered through Deleuze. capitalist. e. playing it straight (6) not being self-reflexive (8) and clearing jokes from the plot quickly so that they do not interrupt it (10). This approach has spawned several franchises. although the most commercially viable form of parody. and those within the film make no observations about the gags.Zero Hour! (Bartlett. generic plot. his work seems out of touch and in the end trivial. In a spoof. not “breaking the frame” (i. Gags frequently lampoon generic expectation. nor is there anyone who does not belong in the film-world. The freezeframe finale common to many 70s TV shows is such in Police Squad that it is the actors who freeze with the frame remaining live. his spoofs are certainly funny in places. He lands the plane and he gets the girl. These include giving each joke a cause (3). everything is played straight. 2003. By way of example. Each film will have a causally coherent. Although we expect that the gangster is referring to loose women. Through flashback we learn their back-story. the man is actually accompanied by vagrants. These clichés are not out of place. Spoof. but continue down the narrative with as they conform to our expectations. This is very much along the same lines as Jameson’s famous onslaught against pastiche. Matthews (2000: 18) believes that such gags interrupt the narrative flow. aesthetically or philosophically charged variety. mixed with the obligatory romance. and these are merely subverted clichés which we laugh at. nostalgic. 1982) refers to seeing a guy at a table with “a couple of tramps”. He is on the plane because he chased his former lover aboard. 2001. as in Edwards. Hirsch (1981: 120) writes that Brooks is: Locked into a comic evocation of Hollywood’s golden age. including spy spoof Austin Powers (Roach. as in Godard. as in Holy Grail. 2002) and horror/slasher series Scary Movie (2000. Aesthetic conventions are also opposed. a cliché helps a plot to proceed. appears not to be the most politically. commented on. 1997. 1999. Airplane! is about a failed pilot who is forced to land a plane. Movies about movies. and all the loose ends will be tied by the closure. “devoid of laughter” (Rose. 1986) respectively.g. meta-fiction) (4). schizophrenic. 1957) and Top Gun (Scott. This is all backed up by David Zucker’s (2005b) 15 rules for making comedy films.e. but the laughter doesn’t ring with the social and psychological overtones of Woody [Allen’s] comedies. 2006). each character will have a story. where it is accused of being “speech in a dead language”. 1993: 222-223). bereft of deconstructive portent and. 37 . and about how he came to be a failed pilot.

Allen began his directorial career taking generic situations such as science-fiction (Sleeper. as well as frank inner experience. was using the clash between cinema and reality to understand his psychological issues. as a defence. like the dream-image filmmakers. like Groucho. space and reason. verbally and eventually filmic. and yet effacing himself by finding nothing worthwhile within 38 .g. breaking the sensory-motor schema. In the medieval “Aphrodisiac” (in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. The world is a dream-image out of his control as a character. They both adopt the cinema as educator. Indeed. as it is an inappropriate stock character. uses language. one could say that he.3. 1973) or war-torn Russia (Love and Death. 1972). Hirsch (1981: 115) suggests that Allen. a neurotic New York Jew that leads. as Yacowar (1979: 10) says. 1972) he looks to the camera for approval having successfully communicated by using the word “pox”. is that whilst Groucho’s characters confront the world. in Hannah when he speaks of “pandemonium” whilst there is absolutely no action within the visual frame. This is because. 1978: 314). 1985: 163) So why will the Marx Brothers save your life? Why is Groucho a reason to live? The cinematic clowns are outsiders (Mast. but a mentalimage in its written-directed creation. The difference. Like Edwards it tends to the dreamimage/realism clash. of course. Like Python however. 1975) and clashing them against modernity. Woody Allen: From faire-faux to quotation “I relate to him as I would a member of my family” Allen on Groucho (in Benayoun. the Allen persona is both his mask and his mirror. and Allen takes this premise to explore the Godardian interests of death and the impossibility of love. although on occasion they will match. 1957) styled nightmare. slapstick is employed as faire-faux to illustrate how genuine experiences deviate from realist film experiences. In Play it again. He is also one of the few directors to include parodies of art-cinema. Allen attempts to seize on Bogart’s social skills rather than his dead image. often mocking Italian film. Allen’s are forever attempting to avoid it. and in Bananas (1971) we see him in therapy after having a Wild Strawberries (Bergman. e. Admittedly. Or in Annie Hall (1977) he is the actor-director playing with time. Sam (Ross. Allen also has a hero haunted by Bogart. directorial reality clashes with a character’s psychological maladjustment. precisely because those “perfect” moments in life have only ever been perceived previously in Hollywood films.

For all his love of Bergman. Although he exercises complete control over his films. marrying one of them and miraculously (for he is meant to be infertile) impregnating her. it is through parody and quotation he enables play with himself. yet refusing to offer his subjectivity to them. 2000: 28-29). When his suicide attempts fails. thereby parodying his own film! Rose (1993: 79) says that quotation is used by ambivalent parodists. but one that extends only to himself. He decides to live – this entails rejoining the other four characters. correctly perhaps. as complete play with self in an obviously fictitious world becomes that of five people. Hannah’s characters find escape through art – listening to music. a character composed of archived documentary footage. Love and Death undermines the usefulness of The Seventh Seal (1957) with a daft dance of death. His fear of death in a meaningless and absurd world drives him further away from people and society. films. Rather than parody. his films are choked with references to books. cinema may not be a fiction but part of his legitimate understanding and consciousness (like Godard. 1988: 46-47). Allen is postmodern and psychoanalytic. before finally settling on suicide as the only alternative to being able to make the “big leap” of faith. as devouring of other influences. but unlike Python). Indeed. Those films that star Allen are an investigation into his consciousness. as in Manhattan. all attempting to relate despite incarceration in semi-diegetic monologues. rather than himself). the styled but fictitious views of contemporary analysts and cinematic pastiche (Matthews. reading poetry. Annie Hall’s irony. This 39 . In Hannah and Her Sisters this changes. he goes to the cinema and becomes absorbed in Duck Soup. except for the act of manipulation. throughout. cultural artefacts and philosophies that blend with or distort his own voice – but he differs in having no other live creating influences “break the frame” as Edwards and Python do. he is reaching out to the Marx Brothers for meaning. This finds its purest expression in Zelig (1983). painting in a windowless apartment – without making their lives art (Bragg and Salmon. he appears to relate to people principally in flashback. but reflects sombrely on the inevitably of hardship and the need to again escape into fiction. Allen quotes the film. Yet here. in the past Allen would have made fun of the text. Without any Nietzschean joy. Purple Rose of Cairo admits that the escape from realist plot endows great freedom on a subject. Similarly.this manipulation. apparently refiguring the form of his own film (for once he is relating his flashback to someone. is that it has very little to do with her. Like Godard. He quits his job. searches in vain for philosophical and religious answers. poems. Allen’s character Mickey is the most trapped.

This view would be strengthened by the rather disturbing revelation that Groucho looks like his mother! (Benayou. and this brings us to Bataille. trapped in her dismal life. to create and maintain himself as fact – just as Godard’s ego is reconstituted by his creation of an external world. 10 Allen is held permanently in the grip of the Duck Soup mirror. seek communion. 1992: xv) must ask. Bataille’s philosophy is always through Nietzsche (especially in On Nietzsche). and Groucho is the Madonna. in Bataille’s own words (1992: 3) his “support”. Gerard Loughlin’s lectures on the similarities between the cinema and the church. meaning that although the death of God abolishes all truth. It is reminiscent of Barthes’ (1978: 193) remark that: “to be depressed. who appears to have done just that. especially those involving sex and death. 10 Figure 10 – “Oh! Her Father!” Allen exclaims to Mother. Duck Soup an icon. 40 . but they always stake themselves on redoubtable subjectivity. Figure 10). that Nietzsche does this reconfers the truth of Bataille’s subject. complete with a Virgin birth! Allen’s gags. he finds communion. not losing himself in an ever-growing web of life as art. Nietzsche’s fool?” Hannah’s predecessor. Whilst the audience’s sadness at Cecilia’s fate grows with the failing expectation of a Hollywood ending. Derrida (1978: 99) suggests that when parody is used it is to “reconstitute religion. but it is prefixed on laughter in the dark whilst beholding an iconostasis. is to resemble the Mother as I imagine her regretting me eternally: a dead. Bataille’s nihilism is founded on Nietzsche putting his subjectivity at stake through deconstructive laughter (Hegarty. In this film. motionless image”. as a Nietzsche cult”. when considering Nietzsche’s distaste for invention through imitation: “Bataille.Hollywood ending – not akin to Allen’s traditionally ambiguous denouements – would appear to be the leap of faith. because Nietzsche is. Nihilism paradoxically emerges as a religion. As Derrida says. like his films’ characters. it is said. but instead influenced by film to be a priest of preexistent texts. 2000: 73). but This idea originates from Dr. 1985: 163. The Purple Rose of Cairo also ends with this iconostasis. Nietzsche arises as a new God! As Lotringer (in Bataille. Instead of using the community to sublimate himself. he uses the other as fact. she begins smiling. including that of the self.

It is this that I hope we can find in the final chapter on the cartoon sit-com. which is also about a director who wants to make meaningful. being a musical. Allen claims he had not seen the film at this point (McCann. Yet like Bataille. and it is with such despair that he gives us a realist conclusion to Hannah and Her Sisters. not to a “cheerful” nihilism. which also features the miraculous marriage to “The Girl” after the hero finds comfort in front of a comedy film. that of Mr. Philosophically Allen also seems very close to Bataille – the “silence”. 1990: 164) 11 41 . it is all prefaced on his own “I”. but to parody’s strained laughter of despair – “convenient” nihilism. and yet be based on pure existence. Another simile and another mimetic concession. rather than “funny” films is exactly like Sullivan but through Fellini’s lens. the very last thing that he could have believed. Allen’s Stardust Memories. which. and it is only through another text. the fetishism towards women. If this symbolises tragic stasis then the quotation of the Marx Brothers’ mental-image can at least be seen as an evangelical call to action.escaping through a Fred and Ginger film (again. Yet the Hollywood ending by fiat and Mickey’s concluding assertion that it would “make a great story” would appear to be ironic confession. a suggestion on how to live life. the obsession with death. Nietzsche/Mr(s). Marx that he can reassemble the link between consciousness and a world. and the most cruel joke – a ridiculous text made to look realist! 11 What we need is an art without dependence on the truth of nihilism. adopted rather than lived. an art that can retain the postmodern and ludic requirement for parody. I could easily have begun this dissertation by considering Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941). quoted). and the need to produce art. Indeed. would qualify as a dream-image.

This is not the only reason for choosing South Park though. now only generally found before Pixar features. and frequently expresses uncritical fondness for its targets. Whilst most television is certainly unworthy of a film studies essay. 1982-1994). Short film animators. and therefore the imagination has greater freedom.The Optimism in South Park Justifying South Park In our bid to find a parodic comedy with a taste for cheerful nihilism it is necessary to turn to television. The first South Park. or will be available soon. Chaplin etc. now the most successful sit-com in history. Although they were in the style of the sit-com – canned laughter and 22 minutes in length (the sit-com therefore replacing the classic two-reeler of Laurel and Hardy. The aesthetic limitations of shooting from one camera angle in a three-walled studio in front of an audience. South Park’s parody is frequently of a more penetrating nature than The Simpsons’. Although Homer or Bart Simpson may escape into make-believe parodies. highly relevant to this dissertation is the seven-minute cartoon short. 1999). anyway) – animated sit-coms would find themselves being made into both animated and. Futurama (Fox. 1995) tied with Disney’s Hercules (1997) in the Los Angeles Critics’ award ceremony. more recently. it is comic not ironic. such as Tom and Jerry creators Hannah and Barbera. is therefore inherently cinematic. Animation. and has deep cinematic roots. the film medium over which one can exact most control. South Park has become the most successful cable comedy in history. 1999-). 42 . and a cinematic use of camera movement and editing as laughter provoking devices. as feature-length versions of all are. 2001: 107) describes the latter’s use of parody as “popular”. the medium’s rise has moved many shorter film formats away from the cinema. moved to television to make prime-time and Saturday-morning cartoon sit-coms such as The Flintstones (ABC. The first example. and two years into the TV series there was an Oscar-nominated feature film (Parker. 1969-1972) respectively. 1993-1997) South Park. 1999-2003) and Family Guy (Fox. 1960-1966) and Scooby-Doo (ABC. which broke with laughter tracks and choked its episodes both with allusions to the cinema. albeit of a cinematic nature. live-action feature films. the short-film The Spirit of Christmas (Parker and Stone. 1989-). Animation is far cheaper. led to The Simpsons (Fox. The Simpsons has been followed by the similarly cinematic Beavis and Butt-head (MTV. and the entrenched moralism of studio sit-coms such as The Cosby Show (NBC. Knight (in Irwin et al.

such as Santa Claus. only to be destroyed at the end by rebel forces from The Empire Strikes Back (1980). These parodies occurring outside of the general serialised story of The Simpsons’ world also reveals an uneven ontology. such as sex-education taught before puberty. we will see how South Park is an advocate of freedom and happiness. Butters. is a disconcerting blend of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979). 1974-1984) as his own school memories. begins to see the world as The Simpsons when it becomes clear all his thoughts come from it (Figure 11). This is reminiscent of Holy Grail and the Anglophone approach to the meta-text. Bush encouraged families to be less like the Simpsons. Donald Rumsfeld blames South Park for all the problems in America! 12 Yet. This is then contrasted with the confusing myths that are posited in their world as realities.such as Homer’s recollection of Happy Days (ABC. The principal modes of the subordination are 12 In Bowling for Columbine (Moore. of creating films with a Godardian flair for the incongruous imbrication of clichés into parody. If South Park employs parody more extremely. W. Parker and Stone forge a lurid and ridiculous collage of obscure. kung-fu film and Batman (1966) camp. the parody will frequently be pastiche on a television or cinema screen within the show. 43 . in particular for children. it also courts more controversy. Figure 11 South Park and South Park. Their second feature Orgazmo (1997). South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had a history. like our Godard characters before. in the sections that follow. Shock-rock band Korn enter South Park as a Scooby-Doo style gang of mystery solving hippies whilst Kenny is impeccably and improbably disguised throughout as ED209 from RoboCop (1987). on the other hand. In contrast to The Simpsons’ linear Halloween specials. 2002). even obscene cultural references that envelop unlikely targets. Simultaneously Real and Reel In many respects what South Park attempts to study is the contradictory way in which adults and society attempt to subordinate children to the American superego and reality before they are barely potty trained. Although George H. Other episodes go “Behind the Laughter” or undermine the story by explicitly denying its reality. the plot of a well-known horror or science-fiction movie will be adopted. or in the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. for example. Indeed. in one episode.

In one episode the children perceive a policeman in freeze-frame. and insulted by offers of childish merchandising. Bill Cosby’s didactic Fat Albert (NBC. performing military acts for the manufacturer (Figure 12). 13 In South Park’s “Chinpokomon”. or a return of Nietzsche’s creative primitives. For example. He worries that his father has not sexually abused him. This is. ultimately. accessed 19th August 2005. Parker and Stone were inundated with. and then to sell. 1999). 2001: 69) Garrison lives his life rather like a character from TV’s most insipid pulp form – the TV movie. This reflects on the children. but always found time to impart a hypocritical (or bemusing) message regarding pacifism or the perils of basting cats in condiment. 44 . 1972-1984) cartoon is completely inverted as the bemused children watch what appears to be an animated urban ghetto drama.found in TV. as though it were the end of an episode of Barnaby Jones that they were living. swordwielding He-Man dolls. Yet in the trash they watch on TV. and. The toy company Mattel. We are getting 13 http://flyingmoose. made the cheap Masters of the Universe (1983-1985) to sell their muscular. for example. the children are brainwashed by their favourite cartoon into buying merchandise. apparently without any guidance or concern from their parents. and he briefly turns to and usually undertake to indoctrinate. now exhausted by information overload and free to elaborate spontaneously on traditional text book history. (Larsen. such as babies’ bibs (MaximOnline. of course. His lessons consist of showing the children episodes of copshow Barnaby Jones (CBS. we see the arbitrariness with which children are educated. a manipulation of the Police Squad! joke mentioned previously. akin to Freud’s primitives who live in a dreamlike blurring of phantasy and reality. we see them doing history homework on Ewoks and Knight Rider (Universal. films and other media. Garrison is: a child teaching children. At school they are no safer. 1973-1980) – when dismissed for the aforementioned child-grooming he turns in his “badge and gun”.htm. their teacher Mr. 1982-1986). As creators of Figure 12 an (adult) cartoon.

much like He-Man. as surreal. also become parodies. and career unsupervised down perilous rapids. In Race for Your Life. although Holy Grail was found to be lacking in satirical punch. where he is received as the new Jerry Lewis. as ridiculous. The perceptions that create this world come from their lucid. 1977). perhaps because of this influence. Other parodies of comedies arise: an 8year old Woody Allen bores the gang with his neuroses and inability to play. a loud. educating people through cinematic and televisual mythology. as childhood itself. is thrown out of South Park for annoying everyone – he finds a home in France. Most episodes conclude. hence they observe these extraordinary events without too much hysteria. their adventures frequently taking on the formal aspects of childrens’ television. if adults actually watched some of these things. The children’s’ lives. These references are telling. Charlie Brown (Melendez. the reason why undergraduates enjoy getting stoned and watching childrens’ cartoons is their insane and unabated surrealism. swim in freezing water. a Jackovosaur. The unaired pilot episode ran with Peanuts’ eerie incidental jazz music (before resorting to the familiar Colorado banjo plucking). dangerless. because aside from the more devious types of childrens’ TV. and the animation is similarly one-dimensional. the gang sleep in the snow in t-shirts. juvenile world. like a show meant for children. they might be truly terrified! The devastation and carnage that proceeds in South Park – from the attack of a mechanized Barbra Streisand to a world-devouring trapper-keeper – seem to be the fearless fantasies of the young. 1965) – the loss of the holiday to commercialism and bad TV (Figure 13).parodies of parodies – Garrison emerging as a Zucker brother 14 . This is truly Freud’s ludic. Parker and Stone acted in David Zucker’s BASEketball (1998) and were commissioned to make Your Studio and You (1995) by him. many of the jokes and methods from it are used to reflect the anachronisms of Catholicism. South Park is. uninhibited imaginations (when an alien asks them what pleasing form he Of course. with epilogues wherein we find what the children have learnt to John Williams-inspired schmaltz guitar. The Peanuts cartoons appear to have had a huge influence: The Spirit of Christmas and “Merry Christmas Charlie Manson” have the same concerns as A Charlie Brown Christmas (Melendez. 14 Figure 13 – Snoopy beats Charlie Brown 45 . asexual and clumsy animal.

the South Park world’s apparent ridiculousness.should take. Their lives too resort to parody when they find perceive themselves to be in a generic situation. Piaget and Freud tell us this much. one father thinks himself in Raging Bull (Scorsese. the forgotten death of the other and that 46 . whose comic strip Calvin and Hobbes is about a child whose pragmatic stuffed tiger appears to come into and out of being depending on from whose perspective he/it is perceived. The boys’ ludicrousness is both in opposition to. his inaudibility granting him anonymity. are not interested. Cartman paints Jennifer Lopez onto his hand and she/it (seemingly) acquires reality. appears to panic them. In South Park it becomes clear that there is an immense gulf between the children and the adults. in addition to an horrific. including the affection. a sci-fi conspiracy plot irritates the boys. they just want to play by themselves. and irresponsibly surreal TV and film myths. suggesting that although Calvin is a child. The political conundrums of the adult world always manifest themselves in some form of recognizable Hollywood genre. even from their parents. signing a record deal and attracting Ben Affleck. Ludicrous vs Ridiculous Everything proceeds through opposition. relation and interpretation schema that Deleuze applied to the Marxes. assimilated cocktail of manipulative commercial TV and film myths. the children set themselves apart from the world and desire to be without plot. his reality is equally valid. they respond with “giant taco that craps ice-cream”). 1980) whilst drunk and rowdy at a little-league game. however. The reality of childhood is bewildering like this. This occurs with the children. The children however. and a construction of. yet in South Park there is no distinction between fantasy and reality – no deadly cut off that asserts an “I” because the adults. forcing them to grow their children up too quickly. the media and their bad TV are there to continually question the construction of the world. which is made eternal by his obligatory and pointlessly gory death. Kenny (Stone) is the Zeppo. supported by the role of secretary he takes in many games. Like the Marx Brothers. every child is put on Ritalin because they “run around like little eight-year olds”. Media reports of child abuse compel the parents to exile their children. In “Towelie”. as they accept the claim that kids are not safe. if different to that of his parents (Christie. who simply wish to go back to playing their video game. This is in contrast to Godard’s characters who set themselves apart from reality by attempting to engage in realism and give themselves significance. The media influence. Another who works like this and is influenced by Peanuts is Bill Watterson. Similarly. no date). In one South Park.

but that of Groucho’s logico-linguistic exploitation. Cartman insists that he can record a platinum album or that if he puts food up his anus he will crap out of his mouth. When the children play games. who plays. unleashing a chicken-squirrel and a 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick. layer destruction over what is already destroyed (or what-is-not). 1951) in a bid to disprove Stan and Kyle’s belief in the sanctity of historical fact. Huston.which cannot occur to an American “hero” 15 . ridiculous parody. He will also adjust his dialogue to fit generic parlance. for example. briefly. not the Harpo game of “celestial affects” (Deleuze. refuses to indulge in trends. Cartman does with film grammar. sensibly shattering the mirror standoff between Cartman (Parker) and Kyle (Stone). rather than “destroying all reality in the mind” in the Artaud sense. When he discovers that the tooth fairy is fictitious (like the death of God) he questions the basis of ontology. Kyle cannot relate to Cartman however. tracking shots are moral judgments. Several reams of ridiculousness then. as is characteristic of cinematic “letters from the front”. are conquered by Kyle’s ludicrousness.e. 1983: 199). The inappropriate things Groucho does with clichéd phrases. Courage. required in a hardbitten cop (Figure 14). In “Red Badge of Gayness” (i. the entire of reality. Kyle is a Jewish outcast who reads philosophy. becoming. speaking semi-diegetically. idiotic arguments. he assembles an army in a bid to have the result of the Civil War altered. he will be costumed and made-up properly with the exact level of dishevelment. 15 47 . as Godard says. He appears throughout the episode in static sepia-tinted insets. 1968) style montage on an assembly of dentists and gangsters. and expresses outrage. Kyle disagrees. The games they play are competitions forged from outlandish. Figure 14 Kenny was “killed-off” for a season during which time Stone voiced Butters and Tweek who would also take subservient roles and receive mental and physical torture. and if. Cartman can say trite. and the dentists appear to think they are the FBI. Stan (Parker) is the Chico. Yet. He realizes his filmic status. as South Park is a post-modern place constituted by deranged. and the adventure begins. materialistic things and make them sentimental by tracking to the correct music: “All I ever wanted… was one million dollars”. These gangsters are other children playing. his ludic adventures. referring not to left-hand but camera-left.

But as Stan is keen to know what happens to him. they are named “Junior Detectives” by the real police. Garrison’s class. It is not. but the enjoyment of everyone’s misunderstandings of every relative interpretation of an uncertain world. play with the world leads to treacherous situations – a war on almost every subject – and it is usually down to Stan to dissolve the tensions and. Cartman readily confounds his real/reel world. As in Godard. guaranteeing the kids’ show ending described above. with Kyle. Seuss meter. After a miraculous escape and successful resolution they are offered promotion and jobs on the force. finally drawing the line at having to teach lion cubs how to perform abortions.As the directors. just as Bugs manipulates Daffy with directorial devices. but they are then unwillingly catapulted by the stereotypically severe chief into Serpico’s (Lumet. where Cartman is revealed to be reading a story he has written. Kyle allows Cartman to continue. 1965-1996) over-emphasis and Dr. willingly accepting the invitation of the Critters to become the Antichrist. and we cut to Mr. When the gang pretend to be policemen and unwittingly solve a crime. “the little boy in the red poof-ball hat”) degenerates into Satanism and bloodletting abjection. nativity. 1973) plot of police corruption. and the bullet-ridden violence of the attendant realist cop genre. fittingly for the original form of children’s story perennially adopted. but crucially. Kyle then enters the story. Stan’s indifference turns to horror as the blend of childish story platitudes (talking animals. and “they all lived happily ever after”. He continually attempts to leave the story. disentangle the genres and dogmas that have collectively led to the conflict. “perverse enjoyment of the child characters’ precociousness as well as their misunderstanding of the adult world” (Figure 15). The narrator forces him into the clinic with a jump-cut. as Creebe Figure 15 – A misunderstanding of the adult world? (2001: 75) suggests. “Woodland Critter Christmas” sees Stan as the unwilling subject of a narrative read by an unknown adult with Jackanory (BBC. They respond by deciding to play “Laundromat” owners instead. At this point Kyle’s outraged objections can be heard over the narrator. Stan too begins speaking in the Seuss poetry. Parker and Stone can efface one another at the meta-textual level. as this world is always ready to adopt a new genre to reflect moral seriousness. and South Park to its natural absurdity. illustrating perfectly the oppositional structure expounded above. 48 . restoring them to ludic flux. writers and performers of the episodes.

Parker (in Epstein. including the “truth” of nihilism imparted by the children and the “truth” of the conduit. For example. If the norms of children’s television are spoofed. And in the middle. South Parks dons a fake mask of genre that serves to leave us free from dogmas. 2005) admits that this is the approach adopted: We just pick a topic. The children of South Park are not the detached existentialists of an inaccessible “real” world. which is subject to other forces coming into and out of their world. the episodes’ resolutions reconstitute it. they're just like. once one game has become fatally out of control. as in Godard and Allen. and the risible constructs people are capable of. We have the boys watching two groups go to war over something. This is true of South Park. which is nothing more than that all parties concerned. Both they and the world are out-of-joint. The playing of ludicrousness against ridiculousness is a formula with no true world and no true subjects. is ironically the one who voices the most sensible views on the political issues. are wrong. and resolves to join the performing. whilst the world itself always manifests itself as a cliché worthy of mockery. on the other hand. Just as the Marxes’ masks were obviously false. but the creators of their own world." because there is no clear-cut answer. including them. they claim to have “learnt something today”. The faire-faux of Godard. genre and belief – from crosspollinated TV shows to real-world events – resulting finally in nothing but laughter. Garrison. perverse and living within a bizarre filmworld. directing creators and playful children in the game of colliding incommensurate categories. which is why Godard’s new world fails to sustain its lovers and existential 49 . who is established as a teacher of parody. South Park is laughter at the absurd nothing. The debate on the Iraq War is shown by them to boil down to a taste in rock over country music. Mr.In a bid to get back to their innocent games. "Hey! Guys! Stop killing each other. a true “adult” world. The solution is for both styles to be integrated into the same song. There is no bitterness in South Park. […] We never like to come across as cynical. 1993: 88). as everyone arrives at the same nihilistic conclusion. but the consequent neo-reality is merely a neo-lie. Even the parody continually undermines itself. and [… t]here is optimism simply in laughing. Real-world seriousness mocks genre. insane. Schlegel said that irony was equivalent to self-parody (Rose. Because we're both very optimistic guys. imbricates clichés to falsify a mask of mimetic art. the most ridiculous and surreal combination of every style.

both idols of a different age (and for different ages). This is not the decadence and mindless self-assertion that arises from other interpretations of Nietzsche’s will-topower. Indeed. alienates us. but about destroying the destroyed. The blending of incompatible categories that the children and the town indulge in is indicative of perpetual investigation. even those that scare us and disgust us: when “Nietzsche finds himself confronted with something he feels is nauseating.). he laughs” (Deleuze. 50 . Deleuze (1973: 147) says that Nietzsche is ironic. but there is also no doubting how lifeaffirmably funny it is. Deleuze (1973: 146-147) states that Nietzsche’s proper names (Christ. like South Park’s misused cultural citations (Hollywood. but that encourages us to engage in the matter and flux that frame being. Christianity. There is no doubting South Park’s overall hideousness. ignoble. Not something that anguishes us. Being absurd. and Magnus et al (1993: 205) say that he indulges in self-parody to deconstruct the self. 1973: 147). just oppositional forces maintaining the mercurial experience of childhood. Saturday morning cartoons).heroes. wretched. It is not about destruction. that does not find terror in a real world or a sick self. is that the truly shocking and ironic leads to laughter. What Deleuze realized. and this could be related to the mental-image. There are no heroes and lovers in South Park. the double negative of making something out of the ridiculous nothingness. but that pushes us into the spirit of free play. are “designations of intensity” involved in a free play of “irony and humour” that continually “ebbs and flows”. the Nietzschean aphorism appears to function like the South Park episode – Zarathustra’s sub-titular claim to be “a book for everyone and no one” is like South Park’s disclaimer that it “should not be viewed by anyone”. etc.

and South Park is variously seen as vile and brilliant. these post-war clowns were unable to assimilate themselves to it. After World War II this was not how many people had felt. These texts are intended to be interpreted freely. would be destroyed by. reason and convention. This world however. nationalist and traitorous. optimistic art of Plato. right-wing and left-wing. their inherent ridiculousness supports a theory of laughter. leading to the author’s diminished significance. as they themselves are acts of free interpretation. the South Park episode. as all acts were damned to failure. due to the mode of parody employed. like the art-cinema. Their use of aberrant Clown Comedy. which pushes the limits of our conceptual awareness and appreciation of space. was opposed to Classical Hollywood realism. however. Through these works. absurdity in a post-God world is to be savoured. on the other hand. Godard’s pastiche of Hollywood clichés. as our laughter is boundless. comparable to that of the sublime. It has been possible to argue here that this is how the Nietzschean aphorism. but a rulebound game and merely a new way of telling an old story. where a director would spar with his actor. Furthermore. just as the Marxes had sparred with each other and warred with their directors. time. Nietzsche had been opposed to the realist. left us with art-comedy. just as in The Birth of Tragedy. exuded reality that his characters. and the space for the admission of the world’s. commercial and moral pressures had rendered the Marx Brothers’ anarchism untenable. which. There is nothing to be serious about. Whereas 30s clowns would break the superego. One could be ridiculous. In the modernist era however. Godard’s laughter was about death. and the Paramount Marx Brothers’ films operate. rather than just the self’s ridiculousness. but not ludicrous. outsiders seeking to find meaning and communion. This is not quite free play.Conclusion The point of cheerful nihilism is that it enables us to indulge in the merry play of meaninglessness. to revel in the limitless intellectual possibilities and freedoms of absurdity. Such things do lend themselves to inappropriate and dogmatic understandings: fascists and philosophers alike have appropriated Nietzsche. The art-comedy of the 40s and 50s was dominated by a balletic. very 51 . and the hopelessness of life. the spirit of play was regained by the use of meta-cinema. paranoid slapstick that explored anxieties and inadequacies related to the ego. and even before then. was only that of Hollywood realism. and to always look for joy in an iniquitous and often terrifying world.

rather than Godard’s mapping of a mimetic world onto a reinforced subjectivity. Bataille and Allen merely concur with their approach. offering the Marx Brothers as exemplars of an approach to absurdity. mortiferous eroticism. It is also ironic that South Park is a television show using direction and cinematic techniques for their subversion. Art-comedy seems to 52 . if quoted texts are melded into a genuine ontology. to agree with the Marx Brothers is to become one of the peripheral characters in their films! Nietzsche and Groucho indulge in ludicrousness to overcome absurdity. Ultimately. he settles for quotation. What in Nietzsche and the Marx Brothers is ineffable. From Godard’s time on. parody has been a part of both art-comedy and Hollywood comedy. this parodic construction of the world gave rise to similes. proof that parody is more than mere commercialism and cultural nostalgia. rather than excuses and the conventions of courtesy. The problem is that to do this is to contradict their message. In the beginning. the Marx Brothers made films that were barely directed and dependent on Vaudeville traditions. ridiculous artcinema that we have identified produces radical ideas and when it is at its best. and treated with irony. Allen also uses pastiche. by both traditions. This is what happens in South Park. such as Edwards use of a clown in a straight genre picture. one obtains a deconstructed world akin to many disjoined thoughts or consciousnesses. Throughout we have seen the ludic significance of simply doing something wrong. Although parody appeared to render an author a “clown of God”. takes a parodic form and is incarnated by Bataille and Godard. Moreover. thereby cancelling it out. but to reflect. but like Camus. Nietzsche provided us with our counter-culture. and Godard’s faire-faux. it is the world that provides a cage in Godard. Deleuze (1985: 280) is clear that cinema may be used in the philosophical act of concept creation. which are divided. like the dream-image filmmakers. another seeking communion in the post-God world and locating it in absurd. on his psychological problems. just as Bataille had argued that Nietzsche was his way of coping. like much of New Hollywood. It takes on various forms in Woody Allen’s films. something that is frequently forgotten by Film Studies. He became increasingly nihilistic however. Unlike Nietzsche and Sartre’s understanding of the post-God absurd. rather than Nietzschean or Marxian metaphors. provides us with challenging deliquesce and flux. using manipulations of filmform to look fruitlessly for answers in movies like Stardust Memories and Annie Hall. The ludicrous. Deleuze (1973: 142) suggests that if psychoanalysis and Marxism were the principal movements of our intellectual geography (and political.much like Bataille. cultural and psychological readings are the convention of Film Studies).

If it seems ironic that one should ask that the enemies of seriousness be taken more seriously. and deserving of far more attention that it receives. but it is our laughter that admits to the certainty of pain and suffering with a defiant grin. and I have here been able only to give a brief account of its potential. Psychologists attempt to cure the soul and politicians attempt to cure the state with varying levels of success. we will at least be able to laugh about it. 53 .be just as significant. and leads us with optimism into the new day.

imdb. 1933. and it is clearly very much a part of his oeuvre. A (Melendez. (C. although this dissertation frequently flaunts this convention. 1993-1997. L’ (Buñuel. USA) BASEketball (D. 1953. MTV. Sam was written by and stars Woody Allen. USA) Dentist on the Job (Pennington-Richards. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick. the credited director is here listed as the author of the film. Jones. 1984-1992. France) Âge d’or. USA) Fast and Furry-ous (C. USA) 54 . 1965. 1999+. UK) Duck Amuck. 1972. USA) Annie Hall (Allen. The (Leeson. 2002.Filmography In every instance. France) Bad (Scorsese. USA/Canada/Germany) Charlie Brown Christmas. 1960. Fox. 1987. USA) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (Allen. Weinberger and Cosby. 1929. 1930. USA) Bowling for Columbine (Moore. 1973-1980. Most of the information here is taken from The Internet Movie Database (http://uk. the same point is made about the first five Marx Brother films. Zucker. USA) Blazing Saddles (Brooks. 1974. D. Italy/France) À bout de souffle (Godard. Play it Again. USA) Austin Powers (Roach. 1999. Zucker. Zucker. USA) Bananas (Allen. (McCarey. In addition. 1963. 1961. USA) Animal Crackers (Heerman. The (Florey and Santley. USA) Cocoanuts. 1968. 1964. USA) Duck Soup. Jones. France) Airplane! (Abrahams. 1980. USA/Germany) Bande à part (Godard. 1966. 1930. USA) Batman (Martinson. USA) Barnaby Jones (CBS. 1997. 1971. USA) Beavis and Butt-head (Judge. the creators of listed television programs are noted along with the network that produces the show. J. 2002. 1949. USA) Family Guy (MacFarlane. 1998. UK/USA) 8½ (Fellini. NBC. USA) Cosby Show.

1979. BBC. USA) Femme est une femme. Jones. Paramount. ABC. 1974-1984. USA) He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (Mattel. 1975. 1964. 1969-1974. UK) Mon oncle (Tati. 1997. USA) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam and T. France/Italy) Monkey Business (McLeod. Une (Godard. 2002. The (Jackson. 1963. 1965-1996. Fox. UK/USA) Pink Phink. UK) Monty Python’s Flying Circus (Chapman. NBC. USA) Purple Rose of Cairo. Gilliam. The (Gilliam and T. 1983-1985. USA) Orgazmo (Parker. USA) 55 . 1976. The (Allen. ABC. 1964. USA) Manhattan (Allen. USA) Jackanory (Kerrigan. USA) Futurama (Groening. 1972-1984. 1998. 1960-1966. Abrahams and Zucker. 1935. France/Italy) Police Squad! (Zucker. USA) Pierrot le fou (Godard. 1961. 2002. A (Wood. USA) Hot Shots! (Abrahams. 1972. USA) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Gilliam. 1979. USA) Hardcore (Schrader. France/Italy) Pink Panther. Jones and Palin. 2001. The (Scorsese. Idle. 1975. UK) Lord of the Rings. USA) Hercules (Clements and Musker. UK) Night at the Opera. The (Freleng. USA) Horse Feathers (McLeod. 1982. UK) King of Comedy. 1965. Universal) 1982-1986. NZ/US/Germany) Love and Death (Allen.Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (Cosby. USA Life of Brian (T. USA) Hollywood Ending (Allen. USA) Playtime (Tati. USA) Happy Days (Marshall. 1985. 1986. Sam (Ross. Stupid (Wilder. BBC. 1983. The (Edwards. USA) Meaning of Life. 2003. USA) Kiss Me. 1931. Jones. 1958. 1999-2003) Hannah and Her Sisters (Allen. 1997. 1991. 1983. USA) Knight Rider (Larson. The (Edwards. 1932. Jones. 1967. France/Italy) Flintstones. USA/UK) Pink Panther Strikes Again. The (Hannah and Barbera. 1979. Cleese. USA) Play it Again.

Race For Your Life. USA) Spirit of Christmas. 1964. UK) Shot in the Dark. 1973. 1969-1972. Comedy Central. A (Edwards. USA) Top Gun (Scott. USA) Vacances de M. 1980. 1962. ABC. Hulot. USA) 56 . 1957. USA) Zelig (Allen. USA) Red Badge of Courage. USA) Stardust Memories (Allen. The (Bergman. 1989+. USA) Your Studio and You (Parker. 1941. USA) South Park: Bigger. 1967. Charlie Brown (Melendez. 1973. 1957. 1980. USA) Scary Movie (Wayans. USA) Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges. The (Huston. USA) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner. 2000. USA) Sleeper (Allen. 1987. 1986. France) Vivre sa vie (Godard. Zucker 2003. Sweden) Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder. 1999. USA) South Park (Parker and Stone. 2006. D. 2001. 1995. France) Week End (Godard. USA) RoboCop (Verhoeven. USA) Serpico (Lumet. 1983. USA) Scooby-Doo. 1957. The (Kubrick. 1951. USA) Raging Bull (Scorsese. 1977. Longer & Uncut (Parker. 1997+. The (Parker and Stone. USA/Italy) Seventh Seal. USA/UK) Simpsons. 1995. 1953. 1980. Where Are You? (Hannah and Barbera. 1957. The (Groening. Sweden) Shining. Fox. France/Italy) Wild Strawberries (Bergman. USA) Zero Hour! (Bartlett. 1980. Les (Tati.

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