An affectionate chronicle of a century of laughs from the silver screen.
Austerlitz (Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from the Beatles to the White Stripes, 2008) offers a breezy survey of American film comedy, from the sublime artistry of Charlie Chaplin to the disarmingly sweet juvenile antics of Judd Apatow. Largely unconcerned with academic explorations of the nature of comedy or the larger socio-historical contexts in which the films exist, the author comes off as an eloquent superfan celebrating his heroes and pinpointing favorite moments in their work. This approach works just fine, and the book, a compulsively readable reference for the confirmed comedy fan, will inspire readers to rewatch classics and delve deeper into the oeuvres of such legends as W.C. Fields, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. It’s heartening to see underappreciated talents like Albert Brooks and Harold Lloyd receive the same careful attention as Woody Allen and Buster Keaton, and the affection and respect Austerlitz feels for his subjects is palpable. The author makes some interesting comparisons between such ostensibly unlike entities as screwball maestro Preston Sturges and the austerely artful Cohen brothers, or august auteur Robert Altman and mockumentary pioneer Christopher Guest (a freewheeling approach to performance and emphasis on ensembles), and he finds room to discuss the comedic legacies of such unlikely subjects as John Wayne and Meryl Streep. There are a few infelicities—Austerlitz likes the word “erstwhile,” but seems a little unsure of what it actually means—but overall, the author provides a delightful roll call of the funny men and women who have distinguished the cinema of laughter, and an indispensible listmaking tool for the Netflix generation in search of a good guffaw.
An enthusiastic, well-observed, fresh look at old favorites that makes a compelling case for the genius of American film comedy.