Screwball Comedies

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ZAIN-UL-ABIDEEN GOPLANI BSMS III-B Registration Number: 1015171 HISTORY OF CINEMA FINAL PAPER “SCREWBALL COMEDIES” It has been said that laughter is the best medicine to all ills. And thus, comedy was born. Comedy is any work – written, spoken or shown – which is intended to amuse and cause laughter by poking fun at everyday people, events, problems, etc. At times it has an ultimate motive, usually in political satire, but is mainly meant to entertain. As mankind has developed and technology
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  ZAIN-UL-ABIDEEN GOPLANIBSMS III-BRegistration Number: 1015171HISTORY OF CINEMAFINAL PAPER “SCREWBALL COMEDIES”  It has been said that laughter is the best medicine to all ills. And thus, comedy was born.Comedy is any work – written, spoken or shown – which is intended to amuse and causelaughter by poking fun at everyday people, events, problems, etc. At times it has anultimate motive, usually in political satire, but is mainly meant to entertain. As mankindhas developed and technology advanced, so have the forms of comedy branched andevolved. Once, long ago, the only types of comedy were humourous poems and satirical plays. With the progression of time, its main platform has changed from the written word, public shows and exclusive theatres to home television and films. A lot of comedy worksdepend on shock, absurdity, redundancy, disagreement, exaggeration and endingscontradictory to what was expected; however, not all comedy follows the same theme.One such type of comedy is screwball. The word screwball is a slang term which came invogue in the early 20 th century, and literally is a pitch (throw) in baseball which isextremely unpredictable.“There’s a pitch in baseball called a screwball, which was perfected by the pitcher namedCarl Hubbell back in the 1930s. It’s a pitch with a particular spin that sort of flutters anddrops, goes in different directions, and behaves in very unexpected ways…Screwballcomedy was unconventional, went in different directions, and behaved in unexpectedways…” – Andrew Bergman, We’re in the Money: Depression America and Its Films  Figuratively, it means someone who is very strange, crazy, irrational or unbalanced.Screwball is said to be an old and distinct genre of comedy, for while it is mainly used todescribe a specific genre of films which became popular in America during The GreatDepression (1930s and 1940s), many of its defining characteristics, such as the larger-than-life characters, impossible situations, physical humour, witty repartee, mistakenidentity and the pursuit of the opposite sex can be traced back to early plays such asWilliam Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing  and  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which were in turn inspired by ancient Roman theatrical comedies) and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest  . Recently, comedy has been divided into two types:comedian (which focuses on a single person) and romantic (a series of events happeningto a couple which leads to their union). Screwballs are definitely romantic comedies.Screwball comedy films and programmes initially came into the spotlight after the rigidProduction Code of 1934, which banned topics such as adultery, homosexuality, prostitution and sex from being addressed or shown on the big screen. Before it, allmovies had at least one risqué scene. As such, screwball comedy can be seen as a form of rebellion against the totalitarian Code (which took away realism, amongst other things, inman small ways, i.e. not allowing even married couples to sleep on the same bed in anyscene), for they have been correctly called “sex comedies without the sex.” So verbalsparring (fast dialogue; the use of insults, puns and double entrendes, etc.) as well as physical fights (running, mild hitting and slight damage to clothes – not enough to tear,mind you) replaced overt lovemaking (and thus were the first Public Displays of Affection defined). Furthermore, the childishness of the main characters is another style  of defiance, depicting that the puerile antics of both the eccentric heiresses (i.e. ClaudetteColbert in It Happened One Night, Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby and CaroleLombard in My Man Godfrey   ) and their opposite yet just as messed up (and oftentimesalcoholic) counterparts (i.e. Clark Gable in It Happened One Night   ).Unlike modern movies, which have beautiful stills of scenery, clever light and shadowtechniques, multiple cameras and clean editing, screwball comedies feature a few longtakes in which all the characters are easily visible, the lights are set to highlight the setand compliment the stars and when a phrase has to be pointed out, a small change in thesingle camera’s position is conducted.While there is, as of yet, no consensus definition of the “screwball” style of films, andworks from other genres (i.e. slapstick, romantic comedies) are often improperlyclassified under it, a true screwball has a few distinct themes which need to be fulfilledfor the term to apply. 1) Reverse class snobbery.Class snobbery is when the rich believe they are superior to the poor because of their social status. The opposite is rampant in screwball comedies, which imply or believe thatnormal (“poor”) folk have more common sense and hence are better than the wealthy. Or,vice versa, that even the elite had the ability to be as dignified as ordinary people. This isone of the reasons they became so popular, for during The Great Depression those
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