Its not funny anymore.
Is there any genre of film that ages more quickly than comedy? Cultural attitudes change over the years, and what was once thought funny changes too.
A thriller from the 1960s may lack today’s pacing, but the basic template is the same, good guys, bad guys, you know the story. A comedy from the 1960s, that’s a trickier proposition, more likely to feature scenes and stereotypes that now look out of place, and often just embarrassing. Some years ago the film society screened the classic 1960s romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn was scintillating, George Peppard was suave, but Mickey Rooney as the Japanese caretaker was…..uncomfortable! It felt like a performance from a different time, in more than one way, and whereas Audrey and George’s characters could be played the same way today, Rooney’s definitely could not. In a similar vein, I have great memories of watching Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther films as a youngster, in my memory they were hilarious movies full of slapstick and daft jokes, but a recent attempt at watching one left me completely unmoved. I have higher hopes though for the film society’s next film, from 1968 and widely regarded as a comedy classic, The Odd Couple, starring Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon as mismatched friends sharing an apartment. I look forward to seeing how it compares to others from the same era, will it have us laughing or wincing?
Humour is always personal, what we find funny says more about us than what we find exciting. Perhaps one reason some old comedies leave us so cold is that they remind us of the people we once were, the things we thought were acceptable to laugh at, and the attitudes we once embraced without question. I wonder which of today’s comedies will have future generations shifting uneasily in their seats.
By Michael Hudson
From our weekly column in the Oswestry Advertizer, published on 15th May 2018.