A film genre or mode of considerable variety, range, and commercial success that appears in every national cinema and is defined by the type of response it elicits from its audience, namely, laughter; and is marked by a lightness of tone and a resolution governed by harmony, reconciliation, and happiness. Much early cinema was drawn to a broad, physical comedy based around the joke, the gag, and the pratfall. Defined thus, the earliest comedy film can claim to be the Lumière brothers’ L’arroseur arrosé/The Waterer Watered (1895); in the same vein, trick films were immensely popular during the early period, as was slapstick comedy influenced by the music hall and vaudeville tradition (see silent cinema). Alongside this physical approach to comedy, a more refined version was also cultivated: here the particular confluence of comedy (in the Aristotelian sense), romance, and melodrama found in 19th-century European literature and theatre influenced a diverse range of situational comedies in many countries. During the silent era and 1930s, the films of Cecil B. DeMille and Ernst Lubitsch in the US, the Lisbon comedies in Portugal (see Portugal, film in), and the rise of the romantic comedy genre made this approach to comedy internationally popular. The situational comedy film generates its comedic interest from the way in which confusion, difficulty, and errors arise from a complex narrative situation and are then worked quickly through to a clear and orderly resolution. In practice, most instances of film comedy refuse this neat separation of physical and situational comedy: There’s Something About Mary (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, US, 1998), for example, combines a ‘comedy of errors’ style narrative with slapstick-influenced ‘gross-out’ humour (gross-out comedy sets out crudely and deliberately to transgress ‘normal’ everyday taste and convention). ...
To find comedy films in the Library's collections, you can click on one of the subject headings below:
Articles and other writings about comedies can be found in many publications. We don't have journals that look exclusively at comedies. However, you can use Film & Television Literature Index to find relevant articles or the search box at the top of the page.
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