Sunday, June 12, 2005

On the other hand, maybe I am simply a humorless clod

As you get older, there are more and more cultural phenomena that you are simply too old and out of it to understand. I'm not complaining, mind you; it's just a fact of life. So it was interesting to encounter one recently that I am apparently too young to understand. Here's how it happened. I've already mentioned here how impressed I've been with the work, especially w/r/t Wittgenstein, of Stanley Cavell. Cavell also writes on other things, of course, including cinema, and one of his books is about Hollywood comedies of a certain time, including Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby (1938), which features Cary Grant as a geeky paleontologist and Katharine Hepburn as what the back cover of the DVD calls "a scatterbrained heiress." Not only that, Dan at Doing Things With Words recently posted on this film (it's a paper on Kant, but his examples come from this film), so I thought I better check it out.

After having viewed the film, which btw ranks at #141 of's viewer-selected top 250 films of all time, I am even more curious to know what Cavell (and Dan) have to say about it, seeing as I am utterly baffled as to how anyone could possibly have found it even remotely funny or charming. I know what they called "screwball comedies" are supposed to be silly and contrived, and this film certainly was that, but they're supposed to be funny too, and this film certainly was not. I smiled precisely once, when they're holding onto Baby (a leopard -- don't ask) by the tail to prevent him from escaping out the back seat of the car (I told you not to ask), and they burst into "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby," because, as has already been established, he likes that song. The rest of it was painfully unfunny, annoying, and, yes, just stupid, worse than It Happened One Night (#119 at imdb). The scene in the jail is just excruciating (I keep telling you: don't ask). Of course there may still be interesting things to say about this film; but does this mean that the philosophers of the future will extract profound truths from 50 First Dates and Monster-in-Law?

[Update (9/3): In retrospect, I seem to have been a little harsh. The 50 First Dates line was uncalled for. However, to be honest, I must reluctantly stand by my recollection of this film as "painfully unfunny."]

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