praising agee

Agee1

Agee’s film criticism sounds like that too, a calculated yet self-exceeding improvisation. Its culmination is the twenty-five-page essay he wrote for Life in September 1949 titled “Comedy’s Greatest Era.” Agee’s premise was simple: “As soon as the screen began to talk, silent comedy was pretty well finished.” In a Bob Hope film, “the fun slackens between laughs like a weak clothesline.” What Agee loved in silent movies was the same thing that he loved in nineteenth-century daguerreotypes and New Orleans jazz, an unselfconscious authenticity of the kind Schiller called “naïve” rather than sentimental. Agee began his essay in a mock-analytic mode: “In the language of screen comedians four of the main grades of laugh are the titter, the yowl, the bellylaugh and the boffo. The titter is just a titter. The yowl is a runaway titter. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure knows all about a bellylaugh. The boffo is the laugh that kills.” Agee examined the smiles of the great comedians: Harold Lloyd’s “thesaurus of smiles” which “could at a moment’s notice blend prissiness, breeziness and asininity,” or Buster Keaton–the “most deeply ‘silent’ of the silent comedians”–whose smile “was as deafeningly out of key as a yell.” The twitchings of Harry Langdon’s clueless face “were signals of tiny discomforts too slowly registered by a tinier brain; quick, squirty little smiles showed his almost prehuman pleasures, his incurably premature trustfulness.” And then there was Chaplin, some kind of ultimate for Agee: “Of all comedians he worked most deeply and most shrewdly within a realization of what a human being is, and is up against.”

more from TNR here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email