Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for March 7th, 2015

The farcical life of objects

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John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House

As a rule, farce can do more with the object in motion than with the object that is stationary. As our victim goes his incapacitated way, he puts his head out an open window shortly before the sash cord snaps. Sleds, bicycles, cars, trains, speedboats, ice floes, and heavy articles of furniture slam into him. Sometimes he’s aboard them while they travel. Sometimes they lie in wait. He passes through a landscape and—spontaneously, it seems—trees, telegraph poles, scaffolding, and girders topple, bridges and overpasses collapse. Tunnels cave in. Rafts capsize. Cliff edges crumble. Dams burst. Avalanches roll. If he hurtles down a ski slope, a log cabin will take up a position at the foot of the run. In Animal House, as soon as John Belushi mounts a ladder in order to peer into some girls’ bedrooms, we know the ladder will turn treacherous; all it has to do is turn. Objects may lead inert, useful, and unassuming existences for years without disclosing their antagonism toward people. Then a farce energizes them: somebody remembers, say, that a chair, a vase, a book, a can of paint, or a custard pie is throwable…

Objects are would-be actors. And not only in farces. In a straight drama, a bed sheet waits for its opportunity to act as a rope or a gag or a screen or a bathrobe or a sail. A pair of scissors or a poker catches somebody’s eye and offers itself as a lethal weapon. Almost every thriller depends on clues, usually objects, that will lead the private eye to the criminal, or better, to an innocent person. And in the tragedy Othello a significant role is enacted by a mere handkerchief which, for the hero, represents a priceless token of love. But in farce, objects act more blatantly, more industriously, to earn their places in the script. And they are not merely there. They impersonate other objects. We might say that the difference between a gun in a melodrama and in farce is that while in melodrama the characters must beware of what it is, in farce they have to beware of what it may become.

Albert Bermel, Farce

Written by nevalalee

March 7, 2015 at 9:00 am

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