Crossposted from Haaretz
“Precious Life,” a documentary film by Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar, will be in the running next month for an award sponsored by the VH1 music television channel and the American social service organization “Do Something.”
The competition provides recognition to young people working for social change and also confers awards in the fields of music, television and film for efforts to further social change. Other nominees include singers Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, actors Scarlett Johansson, Orlando Bloom and Daniel Radcliffe, comedians Will Ferrell and Chris Rock and models Tyra Banks and Gisele Bundchen.
Comedy, explained Aristotle, has a vague history, because at first no one took it seriously. We cannot know for certain if Aristotle was deadpanning, but his observation would amuse Saul Austerlitz. According to Austerlitz, American film comedy has not been taken seriously, either. In fact, the author quips, it is American film’s “bastard stepchild.” With his latest book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” Austerlitz gives us a broad survey of the genre, hoping to spark debate.
There were few Jewish comedians in Aristotle’s day, but in American comedy, Austerlitz notes, Jews are “the only minority group overrepresented.” The title of his book is taken from a catch phrase by the gentile comic geniuses Laurel and Hardy, but on the cover of the book, it is Jewish comedians, The Marx Brothers, who are making a mess. For Austerlitz, the Marx Brothers are the embodiment of Jewish humor — “anarchic, absurdist, and ebullient” — existing in the face of a hostile or dismissive power structure.