This Is a Blog: Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Duck Soup

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Duck Soup

Kris Jenson, with whom I've had the best discussions of my life, is an old friend of mine from Boston. We had been talking about the American Film Institute's Top 100 when he got a job at Dig Boston, writing about just that. Instead of letting the conversation end just because he's a big, fancy writer now, I'm going to write responses to his articles. I can't keep up with his movie watching, so I'm only responding to the ones I've seen.

I am with Kris 100% that this is a turning point on the list. Of the previous 15 movies, 7 were removed from the updated list. Now at #85, we get into the real, impossible to argue with, classics. On that updated list, "Duck Soup" jumps 25 slots to #60, and it absolutely deserves to be there. This movie is the closest to tangible comedy the human race will ever achieve. "30 Rock" tries to get as close as possible with its anarchistic mayhem and anything-for-a-laugh philosophy, and "Monty Python" gets as close to funny as British people are capable, but "Duck Soup" simply nails it. It achieves a level of comedy never surpassed and never matched even by other Marx Brothers films.

That's some pretty strong hyperbole there, but I mean every word of it. Everyone probably has a list of movies that made them laugh harder, myself included, but the purity of "Duck Soup's" comedy far surpasses any mere laugh. It's a survey course of every type of funny. Groucho has his dead-on clever word play and masterful reactions. Harpo is a physical comedy God. Chico covers racial humor and stereotypes. Zeppo is also a Marx brother. All other comedies can seem to earn laughs more easily because "Duck Soup" did the heavy lifting by inventing the language of modern film comedy.

I'm the first to argue for strong story and character being the center of any good film, but the comedy in this film is such a high level, basic filmmaking and storytelling only get in the way. The plot comes out of nowhere and resolves just as quickly. The events are episodic, strung together by the thinnest of threads. Harpo and Chico do what seems like 20 minutes just screwing with a lemonade vendor. This has nothing to do with the impending war, but it's hilarious, so it gets its screen time. All the threads just build and build until the Brothers all end up in a room together. Chico's supposed to be a spy, but he ends up sort of helping Groucho, almost as if to prove the film itself is meaningless.

I feel like everyone should watch this film around late high school to mid-college. Everyone should go through about 20 years of movie watching, only to discover every movie gag they've ever loved was actually inspired by "Duck Soup," which was inspired by the silent comedy greats, which we'll get to in a couple weeks.

Hail, hail Freedonia!

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