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The Slapsticks of Politics: Protagonists in French and American Films1 NICOLE TREVES In attempting to translate contemporary political atmospheres, cineasts such as Claude Lelouch in France, and Woody Allen in the U.S., seem to be turning more and more towards slapstick, adapting to today's situation an approach that was brilliantly employed in the film comedies of the twenties and thirties, particularly by Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. 2 Slapstick was used then to bring to our attention the impact of mechanization , its dehumanizing effects and the absurdities it lends itself to. A new form evolved that encompassed the feeling of estrangement felt at the time, the nature of the apparent changes as well as apprehensions regarding the future. The present revival of slapstick in conjunction with specific political realities is particularly evident in a certain type of popular cinema, a cinema that deliberately refuses to promote or defend any particular political position, or in any way or fashion adopt a political form or forum. In this respect, the cinema of Claude Lelouch and Woody Allen places itself at the very antipodes of Godard's credo "il faut faire politiquement un film politique" (uA political film should be made in a political way"), or of Allio's elaborately Brechtian treatment of history in Les Camisards.3 In Lelouch' s perspective it is not important to understand the mechanisms of history, or to speculate as to its nature or function. What counts much more is to reflect the daily realities and political imbroglios in which average men are caught. Furthermore Lelouch's position (as his enormous box-office success proves) is first and foremost that of the entertainer: cinema as fun (good old family-type and parentally approved fun) and as inner recognition, bringing forth the important II ah, ha!" mechanism, providing us with a synopsis of today's fears and misconceptions, and even capitalizing on them. 4 Our present dilemmas do not lie in the over-mechanization of the world, as was so much the case in Chaplin's time. This is not the source of the chief anxieties which now plague the average man, who has to some extent absorbed the trauma caused by the introduction of the machine, has ceased to scream about it - he is just licking his wounds - and is much THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. V, NO. 2, FALL 1974 more concerned with other cultural changes. And so, even if Woody Allen (that champion of the disasters that fall upon the shoulders of the little man) remains desperately out-of-tune with the world of machines in their purposeless perfection and promotion of absurd comfort (such as electrically warmed toilet seats for cold days, or even better, sound-proof coffins which won't disturb the dead), mechanization is but a minor component of Lelouch's or even Woody Allen's world. It is Alvin Toffler's world of future shock 5 they are concerned with, one of political, moral, philosophical, biological, and scientific transformation and cataclysmic change, and with man's inability (or awkward attempts) to keep up with such change. Woody Allen's American vision rests on the constant and permanent existence of violence., a violence passively accepted by most of us and gleefully adopted by some. Terrorist tactics are definitively the way of the future, leading eventually in the year 2173, after the disappearance through atomic mishap of our present civilization, to a total dictatorship, where, say the opening lines of Sleeper, the people are "disposed of in the usual way" (indeed, 0 disposed of" turns out to be the film's most frequently used set of words). Most of Toffler's or Huxley's worst predictions have materialized: brain-washing and brain restructuring are common procedures; fear and hate of intellectuals are predominant; utterly simplistic modes of thinking prevail, amidst technological feats of a sort - such as the "domesticon" or programmed robot, and the "orgasmatron" or orgasm-producing machine, indispensable to all who are not "so lucky as to have had Italian ancestors." In this world of the future the epitome of scientific achievement is the "cloning" technique which enables an individual to be reconstructed immediately and totally from...


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pp. 181-189
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