Trifecta*

26 Apr
The Seventh Seal (1957)

(a la Frank “The Guy From ‘Jack Benny'” Nelson) Yeeeeeeesss?

I’ve got one for you…

Late Sun. 4/28 on TCM:

12:15 a.m. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

1:30 a.m. The Paleface (1922)

2:15 a.m. The Seventh Seal (1957)

4:00 a.m. Love & Death (1975)

*Yes, I know. There are four, not three. But Paleface is a short. Leave me alone.

So, see, I know the joke is already here – Seventh Seal is the magnificent contextual setup for the punchline release of Love and Death (a favorite of my preferred Goofy-Age Woody Allen). But I have the foreknowledge that one of the loveliest in-cinema laughs I was ever a part of was at a showing of Seventh Seal at the Brattle in Boston years ago.

(I’m sure no one there remembers me – around the turn of the century, I used to call ahead and get them to put M&Ms in the soda fridge for me so I could have them with the hot popcorn. Good times.)

Anyhow, in comes the Reaper, who (which?) after standing there for a moment in front of von Sydow, announces himself in his Eeyore-ish Norse way: “I am Death.” Which seemed so patently obvious and deadpan that the audience, as one, let out this belting snort. Not mockery, now. It was funny that night. And it made the whole movie so much fun without making it anything it wasn’t (I’d argue it improved it, in fact). I mean, Death does pull out a handsaw at one point: the movie is not without humor. Can we not assume there’s more than we thought?

Thinking about it now, I realize that was a big moment for me – I’ve done script adaptations of a handful of classics since that time and in each I’ve looked for opportunities to mine for comedy instead of superimpose it. It’s trickier than it sounds, and something I wish happened more often; not to say that I’m successful, but I don’t know that it’s even a goal for most.

So I’m arguing that Buster Keaton is a perfect lead-in to put one in the right frame of mind for Bergman’s famed Arty Death Movie. After all, what is most good comedy but intriguingly heroic ways to deal with the threat of some form of Death? (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Moliere’s Don Juan, and Steamboat Bill, Jr. certainly fit that description.)

I’m not saying stay up ‘til all hours. This is why Nature gives us DVR. But watch these three together and let them seep into each other. That’s all I ask.

Post Script: I had the opportunity to see The Paleface here in Louisville a few weeks ago with live accompaniment by Bourbon Baroque. No point. Just bragging.

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