ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

New book examines dark comedies that rocked the boat

Updated on July 3, 2016

Cinema that found laughs with a black tone

"Genre-Busting Dark Comedies of the 1970s: Twelve American Films" covers classics such as "Catch-22" (1970) and "Harold and Maude" (1971).
"Genre-Busting Dark Comedies of the 1970s: Twelve American Films" covers classics such as "Catch-22" (1970) and "Harold and Maude" (1971). | Source

Challenging the status quo with biting humor

The edgy genre of dark comedies is given its due in a new book that zeroes in on a decade that has been lauded as a golden time for intelligent American filmmaking.

“Genre-Busting Dark Comedies of the 1970s: Twelve American Films” is described by author Wes D. Gehring as an examination of “pivotal” cutting-edge movies with comedic tones that were known for “frequently masquerading in other categories.”

Published by North Carolina-based McFarland & Company Inc., the illustrated overview of edgier humor includes analysis of “Slaughterhouse-Five“ (1972), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), and “Being There” (1979). The 2016 book is published by North Carolina-based McFarland & Company Inc. ($39.95; www.mcfarlandbooks.com).

“Dark comedy, to me, is the most brave genre of all of them,” said Gehring, distinguished professor of telecommunications at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

In his new book, he states that black humor “scrapes away all the institutionalized crutches which prop up most people.”

“I’ve written a lot about dark comedy,” he added.
Gehring tackled the subject matter in his 2014 book that dealt with Charlie Chaplin’s handling of the subject: “Chaplin’s War Trilogy: An Evolving Lens in Three Dark Comedies, 1918 - 1947.”

“I had been aware of the fact that dark comedy didn’t really get any respect, and wasn’t really pulled to center stage until the 1960s with, like, ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ ” said Gehring, an associate media editor and columnist for USA Today magazine, www.usatodaymag.com.

Released in 1964, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” uses nuclear Armageddon for comedic fodder.
A classic scene that combines absurdist humor with morose darkness involves Major King Kong (played by Slim Pickens) “happily straddling a falling, phallic-shaped atomic bomb … , whooping his way to world oblivion,” according to Gehring’s book.
More than 20 years earlier, Charlie Chaplin utilized the persona of Adolf Hitler to evoke a type of black humor in “The Great Dictator” (1940).

The 12 movies released three decades later that are dissected in Gehring’s book hold special significance for him.

“They all had a huge impact on me,” the author assured.

The cover of the book features a color image from Woody Allen’s “Love and Death” (1975).
Calling it “arguably Allen’s funniest film” that was aided by “superb” moments of slapstick, Gehring, nonetheless, points to how critics and the public alike did not, generally speaking, give the movie credit for having “anything serious going on.”

Allen, according to Gehring, wanted people to realize his dark comedy goal and to say, as Allen put it, “this was a very funny movie, but there is a kind of, the futility of life and the … difficulty of love and the pathos and tragedy of death and ... how it haunts all our affairs.”

But there is one film out of the dozen chosen for inclusion in his “Dark Comedies” book that packs the most punch with Gehring: “All That Jazz” (1979).

“ ‘All That Jazz’ seems to sort of summarize everything that came before it in terms of dark comedies,” Gehring offered. “That film just fascinates me. The whole concept of it does.”

Starring Roy Scheider, the Bob Fosse-directed flick was edgy, gritty and experimental -- even showing actual open-heart surgery.

Gehring said the storyline essentially mirrored the experiences and travails of Fosse: “It’s his life.”

As Gehring put it in his book, “many critics were simply bowled over by the film’s audacity,’ noting that the “reviewing majority embraced Fosse’s fearlessness.”

Fosse’s autobiographical slice of cinema ended up garnering nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nod for Scheider. It nabbed four Oscars.
Another of the films in Gehring’s book that has a particularly intense impact on him is 1970’s “Little Big Man,” a tale of the Old West that paints the historic Battle of the Little Big Horn with a subversive counterculture sheen.

What could be considered a surprising choice for inclusion in Gehring’s book is 1974’s “Chinatown,” directed by Roman Polanski.
“ ‘Chinatown’ is unlike ‘Little Big Man’ (1970), which turned the conventional Western on its ear,” Gehring writes.
He states any moves on the part of ‘Chinatown’ to rattle its genre -- film noir -- are “not as obvious.”
Still, Gehring maintains that Polanski and scriptwriter Robert Towne “were attempting to break several basic conventions of the genre in a film which is ultimately a black comedy.”

The subject and thought-provoking nature of Gehring’s book has gotten the attention of David L. Smith, author of numerous articles and texts dealing with film and media, along with the book “Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb.”

“It’s something I found to be very fascinating,” said Smith, who wrote the foreword for Gehring’s new book. “I haven’t seen anything quite like it.”

A professor emeritus of telecommunications hailing from Ball State University, Smith said Gehring’s book has a daring aspect to it.
“I think he’s a little courageous,” said Smith, a resident of Fishers, Ind. “I think, for one thing, people are reluctant to do something that is really different.”

The subject of off-center humor has held longtime allure for Gehring.
“Some of the earliest writings of my career have been about Chaplin and dark comedy,” said Gehring, author of more than 30 film-related books that include biographies of James Dean, Carole Lombard and Steve McQueen.

But “Genre-Busting Dark Comedies” goes to a deeper, more philosophical place.
In the book, Gehring alludes to “the religious jukebox of golden oldies on death: ‘It’s God’s will,’ ‘She is in a better place,’ ‘God needed him more’ … Black humor simply says this is it; there ain’t no more, so deal with it. Do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do, not for some promised heavenly reward and/or a damnation ticket threat to hell.
“For this genre, religion is a franchise driven by the fear of death, one of dark comedy’s basic themes.”







Taking chances

Roy Scheider earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a driven director-choreographer in "All That Jazz" (1979).
Roy Scheider earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a driven director-choreographer in "All That Jazz" (1979). | Source

"Love and Death" (1975) ... big laughs

A jolting look at war

Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould star in "M*A*S*H" (1970). Humor fueled a searing depiction of military conflict.
Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould star in "M*A*S*H" (1970). Humor fueled a searing depiction of military conflict. | Source

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)