See the moving picture

Figure 9.22

“Narrativizing” the Gag

Les Débuts de Max Linder au cinématographe (Max’s First Job)

Louis J. Gasnier, Pathé-Frères, France, 1910

The comedy of Les Débuts de Max Linder au cinématograph, though running the gamut from bureaucratic satire through film-within-a-film farce to course comique chase, largely reflects the established representational strategies of the pre-1909-1910 period. At the same time, however, the techniques represented in the shot sequences shown here (all from the film-with-a-film), while certainly not new, point to an earnest effort to enhance the gags by means of techniques developed for narrative rather than spectacle purposes. In Shot 1, for instance, Max’s inexplicably cantakerous wife and mother-in-law pitch the unsuspecting Max (who’s just been added to the cast of the film) out of the kitchen window; in (2), Max has, thanks to the tricks of stop motion and substitution, just replaced the dummy that stood in for the two-story fall. Cut to (3), in which the women stuff a mattress out of the window, from which, of course, it lands on Max before he can even get to his feet (4). The gag is then repeated with an armoire (5-6). All three of the precisely handled matching cuts extend and (though broadly comic in themselves) refine the conventional farce that governs the throwback film-within-a-film, both by underscoring the presentation of the events as the “realistic” continuation of the story and by propelling that story into its next “chapter”—a comic chase invloving two interlocked men rolling through the streets of Paris.

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