Monday, January 11, 2016

I was a Marxist long before I was a Marxist.

A Marxist of the Groucho variety, that is.

Between Christmas and New Year's, we watched Marx Brothers films on five consecutive evenings, thanks to a Christmas gift to ourselves of a DVD box set.

(1925 -- my father was born)
1929 ... The Cocoanuts
1930 ... Animal Crackers
1931 ... Monkey Business
(1932 -- my mother was born)
1932 ... Horse Feathers
1933 ... Duck Soup
(1960 -- I was born)

Some years back we purchased a set of DVDs documenting the back side of the act's career, from A Night at the Opera through The Big Store, to their quasi-finale in A Night in Casablanca. The quality of this compilation is very good, but this latter period is a time of diminishing comedic and artistic returns, and I grew tired of waiting for the "first five" films to be re-released in modern and tidied formats.

But they're watchable, if not gussied up. Consequently, with the exception of Duck Soup, it was the first time I'd seen the first four  Marx Brothers in their entirety since ... when? The 1970s, or early 1980s at the most recent? Probably. Clips and excerpts, yes, though not entire films.

Follow the link to read about these movies, and an arc of achievement that surely peaks with Duck Soup. The Marx Brothers were considered vintage and archaic by the time I first started viewing these films during late night local television marathons, but importantly, the content was no less anarchic, and was a huge influence on me.

Groucho was, and remains, my main man. As one who seemingly found it impossible to overcome crippling shyness and speak aloud, I found Groucho's glib and articulate abrasiveness a godsend, and something to try to emulate (with varying degrees of success).

Time -- what a concept.

The Marx Brothers: Silver Screen Collection, reviewed by Mark Bourne (DVD Journal)

Throughout the Great Depression, the comedians known as Groucho, Harpo, and Chico (ably supported by youngest brother Zeppo) were welcome explosions of insanity in a brutally sane world. Now after 75 years they can still lift us out of our own depressions, great or otherwise.

Words such as zany, madcap, and gonzo seem made exclusively for Marx Brothers movies. When it comes to their first five, and best, films — collected within this six-disc DVD set — we can also add irreverent, subversive, anti-authoritarian, and damn near surreal. (Salvador Dali was a Marx Brothers fan, with a special affection for mute Harpo, who existed on a plane all his own like a crazed angel.) Their fast and lunatic humor ran the gamut from lowbrow slapstick and punning to sophisticated verbal and visual horseplay. The restrictions and protocols of what the rest of us call consensus reality were at best guidelines that the Marxes shredded to confetti whenever it suited them. They gave bullies and tyrants the what-for, always coming out on top. They deflated pretensions and popped the buttons off stuffed shirts. They could say and do things that we silently wished we could get away with. Groucho's withering one-liners reduced any pompous son of a bitch to ashes. The pinkies-out wits of the Algonquin Round Table embraced them as their own. So did the average joes in Hoboken and Kansas City, who identified with the "immigrant" humor or the relentless mockery of authority figures and social propriety.

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