Friday, February 1, 2013

Laugh and the World Laughs with You: Preston Sturges and the Social Side of Film

Today I began a new First Fridays Film Festival series for the LearningQUEST lifetime learning program at the local library. This term we are looking at the films of Preston Sturges, the writer and director who produced classic comedies like The Great McGinty (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), and Sullivan's Travels (1941). There are 90 people signed up for the course this term, the most I've ever had, but I think about 60-70 actually showed up today. Watching the movie with the group reminded me of one of Sturges' most important lessons, the value of comedy as a communal experience.

Most of my students had never heard of Sturges, much less seen The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), which was today's selection. A brief introduction gave them an overview of the film and its notable aspects, especially its thwarting of the Hays Code. I wanted them to understand why the movie was funny beyond the obvious pratfalls and gags, but I didn't try to oversell it or analyze it too much beforehand. I like to let the film speak for itself as much as possible.

Hearing the audience laugh throughout the movie was absolutely the best moment of my entire week. They chuckled, snorted, and guffawed through the whole film. It reminded me of the scene in Sullivan's Travels where Joel McCrea realizes that people need to laugh and that laughter is essentially a communal experience. What a wonderful thing to be able to share!

It's always fun to show classic movies to an audience, but these are the moments I love most. Thanks, Preston Sturges, wherever you are, for the gift of laughter and the chance to share it.

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