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Comedic Tenor, Comic Vehicle:

Humor in American Film Comedy

 

A Mighty Wind Poster

Formal comedy and humor are confused because they so consistently happen together and for mutually-reinforcing effect.

These last four chapters are designed as four caveats.

 

False conclusions will quickly accumulate for any criticism that doesn’t carefully consider the genre question before applying a humor texture.

 

Comickedy itself subdivides into several generic forms, all theoretically attended with humor textures

 

 

 

In structure, Mighty Wind may be as complicated as any drama since Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which has at least a dozen separate plot tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The concert climaxes with an  inspirational duet and closes with an uplifting, confident assertion that a mighty wind is blowing.

 

 

 

 

As the curtain comes down at Town Hall, a resurrection has taken place.

 

 

A Mighty Wind celebrates folk music as a healing, victorious, creative force.

 

 

 

Music resurrects hopes, dreams, and human vitality.  

 

 

The tree singing groups represent life in community.

 

 

The three sibling producers  form yet another group surviving  as a community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film's assertions of human rights are ultimately American assertions, not assertions of the left, right, or center.

 

 

The argument for comedy is unconvincing because  so much of the movie is left out.

 

 

Failure to account for significant parts of any art work in a critical interpretation always suggests that either the art work is largely flawed or the critic is

 

 

So let us start over.  A Mighty Wind isn’t a comedy; it's comickedy.

 

 

The humor largely undercuts rather than supports the comedic import.

The film is in fact anti-comedic, denying with every laugh a comedic pattern which it is lampooning.

 

 

 

Mockumentary is a sub-form of satire.

 

 

 

The deprecation of the Flower Child Era then has reached a pinnacle in A Mighty Wind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d suggest an Intellectual (Incongruity and Word Play) humor texture to go with the comedic interpretation.

 

Entirely different humors dominate satiric practice, including  Invective, Wit, Exaggeration, and Diminution.

 

 

“Bye, Bye Miss American Pie.”

 

 

 

 

Exaggeration and diminution are working hand-in-hand for the satiric analysis.

 

The satiric interpretation of A Mighty Wind is just as supported by patterning as the comedic interpretation is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The satire of A Mighty Wind does not demean the twin ideals of the folk tradition.

 

One could argue  that A Mighty Wind is an ideals comedy.

 

It can be argued. We would rather not.

 

 

The film's true artistic interpretation must emphasize an unresolved tension.

 

 

Understanding what any drama is really about starts with genre identification.

 

A Mighty Wind, whatever its genre, has an Intellectual humor texture

 

No theater can know what it is about without careful attention to genre question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11: A Mighty Wind:

Getting the Right Genre

 

 

We have, then, presented the theory: formal comedy and humor are not interchangeable terms.  Both are considerably deeper than is indicated by colloquial discussion.  Both work synergistically with each other and share some of each other’s strongest textural characteristics.  Both come in numerous varieties.  And we have presented a methodology, Quadilateralism, for starting to get at the reality that there exist many different humors, not one overall humor.

 

We have exemplified quadrilateral methodologies by placing six of the great American film comedies since the ‘50’s around a Natural Order Circle of humor personality and texture.  And we have both synthetically explored the feel of six contrastive textures and analytically examined commonalities of texture expectable in the construction of the Natural Order Circle.

 

In this final section, then, we begin by hoping that our overall thesis is irrefutably established: comedy and humor are entirely different things, or at least that there is a formal concept, a genre analogous to the tragic genre, which as part of a very long tradition we are calling formal comedy and contrasting with humor.  Despite their entirely different character as concepts, formal comedy and humor are confused because they so consistently happen together and for mutually-reinforcing effect. We’ve been studying that reinforcing effect in terms of the texture humor provides to comedy. And if that is established, then this final section can look forward in hope to more studies of the relationships between humor and formal comedy in the future. 

 

These last four chapters are designed as four caveats in a field that is as wide as it has proved theatrically lucrative since the introduction of New Comedy some 2,300 years ago.

 

Our first caveat  is that, since genre is important and comedy is a genre, false conclusions will quickly accumulate for any criticism that doesn’t carefully consider the genre question before applying a humor texture. It is, for example, theoretically possible to talk about the humor texture of a tragedy like Macbeth with its drunken porter scene. But it would clearly be totally wrong-headed to try to match that humor texture to a comedic genre analysis of Macbeth.

 

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In the opening chapters of this volume, we defined “comickedy” as drama which clearly is driven by humor but that does not have comedic form.  In this chapter, we would like to use the very fine artistic work, A Mighty Wind, to show why making such a distinction is important and also to demonstrate that comickedy itself subdivides into several generic forms. (For example, stand-up night club comickedy is not of the same form as Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca classic comickedic skits.  Similarly, travesty, the grotesque imitation of good sense and judgment, typically breeds a consistent humor texture and non-stop fun, as in Wilde’s Importance of Being Ernest, without having comedic import worth speaking of.) All of these forms are theoretically attended with humor textures—though possibly not humor-of-the-mind textures.  But one can only expect an absolute hash of thought and critical judgment if the work of establishing genre contrastive to comedy is not done with some precision and at an early stage.

 

A Mighty Wind has intrigued its admirers partly because it is part of a “mock documentary” fad and partly because its cast has stayed together through several films, collaborating ad lib on the writing. The plot of A Mighty Wind is carefully woven together, starting from the simple premise that a 1960’s concert promoter has died and his three children are preparing a memorial concert for him on short notice, bringing back three of his most successful Flower-Child-Era groups. From that simple premise, complexity starts to abound as the film simultaneously tracks the activities of the promoter’s children and individual members of the three groups, one of which is a “neuftet,” another  a trio, and a third, a romantic duo main attraction. All these combinations of characters create potentially 17 different plot tracks, something more like ten that actually develop (counting the painfully friendly and incompetent creative manager of the neuftet). Mighty Wind in this sense may be as complicated as any drama since Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which has at least a dozen separate plot tracks.  In both Twelfth Night and A Mighty Wind there is a virtuosity that needs recognition, both for the number of plot tracks kept moving and for how deftly those plots are made to reveal rounded character.  A Mighty Wind’s successful plot multiplicity is all the more noteworthy given that about a third of the movie is directly centered on the memorial performance itself.

 

As the curtain goes down on a concert that performers “got through,” a black-screened white-lettered message presses us forward six months for trailer interviews with cast members. The nine New Main Street Singers have landed a television sit-com contract to be the nine justices of the Supreme Court listening to highly serious cases all day long only to go home and—get this—they all live together and sit around singing in close harmony! The trio is off singing in a Vegas bar where they evidently have an audience of less than five, but they are rejoicing that their second-bass/ string-bass player has found himself by shaving his beard, cross-dressing, and wearing a chic blond wig.

 

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The romantic duo split a long time ago. Their kiss on stage at the end of the memorial concert portended much, none of which happened. Mitch is evidently back in a mental ward, where his “head space” has never been clearer and where he thinks and writes, both furiously.  He hopes the kiss hasn’t permanently affected Mickey. Mickey hopes the kiss hasn’t permanently affected Mitch (though her sister feels she led him on by going through with the kiss at all). Mickey has regained her sense of musicianship—and is using it to join her husband on the catheter convention circuit. She and her autoharp now sing the glories of Sure-Flo products (named in honor of her husband’s mother, Florence).

 

All of which both recalls and jarringly clashes with the truly inspirational duet that climaxed the concert, a ballad of a kiss sweeter than wine. This romantic climax was followed by all three groups’ joint performance of “A Mighty Wind,” an uplifting, confident assertion that a mighty wind is blowing from one part of the United States to another and eventually will have meaning for every woman, child, and man on the planet. The concert finale drew an enthusiastic standing ovation by the full audience at Town Hall, an audience overwhelmingly dominated by now-aging folk-music devotees of the ‘60’s.

 

We mentioned earlier doing an experiment at Carleton College on Peter, Paul, and Mary songs for Paul’s class which stood pretty much in the center of the Flower Child Era, so readers may begin to suspect that we have major sympathies in common with that standing-ovation audience. Let’s start from there.

 

Such an audience may want very much for A Mighty Wind to be a comedy. If so, what kind of comedy is it?  We’ve already mentioned Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which Paul has previously analyzed in depth as social comedy (Comedy). That is, there is no single hero in Twelfth Night. Rather, many plots intersect in a comedic pattern that celebrates that society, not an individual, will succeed and survive, admittedly with the possibility of loss, as Twelfth Night finally must lose Malvolio.

 

A similar analysis can be attempted for A Mighty Wind.  There really aren’t any Malvolios to lose, and as the curtain comes down at Town Hall, a resurrection has taken place, an anastasia of artistic performance, meaning, and value. The audience may be a lot older, the men may be paunchy and the women’s hair artificially colored. But, hey, they were right, they are still right (though normally thought of as quite left), and they make no apologies to anyone.

 

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We have argued that comedy must have a redundant pattern. In such a social comedy analysis as just begun above, Mighty Wind displays heavy redundancy. It celebrates folk music as a healing, victorious, creative force. And that celebration extends from one major form of folk music to another. The film’s folk virtuosity includes a wide range of voice combinations, underlined by the description of how the neuftet was formed from a quintet and a quartet at the accidental end of a long musical-intuition quest.  It includes singers who play their own instruments and singers who play but who are also backed up by local accompanists. And most of all, it encompasses the vast range of  ‘60’s-folk style and content, from the fake-Appalachian “Potato’s in the Paddy Wagon” and  “Barnyard Symphony”; to the small town, on-the-road celebration of eating at Joe’s place; to a biblically-centered, Bible-schoolish  “The Good Book Song”; to the marriage-ignoring love ballads of Mitch and Mickey;  and ultimately, of course, to the politically sensitive and prophetically  apocalyptic yet optimistic awareness of “A Mighty Wind.”

 

This is only the start of the redundant patterning of folk music’s rejuvenating power. Members of the New Main Street Singers talk about virtual conversion experiences in returning to the new gospel music of the ‘60’s. Runaway teens living on the street are given new life. Porn queen stars who do what no one else will do are transformed into the cleansed, cleaner-than-clean wholesome leads celebrating a simpler America—and keeping their private role as chief witch of color realities in the 49th vibration clearly separated from their show business. As in The Blues Brothers, music itself seems to be a substantial part of comedic import. People live by more than bread alone, substantial parts of life are embodied in music, and music resurrects hopes, dreams, and human vitality.

 

The three singing groups of course also redundantly represent life in community.  Mickey’s marriage is evidently enduring. But the formation of her self remains back in a tragi-comic relationship with Mitch and music. Catherine O’Hara is superb in presenting in a few adroit strokes a full character, full of grace, self-vulnerably substantial truth, and musical light. Mitch is an exaggeratedly overdrawn buffoon.  But  Mitch and Mickey combined  amazingly embodies an entirely believable—and believability is the amazing part—couple of the ‘60’s, indelibly stamped with the relationship that was.

 

The three sibling producers  form yet another group surviving  as a community, by their own admission a group that doesn’t see each other very much any more—“we don’t have to”—but  keeps in touch over the phone. If A Mighty Wind is comedy, its comedic import certainly includes a redundant assertion that humanity exists in community, even after the community has disbanded, even when it is kept a community only through ethereal phone communication, and certainly even though relatedness and community is fraught with dysfunction often bordering on individually suicidal tendencies.

 

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And rounding out the themes that provide potentially comedic pattern, since the film is, after all, named A Mighty Wind, let us stop on the film’s title, almost without need for further redundancy, as another important aspect of what arguably can be called comedic import.  The Flower Child Era is easily deprecated.  It is tragic if in that deprecation people forget the enormous steps forward  which that generation took to make not only the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments but the Constitution and Bill of Rights to which they refer self-respecting because humanly consistent—insisting that American rights are truly for all Americans, notably Americans of every color. It is also tragic if such deprecation fails to recognize that opposition to a war is a fundamental right of all Americans under exactly that Bill of Rights and that many Americans, including many famous Americans like Lincoln, Emerson and Thoreau, have exercised that right in other American wars.

 

 The 1960’s assertion and celebration of American rights was indeed a very  mighty wind blowing, blowing ever since 1776 when a  band of patricians bothered to assert,  risking a hangman’s noose as their reward, that we believe “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . . .”  As an American film in an American context, A Mighty Wind really needs no redundant backing. Having been referred to at all, the American love of liberty as defined in Declaration and Bill of Rights is integral to any comedic message of how society survives and prospers. The standing ovation of the audience provides the redundancy: years of deprecation and failure cannot obliterate the idealism that is itself a significant part of the whole success formula, a personal idealism that  recognizes a Creator-endowed right and drive to freedom that finally leaves no woman, child, or man untouched on this planet. These are ultimately American assertions, not assertions of the left, right, or center. And again, they are such strong assertions that even solitary reference in any American work needs to be reckoned with. And these assertions can be expected to draw strong, almost subliminal positive response from almost any American audience.

 

That’s at least an outline of an argument for patterned comedic import based on repetition, including the unusual historical-Constitutional-societal repetition of American human rights idealism just considered. It will be a convincing case to many.

 

If it is unconvincing to us, the unconvincingness centers in the fact that so much of the movie is left out. The comedic rendition carries a lot of baggage, but the work then becomes a suitcase with half-bras sticking out on one side, underpants sticking out in the middle, a tie and woman’s hairbrush sticking out on the other side. Failure to account for significant parts of any art work in a critical interpretation always suggests one of two things: either the art work is largely flawed or the critic is.  Shakespeare criticism in the   years between Pope and Dr. Johnson is a typical example of criticism’s quandary when it fails to account for or refuses to account for all parts of the work it undertakes to evaluate. Eighteenth century criticism revealed its own puerility by not recognizing that Shakespearean plays were in fact well-crafted with every part contributing to the whole—a whole with much deeper meaning than the 18th century was evidently willing to contemplate.  And so their only recourse was to consider Shakespeare flawed, perhaps to be somewhat exonerated by Pope’s attribution to him of genius. We could imitate Pope, claim that Mighty Wind is vastly flawed by many wayward parts but nevertheless a work of genius. We don’t object all that much to an attribution to A Mighty Wind of genius, but we do object to a cheap practice of uninsightful criticism.

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So let us start over.  A Mighty Wind isn’t a comedy, despite everything we’ve said. It is nevertheless clearly a movie trying to be funny throughout. Therefore, we can immediately assign it to the broad category of comickedy—something that emphasizes humor but refuses to have comedic patterning and comedic import. 

 

Now, wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend pages establishing comedic patterning and comedic import?

 

True, but what has been left out is the consistent undercutting of just about everything we’ve said.  And it is the undercutting which is mainly responsible for the movie being so outrageously funny. The humor largely undercuts rather than supports the comedic import. That would make it a comickedy patterned to undercut comedic import.

 

Short as this argument is, it is the end of a contrastive analysis of A Mighty Wind. In the process, we have inherently defined a sub-branch of the comickedic realm. This is a work that is not only non-comedic, it is in fact anti-comedic, denying with every laugh a comedic pattern which it is lampooning. It is patterned to subvert comedic import. We rush on without a full proof of this case, but we submit that it would be easily as convincing as the comedic case already run at length.

 

Instead we rush on to yet a third general generic interpretation of Mighty Wind:  the film is another kind of comickedy that doesn’t give a hoot one way or another about comedic form but that just tries to get as many laughs into 93 minutes of film as possible. If this is the essence of A Mighty Wind, our analysis in favor of comedy is just so much hooey.  There wasn’t any pattern to be considered in the first place. Lighten up. Stop trying to be an egghead, and just laugh where there is obvious reason to laugh. Wow, you guys sure know how to spoil a good time at the movies!

 

So we have now argued three rival approaches to genre identification: 1) comedic, 2) comickedic based in consistent humorous undercutting of what might have been a comedic pattern, and 3) pure comickedy, interested only in a progression of laughs and unrelated to comedic pattern because no comedic pattern is worth considering.

 

We rush through the two comickedic possibilities simply to emphasize that genre identification is important to literary analysis and that genre identification can be very briefly proved to be important. And we rush on because there is a fourth, much more cogent alternative. We said at the beginning that A Mighty Wind was a mock documentary. The whole fad goes under the normal title of mockumentary. And like mock epic, it can be expected that mockumentary is a sub-form of satire.

 

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For our purposes, we will define satire as a range of humor-employing destructive critical commentary, one form of which commentary can be drama. Dramatic satire, then, inherently has humorous texture and, barring artistic complication, inherently fits as its own form of comickedy. In this interpretation, the promoters, the neuftet, the trio, and the duo are all straw horses advanced only to be humorously destroyed. The deprecation of the Flower Child Era then has reached a pinnacle in A Mighty Wind Clearly a satiric analysis of this type runs entirely counter to the comedic positive assertions in our original comedic analysis.

 

For the moment, let’s leave it at that, four possible generic identifications of A Mighty Wind.   Before trying to make any more conclusive judgments on genre, let’s at least make a rough check of the humor personality.

 

For a wide range of comedy, the humor texture is focused on Humor of the Mind as we have repeatedly exemplified. From our comedic analysis, it should be clear that A Mighty Wind contains a fair amount of Incongruity humor—starting with the incongruous difference between ‘60’s ideals and its disparaged later failures. But there are also the Incongruities of the graceful Mickey, transformed by a special relationship with the graceless, tactless, clear-head-space Mitch; the Incongruity of the inexperienced naïve Main Street newcomer who needs the discipline of wearing his sleeveless sweater uniform versus the experienced lead who has perfected New Age candle ceremonies before performances; the Incongruity of public relations specialists who don’t like folk music, who think that model trains were a great prototype for real trains, and whose idea of a hum is a prolonged “ah.”

 

There’s also a great deal of Word Play, as in eating at E-A-O’s, Swedes who speak half in Yiddish and write songs that translate as “How’s It Hanging, Grandma,” and two WINCs (Witches in Natural Color) named Bohner, pronounced “Boner.”

 

We would argue that there is little to no Gotcha humor, though the promoter, Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban), certainly deserves getting hit for asking too many questions about concert hall preparations, and everyone has quite a scare when they are stupid enough to let Mitch out of their sight.

 

Sympathetic Pain is occasionally possible, but moved past quickly. It is largely confined to Mickey and Steinbloom, both of whom are largely focused on holding in Mitch.

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So all told, which we haven’t here, we’d suggest an Intellectual (Incongruity and Word Play) humor texture to go with the comedic interpretation.

 

It is entirely else if we consider A Mighty Wind as satire. We’d suggest—and not try our readers’ patience by proving—that entirely different humors dominate satiric practice, humors which we could group as a quadrilateral of Invective, Wit, Exaggeration, and Diminution. Invective is no more present in the satire than Gotcha is present in the comedy of Mighty Wind. Of the other three—wit, exaggeration, and diminution—all contend as lead elements. Further direct consideration of a satire quadrilateral we leave to separate work and proof beyond this volume.[1]

 

But simply with what has been said, it can easily be argued that A Mighty Wind is dominated by satiric humor. It may be that the Flower Child Era has come in for deprecation. Linking its folk tradition to worship of color in the 49th vibration is not, however, part of the normal catalog of failures. The joke here is both exaggerative and witty. Wit calls a spade a spade in a charming, clever, and particularly apt way. While exaggerated, the joke here also points to the reality that the great ideals of the folk era blended into a great many later experimentations that threw away all the restraints of accepted ideas in favor of personal, totally subjective eclecticism. “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie.”

 

“A Mighty Wind” is a great climactic, optimistic, and comedic-success song, fittingly climaxing the comedic interpretation. But the film goes on, and in that going on, everyone is consistently undercut and diminished. Sure-Flo was an embarrassment to Mickey in her dining room. Six months later, her musicianship has led her to an acceptance of a Sure-Flo role that demeans almost anything imaginable that she may previously have sung. The Folksmen are back together. No one notices much less resists the transvestite self-expression that now defines them, but then again, virtually no one is listening at all. The New Main Street Singers, whom the other groups deplored from the beginning as hopelessly commercial, have signed a contract to demean both themselves and America’s judicial branch as a whole by one of the most scatterbrained idiocies to ever be vetted in Hollywood. The producers have simply vanished—they’ve paid tribute to Dad, and it is past time to move on.  Exaggeration and diminution are working hand-in-hand for the satiric analysis.

 

The satiric interpretation of A Mighty Wind is just as supported by patterning as the comedic interpretation is.  We have repeated diminution of all the personnel connected with show business and particularly connected with folk performance. These people are shown repeatedly to be personally lacking, often lacking before as well as after getting into folk performance. Their personal ideals as expressed in music are not simply contradicted in their personal lives; they are, horrors of horrors, just plain irrelevant to their later lives. (This is heavy-weight censure for a generation that taunted its professors  to be “relevant.”)

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By and large, the pattern does not suggest that fok musicians are or were sold out. Yes, there are sold-out ones, epitomized in the New Main Street Singers, but note how incomplete that pattern is even with respect to their own organization. And it is completely untrue for Mickey, hardly definable as a concept for Mitch, and communally restrained by the philosophic Folksmen.

 

The satire is enlarged with Mighty Wind’s consideration of show-business banalities in general, especially in its Public Broadcasting guise and in its backstage introduction to the artistic direction of the Town Hall auditorium. The particular amateurishness of “tributes” and like memorials is lampooned throughout.

 

So satire, at least the kind of dramatic satire we find in A Mighty Win,d is no more “just laughs” than is well-wrought comedy. Instead both comedy and this kind of satire as a branch of comickedy are highly structured artistic efforts, the structure creating meaningful form. And missing the form is missing almost all of what is meant by import.

 

If this satire is anti-comedic in destroying, demeaning, or distorting everything in the film’s comedic pattern, it is not anti-comedy in the sense of denying what comedy overall affirms, the success and/or survival of humanity.  A Mighty Wind as satire has absolutely no interest in saying that any of its characters will not survive, even Mitch who has been digging his own grave ever since Mickey threw a microphone at him.

 

This genre distinction is absolutely key for a careful critical assessment of the work. The satire of A Mighty Wind demeans people, it demeans show business, it may even demean the nostalgic memory of the folk tradition. But it does not demean the twin ideals of the folk tradition: the personal ideal of indelible affect from personal relationship and the social ideal of a world in which the Declaration of Independence has truly universal meaning.  In fact, the entire endeavor has proved that these twin ideals are beyond the reach of every other demeaning element.

 

And that fact suggests that one could argue for overarching comedy after all, that A Mighty Wind is not even a social comedy, it is an ideals comedy (now a fifth possible interpretation) that proves conclusively that long-standing, distinctively American ideals will not and cannot perish from the earth.

 

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It can be argued. We would rather not. We’d rather argue that A Mighty Wind is an extremely complex work of art which does a characteristically post-modern thing, building a multiple structure from seemingly disjunct genres of comedy, comickedy, and dramatic satire. And having built a multiple structure, its true artistic interpretation must emphasize an unresolved tension between an optimistic anastasia-dominated comedy and a much more cynical, but not bitter or strongly destructive satire.  That tense inter-generic struggle becomes a sixth distinct genre analysis.

 

We’ve been moving fast here, and it is not our intent to argue through conclusively to final critical answers about A Mighty Wind. See it for yourself, enjoy it whether you happen to be from the Flower Child Era or whether you praise God that you were spared that, recognize the complexity, and come to your own conclusions.

 

Our purpose here has not been to critically define A Mighty Wind but to use it as a highly artistic test case for practical consideration of comickedy  (perhaps in several branches, one of which is satiric) and to insist yet again that understanding what any drama is really about starts with genre identification. Get the wrong genre, and the possibilities of error are endless. In modern cinema, we need to be ready to consider very experimental, new generic forms. We have considered here, but hardly definitively decided between at least six contrastive generic understandings of A Mighty Wind.

 

It is an interesting side note to this six-way genre dilemma that the dilemma in no way restricts us from asserting that A Mighty Wind, whatever its genre, has an Intellectual humor texture.  Nor would it stop us from asserting a satiric humor personality if we had a fully-worked-out satiric humor quadrilateral.  Presumably then, A Mighty Wind has both a Humor of the Mind texture and a satiric humor texture, again whatever its genre.

 

Tragedy and comedy are the two great formal genres handed down to us by Greek and Roman civilization.  Shakespeare led in an early modern attempt to break out from that limited classical base, particularly in the plays that we call his romances. Chekhov reignited the search for new dramatic genre forms around the turn of the 20th century. European legitimate theater deserves vast credit for its experimental work well past mid-century, especially in its development of dark comedy derivative from Shakespeare and Chekhov.   Even earlier, European long fiction in the 19th century was involved in a similar, sometimes parallel search for essentially unexploited generic possibilities as V. Ulea has amply illuminated and explicated. It is only good criticism of modern works to consider genre carefully and especially to consider the possibility of highly experimental genre possibilities.

 

Sadly, it has been much easier for critics to fall into the temptation of thinking that American cinema has simply ignored all such generic issues in favor of commercial success (which somehow is possible without careful generic artistry). No theater, however, can know what it is about without careful attention to genre questions. And in A Mighty Wind we see a typically-American commercial development of a viable product that also makes real dramatic history in its genre experimentation.

 

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[1] For fuller discussions of satire, readers might wish to consult any of the following: James W. Nichols, Insinuation:  The Tactics of English Satire; Robert C. Elliott, The Power of Satire:  Magic, Ritual, Art; Alvin B. Kernan, Modern Satire; Gilbert Highet, The Anatomy of Satire; Leon Guilhammet, Satire and the Transformation of Grammar; George A. Test, Satire, Spirit and Art; Emil Draitser, Techniques of Satire:  the Case of Saltykov-Ššedrin; Christopher Beach, Class, Language, and American Film Comedy; Paul Simpson, On the Discourse of Satire: Towards a Stylistic Model of Satirical Humour.

 

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