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March 2002, Week 3


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Darryl Wiggers <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 16 Mar 2002 09:09:50 -0500
text/plain (57 lines)
>> Both of the Cheech and Chong movies I've seen would be examples
>> of the latter category, since they consist of little but a series of
>> sketches.
> I wouldn't consider this drugs so much as just vaudeville

Up In Smoke has a very strong, straight-forward plot -- Cheech and Chong
trying score some dope -- and its the spine that holds the story together.
After the necessary introduction of the characters they go to visit
Strawberry, which sets up the introduction of Sgt Stedenko, but they strike
out there. Then they go to Cheech's cousin's, but immigration shows up and
they're deported to Mexico. Then they need to get back to L.A. so they take
a job driving a truck back, not knowing it's made of dope. All the while
complaining they can't find any drugs, pursued by Sgt. Stedenko, and setting
up the ultimate climax where the truck starts burning, everyone gets stoned,
and they win grand prize at the punk rock concert.

Starting with Next Movie the plot gets thinner, and their later movies are
certainly little more than sketches with little or no connection with one
another. Still Smokin' is certainly their weakest for this reason. But the
first movie has a very tight plot, and every scene is linked to it. That's
why I think it's their most successful.

Here in Canada we have similar characters called Bob and Doug McKenzie and
they made a more complicated movie called Strange Brew involving a brewery
and an evil brewmaster. Unfortunately the plot got in the way of the comedy,
instead of enhancing it. A friend of mine always thought a better movie
could have been made if it followed the Up In Smoke model, keeping it simple
-- Bob and Doug trying to buy a case of beer. You could do a whole movie of
their misadventures of trying to buy some. In Canada it can only be bought
in government-controlled beer stores, and they are not 24 hrs. This, in
itself, could be worked into the story.

> But of course nobody cares about the plots.

The best plots (at least in comedy) go unnoticed, as does Up In Smoke. In
the end, all people remember are the gags, but the gags work because they
are carefully set up, often early in the story before the big payoff. And
it's equally important to set up the characters -- their fears, physical
characteristics, and a host of other details. The other day I was watching
Rat Race -- a movie that would be easy to dismiss -- but it has a very
strong structure, and well-defined characters, that works for the comedy.
First it quickly sets up the characters and the premise, and then it's on
its way. But each adventure has a ripple effect. Sometimes a seemingly
pointless scene leads to a huge payoff scene later, such as Kathy Bates as
the Squirrel Lady. And each misadventure leads to another, or affects
another character, yet it is all structured so that all the characters --
nearly a dozen -- end up in the same place at the same time. Not as easy as
you might think.

There's an old saying "comedy is structure" and if one was to break down the
plots of any successful comedy, this is quite evident.

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