Fine art tends not to be funny. Of course there are many, many exceptions (basically, all of the examples that everyone immediately thought of upon reading that first sentence), but it’s no stretch to say that galleries and museums only infrequently resonate with giggles and guffaws. Or at least we become suspicious of our own aesthetic pedigree when something in a putatively fine art setting seems funny, because maybe the piece is actually supposed to be, like, serious art and the artist is making a statement about apartheid or something.
And there is nothing less enjoyable than trying to figure out whether or not you should laugh at something.
The Clifton Benevento gallery in New York is currently holding an exhibition of five artists entitled “Hello? I Forgot My Mantra,” of which the title is a reference to Jeff Goldblum’s memorably random line of dialogue in Annie Hall. The show features painting, sculpture, and an unusual post-perfomance piece that involves the having-thrown of dice. To me, though, the most interesting work in the show is Anhedonia, a work of video art by Aleksandra Domanović that isolates the entire audio track from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and replaces the film’s original scenes — you know, all the stuff that happens — with an elaborate montage of short clips of stock footage from the Getty Archive. As though the reverse premise of Woody Allen’s re-dubbed What’s Up Tiger Lily?, Domanović’s piece uses all of the dialogue, diegetic sound, and music (of which there is surprisingly little, it turns out) of Annie Hall and supplants the familiar action of Alvy and Annie with generic bursts of video that are specifically cued to what is being said. For example, the phrase “how I feel…” is juxtaposed with a woman rubbing (i.e. feeling) her neck, and “…about life” becomes black-and-white video of spermatozoa wriggling toward an unfertilized egg.
Anhedonia is therefore akin to a 90-minute motion-rebus, a kinetically hieroglyphic account of everyday existence. It’s worth recalling that Anhedonia was Woody Allen’s original working title for Annie Hall during most of its production, and Domanović adopts it in this instance to evoke not only the generic and sterile quality of the stock footage and photography that constitutes way more of what we see every day than we probably realize, but also the base boringness of how we tend to picture what life looks like.
With that being said, though, the piece — intended or otherwise — is really pretty hilarious. This is perhaps because what many of us have practically memorized in Annie Hall is subverted and supplanted by a Borges-level library of images that are wacky enough on their own, to say nothing of having been meticulously reconfigured to recreate Allen’s original study of the absurdity of everything that we do.
And so in Anhedonia‘s final seconds, Allen’s famous joke about “needing the eggs” is replaced with actually seeing the eggs, which — both in the end and as the end — literally depicts the original film’s conclusion about the delicate surface of the world we’ve constructed for ourselves.
[Thanks to Amelia Colette Jones for the tip!]
When I teach classes on race in America, I often like to use this clip as a way to talk about the “n-word,” a word that I don’t say but which I spend a whole class discussing. After discussing the origins and history of the word, I will have my class watch the following clip from Richard Pryor’s 1982 concert film, “Live on the Sunset Strip.”
In addition to being a brilliant piece of comedy, I enjoy the clip because of the audience reaction–and I am always intrigued to watch my students watching the film. I also enjoy this piece because Pryor’s concert was one of the first stand-up specials I watched as a young (too young) person, and I have always appreciated my brother and step-brother showing me the movie, which taught me both new swear words and introduced me to the fine art of swearing (this should serve as a warning about the language of the clip below). The film also helped introduce me to important discussions of race, ones that I was not aware of in my sheltered, mostly white, hometown.
I like to follow this clip with a piece of music/spoken word featuring Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Tavis Smiley. While not comedy per se, the clip is an enjoyable and illuminating discussion of the use of the word–one in which humor and laughter play a key role. Enjoy.
A journalist once asked actress Sophia Loren to explain the secret to her long, happy marriage. She reflected for a moment. “I have no explanation,” she finally said. “If you want to dissect something, you have to kill it first.” In that same spirit, I bring you this “only in America” holiday video with no analysis. (Thanks to my surname, I can post it without blinking.) Of course, if you have any pointed insights you wish to share, your comments are welcome.
Joy to the world. God Bless us everyone. . . . fa-la-la-la-la, let’s lighten up . . .
. . . For better or worse, songs are poems.
“Dominick the Donkey” was written by Richard Allen, Sam Saltzberg and Lou Monte, an Italian-American singer best know for novelty records. It charted at number 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in December of 1960. The story has no specific connection to folklore, though the donkey is a well known symbol of Christmas in Italy.
Born July 25, 1923 (d. 2008).
While spending a week in a city outside of Detroit helping my wife’s grandma transition from a rehab hospital to home, we rediscovered the comedy gold of The Golden Girls, which was one of my favorite shows as a child and remains incredibly funny. Getty’s character of Sophia Petrillo is a gem. A reminder of how few older women (and men, for that matter) are represented in TV comedy now (apart from Betty White).
An excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” An example of a use of humor (specifically his call to mockery at approximately 3:00) of a great power.
Born June 28, 1946. This sketch was played on Saturday Night Live in 1989 following Radner’s death from Ovarian cancer, as introduced by host, Steve Martin.