photo manipulation by nacrowe
i recently came across this BBC4 documentary MARTY FELDMAN: SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (BBC, 2006) about the legendary BRITISH writer/comedian MARTY FELDMAN. obviously for me and many other MEL BROOKS fanatics, he will always have a special place in my heart for his iconic role of IGOR in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (20TH CENTURY FOX, 1974). i wasnt aware before viewing this documentary the full extent of his career or the distinct comedy lineage he saw himself a part of.
first and foremost this film emphasizes his central identity as a writer. this makes sense in that his first successes, much like PETER SELLERS, was on BRITISH radio comedies which obviously put a premium on the written word. from there he transitioned into television as a writer and became a noted collaborator, in fact most of the notable interviewees of this documentary including MONTY PYTHON members JOHN CLEESE and MICHAEL PALIN, lionize him for such. working on BRITISH television series during the 1960s such as DAVID FROST's THE FROST REPORT (BBC, 1966-1967), AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW (ITV, 1967), as well as his own MARTY (BBC, 1968) seems to be when he was in his element as both a writer and a performer. being a jazz aficionado, FELDMAN seemed to find a through-line between the improvisation required in both JAZZ and COMEDY. that boundless imagination and fearless ability to see possibilities within a comedic premise, especially during the writing process, appears to be where his strengths lay.
that incredible CREATIVITY, IMAGINATION and FEARLESSNESS also informed his performances and mirrored that of his comedic idol, silent film icon BUSTER KEATON. this may seem odd initially given his background as a writer, but after watch several sketches from his 60s BRITISH television series, it is abundantly apparent what a gifted physical comedian FELDMAN was. his timing, commitment and charisma jumps off the screen, much like watching KEATON in a classic set piece. its unfortunate that FELDMAN's career mirrored that of KEATON as well, both being swallowed and spit out by an industry that cannibalizes its own talent. FELDMAN died suddenly of a heart attack on location in MEXICO during a film shoot for a long forgotten film, so his story feels incomplete. he had aspirations that didnt materialize in HOLLYWOOD and was rendered largely a footnote at the end of his career.
i think that was the impetus for this film, to shine a light on his contributions to BRITISH COMEDY in all its mid-century phases, as well as his talent and generosity in the writer's room. it seemed he was in his element within a group supportive group context, which is the antithesis of the corporate, antiseptic and largely joyless mindset of HOLLYWOOD film production. he was an ideal TEAM PLAYER that excelled when put in an ensemble setting of elite talent and for some reason that seems distinctly BRITISH to me. or at the very least it isnt AMERICAN.
interesting film worth investigating on a notable yet criminally overlooked COMEDY giant.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
CHARLIE CHAPLIN seems to get all the shine.
much of it deservedly so, especially given the transcendent greatness of films like MODERN TIMES and THE GREAT DICTATOR with which he used to levy criticism at capitalism and fascism at the height of his powers. it one thing to be supremely gifted and something completely different to take big risks and potentially bite the hand that feeds by critiquing your new country as an immigrant (see SPOTLIGHT on BILLY WILDER).
all that being said, watching BUSTER KEATON is akin to listening to LEADBELLY or HOWLIN' WOLF recording. at first you are mesmerized by the power of the art and then it hits you eventually how primitive the means of production where when this was made. in a sense it becomes that much more authentic and pure in its intention, although you eventually come to realize to them this was just what you did. one take. one microphone.
same with watching KEATON who wrote and directed his film which often display staggering set-pieces with stunts and acrobatics that are still thrilling and mesmerizing. when you see him throwing multiple logs from a moving train to display other logs lying on the tracks, that was actually him doing that.
whenever i feel like i've seen it all i tend to look back, way back to the early days of cinema (HAROLD LLOYD, GEORGES MÉLIÈS, JOSEF VON STERNBERG, ERICH VON STROHEIM) because there you really get a sense of the creative abandonment and potential they say in their craft. the rules hadn't been set yet.
and that's a nice place to be creatively for any artist.