The Baumbach/Raimi Dichotomy

Every film fan at one point or another has attempted to compile a list of favorite comedies. And every single time, nobody amasses more than forty films without getting disgusted at themselves. At a certain point, everybody begins to doubt their own tastes and preferences, or begins to second-guess their instincts. They begin making observations like, "Why do I have Arsenic and Old Lace two points behind Jackass 2?" or, "I haven't even seen What About Bob? in fifteen years, and I don't remember any of it."

It's not a coincidence; this happens to everybody. It's the direct result of the Baumbach/Raimi Dichotomy. The film rule that comedies cannot be objectively compared to each other.

Let me explain:
Sam Raimi makes films that are funny, which are not comedies.
Noah Baumbach makes comedies, but they are not funny.

Raimi employs heavy black humor, over-the-top acting and ridiculous situations, but ultimately stay in the horror/thriller genre.
Baumbach makes slice-of-life dramadies more akin to the ancient Greek definition of comedy, providing uplifting lighthearted tales rather than belly-laughs. There are humorous instances, but none that provoke belly-laughs or actual guffaws.

Comedy is not a fair or accurate word. The spectrum is too broad, too grand, too all-encompassing to accurately define a film. It could mean any number of things, and does mean any number of things. The word can be used to describe both Noah Baumbach and Sam Raimi's works, but the two filmmaker's catalogues could not be any more different.

The real irony is, neither are truly representative of the modern definition of comedy.


Smile and wave, try to behave, be happy that they've made you a celebrity

There is a pre-requisite for reading this post. I'd like you to watch two separate viral videos:

Okay. On we go.

What does it mean to be a celebrity? A celebrity is anybody whose deeds, actions, or career has made that person known to individuals without having personally met them. There are different grades of celebrity. Most well-known are A-listers, the superstars known by many, even if their fame is not particularly justified. A-list stars are money machines, the result of marketing and exploitation. They're not in the entertainment industry for noble reasons, they want awards and money and fans and more money. When you get a bunch of A-listers together, it usually turns into something like this:




You could firebomb the whole building, and the only loss would be Jeff Bridges and a recording studio. Why the hell is Vince Vaughn even there? Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for playing a musician in Crazy Heart, so he can justify showing up, even if his reasoning is half-assed. But Vince Vaughn looks like he got lost somewhere and needs to call a taxi. And another thing, when did Vince Vaughn start sucking? He was the coolest guy in the world in 2005, then he and Owen Wilson spontaneously decided they would rather suck. Did the awesomeness of Wedding Crashers result in their collective talent collapsing inward and destroying itself like a neutron star?

Sometimes celebrities just fall out of the limelight. The first video is full of this type of celebrity. Celebrities who once had clout and could once grace magazine covers, but either through bad decisions or personal reasons, have receded to the shadows.

Sometimes celebrities and audiences refuse to admit this. Look at Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman. Both of them haven't been in a decent film since 2002 (Gangs of New York and The Others, respectively). Mike Meyers and Eddie Murphy used to be comedy legends, now they couldn't tell a knock-knock joke without crapping all over it. Hell, Tom Cruise used to be the biggest draw in Hollywood with six consecutive films grossing over $100 million, but he couldn't keep his personal life separate from his career and completely screwed himself over.

And yet, despite Vince, Owen, Cameron, Nicole, Mike, Eddie and Tom not having a leg to stand on, they're still considered A-listers and still receive upwards of $25 million per film.

The other type of B-list actor is featured in the second video. The kind who work, and work, and work, but never reach A-list status. They put forth twice the effort, and earn a fraction of the fame. When these types take on a job, it's not for a paycheck, it's an actual honest-to-god career move. They work on the projects they want, they work with the people they want, and they produce quality. Even if this means very few people will ever see their projects.

They usually get a leg-up from the few honest-to-goodness quality actors who manage to crossover to A-list status. While I've never considered myself a Will Ferrell fan, Funny or Die has been a driving forces for aspiring comedians, and has done wonders for the field.

With these two factions clearly defined, we ask ourselves the question: which group of B-list celebrities is the truer representation of the B-list status? If advertisers were clamoring for celebrity spokesmen, who would make a bigger impact: a celebrity very few would recognize, but would greatly appreciate or a celebrity many would recognize, but few would appreciate?

Just some food for thought.