Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Man Who Wrote Arthur

Over the holidays I was in the kitchen making a lasagna - my lasagna is legend, I have the recipe for those who wish to impress. I turned on the TV, flicked around and discovered that "Arthur" was about to start.

Arthur is just about the best film comedy ever written. I mean ever. In the history of film comedies almost nothing comes close.

Here's the way most film comedies work - all the gags are in a seven minute trailer, there's no need to go see the film.

Here's the way Arthur works - the entire film is packed with some of the greatest lines you'll ever hear. All the way through, from beginning to end there are great gags. Not vomit gags - though the guy is a drunk, not idiot jokes, not gross-out puerile infantile attempts at jokes. Real copper-bottom proper gags that make you laugh out loud - and move the story forward - and stay true to character.

If you are thinking about writing any kind of screen comedy it's worth viewing this gem from 1981. Gosh, Grandpa did they even have jokes back then? Yes, they did, son and many of them can be found recycled in films today.

For years I carried around lines like

"Will the more attractive of you please step forward."

"Susan you're an asshole".
"I'll alert the media."
Princess Gloria from a place so small that "Rhode Island could beat the crap out of it.They recently had the entire country carpeted."
"You're a hooker?!! I just thought I was doing great with you."

Not laughing? Here's the thing - context. With the exception of that last line almost none of the others make any comedic sense without what goes around them - and yet they are big laughs in the movie.

Situation plus character plus line equals laugh. There, the perfect formula for comedy gold. Easy, now we can all go away and write our Oscar winning comedy.

The tragedy is that Steve Gordon has only one other screenwriting credit to his name, the Henry Winkler wrestling comedy The One and Only - and if you think (as I did before I saw it) that the Fonz in a wrestling picture is not going to get your wings flapping you are, like I was, wrong. Like Arthur it is packed with zingers.

The reason Steve Gordon has only one other credit is because after Arthur he died. A sudden massive heart attack. With him went 'the project he'd always wanted to do' . I've never been able to find an unproduced screenplay by him but whatever it was you can be sure it would have been funny.
So, the next time Arthur - the 1981 film not the Russell Brand remake - is on the TV, head for the kitchen, make a lasagna and laugh and laugh and laugh.

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