Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Horror And The Haha

I recently saw The Last Laugh, a documentary about how humor has been derived from Nazis and the Holocaust.  The filmmakers interviewed a lot of comedians, including Mel Brooks, Gilbert Gottfried and Sarah Silverman. (Silverman has done a lot of Holocaust humor, but then, that's pretty much her act--a cute girl who says outrageous things, seemingly unaware they're offensive.)

They talked about what's okay and what isn't. Ironically, the one thing most of the comedians agreed is offensive was Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful.  Perhaps you remember the plot--a father and his little son are sent to a concentration camp, and the father fools the son into thinking it's all a game.  (To add to the irony, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, also interviewed, if offended by almost everything else, but loves Life Is Beautiful.)

The film was a big hit, and won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Benigni.  I've never felt strongly about it either way, but I can see the problem.  While the film features plenty of comedy, the story doesn't work unless you take the threat of the Nazis seriously.  But the film ends up prettifying the Holocaust--the father and son would have had it much harder.  A schmaltzy story inside the greatest horror of modern times is an odd mix.

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