From our great friend Lev Levinson-one of my favorites movies too
Ed here: I've written many times about screwball comedies being my favorite genre of film (hardboiled/noir being a close second). This one is in the top five. A masterpiece. You will be in awe of Barrymore and Lomard. I promise.
“The sorrows of life are the joys of art.”What a great line.It was spoken by the great John Barrymore in a movie I just finished watching on DVD, Twentieth Century, in which he stars opposite the great Carole Lombard.
This line and this movie have revived my faith in art. Because I’ve been a little depressed lately, if the truth be told. My so-called literary career, 83 published novels under 22 pseudonyms, has been a disaster. Here I am living in genteel poverty and squalor in HUD housing in a little town that no one ever heard of, and I never heard of either until I found it on a map one gloomy day in my so-called life.
This movie just woke me up. One could say it was the call of destiny. My flat screen TV, given me by a friend, is still warm. I’m still in the thrall of this movie. Because it’s more than a movie. It’s a true work of art whose subject is art, and how people can become obsessed by it, and devote their lives to it, despite setbacks, scorn, neglect, and countless humiliations which all artists experience at some point in their careers, even if they become very successful later on. And some artists endure these experiences throughout most of their entire artistic careers, not mentioning any names.
But it’s not one of those preachy movies full of the nobility of suffering, yearning for meaning, and tears in the night, although there’s plenty of that. Twentieth Century primarily is a comedy about a theatrical couple who love and hate each other, who need and have contempt for each other, like both my marriages and several of my so-called love affairs.
I laughed out loud many times in this movie because it is genuinely funny, unlike some comedies that are supposed to be funny but aren’t, such as Woody Allen qvetching on camera, or Adam Sandler mouthing idiotic lines, or Jerry Seinfeld impersonating a stand-up comic, or people throwing pies at each other, or night club comics insulting people, which is considered quite amusing nowadays.
The art of comedy has sunk way down low compared to this movie. The quips and wit came at me like machine gun fire, one after another. I haven’t laughed so hard at years. If art can accomplish this miracle, then surely a life in art is worth the effort.
John Barrymore was the great tragedian of his day, but it appears his true metier was comedy. What a brilliant actor. There’s never been anyone like him before or since. His gestures and facial expressions seem new and original, even when he’s purposely hamming it up. The raising of a Barrymore eyebrow is more eloquent than ten pages of words from that hack Len Levinson.
Carole Lombard was a great Hollywood beauty, but it appears her true metier also was comedy. One might be tempted to think there’s nothing funny about a beautiful woman, because beauty and desire seem so serious, but Carole was riotously outrageously scintillatingly funny. It seemed impossible for a great beauty to carry on in this disgraceful manner, but she brought it off marvelously, and of course I’ve fallen madly and hopelessly in love with her although she died long ago.
Barrymore and Lombard get into countless vicious arguments, insulting each other most cruelly, and it’s all hilarious. Then even engage in domestic violence! Both would both be put in prison nowadays for some of their shenanigans. But love can be very complicated, as those of us who’ve been in love know all too well.
So art is worth the effort because it’s entertaining and inspiring and teaches us about life far better than most psychology books and most sermons. And if an artist is a failed artist, well, it might be better to aim high and fail, than not aim high at all.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself whenever I think of taking the gaspipe, although there’s no gas in this apartment, or jumping out the window, although I’m only on the third floor and only would break a leg or arm.
Anyway, I highly recommend this movie. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a revelation. You’ll realize how commonplace and pedestrian most movies actually are in comparison.