Monday, April 22, 2013

The Enormous Comedy of Being Outraged

The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)
dir. Clyde Bruckman

You have mentioned you might write on the aesthetics of outrage as a topic.

Yes, the aesthetics of being outraged. But I don’t mean being outraged in that other sense, you know, that sort of postsixties phenomenon. I mean in the sense in which Macbeth is increasingly outraged. What fascinates me is that we so intensely sympathize with a successful or strong representation of someone in the process of being outraged, and I want to know why. I suppose it’s ultimately that we’re outraged at mortality, and it is impossible not to sympathize with that.

This is a topic that would somehow include W. C. Fields.

Oh yes, certainly, since I think his great power is that he perpetually demonstrates the enormous comedy of being outraged. I have never recovered from the first time I saw the W. C. Fields short, The Fatal Glass of Beer. It represents for me still the high point of cinema, surpassing even Groucho’s Duck Soup. Have you seen The Fatal Glass of Beer? I don’t think I have the critical powers to describe it. Throughout much of it, W. C. Fields is strumming a zither and singing a song about the demise of his unfortunate son, who expires because of a fatal glass of beer that college boys persuade the abstaining youth to drink. He then insults a Salvation Army lassie, herself a reformed high-kicker in the chorus line, and she stuns him with a single high kick. But to describe it in this way is to say that Macbeth is about an ambitious man who murders the King.

- Harold Bloom for The Paris Review

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