It's said that all comedy is local, since it depends on a knowledge of the conventions that the perpetrators are sending up and putting down. That may be so, but a glance at five kinds of comedy spanning 60 years proves that the truly funny is universal. A silent star can still make us laugh and gasp at his exertions. Teen foibles from the '80s can touch us today. All of which raises the creepy threat of a Rob Schneider retrospective at some film museum in 2055.
THE BRAT PACK COLLECTION The movie that elicited the term Brat Pack for a bunch of young actors was actually St. Elmo's Fire. This set of three films--The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Sixteen Candles--should be named for writer-director John Hughes, who zeroed in on the light side of teen angst, or Molly Ringwald, his russet-haired muse. Hughes got the social pain of class rivalries, puppy lust and ineffectual parents, making it all funny and agreeable. Sixteen Candles is his Cinderella, The Breakfast Club his No Exit and Weird Science ... well, that one's just weird.
AIRPLANE!: THE "DON'T CALL ME SHIRLEY" EDITION Who remembers Airport, the blockbuster 1970 melodrama (and its three sequels) about imperiled aircraft and frantic air-traffic controllers? It's this 1980 parody that both defined and dented that disaster genre. Writer-directors David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (who later profitably spoofed cops in their Police Squad TV show and Naked Gun movie series) set the tone for a generation of movie silliness. Their coolest inspiration: casting "serious" actors, like Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, who spat out the ludicrous dialogue in flawless deadpan. Bridges: "Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue." Graves (to young boy): "Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?"
THE LENNY BRUCE PERFORMANCE FILM Modern stand-up and (in the Jon Stewart mode) sit-down comedy is inconceivable without Bruce, who, before his 1966 death from a heroin overdose, smashed political icons and broke language barriers with equal daring and wit. In this 1965 filming of one of his last sets, Bruce is clearly addled by drugs and depleted by the series of obscenity cases he had to fight. But his mind still worked with a jazzman's improvisatory genius; the hipster fireworks he launched retain their explosive impact. And, man, was he funny.
THE "LEGENDARY JERRY" COLLECTION It's long past time to admit that we were wrong about Jerry Lewis and the French were right. In his 10-year run as Dean Martin's goony pal, Lewis was the master of extreme physical and verbal comedy. As the auteur and star of another decade's worth of prime movie farces, from the near wordless The Bellboy to the daft poignancy of The Nutty Professor (in a dual role as both himself and Dean), he bent the medium as smartly as he distorted his own body. This 10-film set deserves a Légion d'Honneur medal, or at least your grateful patronage.