Mr. Bean’s Take on Commedia

Commedia dell’arte comic traditions have trickled down into our modern day comedy, but it was only recently that I realized that Mr. Bean is a prime example. His use of noises vs. words, his small improvised moments, his specialized walk and facial expressions…all hints of Dottore, Pantelone, Zanni. Take a look at one of his classic scenes below to get a glimpse for yourself:

Commedia in The Muppets

Watching the first season of the Muppet Show brought me to the conclusion that its characters are closer to its commedia ancestors than I previously imagined.

The old misers Waldorf and Statler

as

                  Pantelone and Dottore


The somewhat-violent, strong and attractive Miss Piggy

as

Colombina

The attention-hungry “artist” and daredevil Gonzo

as

Arlechinno

Even Kermit, the Master of Ceremonies that acts as a liason between the audience and the performers is quite easily a trope on Comico. Kermit even performs of the the traditional lazzi (short improvisational scene) where he tells audience that the troupe will perform some impossible acrobatic feat (which they don’t do).

Funny how little hints of the past make their way into today’s comic vocabulary. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the Muppet Movie yet…get to it!

Harlequin Everywhere You Look

“But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present.”

–  Michel-Rolph Trouillot

The commedia character of Arlecchino is ever-present today. Also, known as “harlequin” style, this print can be found almost everywhere.

In art:

In decoration:

In fashion:

In nature?

I wish. These guys would be beautiful.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Well, You Can Tell By the Way I Use My Walk

Last night, the cast got acquainted with the Little Zanni walk, a commedia style stride characterized by high knees and bird-like head movements. All that striding around led me to this brilliantly filmed, and well-acted example of the Zanni stock character.

In the commedia tradition, Zanni was a typical comic servant. The longer the mask’s nose, the ‘stupider’ the character. Take a look at this gal’s interpretation.

The ending is surprisingly effective as well.

How to Live like French Royalty

“Come to Blois…
C’est ca?
Au revoir!”
– French Cardinal, The Glorious Ones

These castle digs were where the very best of French royalty kept house back in the day. The commedia troupe in The Glorious Ones receives an invitation to perform for the King of France in Blois – most likely King Henri Twah.

Ever wonder how you could pull off living like a King?

Welcome Home

Step 1: Make everything about your home, including the stairway in, the most opulent creation anyone has ever seen.

Step 2: Sentence people to death for things like “looking at you the wrong way,” accidently sneezing, or singing off-key. That’ll teach ’em.

Step 3: Never lift a finger. Have an army of servants in charge of keeping the place looking snazzy.

Step 4: Eat large cuts of meat while regarding the stunningly impressive view from your château.

Step 5: Speak a little French now and again. Try angry phrases such as “Qu’on leur coupe la tête!” (off with their head) and “Jamais de la vie…” (never in my life) to keep everyone in line.

Voila! Royalty Status. That wasn’t so hard was it?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Day in the Life: Venice

Venice appears to be breathtaking no matter how you slice it. The vibrant facades, the quaint laundry lines displaying clothes like multicolored flags, the lack of traditional highways…

But surely the Venice of today is different than that of 500 years ago. While the city is unmistakably steeped in history, it cannot help but to feel the effects of modernization.

On a search to find out how Venice might have looked in the 16th century, stumbled upon this little gem: a trailer for a 2004 movie version of the Bard’s “Merchant of Venice.” Anyone seen this? The cast is top-notch that’s for sure…Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, and…what? Al Pacino? Since when does he do Shakespeare? In any case, I feel like this film flew under a lot of people’s radar.

You can catch a glimpse of commedia at 1:34

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

Strap those girls in! A Short History of the Corset


How did something renowned for making it impossible to breathe ever become associated with femininity and sexytimes? Restricted air flow brings that nice pale look to your your otherwise rosy complexion. Sexy!

Time to jump back in history and find out more:

  • Before cloth corsets, there were IRON CORSETS. Yes, made out of metal. An iron-hinged, armor-like corset was worn to flatten the body giving a smooth outline beneath gowns.
  • By the mid-to-late 16th century, linen corsets started being worn by more women. At least they were a bit lighter.
  • All a misconception: In the 16th century, the corset was not meant to draw in the waist and create an hourglass figure; rather, it was designed to mold the torso into a cylindrical shape, and to flatten and raise the bustline. There is one 16th century reference to a small waist being fashionable, but on the whole it was a fashionably flat-torsoed shape, rather than a tiny waist, that the corset was designed to achieve.
  • These corsets helped create a contrast between the rigid flatness of the bodice front and the curving tops of the breasts peeking over the top of the corset. Peek-a-boo!

Columbina

Image Sources: 1, 2

And you thought Daddy Long Legs were scary…

Can’t stand spiders? I’m with you. They freak me out. Turns out that a few centuries ago, the natives of Southern Italy invented an entire dance devoted to keeping the spiders away:  the tarantella. Making arachnophobia fun since 1528.

Back in the 16th century, a bite from a wooly wolf spider (aka tarantula) was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. It was believed that victims had to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism using a very rhythmic and fast music. The particular type of dance and the music played became known as tarantella.

How could you look into those eyes and not fall in love, right?

Now we know that these lil guys are not poisonous (or at least do not inject enough venom to be dangerous to humans), but the dance tradition remains. And The Glorious Ones tips its cap to the early beginnings of this dance style in Armanda’s Tarentella. While this version offers no whirling dervish, it does take a raunchy look at good ol’ sexual innuendo. And I’ll take bawdy wordplay over spiders any day.

Image Sources: 1, 2