No quiz this week. Instead, here’s another episode of the ongoing series: Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures.
From time to time I’ve written about my work as a film-maker, an occupation that like many others had its ups and downs – with maybe a tad more of the latter than of the former.
Well, one day I got big news. A film I had made for Warner Brothers on Scandinavia opened in (muted trumpets are heard in the background) New York’s Radio City Music Hall!
As you probably know the Music Hall is a huge auditorium that’s part of Rockefeller Center in New York City. Its nickname is the Showplace of the Nation, and for years it edged out the Statue of Liberty as the leading tourist attraction in the city.
Its awesome interior has been declared a city landmark. What a cinema, 6,200 folks in the audience each time the film ran through the projector, and it ran through the projector four times a day.
I had wanted very much to avoid making a film that looked like the boring “travelogues” of yesteryear where a narrator would drone on about an old cathedral that was built in the eighth century, or perhaps it was the eighteenth - or maybe it was the twenty-eighth – but it wouldn’t matter since the audience had dozed off anyway.
I tried to have at least one sequence of humor in the movie to liven things up so when I was in Stockholm I had looked about for items that might be good for a slight chuckle or two. For example, I wrote a small bit about how to folks of Swedish persuasion “cigarettes” were “cigaretters.”
So in the script I’d start off with a few of these bits - nothing depraved, just little chuckle-makers - all leading up to a nice big (hopefully) laugh sequence.
All very well, but then I ran into the same problem that faces all writers who like to think they can write humor: how can one know in advance what will be funny? With no audience, no one around, all you have is your gut instinct.
And then there I was, seated in the sea of folks at Radio City Music Hall, sort of amazed that I was watching my very own movie there, but wondering, when the film got to the place of the potential Big Laugh what would be the reaction? Would there be cold silence? Would anyone actually come up with a guffaw?
Well, I soon found out.
The movie got to the modest start of the humor sequence – the bit based on the word “cigaretters” – and I was astonished by what happened. The 6,200 souls in the audience didn’t chuckle, they let go with a powerful roar of laughter that nearly knocked me off my perch.
The start was supposed to be just chortle-worthy, a small appetizer not the entrée, but their response was not only loud it went on for some time, completely drowning out the narrator so that the other chuckle items weren’t even heard.
I felt like standing up and shouting “Wait! That wasn’t it yet!” but that was hardly practical. That one laugh only gradually subsided and my carefully planned humor sequence proceeded quietly to go down the drain.
Oh well, I got a film into Radio City; I had to be content with that.