AFInity: A Night at the Opera
By Kim Hollis
September 11, 2009
We're a list society. From Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die to BOP's very own Best Horror Films (one of our most popular features ever), people love to talk about lists. They love to debate the merits of the "winners" and bemoan the exclusions, and start the whole process again when a new list captures pop culture fancy.
Perhaps one of the best-known, most widely discussed lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies. A non-profit organization known for its efforts at film restoration and screen education, the AFI list of the 100 best American movies was chosen by 1,500 leaders in the movie industry and announced in its first version in 1998. Since then, the 100 Years... 100 Movies list has proven to be so popular that the AFI came forth with a 10th anniversary edition in 2007, along with other series such as 100 Heroes and Villains, 100 Musicals, 100 Laughs and 100 Thrills.
In addition to talking about which films are deserving of being on the list and bitterly shaking our fists because a beloved film was left out, we also love to brag about the number of movies we've seen. As I was looking over the 100 Years... 100 Movies list recently, I realized that I've seen 47 - less than half. As a lover of film and writer/editor for a movie site, this seemed like a wrong that needed to remedied. And so an idea was born. I would watch all 100 movies on the 2007 10th Anniversary list - some of them for the first time in as much as 20 or more years - and ponder their relevance, worthiness and influence on today's film industry. With luck, I'll even discover a few new favorites along the way.
#85: A Night at the Opera
It's highly unlikely that we'd ever see a movie like A Night at the Opera in theaters today; moreover, even if we did, I can't imagine audiences flocking to see it. The Marx Brothers extravaganza feels very much like a product of its time, though I'm not really noting that as a real criticism. Prior to viewing A Night at the Opera, I'd never seen a Marx Brothers film, yet it felt as familiar and comfy as a favorite old pair of pajamas.
There's a reason for this. The comedy of the Marx Brothers has become so ingrained into pop culture that most people surely don't even realize it when something that makes them laugh has their humor at its root. Their influence can be seen in Looney Tunes shorts, movies like Mr. Mom and The Freshman, television shows such as M*A*S*H and Seinfeld, and even in comic books. The infamous "Groucho Glasses" (the classic glasses, eyebrows, nose and mustache combo) continue to be a Halloween staple to this day.
In essence, the Marx Brothers are human cartoons. Their humor and action is almost completely anarchic. For some people, I can see that this would be a little annoying. The onslaught of gags, insults and one-liners is relentless. Subtlety is not part of their repertoire. Their approach to their art is to hit the viewer over the head (in the case of Harpo, this is quite literal). I have to think you'll either love them or hate them - grey area isn't something that exists in the world of the Marx Brothers.