At the print shop in June: Preston Sturges’s comedic pandemonium

05/31/2018

Each month, Ink Paper Plate presents a thematic film series, screened on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. I am programming this month’s theme, “Summertime Screwball with Preston Sturges,” aiming for laughter and irreverence in the face of electoral primaries and a poison summer of cronies-gone-White-House-wild. 

Sturges was a playwright, screenwriter, director and producer who, for a while, was considered to be the preeminent filmmaker of his era. He was also among the highest paid. 

Born in 1898 and raised in Europe by his eccentric mother who travelled with Isadora Duncan as her close companion, young Preston was often outfitted in a Grecian toga. As a teenager working for his mother’s cosmetics company, he invented “kiss-proof” lipstick, but had little success at becoming a full-time inventor. He wrote plays, and his second effort, “Strictly Dishonorable,” went to Broadway and ultimately drew him to Hollywood as a screenwriter. He became the first Hollywood screenwriter to direct his own screenplay, earning him the first-ever Academy Award for screenwriting.

His films are populated by his favored staple of character actors, most of whom are engaged in comedic pandemonium while uttering rapid-fire dialogue, often in eastern European-accented malaprops. Critic Andrew Sarris noted that his career amounted to “one of the most brilliant and bizarre bursts of creation in the history of American cinema.”

Melding sophistication with impeccable slapstick timing, Sturges wrote and directed seven films between 1940 and 1944 that are considered masterfully emblematic of the genre known as screwball comedy. He often fought Paramount—and won—in his casting choices. While he reigned, he was unsurpassed, and we have the opportunity to gather at Ink Paper Plate every Thursday in June to laugh together and enjoy the fruits of his genius. Check the calendar for details.

 

Sally Phillips is a staffer at KWMR, where she also hosts Magic Lantern, a show about film and filmmaking in the Bay Area and beyond, every other Wednesday at 10 a.m.