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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

The Party

by writer/director Sally Potter

I always loved to laugh.

I grew up in a melancholic family, one that was always on the look-out for imminent catastrophe. The worse things got—or perhaps appeared to be (for quite possibly there was a tendency to exaggerate for dramatic effect)—the more important it seemed to be to laugh about it, sometimes laugh until you were crying. Sadness and laughter seemed to be linked, sometimes even more than sadness and tears.

Watching the Marx Brothers’ films as a child, reveling in those glorious black-and-white anarchistic adventures, I saw that humor, especially when it involved mockery of wealth and power, could be a shortcut to seriousness. Duck Soup, for example, was as brilliant a critique of war (and the pomp and ceremony of fascism) as any more apparently profound film about the same subject. Their skills and humor had of course been honed in front of live audiences in the theatre. It was there that they learnt that timing is everything when it comes to jokes. Furthermore, on the stage the performer’s entire body is visible all the time. The Marx Brothers brought this quality to their work in the movies; every moment that they were on the screen was imbued with physical presence, a top to toe embodiment of the ideas and characters they were exploring.

Later, I watched many of the Ealing comedies; also made in black-and-white and dealing skillfully with serious subjects in a way that made you laugh out loud. These relatively modest but usually beautifully written films were often self-deprecating about British society, ironic in tone, built around great performances and then photographed by cinematographers—often European—with an artist’s eye.

If I think of these early viewing experiences as my teachers—especially as I am a filmmaker without any formal training—then it was inevitable that at some point I would be filled with the desire to make a film that would give people the opportunity to laugh cathartically about some shadowy aspects of existence—secrets, lies and betrayals and worse—and laugh in black-and-white.

With The Party I was blessed with a cast ready to jump in and work top to toe and at speed. ‘A comedy wrapped around a tragedy,’ was how I described it to them and to myself. And we laughed so much when we were making it. Sometimes—especially when things got really catastrophic in the story—we laughed until we had to wipe the tears away.

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