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'Another Fine Mess' author Saul Austerlitz on the legacy of Laughter

Will Ferrell in

Will Ferrell in "Anchorman" Credit: Handout

Comedy doesn’t often spell Oscars or critical acclaim, but a new book lets the genre have the last laugh.

In “Another Fine Mess,” film critic Saul Austerlitz makes a convincing case for screen comedy as a serious American tradition, tracing the development of the often-dismissed genre in a series of informative biographical sketches, from Buster Keaton to Ben Stiller.

amNewYork spoke with Austerlitz about some of his favorite American comedies.

‘City Lights’ (1931)
“[Charlie] Chaplin, I think, is pretty much the greatest artist to ever work in film, period, and ‘City Lights’ is his best film. It’s an exceptionally funny, brilliant, just wonderfully human and tragic masterpiece, and it contains multitudes.”

‘The Shop Around the Corner’ (1940)
“Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ … was remade not so long ago — in a sort of half-assed version — as ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ … ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ to me is just kind of perfection. Lubitsch was a filmmaker who had a remarkable gift for subtlety, and ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ is a remarkably subtle evocation of romance, and of the mystery and wonder of romance, without ever becoming treacly.”

‘Rushmore’ (1998)
“In terms of contemporary comedies, I actually just re-saw ‘Rushmore,’ the Wes Anderson film, [the other day], and was reminded again at what an absolutely fantastic movie that is. I think that of the comedies made in the last 15 or 20 years, that’s got to be at or near the top.”

‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ (2004)
“I’m a big defender of ‘Anchorman,’ which I think is just an exceptionally funny, ridiculous, over-the-top movie. Will Ferrell is clearly not for everybody—and I think some people are totally turned off by him—but to me, ‘Anchorman’ is just a compendium of ridiculously quotable, bizarro Will Ferrell catchphrases. … I think that it’s a movie that really has surprisingly stood the test of time. At least so far.”

If you go: Saul Austerlitz will be at WORD bookstore today at 7:30 p.m. FREE, 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint, 718-383-0096

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