Friday, May 15, 2009

On the Shoulder of Giants — Introduction to a Series

[post 007]

" If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
— Sir Isaac Newton (1676)

It's ironic that Newton's famously modest observation was itself plagiarized from his predecessors. Our good friend Wikipedia traces it back to at least the 12th century. But that's the whole point: there's nothing new under the sun, and if a towering scientific genius like Newton could give credit where credit's due, so should we mere mortals. And besides, the historian in me enjoys making all kinds of connections between our vintage sepia past and our cutting-edge RGB present.

The result is this series, which will be a regular feature of the blog, an exploration of the multiple reincarnations of various physical comedy skills, gags, and concepts. There will be no attempt to chart every manifestation of an idea — I'm not that obsessive and I don't have that kind of time — but I hope there will be enough examples to keep you and Sir Isaac happy. If you have more, just send them in.

Before I get into my first installment, take a look at "Great Artists Steal," an interesting montage of Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan clips that was posted to YouTube a few months back. The picture quality ain't great but it does a good job of showing one of the traditions Chan draws upon. Since many of Chan's fans have probably never even heard of Buster Keaton (most of my college students haven't), this in itself is a service. It doesn't take anything away from Jackie Chan, who is brilliant in his own right, but shows that he is also smart enough to take inspiration from past artists.

So that's the general idea. Just go to the next post for my first installment...

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