Monday, May 27, 2013

Arrested Development, Quoting Pina Bausch?

Lucille, blowing smoke as usual. Tony Hale & Jessica Walter in Arrested Development
There's a scene in the second episode of the new Arrested Development where Lucille (Jessica Walter) skirts her building's smoking ban by exhaling her smoke into her son Buster's (Tony Hale) mouth; he then runs to the patio door and blows it outside. The first time you see it, it's shocking. The second, you think, well that's clever, actually, if squirm-inducing. The third, it's—Pina Bausch!

I doubt that show creator Mitch Hurwitz is quoting Pina, but they both followed a sight-gag formula that completely works. I think Pina may have done a similar gag with water being transferred from one dancer's mouth to another. But it isn't so much the specifics as it is one person's completely ridiculous servilitude, or debasement, for another's profit or convenience. In Pina's work, it's usually a man, or men, serving a woman, hurrying or contorting himself as she takes her sweet time completing an action.

Pina Bausch's Masurca Fogo
It also says a great deal about the form of AD, which succeeds for many reasons including the traditional ones—its sheer absurdity, keen observations about human nature, how family members can abuse and push (and help) one another, etc. But it's the rapid-fire jokes, both verbal and physical, that make the show what it is. You have to pay close attention or some will slip by. And by the end of an episode (now 30 minutes rather than the previous 22!), you're exhausted, in a good way. Your brain and gut are tired from work and laughter.

This was also part of Pina's great appeal. Each scene offered a different gag, or poignancy, or dance, or life celebration or test, and by the end of a work, these accumulated into a larger thing. The experience may be exhausting, but odds are your heart and soul got a good workout.

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