Here is the Marx Brothers clip I saw in the John Cage exhibition many years ago:
Read on for more, and news from Margaret Leng Tan.
The more absurdist forms of comedy naturally bend towards the avant-garde, because great jokes depend on upending expectations and assumptions.
The absolute silence of this scene is what rhymes it with Cage's project. It's silence is made necessary by Harpo, whose persona is composed of silence punctuated by rude bursts of noise, and which spreads out here to dictate the parameters of the entire scene. There's no music, there's barely any ambient sound, so the aural component becomes the sounds around you: the pops and hisses on the soundtrack, laughter if you're in a crowd, the sounds of your house and the outside if you're not. It encourages a Cagean-style of paying attention. I can't think of another movie scene that does this.
On another note: after yesterday's post, Margaret Leng Tan emailed me to remind me of her upcoming performances in DC, and to share a reminiscence of Cage she wrote for the New York Times after he died. Thanks, Margaret!