Tag Archives: linguistics

Srehtorb Xram Eht

"Monkey Business" as seen in "12 Monkeys"

This is strange – a silent Marx Brothers film. It’s backwards, or inverse, or both.

The Marx Brothers, like W.C. Fields, Preston Sturges and, to a more argumentative degree, Harry Langdon sound pictures, are explicitly about language.

The very make up of the trio (if you remember, the brothers were four and then they realized that the straight man Zeppo was utterly unnecessary and so threw him to the fishes) is based on speaking to others: The first so full of himself that he needs a cigar to stop his nonsense; the second straight off the boat and struggling to explain his heavy accent; the other, like the film medium that preceded his, without sound.

This clip is from the often confused and occasionally brilliant filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Put this clip in the former category since it uses Marx Brothers clippings not for their linguist horseplay but for their visual tomfoolery. Why?

Ironically enough, it’s a simple word correlation. The script mentions “No more monkey business” and no doubt the director recognized the line as being the title of a Marx Brothers film (directed by Norman Z. McLeod). So, we have a visual correlation without hearing the verbal musings of the original, only aimless running. It’s a simple and virtually meaningless homage , except they can hide it within a montage of other trundles.

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