Notes on Comic Face
His is not a comic face.
The ability to slip through time. Allowing each of us to see through face, to see joke. Comic face door propped open, letting joke in. Face not as important as joke it lets in. Immobile. May shift between jokes, between acts, between films, but face must retain a unique predictability of approach, ensuring we know what we are about to receive and how we will receive it.
Predictability of comic face is not joke. Rather it cracks, aerates, conveys joke. Comic face is door. Not eyes nor nose, not mouth, nor teeth, not even his outsized awkward ears. Comic face is assembled from all of these mutable elements, but we must be able to see through these elements, through comic face in order to get joke.
Watching comic face makes us forget we are watching comic face. This absentmindedness is a characteristic of face, a characteristic that is most effectively produced by repetition. Something is going on elsewhere. Where? Behind comic face? Joke behind must be unfurled, must be remembered. Comic faces do not daydream. They have no time except the present moment, and must therefore remember and continue remembering the yet to be of the present moment, patiently coalescing into our present moment of experience, not that of comic face. Material face is not of itself funny, it is the momentary pre-emption of joke that is.
Comic face is as patient as bascule bridge. Assured bridge's two raised leaves will not lower until we are fully through. Comic face is open because it is blank. As pornographic face, comic face's assumed expression is a characteristic of function. The essential difference between pornographic face and comic face is that comic face is not interchangeable. Comic face is blankly stable across each occasion of its appearance, regardless of the content of appearance. We are sure of exactly how face will react in different situations, sure of exactly how face will react because we have seen face reacting in exactly the same way on numerous occasions of appearance. Perhaps we might even be a fan. This is in part, of course, because the situations comic face is put into are of a limited nature. Such stability is very comforting. It is one of the most perfect things in life to be sure of how someone who we find funny will react to joke. Guaranteed joy. Good fit.
Good fit welcomes odd and perhaps unanticipated conceptual tenants. Absurd has secured such tenancy to locate a snug bolthole within comic face. Immobility of face. Predictability of face. Comic face is never unsettled by absurd, by joke, by unexpected; sometimes however face may seem surprised. Face is resigned to joke's occurrence through own stable repetition of reaction. Good fit.
Is face a readymade element of personality? Can we grow into face we know, or believe to be, who we are? In turn, can we know what face will grow into? No. We cannot be sure. We look to others to retain timeless facial posture. Comic face is the most effective tool in timeless facial posture because we have little to no spare emotional response towards it, except for joy, and this joy is so extramundane to our average emotional state that we do not really even rate it as emotion. Joy saturates our organs inducing temporary breathlessness.
Stillness of comic face in film is evident only when shot at high velocity with joke as fuse. Frame after frame of miniscule stillnesses converging inside speed towards movement. Aggregating together these singularised filmic moments of comic face we observe face does not budge. Comic face not quite mask but mask-like in composure is static throughout narrative.
Despite breathlessness, comic face is hardy face. Readymade face. Ideal face. Open, promiscuous, reliable, transparent, welcoming, sensual, firm, enduring, eternal, compassionate (but only self-reflexively so), aloof, dependable, thorough, thoughtful, diligent. Comic face has no need, nor any use for, renewal. Material of face relies almost entirely upon its quality as an open, immobile force, object. If comic face desires or even attempts to renew, it will fail in its primary function, i.e. the maintenance of stability in its own immutability.
Does comic face sieve suffering as immutable face of a saint? Sieve suffering for us so we are left only with joy in the present moment of experience watching it? If comic face does appear to sieve suffering this is only because it is happy in doing so, in order to best achieve its primary function of immutability. Comic face is put into similar situations time and time again, and responds consistently. Face does not suffer. Rather face utilises the appearance of suffering as an emollient to grease the joke for easy passage. Once again, comic face is open face, or more precisely face of openness, with expressness of purpose.
Does comic face have a say in all of this? If comic face resets itself into different figuration, not in actual physical terms but rather in contextualising terms, for example seated comic face becomes striding tragic face, does face cease to be comic face? Or is it simply comic face on vacation, ready to resume? Comic face may serve well in tragedy because it creates suspense. Suspense of waiting for something funny to happen.
Comic face is essentialist in purpose, explaining stability, staunchness, and intensive repeatability. Stability as an empiric quality means face must be consistently and reliably repeatable. Such empiricism here refers only to individual comic face, not to comic face of another. Repeatability of immobility of specific comic face in comic face of another will not do. The essence of the function of comic face lies only in that it may repeat itself, not that others may repeat it. There is nothing to be learnt from comic face.
The above is a chapter from Give Up Art, written by Maria Fusco, edited by Jeff Khonsary and published by New Documents. Maria is a Belfast-born interdisciplinary writer. She is also a Professor at the University of Dundee and the editor of The Happy Hypocrite, a cross-genre journal for experimental writing. Notes on Comic Face is part of an ongoing series of writings by Maria about the actor Donald Sutherland. You can find her on mariafusco.net.
All images are from Start The Revolution Without Me, directed by Bud Yorkin and distributed by Warner Brothers.