Comedy Tonight: Classic Films with David Schwartz

“Drama is easy, comedy’s hard,” said film director Peter Bogdanovich. But now, with the world so full of drama and tragedy, the time is right for some comedy. As we all stay at home to help flatten the curve, this online film club offers a chance to see five of the great screen comedies, accompanied by live discussions. It’s not the same as sharing our laughter together in a theater, but it’s an experience we can enjoy together. Here’s how it works: curator and host David Schwartz has selected five films available for viewing on the Criterion Channel and elsewhere. Whenever we can, we will list available screening options. You’ll watch the films at your own leisure, along with a video introduction by David Schwartz. Then you’ll be able to join us online on Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. for a live discussion, including a conversation with a special guest and questions from the audience.

The Films

May 27
To Be or Not to Be — Ernst Lubitsch. 1942. 99 min. B&W. English.

A note from David Schwartz: Lubitsch’s audacious comedy about a group of Polish actors performing Shakespeare in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II is at once daring and delightful, with the bonus of starring Jack Benny in what is by far his finest performance, alongside the ever incandescent comedienne Carole Lombard.

From Criterion Channel: As nervy as it is hilarious, this screwball masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch stars Jack Benny and, in her final screen appearance, Carole Lombard as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. To Be or Not to Be is a Hollywood film of the boldest black humor, which went into production soon after the U.S. entered World War II. Lubitsch manages to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and urgent wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that has never been equaled.

Q&A with film scholar Thomas Doherty

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An introduction to To Be Or Not To Be from David Schwartz:

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June 3
Stranger Than Paradise — Jim Jarmusch. 1984. 89 min. B&W. English.

A note from David Schwartz: Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan comedy Stranger than Paradise, about two downtown New Yorkers whose aimless life is upended by the arrival of a Hungarian cousin, is one of the key independent features of the 1980s. Jarmusch used a black-and-white, minimalist, no-budget aesthetic to his advantage, announcing himself as one of the most distinctive new directors of his time while reinventing the road movie.

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From Criterion Channel: Rootless Hungarian émigré Willie (John Lurie), his pal Eddie (Richard Edson), and visiting sixteen-year-old cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) always manage to make the least of any situation, whether aimlessly traversing the drab interiors and environs of New York City, Cleveland, or an anonymous Florida suburb. With its delicate humor and dramatic nonchalance, Jim Jarmusch’s one-of-a-kind minimalist masterpiece, Stranger Than Paradise, forever transformed the landscape of American independent cinema.

Stranger Than Paradise is also available on Amazon and Kanopy

An introduction to Stranger Than Paradise from David Schwartz:

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