A Year in Shorts Day 251: "The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film"
Poor Peter Sellers never won an Oscar. Despite high acclaim for his performance in Being There, he lost out on the Best Actor statue to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. And the less we say about his work in Dr. Strangelove losing to Rex Harrison of all people, the better. But Peter Sellers received another Oscar nomination before either of those films, although it wasn’t for acting. In 1959, years before Dr. Strangelove or Inspector Clouseau were a twinkle in his eye, Sellers teamed up with Richard Lester to direct the surreal, silly and highly influential The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film.
Like many films we've covered in our Year in Shorts, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film is a little hard to describe; it's better just to see it. Still, perhaps some historical context will help prepare you for what you're about to experience. Before he was a movie star, Peter Sellers did radio comedy with The Goon Show, which he worked on with costar and head writer Spike Milligan. The series was wildly successful and is considered a watershed moment in the history of British comedy, inspiring everyone from Eddie Izzard to Monty Python. And that legacy becomes especially apparent when watching The Running Jumping & Stand Still Film, which Sellers made as he and Milligan attempted to branch out into film and television. The pair would bring along director Richard Lester, who had directed the pair in several sketches made for television. So they made this strange little film and the rest, as they say, is history. Unfortunately the film isn't on YouTube so I can't embed it here, but it's available for free on the Internet Archive.
As you've no doubt seen, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film is really just a series of random and surreal gags loosely connected by some kind of theme. The film clearly draws on not only the random humor found in The Goon Show, but also the gags of British pantomime and early silent comedy. (This last bit may have been more out of practicality than anything else; at a budget of seventy pounds, not including sound would be a real money saver.) We in the YouTube era have become desensitized to this kind of comedy, but in the 50s it was downright revolutionary! And not just in the field of sketch comedy; the film also found a group of fans in a little music group called The Beatles. You may have heard of them. Richard Lester wound up getting hired on to direct Help! and A Long Day's Night, before moving on to a successful (if somewhat uneven) career in film comedy. (I am a particular fan of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, one of the few good movie musicals of the 1960s.) Of course, it's all fine and good to know about a movie's legacy; what of the film itself? Well, it's a comedy, and as with all comedies (especially the plotless, random kind on display here), it's all pretty subjective.
And from my point of view, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film is a short which I respect more than I enjoy. While I definitely see the seeds being planted for the types of comedies I'd come to know and love in later years, I think this type of comedy definitely benefited from all the people who cultivated it afterwards. There's a lot to like about this film, from the old school black and white cinematography and the general silliness it contains, but there's not a lot I love about it. Nevertheless, you have to respect the legacy. There are things in the world of cinema which are more important than my own personal enjoyment, as hard as that may be to believe. And when a film has had as big an impact as this one has, very little else matters when you get right down to it.
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