Karl Valentin
Guy Lochhead, 01/04/12
Bavarian comedian and theatre practitioner who performed in many satirical silent slapstick films and beerhall cabaret shows in the 1920s, often with his partner Liesl Karlstadt. He often played with the employer/employee relationship, with him portraying the worker and Karlstadt as the boss, using wordplay and physical comedy to subvert everyday situations. He had an extraordinary body – very thin, with long, spindly limbs and a strange face – which he used to great effect in his work, and a great talent for seeing the absurdity in normality. He was also a carpenter. Karl Valentin is a real hero of mine. His comedy is based in subversion of social contracts – subversion of language, subversion of the use of the body, subversion of relationships. He used comedy and nonsense as a mirror, showing us how stupid we are. Everyone should try to go to the museum of his life based in an old Munich city gate. It’s brilliant. When I went, children and old people were crying with laughter in front of screenings of his films. I asked for an English-language guide to the museum and was given a very comprehensive booklet that had absolutely no relation to the exhibition. Of course this was intentional. Valentin was Bavarian through and through, and Bavarians take a huge amount of pride in how specific his humour was to their particular culture. In a way, I am sad that I will never fully appreciate the depth and richness of his comedy, but his films are still able to reduce me to hysterics. The relationship between him and Karlstadt was beautifully platonic, and imbues their films with a kindness that is apparent to even the most casual viewer. He was a huge but underrated influence on 1920s German art (Brecht mentioned him as a big influence). I will include a DVD compilation of his short films.

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