Charle Chaplin said “Life is a tragedy when seen in a close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
There are many things to say about long shots in comedy, but I am going to focus on a certain kind of shot that isn’t used much anymore. The extreme wide shot. I’m talking so wide the actor looks relatively tiny. In most films, wide shots are used for establishing an environment, or maybe a transition, but here they are used to let a gag play out as in as wide a composition as is possible.
The best source for these types of shots is old Fliescher Popeye cartoons. Does this shot from A Dream Walking need to be this wide? No, of course not. But how wonderful it is this way! There is so much to look at. It’s like some fully functional toy.
Physical comedy plays out best with as few cuts as possible. A long shot like this is great because you can take it all in.
In this example from Hold the Wire, we get a nice symetrical composition which highlights the distance they have to traverse on the wire, and how high they are from the ground. Cutting to different angles would have much less charm.
They follow up shortly with this next shot. The big circular motion contrasted with the rigid vertical poles. I want to point out what a marvelous job on the animation of the wire as Popeye falls and swings.
In Twisker Pitcher, Bluto comes to bat with the bases loaded. This is easily the most efficient way to show how fast he runs the bases.
In Two Alarm Fire, the big burning building is featured in many shots.
For some reason, it’s funny when someone gets hit by something thrown from a distance. There is some history to this kind of shot. First one from Popeye.
Here’s an example from Will Ferrell’s Elf.
At the very end of Swiss Miss, a Laurel and Hardy feature, a gorilla flings a crutch at the boys as they run down the road. It’s likely that the crutch was an animated effect.
There is something circus like in some of these shots, like they could be performed under a big top.
In fact, circus was the theme in Pluto’s The Wonder Dog. There is something simple and fun about staging like this. This first shot could be shown differently, with an extreme up or down angle on the ladder, but this angle is actually the viewpoint of another dog.
It is almost like looking at a diorama. The actor looks miniature, and cute.
A lot has been written about Buster Keaton’s use of wide shots. He had a philosphy about playing out a gag with no cuts so the audience could appreciate the skills involved. Shooting wide was often the way to do it.
Shots like these are seldom seen these days. Except in movies by one director. Wes Anderson, who also works in animation.