Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN -

Ev­ery­thing You Al­ways Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask) (1972) Se­lected by Sali Hughes, colum­nist

The fact Gene Wilder ap­peared in some of the great­est screen come­dies of all time is a no-brain-re­quired, in­dis­putable fact. But what is more re­mark­able is that through­out pretty much all of these hys­ter­i­cal films, he is the fun­ni­est thing in them.

Just one ex­am­ple of this is Wilder’s per­for­mance in the sec­ond of seven vi­gnettes as part of Woody Allen’s Ev­ery­thing You Al­ways Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But

Were Afraid To Ask). In this par­tic­u­lar episode, ti­tled ‘What Is Sodomy?’, Wilder plays Doc­tor Ross, a well to-do physi­cian who falls in love with Daisy, the lover of his pa­tient, an Ar­me­nian shep­herd. Daisy just hap­pens not to be a woman, but an un­nerv­ingly hot sheep.

The sur­real story is won­der­ful from start to fin­ish, but the first scene in which Doc­tor Ross sits in con­sul­ta­tion with shep­herd Stavros (Ti­tos Van­dis), ask­ing him com­pletely dead­pan what seems to be the prob­lem, is an ab­so­lute mas­ter­class in comedy acting. Stavros’ im­pas­sive ad­mis­sion that he’s in love with a farm an­i­mal would, in any other film, be the punch­line, but here it sig­nals a full 25 sec­onds of si­lence from Wilder in close-up. It’s fair to say that Wilder’s face — sim­i­larly to Will Ferrell’s or Marty Feld­man’s — is nat­u­rally just

funny. In fact, his blank rest­ing ex­pres­sion alone is enough to give any­one the gig­gles. But in this scene, Wilder ab­so­lutely takes it to town, show­ing us myr­iad tiny in­di­ca­tors of ev­ery con­ceiv­able emo­tion, from in­credulity to re­vul­sion, be­wil­der­ment to fear, all with­out say­ing a sin­gle word. There can be few shots in film his­tory in which eye move­ments are so preg­nant with mean­ing, so com­pletely dis­tinc­tive from one half-sec­ond to the next.

The scene is peak Gene Wilder. Twinkly, hap­less, like­able, in­no­cent and warm all at once — he’s per­haps the only ac­tor in the his­tory of cinema who could turn an act of heinous bes­tial­ity into a poignant, funny love story, that has au­di­ences root­ing, en­tirely against their will and bet­ter judge­ment, for a hap­pily ever af­ter.

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