Here are the things that made a theater of moviegoers laugh at a recent screening of Babies:
• Babies suffering, especially sibling-on-sibling violence.
• Tiny Godzilla babies shot from below against a clear blue sky.
• Babies making that face babies make when they poop; also, fart.
• Babies crying. (Note: Babies crying in real life incite terror—what if they cry forever? Audience laughter indicates the faith that crying on film will, before too long—unless the film is a European auteur production—cease. Besides, a baby crying on film presumably stopped crying long ago; a baby crying now must be attended to right now.)
And, hands down, the most popular gag:
• Inter-species slapstick. Including but not limited to: Babies pulling the ears of cats. Babies sticking tiny baby fists into dogs’ mouths. Babies stepping on the faces of baby goats. Babies surrounded by cows. (All related to the previously noted joys of baby suffering, but perhaps more profitably categorized under the rubric of “babies courting danger.” Again, funny on film; not usually funny in real life.)
Smallwood argues that the film is a nature documentary (babies as mammals) rather than a documentary which attempts to tell a human-centered story about what life is actually like for newborn persons around the world. “From whose perspective is Babies made?” she speculates, concluding: “Not the babies. Babies look up from [their mother’s] breast, not across at it. The mother’s face is the object of the baby’s eyes, but the mother’s face is just what the camera hides, again and again.”
In other words, the film apparently attempts to isolate the babies themselves from the world of human relationships in which those children exist so inextricably (and which practically the sole job of infants is to learn how to navigate successfully themselves, since their lives literally depend up them).
Still, I’m intrigued by the film enough that I’ll likely see it on DVD eventually, if not in the theater (independent theater ticket prices here in Boston are through the roof!).