Though it is intermittently very funny, and has a retroactively all-star comic cast, the tone of Wet Hot American Summer lurches widely between excessive spoof and affectionate pastiche, but it can’t even manage to skewer the soft-target satirical punching bag of 1980s teen movies, so ultimately, this is the kind of movie you make when you’re not talented or interested enough to make Dazed and Confused.
[This is an edited extract from “‘Only This Can Make it a News’: The Language of News Media”, in James Leggott & Jamie Sexton (eds.) No Known Cure: The Comedy of Chris Morris. London: BFI/Palgrave, 2013. In this essay I analyse the use of graphics, idents, and title sequences in the news parodies of satirist Chris Morris. In this section, I discuss the title sequences that begin The Day Today and Brass Eye.]
Station logos and programme insignia serve connotative as well as nominative functions; they iconically refer to the names of things, but their designs also activate meaningful associations for viewers. The graphic design template of each show is firmly established in their title sequences. John Ellis has analysed the Day Today title sequence, noting that it is characterised by ‘a sense of excess of meaning, of heady overstatement within familiar forms’; it exaggerates the tropes and clichés of the opening of a news show.[i]
A montage of library footage filtered through digital surface simulations show the multiple foci of the programme (politics, war, celebrities, sport) in a mixed arena of metallic, granite and liquid structures that fluctuate between solidity and fluidity: the design connotes encyclopedic versatility, the image speaks of confusion. Continue reading
This brief review of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris will be very Allenesque. By that, I don’t mean that it will be packed with urbane, occasionally surreal witticisms about relationships, but rather that I’ll be borrowing whole sections of it from the last review I wrote of a Woody Allen film. Names will be changed, but I’ll be able to save time and energy by just copying and pasting directly from the previous article, which was mostly about Spectacular Attractions favourite Naomi Watts‘s performance in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Borrowed passages are highlighted in blue. Continue reading
To mark what would have been the 122nd birthday of Charlie Chaplin on 16th April, I present these three magnificent colour photographs of Chaplin, taken around 1917- 18 by Charles C. Zoller (1854 – 1934) and currently held in the George Eastman House Still Photograph Archive. They look like they were shot on a film set, and Chaplin looks relaxed in the first picture, and more definitely “in character” in the others. It’s a treat to see the tramp costume in colour, and to see Chaplin isolated and working under someone else’s direction. Such candid shots of Chaplin in costume, sapped of pantomime and the energetic grace he had when in motion, give a very different sense of so familiar a star. He looks even more vulnerable than usual, and in colour the outfit looks faintly silly, even more like a protective armour against the indignities of the tramp’s tumbling social status. Also, the faded quality of the pictures, which were taken using the Autochrome process patented by the Lumière Bros in 1903, looks now like a home movie or amateur portrait, offering us more immediate access to a glimpse of Chaplin at work.
I’m not sure which film Chaplin was shooting at the time these photos were taken, and the records for the pics don’t say so either. I would bet, though, that it’s A Dog’s Life. This was Chaplin’s first film following his contract with First National signed in June 1917, which matches the time frame, and the setting and costume (admittedly, they are very similar across a number of films), seem to match this wonderful footage:
[In this extract from her new memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey responds to some messageboard comments written about her. Fey’s comedy is usually very generous, so it’s great to see her breaking out the sarcasm and working on some withering put-downs.]
One of my greatest regrets, other than
being the Zodiac Killer never learning to tango, is that I don’t always have time to answer the wonderful correspondence I receive. When people care enough to write, the only well-mannered thing to do is to return the gift, so please indulge me as I answer some fans here.
Posted by Sonya in Tx on 4/7/2010, 4:33 P.M.
“When is Tina going to do something about that hideous scar across her cheek??”
Dear Sonya in Tx,
Greetings, Texan friend! (I’m assuming the “Tx” in your screen name stands for Texas and not some rare chromosomal deficiency you have. Hope I’m right about that!)
First of all, my apologies for the delayed response. I was unaware you had written until I went on tmz.com to watch some of their amazing footage of people in L.A. leaving restaurants and I stumbled upon your question.
I’m sure if you and I compare schedules we could find a time to get together and do something about this scar of mine. But the trickier question is What am I going to do? I would love to get your advice, actually. I’m assuming you’re a physician, because you seem really knowledgeable about how the human body works. What do you think I should do about this hideous scar? I guess I could wear a bag on my head, but do I go with linen like the Elephant Man or a simple brown paper like the Unknown Comic? Too many choices, help!
Thank you for your time. You are a credit to Texas and Viking women both.
P.S. Great use of double question marks, by the way. It makes you seem young.
Posted by Centaurious on Monday, 9/21/2009, 2:08 A.M.
“Tina Fey is an ugly, pear-shaped, bitchy, overrated troll.”
First let me say how inspiring it is that you have learned to use a computer.
I hate for our correspondence to be confrontational, but you have offended me deeply. To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair. I’ll leave it for others to say if I’m the best, but I am certainly one of the most dedicated trolls guarding bridges today. I always ask three questions, at least two of which are riddles.
As for “ugly, pear-shaped, and bitchy”? I prefer the terms “offbeat, business class–assed, and exhausted,” but I’ll take what I can get. There’s no such thing as bad press!
Now go to bed, you crazy night owl! You have to be at NASA early in the morning. So they can look for your penis with the Hubble telescope.
Posted by jerkstore on Wednesday, 1/21/2009, 11:21 P.M.
“In my opinion Tina Fey completely ruined SNL. The only reason she’s celebrated is because she’s a woman and an outspoken liberal. She has not a single funny bone in her body.”
Huzzah for the Truth Teller! Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a “missing girl,” and they must have dedicated seven or eight minutes to “where she was last seen” and “how she might have been abducted by a close family friend,” and I thought, “What is this, the News for Chicks?” Then there was some story about Hillary Clinton flying to some country because she’s secretary of state. Why do we keep talking about these dumdums? We are a society that constantly celebrates no one but women and it must stop! I want to hear what the men of the world have been up to. What fun new guns have they invented? What are they raping these days? What’s Michael Bay’s next film going to be?
When I first set out to ruin SNL, I didn’t think anyone would notice, but I persevered because—like you trying to do a nine-piece jigsaw puzzle—it was a labor of love.
I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I feel safe with you, jerkstore, so I’ll say it. Everything you ever hated on SNL was by me, and anything you ever liked was by someone else who did it against my will.
P.S. You know who does have a funny bone in her body? Your mom every night for a dollar.
From a bodybuilding forum
Posted by SmarterChild, on 2/24/2008, 2:10 P.M.
“I’d stick it in her tail pipe.”
Thank you so much for your interest. Whether you meant it in a sexual way or merely as an act of aggression, I am grateful. As a “woman of a certain age” in this business, I feel incredibly lucky to still be “catching your eye” “with my anus.” You keep me relevant!
Ms. T. Fey
One of the received wisdoms about the early talkie period (the late 1920s), is that although audiences lapped them up, movie aficionados bemoaned the loss of the elegant, silent cinema, and the clumsy obviousness of the talking pictures. Neatly parodying both sides of the debate is this little item from the May 1929 issue of Photoplay, which reassures readers that the talkies won’t necessarily keep you awake, proving that “the motion picture theatre is still safe for those seeking rest and surcease from the horrors and perplexities of this naughty world.” [Click on the images for a larger view.]
[#2: Ealing’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)]
The second Spectacular Attractions podcast is now available for download (see link below). I’m finding the editing a little easier now, but perhaps need to work on my microphone technique a little more. At least this one is a little less stilted than last week’s edition, so hopefully this will eventually blossom into an impressive bit of pod.
This episode discusses the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, directed by Robert Hamer in 1949. You can read the full post here, or download the podcast and take it with you wherever you’re going:
The latest in the series of my collections of movie posters is concerned with comedy, mostly the work of classic comedians such as Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and Harry Langdon. View the slideshow above or scroll down to view the gallery, and click on any thumbnail to see a larger view.
Chris Morris was one of my cultural heroes. I pored over recordings of On the Hour and his shows for Radio 1; The Day Today and Brass Eye were watertight satires of the language of news media. Blue Jam (plus its televisual progeny Jam) proved that comedy could be beyond edgy – it could be terrifying if you listened to it in the dark with headphones on, a truly groundbreaking, nightmarish hybrid of horror, ambient music and sketch comedy that might have been known as his crowning achievement if it hadn’t been deliberately hidden away in a late-night slot so that it could squat menacingly on the border between dreams and waking. Morris can, without exaggeration, lay claim to having helped change the way the makers of news media regard themselves and speak to us. His mockery of the self-important gigantism of newsy rhetoric was so precise, so powerful that it became difficult to deal in such bombast without irony, and his refusal to give interviews or answer to his critics even during the most frenzied moments of his censorship wrangles only added to the mystique and bolstered the credibility of a man who had opted out of second-tier commentary on his work: if there was almost no studies of Morris’ work, it wasn’t because it wasn’t important – it was such a lucid, categorical body of satirical essayis, that it needed nobody to step in to explain it. Did I mention that it was all really funny? Because that usually helps. I didn’t think so much of Nathan Barley, his collaboration with Charlie Brooker, not because it didn’t have some great jokes, but because it made fun of a certain kind of vacuous media twat that was so self-evidently objectionable as to require no further comment. It was fun to mock Nathan and his idiot ilk, but the show had none of the necessity of his earlier shows that slipped inside the news format and bent it out of shape from within.
Here endeth the hagiography. I just wanted to say that I really wanted to like Four Lions. I wanted it to be the next stage in the glittering career of an artist I had long admired. And I did enjoy it. And it does mark a new Morrisian age. But I have a few reservations.
I remember the first time I saw The Evil Dead. I was an undergraduate, and it was loaned to me on a 3rd or 4th generation VHS copy, so it was fuzzy as hell and fitted with one of those wobbly soundtracks that you only get on movies that have been duped on home machines and passed from grubby hand to grubby hand. Younger readers might be surprised to hear of “the old days”, when plenty of films were not available for download or freely available on shiny DVDs, which lose none of their detail from one copy to the next. The Evil Dead was still fairly notorious, since it featured prominently on the BBFC‘s list of “video nasties”, films targeted by moral commentators in the UK media, resulting in the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which attempted to regulate the content of VHS tapes. It led to the withdrawal of many titles from the shelves of rental stores, and Sam Raimi’s directorial debut survived only on illicit copies salvaged from the purge. In those days (typing those words makes me feel so old), you couldn’t just go online and order a copy from abroad. In restrospect, I’m quite nostalgic for my old taped copy – I made my own (5th generation?), and I still have it somewhere in my office, complete with homemade sleeve. But today I’m working from a DVD version, which was finally released uncut in the UK in 2001.