Well hey check it out. See? I’m not all doom and gloom.
I’ve been chewing on this post for a bit, and although the first films I saw when I was a kid were dark fantasy (The Wizard of Oz, King Kong), comedies also had a huge impact on me. Sometimes laughter is indeed the best medicine. Maybe this was because I spent so much time alone, and just being allowed to laugh at stupid shit can have a huge positive impact. Some films, like 9 to 5 (1980), went out on a limb but also had very important things to say about misogyny and women’s rights in the twentieth century, others like Galaxina (also 1980) were just plain cynical and bad, but also held a certain charm (this brunette caught blonde-envy from both films).
I like to limit these to just five, out of politeness, but also hopefully some of you may not have otherwise known about one or two.
1.) Airplane! (1980)
Surely, this pick seems obvious […]
A raging and unhinged spoof of 1970s disaster porn (the Airport film series, in particular), a proliferation of bad puns, an inspiration for a new school of Samuel Beckett-level absurdity, this film not only bludgeoned audiences with a rubber-chicken non-stop, it set an entirely new standard for comedy writing. Part of what made it work was the quality of acting (the poor shemps had to keep a straight face while delivering those lines), and the fact that so many of the jokes just fell short — and as you groaned with incredulity, a new joke, visual or verbal, would be next up on the conveyor belt. The joke would be just as bad if not worse than its predecessor, but it also had the 50/50 chance of throwing you into utter hysterics.
The film has classic staying power. Compounded with the fact that this came out (pun intended) at the dawn of the Reagan 1980s, the absurdity seemed all the more poignant in light of the catastrophes and atrocities that followed.
The lasting success of this oddball farce blazed the trail for Police Squad!, The Naked Gun, and even the “Scary Movie” franchise (with more limited results). To make comedy work, you need to exaggerate, and context is everything, it seems. A catchy tune doesn’t hurt, either.
2.) Quick Change (1990)
The bank robbery was easy. Getting out of New York was a nightmare.
Bill Murray’s career had taken a downturn with treacle like “Ghostbusters II” and “Scrooged,” but “Quick Change” definitely leveled-him-up and his repertoire recovered noticeably. In this film, every character flaw becomes a virtue as we embark on a “what-could-possibly-go-wrong” coaster ride of urban apathy, accidental fortunes, physical injuries, failed disguises, miscommunication, and best of all, some of the most sardonic wise-cracks available east of the Hudson River. As with Wayne Wang’s brilliant “Blue in the Face” (1995) New Yorkers should be able to see themselves reflected in at least one character. It’s a wild ride.
3.) Blazing Saddles (1974)
I don’t think this film could be made today, but it has a close and recently released progeny: Tangerine (2015).
I’m not qualified to speak about racism. It is obviously pervasive in 2016 but I was raised with certain tenets = there’s right and wrong, and judging people you’ve never met and/or conversed with just by their ethnicity and/or the color of their skin is just plain f-ed up. And yet why do I feel constantly trapped by the quagmire of racial inequality? I think my bewilderment is an intentional design of certain parties–historic, current, and future. I speak for no one but myself.
The socioeconomic complications of race in this great but bizarre nation are only somewhat unique and discouraging. The vulgarity and humanity of “Blazing Saddles” assuages some of that pain, if only temporarily.
Mel Brooks (and significantly, Richard Pryor) held up a mirror to America’s flaccid Wild West origins, its obsession with gun culture, and cultural appropriations. This was born to be a timeless classic.
4.) Zoolander (2001)
Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.
Ugh where do we start with this celebration of vapid impotence? Another amazing New York film. Zoolander hit the theaters very close to the 9/11 attacks, and as NYC struggled to find places to breathe (many movie theaters opened their doors free of charge). For me, Zoolander portrayed the triumph of vacuous ineptitude more effectively than Idiocracy (2006). In a world where nothing is more important than being really, really ridiculously good looking **duckface,** Zoolander amps up the bizarro tradition with spy film. There’s even a hilarious appearance by David Duchovny as a legendary hand-model doubling as “Deep Throat,” attempting to clue the main characters into how the modeling industry ties into an international assassination conspiracy. He becomes understandably exasperated in the process. The celebrty-culture satire in Zoolander stuck with me, and I keep going back to a world that will always shut me out, no matter how long I wait in line. And even then, I know I’m not missing so very much, anyway.
5.) How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)
Speaking of epic rants, this one really goes for the Olympic Gold. A searing indictment of the preceding Reagan/Thatcher-ite excess, HtGAiA accomplishes what “American Psycho” (2000) could only dream of. Granted, we are speaking of British acid-sprays here, but the tenets are not so far removed here.
Denis Dimbleby Bagley (played brilliantly by Richard E. Grant) is a top advertising executive. Everyone seeks his opinion on how to be the “voice that sells.” Quite suddenly, he becomes blocked on how to sell a generic, topical pimple cream. Then, just as his jaded nature seeks redemption and renewal for the sake of his marriage and his sanity, the darker side of his nature begins to take shape on his very body—first as a boil on his neck, and then as — well, something else entirely. It’s an exhilarating and frightening storyline, and one of the most noble progenitors of bizarro.
First impressions are best. Director Bruce Robinson and Grant had previously made their mark with the cult British classic “Withnail and I” (1987), but this odd and cynical screed against the avarice of the coming tech era hits closer to home for me.