Last night I caught the end of the program on the Greatest Comedy Films. I don’t know whether the films were chosen by some sort of poll or not, but it seems they may have been when I look on the web.
The list is okay when you work from 50 towards the top; there are some oddball films there, but that’s probably good. But as you get into the top 15, things take on a curious turn. I caught up with the list at Groundhog Day, which isn’t just a comedy, it’s a philosophical statement about life and repetition and the order of things. The Blues Brothers, which comes next, is mayhem personified. I’ve never managed to see all of it, but it looks like an odd combination of lots of car crashes (Americans seem to find this amusing for some reason - maybe they actually hate cars rather than love them) and some interesting uses of music.
Annie Hall is next on the list, with Woody Allen at his neurotic best, and then we come to This is Spinal Tap, a film I’ve barely heard of, and which, from the clips they showed, may be worth a look. It was hard to tell. But it seemed a strange choice to be so far up the list.
Now we come to the level of comedy where the crude and gross excel. On screen in the documentary we had various people proclaiming how far they’d gone and how producers had actually let them get away with it. There’s Something About Mary is famous for some very unpleasant use of semen and for Ben Stiller getting himself caught in his zip. Beyond that it’s hard to know whether it’s of any value as a comedy or not, because this is all you ever hear about it.
Blazing Saddles came next, and certainly this is a pretty crazy movie. Again, one scene has stuck in people’s minds, which seems to say a lot about what people think is funny, and that’s the scene in which a bunch of men eating beans fart a good deal. The film is a lot better than this one scene, though again it’s pretty crude.
But crude and gross and generally offensive is about all I can say in regard to the next choice, American Pie. I’d heard that it was pretty puerile, but the clips shown last night show that I’d barely guessed at the level of puerility. It may be funny in some people’s minds, but it wouldn’t make my list of comedies.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is another kettle of fish. The Python gang can be pretty offensive in the sexual area sometimes, but seldom get to a disgusting level. This isn’t a movie I’ve seen, but the clips seemed to indicate it had a typical Python sense of the surreal, and could actually be quite funny.
The last five on the list are an extremely mixed bunch: South Park, Austin Powers, Shaun of the Dead, Airplane! and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
To take the top one first. The Life of Brian has always been controversial because of its closeness to the Christian story, and in spite of what the Python clan claim, it mocks Christianity continually. For them to say that people like Malcolm Muggeridge and some Archbishop who appeared on television with them were too ‘serious’ about the film, and seeing things in it that weren’t there is just nonsense. No one with any knowledge of Christianity could miss the constant references, and time after time it undercuts the faith and sincerity of real believers. The language is foul as well, as though the Pythons had finally discovered the F word. It’s almost as common in here as in a Gordon Ramsay episode. This film would never make the top of a list of my favourite comedies.
Airplane! is absurd in every respect, and probably deserves to be on the list somewhere. Whether second place is its place is another matter.
Shaun of the Dead comes out of nowhere. A frequently brutal piece - in a funny way, according to the makers - about killing off zombies, it has its points (as far as I could tell from the clips) but when one of its makers and actors said that the other main actor had the filthiest mind he knew of, I wasn’t inclined to chase up a copy of the film and watch it.
Austin Powers has some wonderful madness in it. It certainly sends up the Bond movies hugely and makes nonsense of the sexual content of them. And Mike Myers is one of the few actors who can make himself spectacularly ugly and still come back for more. Again, a possibility for a list, but not in 4th place.
And South Park. Well, I have no time for this program at all, anyway, so a movie version of it isn’t going to grab me. I know plenty of people think that the offensive humour has something going for it. Not me.