s skippy the bush kangaroo: parodies found - a prelude to some good cox

skippy the bush kangaroo

Thursday, December 27, 2007

parodies found - a prelude to some good cox

when skippy was a young man in the 70's home from college one summer, he decided to go to a movie one afternoon to spend some time by himself away from his parents (they were, after all, two of the main reasons he left home in the first place).

he went to see a comedy, which he had never heard of before. he remembered seeing a coming attraction for this comedy a few weeks previous. nothing from the preview stuck in his mind except on quick scene: a character shouted out "pour every light you've got onto the runway!" and a quick cut to a dump truck unloading table lamps, light bulbs and lamp shades onto concrete.

it was corny, it was goofy, but it was fast and unexpected; it was airplane!

parody is much like frosting...incredibly inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, but much, much harder to make than one would think. and if not done well (and it's usually not), it leaves a bland, unremarkable taste in one's mouth, and sometimes creates the need to keep one's natural gag reflex from kicking in.

the zucker brothers (w/abrahams) discovered, accidentally or otherwise, the secret of good parody: do it w/a straight face. airplane! used real (and real good) actors, delivering their lines as if their characters were actually in the situation that the film had them in...never winking or nudging at the audience, never stepping out of the moment to comment on the action.

and, at the same time, the zuckers' writing went beyond mere distorted buffoonery of known movie scenes, and remarked on the visual language of movie making itself. robert stack walking out of what was established as a mirror, but turned out to be just a doorway in airplane!; val kilmer's manager's voice is heard in voice over repeating the note val reads, only to be revealed that the manager is sitting next to him, using a megaphone because his throat hurts in top secret!; alan north walking thru a door while leslie nielsen walks around the edge of the movie set wall in police squad!.

the zuckers and abrahams didn't just stop at inserting the obvious joke in a famous movie situation...they deconstructed the entire process of how movies were presented, and sent it up on its ear.

parody is different from satire in its most basic core: satire makes fun of content, whereas parody makes fun of structure. and a good parody has within it several other elements of comedy: slapstick, low gross humor, word play, farce...and yes, sometimes even satire.

of course, there were elements of parodies in movies before and after the zuckers/abrams oevure. buster keaton did some remarkable movie-deconstruction with his own sherlock jr. (the theme of which was also taken up by chuck mccann in the projectionist). hope and crosby used parody, if not as structure, at least as bricks in building their road pictures. and in practically every jerry lewis film you could find a call back to whatever movie was big at the time (we love jerry mimicking bogart's captain queeg, nattering on about the strawberries while rolling ball bearings in his hand in don't give up the ship. and, of course, woody allen used parody to butress his character development in his early romantic comedies play it again sam, and bananas.

however, we are hard, hard pressed to think of entire movies that were parodies of entire other specific movies from beginning to end. most films used parody as a device, not as an entire tone, keeping, however slight, the pretense of original characters and plot. in other words, you could watch the road to morrocco and still laugh without ever having seen a rudolf valentino or douglas fairbanks flick.

some exceptions: neil simon's murder by death (so bad it should have been called murder by boredom); larry gelbart's movie movie, which made specific fun of two 30's classic genres, the little-guy-from-the-streets-makes-it-big-as-a-boxer film, and the backstage musical w/george c. scott as spats baxter, the adolf menjou character. (this was a highly under-rated movie: when eli wallach, whose daughter is going blind, comes back from the doctor, he screams in frustration, "do you know how much an eye costs? an arm and a leg!")

one of our favorites was a pre-airplane! disaster parody called the big bus, in which joe balogna leads an all-co-star cast transferring the airport disaster flick cliches to a cross-country bus ride. also good: the made-for-tv western spoof evil roy slade, with john astin as the meanest villain in the west; whenever good guy dick shawn's character, singing cowboy bing bell, was named, everybody thought someone was at the door.

and, speaking of western parodies, we cannot forget mel brooks. blazing saddles broke new ground and old wind as one of the most audacious, low brow and high comedy put-ons of the cinema. and his next flick, young frankenstein, follows the original frankenstein story almost beat for beat.

(brooks' previous effort, the producers, while parodying broadway musicals with the show-within-the-film, still had an original plot, divorced from parody. and the 12 chairs was actually based on a real book, w/no very little parody involved.)

but unlike the zuckers/abrahams endeavors, brooks never did anything with a straight face. brooks doesn't just wink at the audience; he grabs you by the lapels and screams in your face "get it?? it's schtick!!" thank god for gene wilder and madeline kahn, who managed to bring some semblance of reality to their characters; and of course, young frankenstein was originally written by wilder and blazing saddles was written by andrew bergman, another funny film-maker...we are of the opinion that the producers notwithstanding, brooks by himself is just not that consistantly funny a film-maker. witness men in tights or dracula: dead and loving it. some gags work, but most come from the joke telegraph service...humor so obvious that not only do you see it coming, it calls you for a ride home from the airport.

so the zucker/abrahams team seems quite like the orson wells of parodies (let us take a moment to mention the team that produced the hot shot films...they could be considered the george cuckor of parodies). they lifted the genre to such heights that most efforts pale in comparison, both before and since.

and especially since.

we're not sure, and we have no documented proof of this, but we think the wayans brothers are responsible for an incredibly steep and tragic downward spiral of quality in parody movies. the scarey movie franchise is comprised of jokes so shallow and obvious, they make the sketches form in living color look like oscar wilde. there's no sublety, no surprise, no complexity. if not for anna farris, there would be no depth to any of the characters, which are all so one dimensional that calling them "characatures" would be a compliment.

worse, in terms of structure: the movies that the franchise makes fun of are all over the map in tone. obstensibly they are spoofing horror films. we suppose we could spot them the goofing on the disparate atmospheres of signs versus the ring scary movie 3. but, opinions of marshall mathers aside, what is an 8 mile parody doing there?

other sophomoric entries into the genre of recent years are even less entertaining (as we said, at least the wayans were smart enough to cast anna farris). the jokes are few and far between, and none of them unexpected in date movie, epic movie, the upcoming meet the spartans (at least, if the coming attractions of that film is any indication), not another teen movie (tho we admit a slight fondness for that one; but don't ask us why...we suppose we're suckers for ugly duckling films, even parodies of them).

these recent forays into parody look as if kids were allowed to make movies, which is a common and easy mistake to make (but not easy to watch). sure, the jokes in parody are sophomoric, but that indicates the level of humor, not the grade the writers are currently in. and, as we said before, there are many different elements, as well as levels, to a good parody. sure, there are low jokes, but there should be high jinx as well as middle brow goofs, word play and witticism, dick jokes as well nuance.

colin jacobsen, in his dvd movie guide review of the afore-mentioned the big bus, puts the problems w/this new generation of parody succinctly:

crummy flicks like scary movie do nothing more than repeat scenes from other movies with some allegedly comic twist; it’s humor based on recognition and nothing more.
exactly. the wayans and their peers put no further effort into their comedy than the direct lift of other's work with a school-yard put-down attached.

which is why we felt like starving men invited to a feast when we sat down to watch walk hard - the dewey cox story.

we shall review this film soon (hopefully, tomorrow).

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posted by skippy at 10:18 PM |


I have to give you golf claps on this post, but two little nitpicks.

Mel Brooks is genius... "Spaceballs" is the greatest movie evah.

And don't blame the Wayan brothers for the train wreck of the scary movie franchise. They did 1 and 2, which were awesome... but 3 was not their fault. Nor 4. Those you can blame on your favorite guy, David Zucker.
commented by Blogger Marked Hoosier, 7:45 AM PST  
I'm with you all the way except (as noted above) Wayan's didn't do 3 or 4 which are definitely the worst of the the bunch. 1 is ok & it is all down hill from there.

I really liked 'Not Another' too although I am way past most of the movies it was parodying.

I remember leaving the theater in pain from laughing so hard at Blazing Saddles. Frankenstein was top notch too & I loved Silent Movie (Trivia Question: Who had the only spoken line in the movie? Marcel Marceau!) High Anxiety however sucked, and suspense movies seem ripe for parody but he couldn't pull it off.

Spaceballs was funny but mostly because of the actors - I didn't like it that much.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 1:19 PM PST  
Try "Student Bodies" (1981). It's a gooder.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 1:32 PM PST  
i remember student bodies...not the worst, to be honest.
commented by Blogger skippy, 4:08 PM PST  
Skippy, Watch "Shaun of the Dead" that was a brilliant parody of zombie movies. What I found so engaging was that while a spoof it didn't directly lift exact scenes from the "zombie" franchise. It had a real story, characters you liked and cared about and was just effing wet your pants funny. It's one of my fav comedies of the year it was produced.

The same writers/actors wrote and starred in "Hot Fuzz" which, suprisingly for a sophomore effort was nearly as good as their first parody. And it also had a story and characters you could care about.

Thanks for the heads up about Walk Hard, I had given up on the genre in the last decade or so, except for the two I've mentioned.
commented by Anonymous Dee Loralei, 8:50 PM PST  
Shaun of the Dead is good, but not great, and you get distracted by the Britishisms from time to time. I imagine they get the opposite problem across the pond with our movies.

Also, think about "Mars Attacks!"...
commented by Blogger Carl, 3:43 PM PST  

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