In this article I’ve linked to a few scenes from the films. You should know that these may not be to your taste.
That caught you out, I suspect. You expect a series of posts under the title ‘Movies That Move Me’ to be about emotional, sad, touching films. Especially if you’re one of those who think that people who are into movies in the way that I am only like serious ones.
It’s part of a common misconception – that comedy is lower than drama, that pain is harder to portray than it is to make the audience laugh; so serious drama is the superior form. It’s nonsense, not least from the perspective of the performer. From the very little acting I’ve enjoyed doing myself, it’s the comedy that’s most stretched me and been much harder work. You pretty much know in rehearsal if a drama or tragedy is going to work; a comedy you only really know about once you get the finished work in front of a live audience who’ve paid to be there. Real comedy is hard work; performers sweat blood over making people laugh, often at immense emotional cost to themselves. Really good comedy that’s just plain funny, or is both funny and about something is one of the hardest artistic disciplines you could find.
That’s especially the case, I think, when it comes to the kind of comedy which is using something familiar but ‘serious’ and turning it into comedy. The worst versions of these often make serious money but are scarce remembered. Take for example, the Scary Movie series or pretty much any of the Police Academy movies after the first one (or maybe two). Poking fun at something familiar, using the format of the target for laughs … you may even have laughed when you first saw it. Especially if you saw it in a group at home or in a crowded cinema – people are statistically much more likely to laugh if surrounded by others. Even if you did laugh the first time … can you remember any of the jokes more than a week later? Have you every felt a desire to revisit these? Do you know anyone who actually owns these films or loves them? Exactly.
The key is love. If you don’t love the object of your comedy, then you’re just being a bit cruel. Cruelty can be funny, of course; but if you don’t love the genre you’re laughing at, then you don’t understand what makes it appealing to people, and if you don’t understand that then you won’t get soul-deep laughter.
Which brings me to Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), prime examples of movies which love the object of their laughs and which still, on repeated viewings by myself make me ache and cry with laughter. Both are British films, written and directed by the same people, starring many of the same actors. Both films mainly feature actors successful in some of the more left-field British television comedies of the last few years. Shaun Of The Dead takes the format of a zombie movie, twins it with a romantic comedy and sets it all somewhere in England. Hot Fuzz goes for action movies and British television detective shows (with a little hint at a few horror films thrown in) for a story of murder and fear in market town England. The third in this ‘three flavours cornetto’ trilogy (The World’s End) arrives on these shores at the end of the year so these two must keep me going for now.
In both these formats there’s much to make fun of and laugh at. It would be easy – and lazy – to go for cheap and quick laughs of the Scary Movie type. No such get out here; instead it’s clear that Edgar Wright (director, co-writer), Simon Pegg (co-writer, star) and Nick Frost (star) love the originals they’re laughing at. It’s in the perfectly played flat-mate interactions or the scene with the records or the way the rolling news coverage is used in Shaun. It’s only when I stopped seeing Hot Fuzz in the light of Shaun that it made the jump from liking it very much to loving it in my estimation; the love there is in the swift cutting from scene to scene, the supermarket shoot-out, the re-contexualised repeated gags from Shaun.
Circumstances conspired against me seeing Shaun in the cinema, so I finally saw it for the first time in the worst possible circumstances: on a plane, in the middle of the night. I couldn’t laugh out loud of course, for fear of waking up the others. Which only made it harder not to laugh. By the time of the fight in the pub with that Queen song playing on the jukebox I was crying with laughter, doubled over in the kind of ecstatic pain only good comedy can provide. At that stage I had a nodding acquaintance with zombie films, not enough to really get the genre. Which made it no less funny. Now I’m more of a fan of this type of film, there’s even more to enjoy. I’ve since seen it 7 or 8 times, and each time I get new pleasures from it.
Hot Fuzz I recently re-watched for the about the tenth time. Again I ached the morning after. In the case of both films there’s a warmth to them, even when they’re violent (Hot Fuzz) or also a little frightening (Shaun). Both have a story to tell and tell them well; both have characters you warm to and want to spend time with; both have good hearts beating at the centre of them. Both take a little bit of the viewer and reflect it back at you, asking you to see yourself as just as funny as the people you’re laughing at. You laugh at characters whom you see yourself in, who show you something of who you are in the sight of others.
If a film moves us, then it’s affected our emotions. Joy is an emotion, laughing a symptom of emotional life. So comedy belongs here; and in these two films that it’s better demonstrated than almost anywhere else.
I rated Shaun Of The Dead 10/10 on imdb.com and 5/5 on rottentomatoes.com. I rated Hot Fuzz 9/10 on imdb.com and 4.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com
Other posts in this series: