The present day comedic zeitgeist pulls a great deal of humor from parody. Scary Movie, Epic Movie, and their ilk twist Hollywood’s latest offerings into a punchline for the uncultured. The mockumentaries of Christopher Guest provide a more sophisticated brand of humor. Best in Show or A Mighty Wind play to supporters of PBS and independent films. Either way, the laughter is fueled by a stream of cultural references.
In 1979, Albert Brooks was ahead of today’s comedic trends. Real Life starts with a preamble connecting itself to the seminal PBS docu-series An American Family. When PBS originally aired An American Family in 1973, the nation found the fractured life of the Loud Family compelling. Critics found the work challenging. Ethical questions arose; concerns of objectivity and honesty were debated. What Albert Brooks saw was a potential for comedy.
Here, in his first feature film, Brook’s plays a fame driven celebrity wanting to dive into the world of documentary filmmaking and confusing sociology with sensationalism. As much as he wants to make a document of a real American family, Brooks is more interested in how his grand experiment is received. Herein, conflicts arise. Just as critics challenged the objectivity and intent of An American Family, Brooks uses his own character to raise similar queries. Through manipulation and hubris, the at-any-cost director distorts the reality he desperately hopes to capture. The family he wants to immortalize become more victim than archetype.
The legacy of An American Family lives on in the form of reality television. The questions Real Life raises still exist and they are not being addressed in today’s parodies of mass-media. The brilliance of Real Life is the target of its humor. It’s the producer, not the product that is called into question and made the butt of joke. Today, An American Family is long forgotten and rarely seen. Real Life is just as forgotten, but slightly easier to see. The film’s DVD is woefully out of print. Still, copies exists and if you are to watch Real Life and have never seen An American Family the comedy of Real Life, as well as its criticism, is relevant today.
Different era, same problem.
As the Iraqi War continues and documentary filmmakers for that one definative film that will speak truth to power and bring an end to this senseless war, I think it might be wise to remember that Hearts and Minds was released in the US until after the Vietnam War was over. If a filmmaker is looking to change the hearts and minds of people today, about the Iraqi, war it must also be remembered that during the Vietnam conflict there was a major social revolution in this country. Part of Hearts and Minds speaks to America’s need to break free from its obsession with dominance and its goal to always succeed and remain a leader, if not ‘the leader’.
Hearts and Minds helped to show the devastating impact Vietnam had on both America and Vietnam, but it was not what helped stop the war. I would like to think that all it takes is one glimpse of an innocent child whose skin hangs off their burnt body due to napalm would make everyone think twice about the costs of war. Alas, callous souls can justify and rationalize anything when its happening to someone they don’t know. It’s not just enough to show the atrocities of war.
Today’s anti-war films seriously need to examine the lack of social upheaval and question how the younger generation of Americans are just as materialistic as their parents. It is this materialism-at-all-costs attitude, this need to consume that needs to be addressed before you can even begin to change hearts and minds over here about what happens over there.
Who knew Florida had mountains!
Night of the Blood Beasts is goofy, late night fun, the kind you were forced to watch before cable provided 500 channels with nothing on. The story is yet another film were a dead astronaut returns from space and inhuman atrocities occur. (See The Incredible Melting Man) The twist here is that the dead astronaut’s blood stream is incubating alien cells. The monster itself makes a surprising number of apperances in this low-budget, black & white sci-fi film. Director Bernard Kowalski was never one to shy away from revealing his movies monsters. This is the same man who gave cinema giant leeches (Attack of the Giant Leeches) that looked like trash bags with teeth. The only thing less believable is that their are mountains in Florida. That’s where this story is supposed to take place, but the skyline says otherwise.
Is it art or con art? Is there a difference?
Does a documentary about fraud have to tell the truth? F for Fake is like a Three Card Monte game. Welles acts as the dealer promising the audience that their is validity to claims he’s about to make, that the stories he tells are real. He’s asking us to keep our eyes on the ace, but the film’s editing is rapid, almost dizzying. Images and information shuffle by at a phenomenal rate. Orson Welles’ narration sounds like a guiding voice, providing context, background details, and insight, but like a magician, or as he prefers to call himself, a charlatan, his voice is really a distraction to keep us from discovering the truth. We lose sight of the ace (the truth). We get hypnotized by the rapid movement of the cards (images). It’s movie magic, it’s a magic trick. The trick being to engross the audience to the point that they believe everything you say.
It’s the promise of the documentary filmmaker to tell the truth. Welles appears to break this promise, he pulls a fast one, or does he? Welles starts the film off with a promise that implicitly says he will only tell the truth, up to a point. Can he be faulted for an audience that forgets this confession? Can he be faulted for an audience who doesn’t keep their on on the clock? Then again, who watches’ the clock whilst their head is swimming in such a grand tale of forgery. It’s just like Three Card Monte. If you take your eye off the ace, you are bounded to get taken for a sucker.
Greasy spoon noir with a side of commie anxiety
Shack Out on 101 serves up a interesting combination of snappy comedic put-downs atop a cold war espionage plot. With a fun little performance from Lee Marvin as the main entree, the film is peppered with some great red scare dialog that suddenly takes on a new context in the age of terrorism. The menace may no longer be Marxism, but oversimplified, us verses them, good vs. evil still exists and the pro-Democracy dialog that is chuckle worthy is really not that far removed from today’s hollow pro-America bumper stickers.