I wanted to start this article all contrived describing to all the uninformed masses what a spoof was. Literally what the spoof dictionary definition was. I was even going to add all the silly abbreviations one finds in a dictionary, make the start of the article look really cool and give myself off as some quasi-cosmic film critic: Universally intelligent and wise beyond his years (basically Kim Newman sans hair). If I did that you would probably skip to somewhere else realising everyone knows what a spoof is. What I really want to talk to you about is the recent fall of this once great, well-funny genre.
The spoof genre is often confused with satire; spoof is a light-hearted mockery of a subject (often other films), whereas satire is the exaggeration of story, characters, language etc to the point of the ridiculous. This can be extremely dark subject matter - for instance American Psycho is a very dark satire. The reason I talk of this fall of the spoof is recently while perusing some magazine I spotted on the back cover a full-page advert for the new spoof film Vampires Suck. Looking at the bouncy bold and instantly recognisable font of the poster I knew it was by the terrible twosome of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. This dynamic duo that brought us the superbly awful and unfunny Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans... you know the ones. These two men have really ripped the heart out of the spoof genre and whored it round looking for any pimp studio looking to make a quick buck. They take whichever films are popular and then they take at random any celebrity that has particularly caused any commotion in the press and try to shoe horn them all in together in a vain hope that some sort of humour might come of this. The stories are usually non-existent, the characters are either disgustingly inappropriate cameos of lookalikes, or clichéd mash up of main protagonists from other films; neither likable nor memorable but always boring, stupid and inconsistent. What I worry about is that the younger generation will only have this franchise of films as reference to what a spoof film is and all it can be. That will produce two results firstly we going to have a generation of people who are ignorant to how well a spoof can be made and intrinsically hate them. Secondly we will have a league of cretins, the cretins that keep these films a bankable asset, that love these films and carry on creating movies constantly get worse and more infantile until they release the Spoof Movie movie.
I want to write about the spoof of yore, the one that was a study and observation of films that were ripe for mockery and were done with wit and heart. What all these Date Movie-esque movies miss is a love and respect for the subject that they are mocking. They place celebrity pop culture junk randomly and unintelligently into each of these films. Real spoofs, like Airplane! (1980), take a subject matter or a series of films and make fun of each and every part in such a silly and ridiculous way that you almost fall for it instantly. The plot often takes back seat to the silliness but the characters are always endearing and always hilarious. They also use certain traits in genres and maximise as much hilarity from them. For instance on the aforementioned film Airplane! the plane in question is full of stereotypical characters that have been inspired from watching a slew of disaster films. Take the black characters that talk so much jive that you can barely understand them. Then there is Leslie Nielsen's Doctor - over confident and under competent as well as being stupid and hilarious in equal amounts. The Zucker brothers who created Airplane! and other fabulous spoofs write with such wit and deliver such a barrage of ideas and jokes it takes multiple views just to catch all of them. They have sight slapstick gags, rude and violent gags, as well as playing with words and meanings of how people talk: everyone remembers:
“Surely you cannot be serious”It’s this inspired silliness mixed with wit and cleverness that makes a quality and memorable spoof. The Zucker brothers obviously loved these B-movie disaster films, or at least watched a lot of them, and decided to make a homage by making fun of them. From all of these older films; spoofing has even become a verb, when a character is obviously mimicking something so much he is spoofing it.
“I am serious and don’t call me Shirley”
There are two camps from whom have made spoof films an art; they are the previously mentioned Zucker Brothers and the Godfather: Mel Brooks. I have talked a little about the Zuckers and will get back to them but this paragraph is dedicated to Mel Brooks who really took this type of witty silliness to another level and one particular film is to account for that: Young Frankenstein (1974). Now please all of those punters that have screamed “but what about The Producers”, do not get me wrong that film is amazing but it isn’t a spoof, it's an out and out comedy. Its absolutely quintessential Mel Brooks but it doesn’t really spoof existing films. So its out. Young Frankenstein or Fronk-en-schtein as its pronounced, is all spoof and its fabulous. First commendations go to the writing. It is so quick witted and so silly that it takes you back to being a teenager and laughing about cocks and boobs. It really is that juvenile but taken to the next level by its level of intelligence. Just because its silly doesn’t mean it doesn’t take an intelligent person to write them, which is where Friedberg and Seltzer always go wrong.
Second commendation go to the actors, once again where the Friedberg and Seltzer seem to fall short, good comedy actors are needed and you cannot get better than Gene Wilder who plays the lead as Young Frankenstein. Gene Wilder has an ability to give off an anxious anger that borders on insanity and sadness. He done this in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), playing a character who has a real sense of pathos, that life has beaten him down and he has all but given up and trying to fight it at the same time. Just to watch his jittery nervousness spill into a visible shaking of rage, his voice squeaking and raising in intensity, makes the most mundane of situation an absolute riot. In Young Frankenstein he is the grandson of the famous Victor Frankenstein trying to get out from under of his shadow and put himself forward as a viable scientist. As always Gene Wilder is perfect putting his spin on the proud but mad scientist and applying himself completely to Mel Brooks script. The other stand out actor is Marty Feldman - his Igor is the sarcastic and objective observer that most spoofs need. As easily the silliest looking character its natural that he is the one that sees through all story elements and drama. He winks and nods to the camera making sure that he is on the audiences side and is just enjoying the ride like the rest of us. He also delivers some of the best lines with such a dry dead pan that it barely registers as a joke until you really listen. Once again multiple views are a must to get the full effect of this movie.
Mel Brooks has delivered a good canon of spoof movies; he has also made some ones that have missed the target a little. Titles such as Blazing Saddles (1974) reach the dizzy heights of quality that Young Frankenstein touches but others such as Spaceballs (1987) and Silent Movie (1976) do have their moments but are essentially flawed. The current spoofs are not so much lacking in flaws but rather lacking in any quality and respect for what can be achieved with the mockery of popular culture and a film genre.
The last good spoof was the Austin Powers (1997) series of films, it was obvious to all that Mike Myers had a great love for James Bond and all other spy films and the series were successful by being exceptionally silly and brilliantly scathing. Once again Austin Powers is so loved because it is cleverly written, brilliantly acted, with good knowledge and love of the subject matter.
What I particularly loved was that spoofs were exceptionally rewarding to me personally. As a huge film fan I get a lot of the jokes and realised that spoofs were a kind of prize for being a loyal follower of movies and the industry in general. I felt it was like they had made a film of all the silly things you say when watching a film with your fellow film lovers. Often starting saying “wouldn’t it be funny if…..”. The essential part of creating a good spoof is to firstly be a fan of the films you are sending up and then creatively taking and mocking them to ridicule but never disrespecting them. The Friedberg and Seltzer approach only really responds to a scathing hatred and exceptionally childish approach to humour, which constantly falls so flat. They have forgotten to be fond of the things they are making fun of. They have forgotten to watch these films properly and really understand them. They have forgotten to get decent comedic actors but most of all they have forgotten to be funny and respectful.
As the saying goes, imitation is a form of flattery and if so then Mel Brooks and the Zucker Brothers have paid the most extravagant of all compliments.