Friday, February 09, 2007

Camera Obscura - Indy's Whip and Comedy Research

Score two points for Harrison Ford and 30 lashes for George Lucas over The Whip Debate.

Ford was told he could not have a real whip in the endlessly planned and re-written 4th installment of the Indiana Jones movies. Lucas said, safety regulations demanded only a CGI whip would be used. And Ford said, "No whip? Then I'll abandon the project." No word yet on the outcome. But here's a simple question ... how many CGI shots were in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"?

Next: The Eddie Murphy movie where he plays a woman in a fat suit is opening. I am past being just annoyed at the commercials. And Eddie -- Why are so many of your movies just about you in a fat suit?

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"Saul of the Mole Men" debuts Sunday night on the Boston Hoax Network - I mean, Adult Swim. This live-action comedy-adventure is patterned in a 1970s style, Sid and Marty Krofft show, which means cheesy sets and costumes. In fact the whole show is a Green Screen affair as the witless Saul is separated from his pals on Team Strata (making it sort of a show within a show within a parody) and must make his way through the Earth's crusty underworld, encountering bizarre creatures, time travel and of course, some vampires (?). Looks promising. As another 15 minute entry in the Adult Swim line-up it may take a few shows for this one to find it's legs.

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Do comedies about being unfunny really work? It's been the schtick of Albert Brooks for a long time, and his 2005 movie "Looking For Comedy in a Muslim World" is loaded with deeply droll and painfully absent humor. ("There are no comedy clubs in India?" he asks repeatedly)

Brooks, as himself, is recruited by former senator Fred Thompson to go on a fact-finding mission for the U.S. government to find out what Muslims think is humorous -- though they can only send him to largely Hindu India and Pakistan. It will improve US understanding of the non-American world. The idea is so off-kilter, it may well have been part of the real U.S. "strategery".

A good example of the humor here is the scene where Thompson lays out the plan to Brooks, and Thompson says, "We all know about the great sense of humor our President has", and the executives all laugh and Brooks sort of raises his eyebrow to say "Whaaaa?" It's a very low-key approach to comedy - but if it were much more low-key it would need CPR.

I certainly related to one aspect of the movie - the scenes where Brooks travels the crowded streets to ask people "What makes you laugh?" A most dangerous scenario, I can assure you.

You see, some years ago I was working with an Improv Comedy troupe and hit on the idea of taking a video camera and some troupe members thru the streets of Morristown asking the same. The idea was, I'd get some hilarious responses and make a short film to show during one of the weekend improv shows. You know, real life and street theatre all in one. I got that in spades, but not in a good way.

We had done four or five of these "interviews" at the local mall, and gotten zip for our efforts. Realizing that vast numbers of young people congregate along the main drag thru town in the evenings in various parking lots, I said, "Let's go out at night and ask these people what is funny!!"

Yeah, and no one bothered to question the wisdom of that plan. Thanks, guys.

Cut to a gas station parking lot about 11 p.m. Myself and three others, riding in a friend's new Porsche, taking along a then state-of-the-art videocamera (it was 1992 so the camera was a big bulky deal). The parking lot was loaded with pick-ups with gun racks and still, I thought this was a great idea.

Looking back, what must they have made of this goofy group of long-haired theatre boys with a camera? Blindly oblivious, I immediately chirp "Hey guys! Can we ask you a few questions?"

Stony silence and stares. "What you want, boy?"

"We're going all over town asking people what they think is funny, what makes them laugh!!" Yes, I was grinning like an idiot.

"My ass is funny." The parking-lot gang all laugh and begin to slowly encircle our group. And that's when I realize how humor can be very specific - as in, beating the hell out of us would be hilarious to these guys.

"Well, ha-ha, I bet it is! Good one!" I say, darting a look to the others in my group and whispering "In. The. Car. Now."

In seconds, we were all running like hell for the car and the shouts behind us had no humor in them at all. We're able to drive away while they're trying to crowd the car and yelling, again, most unfunny things at us. We drive away fast, get a few blocks away and for some reason, the driver hauls into another parking lot asking, "How about here?"

"Here??? Get us the hell out of here!" I say.

But it's too late - they've followed us in their trucks and some guy gets out and tries to open my car door. I had the window rolled down, and though I was able to lock the door, this guy reaches inside and tries to grab the camera. I then have visions of this camera flying through the air and shattering on the pavement. So I bellowed a line from Steve McQueen in "The Getaway" to our driver:

"Punch it!"

Fortunately, he does and we spin out, dragging this guy with us attached to the car door. He finally lets go before we have too much speed and I look back to see him rolling down the street and more trucks coming after us.


Long story short, in a few minutes we were hiding in an off road alleyway, lights off, watching the trucks circle around the area searching for us. After some long (it seemed) minutes passed, they were gone and we sped away into the night, lights off for a mile or two. Thank god my friend had a Porsche - we got away without further combat.

Yeah, most instructive night of Comedy Research. That's when I quit asking other people what was funny. I either know or I don't. Comedy is a dangerous business.

1 comment:

Cinemonkey said...

Never heard that story! Glad I wasn't there that night.
We must talk. *snicker*