Film critic Simon Dentith defines parody as “any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice.”
Nope, I’ve got no fucking idea what that means either, and I’ve got a film degree. (That last sentence wasn’t boasting, it’s just nice to write “I’ve got a film degree” and not have to follow it up with “and now I ask people if they want fries with that”).
So while someone a lot cleverer than me can define a spoof as something to do with allusive/polemicals I’ll revert to a much simpler definition of a parody being ‘where talentless gobshites like Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer copy and paste humourless re-enactments of films and television shows released in the last 6 months thus flooding the world with cinematic dyssentry like ‘Date Movie’ and, most recently, ‘Dance Flick’.
But it wasn’t always this way. ‘Airplane’ is the obvious example to cite, being not only a great send-up of the ‘Disaster Genre’ but also a film full of genuinely funny characters and one-liners that Woody Allen would be pleased to have written.
‘Blazing Saddles’, ‘Top Secret’, the first two ‘Naked Gun’ films, ‘Spinal Tap’, the first ‘Austin Powers’ are all of a calibre high enough to make most ‘Funniest Film’ lists.
Add to this this honourable mentions (i.e ones that I quite like) like ‘Spaceballs’, ‘Hot Shots:Part Deux’ and ‘Loaded Weapon’ and, while it may not be the most life-changing of genres, the spoof can deliver exactly what it should: ie a couple of funny potshots at films that take themselves far too seriously.
Yet nowadays the idea of watching a spoof is as funny as the umbrella test.
So what happened? Firstly, blockbusters themselves are now so tongue-in-cheek they could be disguised as parody themselves. In-jokes and winks to the camera feature heavily in big films like ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Spider-man’, therefore taking away the pomp that used to be an easy target. You can’t take the piss out of a man that wears a hat labelled ‘Wanker’ and purposefully hangs his tiny cock out of his pants.
Possible reason Number Two: the 80’s ended, and with them the majority of the best spoofs. ‘Airplane’, ‘Spinal Tap’, and ‘Top Secret’ were all released during the 80’s, a time when the hilarity of human beings was at its height. There wasn’t the amount of ambivalance of the 90’s, where everything was detested but only to a nonchalant level. Instead, the 80’s were so genuinely awful the only response was to point and laugh.
Finally, and crucially the spoof has always been owned for a certain amount of time by one person or group. First up, Mel Brooks reigned supreme from ‘Young Frankenstein’ to ‘Men In Tights’. Then came the ZAZ team of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker bringing the two ‘Airplanes’, ‘Naked Gun’ and ‘Top Secret’. All we have today are The Wayans Brothers and the aformentioned Friedberg and Seltzer. A sorry state of affairs indeed.
But if it’s just the talent then why didn’t the ZAZ team’s involvement in ‘Scary Movie 4’ raise it above the other dross? Why was Mel Brook’s ‘The Producers’ re-make so bad? Can the ending of the 80’s explain it when ‘Soulplane’ won so many Oscars?
Help me get to the bottom of the death of the spoof with comments below and as a treat here’s a bit of Garth Merenghi. A fine example of good dumb spoof fun.