Archive for February, 2009


February 3, 2009

I hate the idea of starting a post with the words “Hey, what’s the deal with…?” I mean, distrustful as I am of blogging anyway, the one thing that’d finish off the concept in my eyes would be if I were to drop the fragile, haughty notion that I’m “writing” here and simply confess that this place is nothing more than open mike night at the world’s shittiest comedy club. Having issued that caveat, however, I do have to ask…Hey, what is the goddam deal with Englishmen and gays? As we all know, American men can be terminally fucked up about our masculinity—hell, I’ve been known to spout macho guff even before shaking the blankets off in the morning—but it’s startling (and a little disheartening) to look back at how much of, say, Monty Python’s oeuvre was based on fag jokes. At least they had the excuse of it being a long, long time ago—“1974!” thought Keith Talent—and Messrs. Cleese & Co. were notorious for their lack of worldliness.

Ricky Gervais, however, has no excuses—on the contrary, he has the examples of Monty Python and Benny Hill staring him right in the face. I’m tempted to call Gervais something like “the most phenomenally talented comedian of his age,” but since I don’t want to throw the guy into a homosexual panic if he happens to ever see this, let’s just say he’s the man who makes me laugh like nobody else, including Gene Harrogate. Even with the years we’ve had to get used to it, The Office remains this subtle, mercurial and unbelievably sustained piece of work (even His Girl Friday had to pause and catch its breath at times); one only has to catch a few minutes of the American version of the show, with its skincrawling twerpiness, junkie’s dependence on non sequiturs, substitution of mugging for actual acting, and feckless-to-pointless use of the mockumentary style, to appreciate Gervais’ (and Merchant’s) accomplishment that much the more. Extras didn’t work at quite that level, but the David Bowie episode, crafted as carefully as a good short story, hit notes of humiliation and pathos that were unexpected even from its creators, and Ian McKellen’s explanation of acting was such a bit of perfectly engineered moonshine that it’ll probably outlive the hydrogen molecule.

So, being the underworked git that I am, I was overjoyed to find Gervais’ blog, Ricky Gervais…Obviously., on the Interthingy a few weeks ago. Something new to pore over while I scarf down my poisonous Quizno’s sandwich each day! And sure enough, his blog is very much a product of the mind that made it, complete with certain bewildering, if harmless, obsessions—mainly the one involving a friend’s ovoid head. (Gervais posts picture after picture of it.) The blog does offer up plenty of laughs (plus undisguised self-promotion and name-dropping), but whenever Gervais feels like taking the piss out of someone, even in jest, his default mode is the Queer Joke. Extras had some of this: that episode with McKellen, for instance, was a drawn-out joke about Andy Millman’s dread of appearing gay to the outside world—more specifically (and more tellingly) of appearing gay in the eyes of men. It was a noticeable choice, for while the overall show had taken shots at all sorts of activity—award shows, prestige movies about the Holocaust, unconscious racial attitudes—the McKellen episode represents the only time where the nominally sane Andy Millman is moved to panic by an unreasonable fear. In the episode with the Down’s Syndrome boy, Andy is horrified, not by the actual disease, but by the perception that he’s horrified by it, and even when he’s put off by the flaming gay script editor assigned to his sitcom, it’s because the man’s forced flamboyance is “too” gay—“No one needs to be that gay”—which is only to say that the man behaves neurotically, a fact which makes him fair game for Ricky Gervais and every other satirist.

But that’s something different than what goes on in the blog, where Gervais’ harping on nonces and ass-sex, even when funny (which it is, much of the time), just as often feels involuntary, out of control—unexamined. David Brent and Andy Millman were both threatened, and made vulnerable to the world, by their state of womanlessness, but they were fictional characters who ultimately proved capable of finding common ground with a woman (no matter how unlikely the outcome seemed in Brent’s case). But when Gervais, in his blog, cuts and pastes the exchange of insults with a friend that culminates in

 It’s because all of you “English” men are gay. Every single last one is an aidsy faggot, since King Faggot Arthur’s day. Anyway, you cant just let your gay race die out so for centuries you’ve forced yourselves to fuck your women, but you’re so gay and it’s so repulsive to you, that you throw up on their faces the whole time you’re fucking them. After generations and generations of constantly having vomit on their faces, British women started really looking like vomit. So now you’re a no-good race of vomit-faced cunts and retarded little queers.

This may not be offensive, but it’s the exact copy of something that would be offensive in a lot of other contexts. It is, in any case, as sophomoric in this context as it would be if it were written by a 15-year old redneck. In that sense it reminds me of the last twenty minutes or so of Adaptation, when the movie morphs by degrees into the exact type of film which the character named “Charlie Kaufman” has been resisting so intensely. The real Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze recreated the outlines of a bad action movie so faithfully that the act of watching it, even with this layer of meta understanding varnished over it, became no less tedious than watching a real bad action movie, and why wouldn’t it be? We all know what bad action movies look like, the same way we all know what threatened, thoughtless putdowns of gays look like. It’s too late in the game to claim that Gervais is being transgressive with this stuff, and if he isn’t actually going to work the material—as he did with the character of Bunny in Extras­—I’d just as soon see him drop it altogether.

As I wasn't saying…

February 1, 2009

I did mean to write something there but I’ve got a monster head-cold this weekend, and I’m still running low on gas so this won’t be long either. (Of course, after maintaining my blackout through eight months, not to mention the sweet and stirring election of America’s first black president, the first smart and moral man we’ve elected in our lifetimes, and plainly the closest thing to a Regular (and Mortal) Joe the Oval Office has ever seen–I suspect most people would appreciate the effort  if I checked in only long enough to change my underwear.) Anyway, for whatever reason, after a couple of years of feeling that I’d moved past Howard Hawks I find myself in his grip again, so I’ve been looking at some old favorites along with some (to me) new ones, the latter with mixed results. (Air Force may start slow but it gathers steam quickly, beginning about the time that the B-17 approaches Pearl Harbor on the morning of 12/7/41 and gunner John Garfield responds to the sound of Japanese voices streaming out of the radio with, “Hey, who you got tuned in, Orson Welles?” On the other hand Ceiling Zero, despite Cagney hanging around in a dashing little flyboy’s ‘stache, is a (mostly) one-set morality play about a group of mailmen aviators and the dangers they face dealing with fog and sleet and illegible zip codes and Cagney doing everyone’s wives. It’s not merely a nearly Calvinist version of Only Angels Have Wings, it’s practically the complete inversion of every moral value we’ve ever associated with Hawks. The rambunctious, hard to predict Come and Get It brought me back down to Earth, though.)

But that scene from To Have and Have Not has always been a big favorite, for the slyness of Hoagy’s delivery, and the convincing jar-bell of intimacy enclosing the extras around him, and the softly bruised rhyme Oh, I need someone to lend me/a $50 bill and then/I’ll leave Hong Kong far behind me/for happiness once again, and the appreciative, seemingly truly spontaneous laugh he draws by stretching out “fly away-ay-ay”. But a constant point of interest to me over the years revolves around that dishy brunette who’s parked immediately behind Carmichael. Is she really sizing up the woman standing next to her? Is she really gauging the effect on Hoagy when the interloper swings her hip into the frame? And doesn’t she seem genuinely reassured when Hoagy begins singing directly to her again? During the long passages between viewings I figure it’s just my imagination, yet whenever I do watch it again I see my phantom little menage hasn’t moved an inch.

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