Monday, 4 May 2009

SPOOF! (Vincent Michelle, 1992)

'Haha! That guy is dressed just like that other guy from that other film and I'm laughing because I know that guy and want that guy to know that I know that other guy!'

Above is the telling evidence, uttered by a cinema patron in an early scene of Spoof!, the 'most knowing film of all our times'1 according to Jacques Derrida. Perhaps the coinage of this film has been devalued by the numerous sequels (Spoof IX is currently in production), a possibility that seems both unfair and, given the soiled and hybrid nature of the work, entirely apt. Spoof! is a patchwork of borrowed scenes, stitched with echoes of hundreds more, ever growing. Cinephiles find value in the number of obscure references to other films gathered therein, the volume is voluminous! Entire websites are devoted to listing and discussing each one, and recent estimates suggest that the 89 minutes of Spoof! contains nods to over nine hundred other movies.

Beyond the broad plot, which is itself a shadow of the 1980s/1950s nostalgia interface, referencing Back To The Future (In 1985, Michael J Fox goes back to 1955 to make his Dad cool), Peggy Sue Got Married (From 1987 Kathleen Turner wakes up at her high school prom back in 1960, realises her husband is actually cool) and WOAH! (From 1986, Andrew McCarthy is a high-school geek who wishes he was as cool as the Beats... and then wakes up in 1952 in Greenwich Village with a goatee and a roll-neck! He wows them all with rapping ('Journal time lozenge breath berating monster howitzers/ Spending thyme and mummy on biscuit bread/Time travel time travel your kids will love it/ Time travel time travel your ancestors too' he spits, quoting Erik B and Rakim's Sweat Science), we swim with Jim (Bobby Dean), a rock'n'roll obsessed dreamer who opens up a portal into a third dimension in his VCR. The deluge of cinematic shrapnel through which he must slog to get The Girl (played by a different actress in each scene) and save The Day (an unnamed date of ultimate status quo) is ever-multiplying and confounding. Sure, any dunce can spot the references to Chronological (Michael Mann's 1986 no-flashback thriller, starring Kurt Russell) and Allerednic (Tim Fresh's 1992 speculation about a man (Jim Broadbent) who seeks to unravel time by writing a backwards play, in which Cinderella, despite the assistance of her kind step-brothers, becomes poor); but it takes a certain brain overful with pop candy to notice that one entire scene in a bar is a word-for-word lift from the script of Merchant Ivory's Cats, Period (a fanciful retelling of Henry James' 'The Europeans' with a completely feline cast) or that the line 'Square meal fo' a real square', uttered by Jim as a kiss-off to a bullying janitor after hitting him with a sack of potatoes is a steal from the Richard Pryor vehicle from 1981, White Folk Sho' Love It (When Black Folk Tell 'Em What Fo'), the use of which here inspired Susan Sontag's essay about white musicians' appropriation of black musicians' work entitled Gray Arias.

One scene revolves around a joke about the (often somewhat cheap) trick of movies containing quick glances of other films on TV in the background (overused in the early stages of oh so many slasher flicks, when a video store clerk, for example, or a young child, playing with the remote control, turns on a scene from, say, The Blob, both foreshadowing and mocking the horror to come). Finding a motel in the town of Referentia, Jim shacks up for the night with The Girl (in this scene played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Stuart Masterson and Lauren Bacall 'channelling Montgomery Clift' as she later would put it 2), and the desk clerk, unable to tear himself away from the movie on his scratchy black and white television (the movie is Elephantitus Gigantus, the 1972 Indian horror movie that spawned that country's seminal contribution to the slasher canon ('Calcutta Cutters' as they became known in the west), and not, as many Spoof! viewers seem to believe, Pingu Fun: Zombay, which is Elephantitus Gigantus' far more widely seen sequel (the difference being, of course, that the former sees a family in rural India summoning the god Ganesh to save them from blood-hungry neighbour zombies, and the latter sees the action move to the city)) delivers such poor customer service that Jim desperately attacks the TV, causing channels to change at random, giving us a plethora of images to deal with.3

How does a spoof end? With a played-out confrontation, of course. The unnamed, unrounded Villain whose 'badness' is never clarified is killed, the credits, overlapping with comedic intrusions, roll, and movies are just movies and films are just films, and ever shall we watch, good upon bad, bad upon good. 'Art has endings; life does not,' Jim says to The Girl (Rene Russo, Moira Shearer, Mariel Hemingway, Margi Clarke), quoting both Frank Sinatra (who utters the line in gangster biopic Li'l Fwankie (Tony Tesla, 1963)) and Clint Eastwood (who, invoking Sinatra, utters the same line in his film of the life of painter Mondrian, Red Line Blues (1991), and we fade out to a shot of red velvet curtains, which open, revealing more red velvet curtains, which open, revealing yet more red velvet curtains.

Spoof! Directed by Vincent Michelle Produced by Vincent Michelle Written by Vincent
Michelle Starring Bobby Dean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ray Charles, Balthazar Getty, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lauren Bacall, Priscilla Presley, Jeff Daniels, Brooke Sheilds, Kevin Kline, Little Richard, Rene Russo, Moira Shearer, Mariel Hemingway, Dan Ackroyd, Pierce Brosnan, Robert Mitchum, Margi Clarke Paramount Pictures US Release Date: March 1992, UK: March 1992 Tagline 'So Good You'll See It Twice!'

1. Spin, Spin, Spinoza Penguin Books, 1998.
2. New York Times interview, Jan 1996
3. The movies from which these scenes are ripped include Sudden Def Syndrome (from 1988, the first movie in the franchise which stars middle class rapper Bore-Jwah-Z as super street-cop Titus Syndrome) Perchance, Methinks (Jean-Louis Fiscal's attempt at period nonsense)
Natural Lore (bestial fantasy romp starring a teen Benicio Del Toro), Alice Cooper Presents Louis Cypher: Guitar Legend ('The Devil [inevitably] Has The Best Tunes!), John Ford's Stagecoach, Conspicuous Absinthe (yawnsome 70's sex 'n' booze 'comedy'), Punchline (The 'Burning Orphanage' group (so-named because of the line 'comedy today is about as funny as a burning orphanage', the infamous kiss-off from Tony Hancock's suicide note) of anti-comedians attempt to 'destroy comedy' by poorly delivering, to the point of absurdity, one hundred of the oldest jokes), Cabin In The Sky (Vincente Minnelli's 1943 Faustian jazz opus starring Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington), H.M.S.Lovesick (British psych-out from 1982 in which a warship in the South Pacific Ocean hears word of nuclear conflict and goes crazy), Cheadle (Don Cheadle's autobiographical debut), Parentheses (Jean-Luc Godard's English language expression of fear of offices and attached language), camp robot drama Short Circuit II, and Italo-Druid horror Stonahenga. The plot of Spoof V, in a twist of self-referentiality too far for many, actually revolves around a fan of this particular scene from Spoof and his belief that the sequence of films shown betrays some kind of cosmic code that, if unscrambled, bestows huge power on the solver. And in a way it does.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of gems in this one.

    I had to blink twice to get "Chronological (Michael Mann's 1986 no-flashback thriller, starring Kurt Russell)" ... hehe.