Saturday, May 17, 2014

The golden age of hyper-violent crime comedy

I watched Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and The Boondock Saints (1999) again this week. (Has it really been that long since the golden age of ultra-violent comic crime movies?)

As much as I hesitate to say anything good about anyone who married Madonna, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (directed by Guy Ritchie) holds up better. The script is intelligently assembled, the story accommodates and makes good narrative use of its own quirkiness, and clever sound engineering makes the movie more than a highly kinetic music video.  I especially like the simple device by which the movie makes the crook protagonists more sympathetic than the competing gangs of crooks who surround and come into conflict with them.

The Boondock Saints? I'll tell you about that one tomorrow. For now, Willem Dafoe steals the movie as a brilliant eccentric, only to turn fritter away some of his gains when the movie suddenly can't figure out what to do with him. First he becomes merely eccentric, and then the script humanizes him, with disappointing results.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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4 Comments:

Blogger RT said...

The roots of comedy go back to people laughing at misfortunes of others as a relief valve . . . Relief that someone else's problems are not ours . . . So it seems natural that comedy would work for crime stories . . . After all, we do not want to be victims . . . So we laugh at other victims . . .

May 18, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Just for fun, I looked consulted the Wikipedia entry on "comedy" for definitions pertinent to your comment as well as to violent comic crime stories. I found:

1) "The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye famously depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old"...A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse in ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter."

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels pits a group of four young hoods against opponents who include an older porn king.

2) "Around 335 BCE, ... Aristotle ... stated that comedy originated in Phallic processions and the light treatment of the otherwise base and ugly. "

3) "Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort of fault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly. The Ridiculous may be defined as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, for instance, that excites laughter, is something ugly and distorted without causing pain."

May 18, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Wikipedia? Were I still teaching, I would rant and rave about the ill-advised use of the online source. But since I am no longer teaching, I say instead -- Bravo! In fact, when you consider certain stock comic gags from old movies -- e.g., slipping on a banana peel, falling into an open manhole, and falling down a flight of steps -- we laugh because we are relieved that we (as superior beings) would never be so hapless as the clumsy fool. Perhaps something similar is at work in comic crime capers. We are superior, and those criminals are hapless idiots.

May 18, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If I were teaching, I would tell my students that anyone who used Wikipedia as a source would be given a failing grade.

But I'm not teaching, so sod it.

Or the hapless criminals win in the end, and we root for them to do so. Or, if the movie was made in the late 1960s or later, it has an ambiguous ending.

Donald Westlake, the best of the comic crime writers, induced mixed feelings of superiority to and respect for his criminal gangs, and that includes the Parker novels he wrote as Richard Stark.

May 18, 2014  

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