Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Royale With Cheese

Ah, Europe - the continent from which I got most of my genetic material! I’ve only been there once. At the age of 18, I went to Russia for a couple of weeks to sing a bunch of goofy songs with my classmates as part of a cultural exchange program. We sang in a bunch of schools and went on endless tours of magnificent palaces and cathedrals. We were also treated to the leftovers of the Soviet Bloc – gargantuan apartment complexes that were crumbling to the ground, shantytowns with thousands of people living in shacks the size of my bathroom, and food so old, terrible, and ridden with parasites that I prayed for death on my toilet. It was an amazing experience, but I returned home extremely thankful that I was American.

Europe puts out a lot of movies. A lot of them are awesome, and a lot of them are mind-bogglingly pretentious, bizarre, and annoying. Our Euro brethren seem more concerned with creating Art with a capital “A” than entertaining people, and I’m cool with that. Variety is the spice of life. Something I find interesting are the crowd-pleasers that are made by Europeans for Europeans. It’s in those movies where you begin to see the subtle differences between cultures, because everyone likes to laugh, but we laugh at different things.

For instance, there is a particular kind of British comedy that has flourished over the last decade. All the films within this genre contain variations on certain themes:

1) An economically depressed industrial village
2) Colorful villagers who need money fast
3) A quirky taboo being experimented with to bring prosperity back to the village
4) Pasty naked Brits who have no business being photographed in such a state

Classics of the genre include “The Full Monty,” “Calender Girls,” “Billy Elliot,” and “Waking Ned Devine.” Actually, Ned Devine is set in Ireland, but it was filmed in the UK by an English director so it still counts in my book. All of these movies were made on low budgets and were hugely profitable. Something about naked old people being silly drives the Brits into hysterics. I dunno. They’re kinda funny, but in an old people sort of way. There’s a new entry in this genre entitled “Kinky Boots,” which has more repressed English people raising their spirits, this time with slutty boots and a drag show or something. Your grandma will love it. I will not.

Not to be outdone, the Germans have come up with a crowd-pleasing sub-genre of their own: The Gay German Sports Comedy. I was not aware of this phenomenon until I perused the Apple movie trailer site and came across previews for two new movies. The first has possibly the funniest movie title I have ever seen: “Guys and Balls." Seriously, they named their movie “Guys and Balls!” It’s about a gay soccer team that defeats the odds and teaches us about humanity and all that crap. The American voice-over actor they chose to narrate the trailer had to have been laughing his ass off in the studio. The way he annunciates the title at the end is fucking hilarious. Gay German Sports Comedy #2 is called “Summer Storm” and seems to be about gay rowing teams that defeat the odds and teach us all about humanity and all that crap. Whatever. The Germans have a long way to go before they can teach me much about tolerance, but I guess that these movies are a step in the right direction for them as a people. Although, I am wondering, are there any Straight German Sports Comedies? Is that a contradiction in terms?

Anyway, I think it is fair to say that no American studios would have financed these movies. I also doubt that many Americans will go see them, myself included. When it comes to comedies, we’re currently more amused by the antics of Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell… and I like it that way. They all make me chuckle on their good days. I’m not a complete philistine, though. Check out the trailer for “Art School Confidential.” I can’t wait to see this movie. I miss you, NCSA!


JudgeHolden said...

I think you've nailed that weird sub-genre of depressed and repressed Brits who save themselves (AND their town -- is that some sort of socialist trend that just wouldn't fly in this country?) by embracing unrepressed behavior. This trend would seem on the surface like little more than an incessant copy-catting of The Full Monty, but they've done so damn many of them, they've really become their own genre. I suspect they'll do at least one every year.

Also, Art School Confidential does look hilarious. I love the John Malkovich line at the end. A visitor comes into his house and sees paintings of triangles on the wall. The visitor says, "So you paint... triangles?" And he says, quietly, proudly, "I was one of the first." Hilarious.

Jason Comerford said...

"The Germans have a long way to go before they can teach me much about tolerance, but I guess that these movies are a step in the right direction for them as a people. Although, I am wondering, are there any Straight German Sports Comedies? Is that a contradiction in terms?"

Xenophobic statements like this only contribute to the problem.

Captain Mike said...

Contribute to what problem?

Of all the foreign movies I have on DVD, the greatest number come from Germany. They've done some great stuff - "M," "Metropolis," "Das Boot," "Run Lola Run" - but I can't say that they've ever made me laugh very much or made me think "Gee whiz, those Germans sure are a great bunch of humanitarians." Sadly, they will have the specter of the 1930s and 40s hanging over them for centuries, just like the ghosts of slavery and the near elimination of Native Americans will hang over our country for a very long time to come – possibly forever. Unfortunately for our modern Teutonic friends, the transgressions of their country’s recent past are much fresher in the public consciousness. Many people are still alive today who took part in, were witnesses to, or are victims of horrible atrocities committed in the name of nationalistic pride. There are also many millions more who weren’t born and had absolutely nothing to do with those events. It has been and will continue to be their (un-asked for) task to heal the cultural wounds of their people. They are clearly making wonderful progress, and if making Gay Sports Comedies is part of that progress, I wish them great luck. I still doubt that the movies will make me laugh, and just ‘cause I don’t quite get the nuances of German comedy doesn’t make me a xenophobe, Mr. I’ve Never Left The United States and Never Eat Chinese Take-Out.

Jason Comerford said...

Just keeping you on your toes, Mikey.

Captain Mike said...