What better way to while away an hour of a long flight to LA than to muse on the nature of film satire with a dead professor?by Mark Cousins / April 26, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
I’m on a flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles, in seat 35b. We’ve only been in the air an hour but already my legs have seized up. A man in my row is reading a Michael Crichton, a woman is watching Colin Firth in A Single Man. I’ll be filming in LA for a month, trying to tell the story of Hollywood’s zero sum game between glamour and the gutter—and I’ll report back on what I find next month. For now, though, thoughts of movie satire are keeping me awake.
Why? Several reasons. Chris Morris’s film Four Lions, a suicide bomber spoof, is released in May. A new Robocop film is being made, so it’s time to mock and marvel at law enforcement again. And I’ve just re-read the brilliant chapter on satire in Frank D McConnell’s 1979 book Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film and Literature.
My favourite satirical movie is probably Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Senegalese gobsmacker Hyènes, but given my destination it’s American film that’s on my mind. Frank McConnell was a professor of English. His ideas and mine are mixing with the roar of the airplane and the wooze of pinot grigio. Here are six of our ideas. I’ll test each one against the evidence.
The first is that satire is the mode of art that becomes more prevalent at times of demoralisation. So says Frank. Yet the 1930s had the Marx brothers; the 1940s had the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road To movies; in the 1950s there were the Jerry Lewis films, including Frank Tashlin’s Artists and Models; the 1960s had Buck Henry and Mike Nichols’s The Graduate. In the 1970s, riding perhaps on RD Laing’s thought that at a time of insanity, the schizophrenic is the sanest person in the room, there was Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the 1980s and 1990s there was Robocop and Starship Troopers, among many others. So there has always been screen satire.
Our second idea (I write as if Frank is in seat 35a, but he isn’t: he died in 1999) is that satire is a “…