'Good black comedy' curbs ills of this year's movies

By Michael Eilers

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The year 1994 was dismal for comic films, and 1995 looks to be no better. From the utter buffoonery of "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber," to the lighthearted and light-headed "I.Q." and "Forrest Gump," 1994s comedies did little for audiences except insult their intelligence.

Sure, comedy is meant to be entertaining, not brain-twisting. But whatever happened to humor based on wit and wordplay, not armpit noises? Just a few centuries ago, comedies were being written by William Shakespeare now they have the depth of a Bazooka Joe comic.

Luckily we have video stores which carry an alternative to the brainless droolers made in Hollywood: the black comedy.

"Black" in this case means dark, not Afro-American, and these films attempt to find humor in the shadowy details of human existence. Often intellectual and always absurd, these films are funny because they expose the utter silliness of people's everyday lives and their attempts to cope with their troubles.

A good place to start is the work of director Terry Gilliam. "Time Bandits" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" are wacky, bizarre comedies that make complete hash of history and human nature while turning a critical eye toward modern, mechanized society. A former member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Gilliam brings a similar craziness and wicked irony to mundane subjects.

"Brazil," another Gilliam film, is less funny and more frightening, but still has enough absurdity (including Robert DeNiro as a plumber/terrorist) to qualify as a comedy.

Writer/director Peter Greenaway offers lush, detailed versions of the black comedy. "Drowning by Numbers" is a gimmicky farce with a half-dozen plots and a little boy named Smut who counts dead animals for fun. What should be repulsive turns out to be hilarious, because the film turns the world on its head, making the mundane seem absurd, and the absurd seem mundane.

"Prospero's Books," another Greenaway film, also delights in the irrational, using Shakespeare's "The Tempest" as a vehicle to explore the silliness of human vanity and pride.

These films are as challenging as they are funny, and they use the vehicle of humor to investigate the shadowy side of human nature in a unique and revealing way. After all, why not laugh at the dark side in ourselves while we're laughing at the light?

"I Like To Watch" is an alterNation article that recommends favorite films available on video.

Read Next Article