Film

Making Mr. Wright

Edgar Wright is cut from the same cloth as the members of Monty Python some 50 years before, a British boy capable of great wit and even greater insight.

It's the same story we've heard a hundred times - a hungry, imaginative young child is given a Super 8 camera as a gift, and the rest in potential cinematic history. Similarly, there's the synchronicity of making a student project and having it appreciated by a struggling media outlet. Thanks to said exposure, you wind up getting noticed by up and coming talent trying to make a name for themselves as well. They choose you to helm their initial attempts at TV, and again, the rest is a kind of revisionist history. It's not long before you've found your niche in a particular format - say, the sitcom - and a kind of creative cult revolves around your efforts. That final bit of appreciation, meshed with your own ongoing desire to expand your sphere of experience, leads you right back to your beloved celluloid. Soon, you're on the cusp of becoming the filmmaking superstar those early home movie dreams inspired.

For Edgar Wright, the stereotypical steps to directorial respect are all there. The 36 year old has already made a massive name for himself among the web-ccentric members of 'Net Nation, catering to their geek obsessive look at the world with his in-joke laden ideas. But Wright is not some nu-model member of the media. He's cut from the same cloth as the members of Monty Python some 50 years before, a British boy capable of great wit and even greater insight. He's also immersed in the new-old school of UK comedy, one symbolized best by the Young Ones/Bottom dynamic of dangerous slapstick violence and the Alan Partridge realm of self-deprecating irony. With his latest effort, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, hitting theaters this week, one can look back at his brief career to see how he got started, and how all the various facets of his rise helped make him manna for the Playstation - and now mainstream - masses.

Dead Right (1993)

Made when he was 18 and seemingly capable of anything, Wright struck upon the idea of parodying the police procedural, infusing the by the book British cop drama with a healthy dose of American adrenaline. The results, made with friends from college, combined lo-fi filmmaking technique with inspired invention to set the ground rules for the rest of Wright's career. It was also the motivation for one of his best efforts, the comedy cop epic Hot Fuzz. Available on said film's massive DVD/Blu-ray release, it's a rare insight into a fledgling filmmaker and his manic muse.

A Fistful of Fingers (1994)

As the title suggests, it was a spaghetti western spoof. Actually, it was a low budget remake of another school project Wright created with pal Graham Low (who reprised his role as the goofball gunslinger "No-Name"). To call the effort semi-successful would overlook its obvious financial limitations and its lead's horrible Clint Eastwood impersonation. Still, Wright was able to capture the feel of Leone and the rest of the revisionist makers of these post-modern morality tales. While the references become obvious after a while (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly turns into the Three Stooges), it showed promise - something his future work in TV would flesh out admirably.

Spaced (1999 - 2001)

At its core, Spaced was a slacker sitcom about two disconnected Brits forced to share an apartment under the ruse of being a legal couple. Pretty straightforward. However, such a shoestring format allowed the creative team behind the project - creators/writers/stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes and director Wright - to free association on anything that came into their fevered, pop culture soaked brain. Captured with one camera, it would trade on a "cinematic" feel to fully realize its often outrageous aims. The result was a surreal, stream of consciousness experience, thirty weekly minutes made up of whatever the cast considered cool and worthy of riffing on at the time. From Star Wars to comics, indie music to movie homages, much of this sensational series looks like a warm up for Wright's transition to feature films. He definitely brought the same aesthetic to his movie work, especially when paired up with Pegg and Frost.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

When George Romero invented the modern zombie horror film in the 1960s, few thought it would be so ripe for reinvention so soon. But a glut of direct to video product in the following years confirmed that the cannibal corpse was facing a short shelf life. Enter confirmed horror nuts Pegg, Frost, and Wright. Together, they drafted a love letter to the living dead, paying homage to their fright film icon with a cheeky referential title and real desire to milk the genre for both laughs and legitimate scares. They managed to achieve both brilliantly while staying true to Romero's maverick ideals. As much a dissection of post-millennial Britain as an all out geek farce, this was the film that announced Wright as a legitimate big screen threat. Oddly enough, his next movie would confirm his amazing artistic potential.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

While initial reports had it labeled as another spoof (though Shaun was really more of a romantic comedy with blood thirsty creatures as the roadblock to eternal bliss), the spectacularly anarchic action buddy cop caper Hot Fuzz was indeed more than just a simple-minded lampoon. Such a categorization limited what the amazing movie managed to achieve, bringing it down to a level of creative crassness that the trio of Pegg, Frost, and Wright struggled to transcend time and time again. The truth is, this film had much larger funny business fish to fry than merely taking on the Bruckheimer/Bay gonzo gunplay dynamic. There is more to their satire than flying bullets, fisticuffs and testosterone-laced fireworks. No, this exceptionally talented trio is out to undermine their very own Englishness, to poke fun at a country that still views itself as a bastion of good manners and inbred etiquette. And they do so magnificently.

Don't (2007)

As the greatest horror film Hammer (or perhaps its wannabe competitor, Amicus) never made, Wright's trailer for this fictional UK fright flick almost derailed the entire Grindhouse experience. While main auteurs Rodriguez and Tarantino were busy misinterpreting the concept of drive-in exploitation, he meticulously recreated the entire history of British terror in two masterful minutes. All the references are there - the Gothic manor, the weird characters, the decidedly '70s fashion sense (in and of itself pretty scary), the random unexplained "shocker" plot points. All that's missing is any sense of smug superiority and you'd have a brilliant Monty Python meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre overview of English terror.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

As the first project approached that didn't have his direct involvement in either the development or original idea (it's all Bryan Lee O'Malley's baby) Wright could have cashed a Hollywood paycheck and made a standard comic book adaptation. Sure, this graphic novel lacks super hero punch, but with its indebtedness to pop culture circa the late '80s/early '90s, there was lots of room left to fool around with form and function. So Wright went wild, recreating the look and feel of a video game experience as part of another reinterpretation of the RomCom. In the process, he feeds the geek need for product pitched directly at their aesthetic while highlighting a heartfelt touch re: young love and its confusing components. All pizzazz and flash aside, Wright wrings a lot of pathos out of his Pac-Man/Punch-Out paradigm. What we wind up with his eye popping, mind bending, and unbelievably cool.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image