“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!” – Charlie Chaplin
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’” – Samuel Becket.
As Chaplin showed, there has always been a dark aspect to British comedy and, indeed, there is also usally a sharp, shot of humour in British dark fiction. Tragicomedy that errs on the side of the tragic, perhaps.
A perfect home for life’s perpetual failures, then.
Think of Alexander Mackendrick’s classic 1955 film The Ladykillers where a group of gangsters hole-up in a cute little old ladies house and take turns trying to kill her. They fail, of course.
Or try the eponymous character created by comedian Tony Hancock in the 1950s who, on radio, on television and in film, tried his hand at so many different activities and failed. One episode –The Bedsitter – teeters dangerously on the precipice of bleak existentialism. The Bedsitter is a one-room set, one-man-show, where Hancock endlessly flips through a Bertrand Russell tome trying to find meaning in life, but fails, of course. As Hancock said: ‘Stone me, what a life!’
And more: Sixties sit-com The Worker had the perpetually unemployed Charlie Drake regularly annoying Mr Pugh at the employment centre, trying lots of jobs and failing at all of them. One of the United Kingdom’s longest running television series, Only Fools and Horses, featured wheeling and dealing market stall traders whose scams always failed but who genuinely believed that ‘This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.’
Indeed, if the shiny happy American comedy series Friends had been made in the UK it would probably have ended up more like Sartre’s No Exit since hell truly is THOSE people.
So, if crime fiction is about bringing order to chaos and noir is about bringing chaos to order, then perhaps British comedy is pure noir.
Or maybe, it’s just the weather.
Help restore the damaged archival print of Alex Rockwell’s 1992 indie Sundance winner IN THE SOUP before it’s lost forever.
1992 Sundance winner and cult classic In the Soup is in danger of disappearing forever.
In The Soup is an acclaimed independent feature comedy by director Alexandre Rockwell. In rich black and white, it’s the story of an aspiring young New York filmmaker (Steve Buscemi) in the throes of his creative struggle, his beautiful neighbor and muse (Jennifer Beals), and a lovable con man (Seymour Cassel), chasing their dreams in quintessential 1990s NYC amidst a cast of oddball characters played by Stanley Tucci, Sam Rockwell, Will Patton, Jim Jarmusch, Debi Mazar, Carol Kane, and others.
Upon its release in 1992, it won the grand jury prize at Sundance competing against films like Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino) and Gas, Food, Lodging (Alison Anders), and proceded to play some of the most prestigious festivals worldwide throughout that year, including Venice, Toronto, and the New York Film Festival.
It came out to critical acclaim: In the words of reviewers from the New York Times, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Time and more, it is “hilarious,” “irresistible,” “furiously clever,” “a magical and touching comic romance about movies and crime,” “a dryly funny film of exceptional visual beauty” and “a droll, self-conscious fable with an unexpected heart of gold.” Basically, people loved it.
As of last year, there was only one fine-grain, black-and-white master archival print left, and unfortunately, while being screened at a cinema in Los Angeles, this precious but aging, fragile print was accidentally damaged during projection to the extent that moments of the first and fifth reel were virtually shredded.
Small Crimes is a sharp, short slice of noir based on David Zeltserman’s classic cult novel. A low-key, quirky crime film that is packed with great nuanced performances. Tightly directed with a gripping screenplay that smartly straddles the razors edge of noir and absurdity. Rich characters with a marvellously self-deluded and engaging protagonist. Small Crimes is brilliant, black comedy of errors that ticked all the boxes for me. I loved it.