Having just re-watched the 1984 film Top Secret! I thought I might write about what interests me in the movie and that slapstick comedic genre.
I think I enjoy the sheer absurdity of the movie, the flights of fancy where the characters accept fantasy or the wildly improbable as sterling, where the absurd is accepted as mundane. That type of world must be confusing for the characters in it as each only has a very limited understanding of each other, and each acts in surprising and somewhat baffling ways.
Another aspect which interests me (& I know it’s unfashionable) is the punning and literal wordplay.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak German…” “I know a little German, He’s sitting right over there”
Punning can be perceived as being a bit naff and elicit groans from many – but I still enjoy them. It’s making fun of the complexities of the language. To understand a pun you have to understand all the possible meanings of the word; all the signifiers, and understand how the meanings can be interchanged or switched out with another unintentionally or comically. The limited understanding of each other and the world around them that the archetypal characters in Top Secret! have, leads to many pun misunderstandings (mis-punerstandings?) as what is figurative becomes literal and the opposite is true too; what is literal becomes figurative.
The characters themselves never push much past the limits of their archetypes if at all, the hero is just that, bold and confident, sexy and just a little bit aching (sigh) and incomplete, needing action, excitement and female adoration. The heroine is wide eyed, a loyal daughter looking for a male to complete her and willing to pass from the care of one man to another, in spite of nearly being capable enough to fire the rifle herself. As much as these characters are limited by their stereotypes, they are unashamedly so, and revel in their roles of Good, of Evil, Military and Resistance, Hero and Heroine. Other highlights include:
- A cow in gumboots
- Much dancing on tables
- A young Val Kilmer in pretty clothes (again sigh)
- Exploding Cigars
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (also something watched recently) has some similar ideas. Our hero, or anti-hero in this case is struggling to achieve the acceptance necessary to live in a world where the absurd is normalcy and where to survive, the characters must adapt to startling flights of fancy. However, Arthur Dent is provided with guides in the form of the well travelled Ford Prefect and The Guide itself, an advanced book which possesses the knowledge to guide Dent through his adventures to save the world, get the girl and find his self confidence. Other highlights include:
- Stephen Fry’s narration
- Marvin the manically depressed Paranoid Android
- Bill Bailey’s whale thoughts
- John Malkovitch with creepy robot spider legs
- Towel appreciation