Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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Yahoo Serious: The Ingmar Bergman of Disliked Australian Directors

I crashed at work this afternoon.

Physically, I mean. It was really weird. One moment I felt fine, and the next moment I became aware that I'd been staring blankly at the adding machine on my desk for thirty minutes. I got less sleep than usual last night, and woke up bright and early and ready to jump out of bed -- not a common occurrence, even when I get the full, NSF-recommended eight hours. I'd expected it to happen all day, but I was surprised when it came so late in the day.

For all the no sleep I got, I might as well have downed a fistful of Vivarin and gone to see Pirates of the Caribbean II: Electric Boogaloo last night. Several of my friends went to the 12:01 show and I was invited, but I declined. I'm waiting for them to post reviews. The general reaction from my coworkers and usual blogs was "wait until you can see it free on TV." Then again, I'd successfully avoided National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation until my coworkers forced it upon me in 2004. I no longer trust them.

Anyway, I'm guessing that this sudden, overall tiredness is probably to blame for my sudden desire to go home and watch Yahoo Serious movies. Remember that guy? No? There are good reasons for that. Consider the old adage, "If it looks like Carrot Top, and it quacks like Carrot Top, it might be Yahoo Serious. Check its accent."

I've never personally heard anybody who wasn't a stoner or eleven years old (or both) praise Yahoo Serious, although I know it must happen. His first film, Young Einstein, was ridiculously well-received in its native Australia, where it was nominated for (and won) major awards and rivalled Star Wars at the box office. When it came to the United States, Warner Brothers advertised the hell out of it, and (comparitively) it flopped. Critics and audiences weren't kind to it. At the time I'm sure that Warner Brothers executives were confused, but the reason for the disparity is obvious.

Young Einstein, which speculates on how Albert might have turned out if he'd been raised in the Outback, is probably the most unapologetically Australian movie I've ever seen. It's certainly not the most unapologetically Australian movie ever, but whichever movie holds that honor is probably collecting dust and sitting unrented between sexier, more recognizable titles at Four Star Video. Young Einstein was made for Australians, by Australians who were clearly not thinking about how the film would be received by an international audience.

As an American, it's almost impossible to appreciate just how much North America dominates the cinema. We worry very little about whether our films will appeal to or offend the folks in, say, Australia. When a studio in Germany or Spain or Prance or Molvania makes a high profile, big budget picture, they spend a lot of time and resources worrying about how we're going to help them recoup their production costs. British films don't have to try too hard -- we speak the same language and have the same cultural hot-buttons as they do (they just press them differently over there, which is why you think John Cleese is so much funnier than Chevy Chase*). The rest of the world goes to ridiculous lengths to convince us to buy tickets: They bring in American actors to play the principal roles. They rewrite their screenplays, transplanting the action from Yugoslavia to Beverly Hills. Sometimes they shoot in English and add subtitles for their domestic release.

Young Einstein avoided these pitfalls by being thoroughly Aussie, and the result was something that its intended target audience recognized and identified with in a way that they couldn't with the American movies like Willow and Twins, which opened there around the same time. If Bruce Q. Moviegoer (or his wife Sheila) were to sit through Young Einstein in 2006, they'd probably find it silly and maybe a little embarrassing. The film's immense popularity in 1988 was sparked by that initial cultural connection, and fanned by the horde mentality, but before you write off the Aussies as having questionable taste, I'd like to remind you that America's highest grossing film of the previous year was Three Men and a Baby. What is it they say about people in glass houses?

Anyway, where was I going with all of this? Oh yes, I was trying to explain why Yahoo Serious gets a (mostly undeserved) bad rap. He's only made three movies, and though the other two did good business internationally (well, in Australia, at least), Young Einstein's failure in the States pretty much relegated his follow-ups (1993's Reckless Kelly and 2000's Mr. Accident) to limited theatrical release and budget video pricing. They all have their foibles, but they're not evil. I can see what Mr. Serious was trying to do, and I see can why the only large audience to embrace the movies was Australian. Who doesn't root for the home team?

So here is why so many people think they hate Yahoo Serious: Ultimately, all three of his films are simple slapstick manifestos which pit idealism against smarm; glorified fables. The difference between the good guys and the bad guys is crystal clear, right always triumphs over wrong, and none of this matters because the plot is really only there to drive the comedic antics. Given their lack of violence, sex, and profanity, Yahoo Serious' sensibilities would have fit seamlessly into the era of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and maybe even a bit later during the reign of the Hayes Code. However, thanks to the MPAA ratings system, modern audiences, have come to expect that screwball comedies will contain racier material. Serious' films are made for a general adult audience, but their content treads a fine line between The Muppet Show and The Kentucky Fried Movie. When he does make the unusual journey into Farrelly Brothers territory, it feels forced and uncomfortable. Most of the time his films feel like misguided family fare. Films like The Wizard of Speed and Time and Who Framed Roger Rabbit have the same issues.

Some people appreciate Yahoo Serious. Other people don't have the patience to put up with his style. It's not really a matter of "getting" him. Reviews of his films are inevitably very positive or very negative -- I've never seen a lukewarm review.

Still, if I only watch them when I'm craving them (which is not very often), I find the his films enjoyable on one level or another. Mostly I enjoy the obvious glee with which Mr. Serious tackles his material. He's in love with the process of filmmaking, and that makes his movies fun. I figure I'll probably watch Mr. Accident later tonight, and I'll have met my Yahoo Serious quota for 2006.

* Scratch that. John Cleese is funnier than Chevy Chase. Hell, Gallagher is funnier than Chevy Chase. Remember Gallagher? We talked about Gallagher once.
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