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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Thursday (9/11/14) 9:33pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Clue
TV:  <none>
Books:  <none>

This is the 1985 comedy based on the old board game.

You can usually divide parodies into two camps.  There are parodies like The Princess Bride, which gently poke fun at their source material while still exemplifying it.  And then there are parodies like Spaceballs, which take sharper and more frequent jabs at the source material, but wouldn't ever be mistaken for an example of the genre.

Then I look at Clue and I have no -- erm -- "notion" of what to do with it.  Clue absolutely loves the conventions of the country-house murder mystery.  It loves creating these exaggerated examples of the genre's character types.  It loves the tension of exploring the spooky house, the hidden passages, the creeping, unseen figure with a deadly weapon.  It loves how those old mysteries are put together.

And yet, when you look closer, there's no story there.  It's not an example of a mystery story, because Clue doesn't do what mysteries do.  It doesn't create a crime, lay out clues, and dare the audience to find the solution before it's revealed.  Hell, the fact that they filmed three endings, and all three make an equal amount of sense, should tell you that everything leading to that fateful branch point[1] does not really add up to anything.

So it's not like The Princess Bride -- i.e., it's not an *example* of the genre it's parodying -- but it's not like Spaceballs either.  It's not standing at a distance and making snarky remarks about the genre.  Instead, it's exemplifying all the *aspects* of the genre, and making them funny by heightening them and revelling in them.

I guess Clue is just a special snowflake, as parodies go.

Instead of really functioning like a mystery story -- i.e., laying out clues and encouraging guesses about the plot -- it acts more like one of the old Zucker-brothers comedies, like Airplane!  There's a wisp of a plot there, and it exists purely as a means of stringing the jokes together.  And god, what amazing jokes.  Again, like Airplane!, the jokes are constant, and dense, and relentless, running the gamut from subtle intellectual puns (Professor Plum works for UNOWHO) to amazing physical slapstick (the four characters all colliding in the hallway is just perfect).

What especially impresses me is how much of it just shouldn't work.  If you kick off the last fifteen minutes of your film with a multi-page monolog where the lead character recounts every single thing that happened in the movie, that should kill the movie dead in its tracks, and you should not be trusted to write screenplays (or to use sharp scissors).  The whole priceless "bullet counting" routine must read like tedious word-count-padding on the page.[2]  The whole thing only holds together because they've got a murderer's row of some of the best comic actors from the 80s taking that material at breakneck speed with indelible, heightened characters.  As far as I can tell, if you quote anything Clue, it will not make sense to anyone who hasn't seen Clue -- without those characters, and without the actors' masterful delivery, it's just a scattershot, meandering screenplay with too many words by half.  But people who've seen the movie will quote it to each other forever, because the end result was just that good.

For next week: more reform-school movies, as I prepare for the Wayward Girls show, and I'm watching season one of Deadwood.  I've moved on to an audiocourse about Russian history (to prepare for the Chekhov show), and I'm reading Tales from Mos Eisley Cantina on my shiny new Kindle.

[1] ... which, by the way, is when Wadsworth cuts the power to the house while re-creating the evening's events.
[2] See also
the Monty Python "nudge nudge" sketch, which had been rejected from Eric Idle's previous show because the script read like bizarre, unfunny word salad: "wink wink nudge nudge know what I mean wink wink say no more".

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