Lost in Translation

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It's true that the Brits have a peculiar sense of humour. I won't try to vivisect it in some grad school thesis way, but any country that derives its humour primarily out of men dressing as grannies and talking in high pitched voices surrounded by pretty high-breasted girls is... well... pretty wacked out. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that their sense of humour falls flat on this side of the Channel. (though they love the high-breasted girls enough that Benny Hill was an unqualified success).

Not to say that the french don't have a sense of humour. I've seen two Rochefort films which made me giggle silly. Tati has cut out a certain elegant burlesque that only he seems to master. Not to mention the inevitable Louis de Fun├ęs films, though I've always felt that in the yelling and making faces genre, Jerry Louis is the King. But Jerry isn't always the King of Comedy*, despite have a bizarrely huge following in France. I suppose we'll have to throw in Jamel somewhere, though I find him very unfunny... toadying about as the token Arab guy. Ugh, political humour, the fall guy for the clever but monstrously boring comedian. Hmmm, really... aside from that, I'd have to say that maybe the french are less capable of tapping their eccentricities.

But, I guess where all this is coming from is the recent review of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as seen in France's left-wing newspaper, Liberation. I'm already used to the wonky taste in films displayed by most young french left-wingers which tends towards glorification of anything asian/kung fu/manga/zombies and the villification of traditional blockbusters. It's common stomping ground for bobos everywhere. It makes me furious that those same people try to intellectualize The Island because it is the first film Michael Bay has made for the semi-lobotomised (as opposed to the fully-lobotomised). Honey, it's a blockbuster. It's still made for drippy butter popcorn fingers retreating from the slow dull heat of summer.

What I'm not used to is having delicious little tidbits, such as said Adams film, being not only misspelled twice in the review, but tidily mocked.

Having been largely unexposed to Adam's sense of humour till late, I was piqued first by his writing in The Salmon of Doubt, his last book. This book had me bellowing at loud and repeating lines to Dacnar, who promptly wriggled his moustache in what could have been either irritation, amusement or follicle itch... perhaps all three. He didn't get it completely. And that should have set off alarm bells. Because Dacnar is a fairly witty and open man, with a sharp sense of humour and mediocre command of the english language. He's better candidate than most for capting on this kind of humour. If he wriggles, I get twitchy.

Anyways, needless to say the reviewer, in Libe, of the film, mungles on about the history of the story and the some of the key theatrical moments. He even manages to quip that Adams is a depressive, as if all humourists by right should be. The article emphasizes the vast following Adams has gathered while not really tackling the film itself. If the books have such a large following it's sheer brilliant comedy done in a particular turn of voice.** That voice, however, rests lost in translation. Heavens knows why culture does not translate completely but I think sneering across a large stretch of water for a thousand years might have something to do with it.

Not that I would wish for the vast invasion of British humour on French shores. I'd like the French to continue to cultivate their elegant wit in their own way. However, a little less Jack-Ass borrowing*** and screaming with funny faces could do them well. Pull the cornichons out of their petunias, so to say. Which is why I hope they make acquantaince with H2G2.


*The King of Comedy, incidentally, is one of Scorcese's few comedies, though black comedy it would be. It keeps it's humour to a minimum, serving only as a backdrop to his characters's celebrity psychosis. If you think that's an odd juggling act, see the film. More subtle than Taxi Driver, better shot, and featuring a Jerry Lewis that burns up the screen. Horrifying man.

**Oh Golly Molly, wasn't Stephen Fry the best choice for the voice!

*** An example of something stolen from English telly that they haven't dropped yet is the Spitting Image rip-off, Les Guignols. How that's still about and who finds it funny...