Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Death at a Funeral

comment by Naomi Frampton - language tutor and manager of Literacy Center - Brisbane, Qld, Australia

I hated this movie, too, but Naomi explained to me why I hated it. I thought you might concur, so here goes!

I cringed through the whole thing and couldn’t wait for it to end - it was that severe. I detest that particular genre of English humour that relies on the audience sharing a set of assumptions about the proper and normal organisation of society and proper behaviour within that framework and then presumes comedy in the portrayal of the havoc caused when people behave incongruously. The inappropriate behaviour, the wreaking of havoc, comes from people of different class or nationality who fail to understand, adhere to or meet what the audience are assumed to understand to be the proper norms. In this film the wayward, middle class drug dealer who is the source of the illicit psychedelic drugs, the working class characters - the swearing Uncle Alfie and the uneducated, slightly stupid lad who is completely unaware of the deficiencies that make him an inappropriate match for the more educated girl from a wealthier family that he is pursuing – and, of course, the gay, midget American, are the sources of mayhem. ‘Nice society’, in the form of upper middle class English guests at a funeral, becomes the backdrop against which these characters, and all that they represent, are ridiculed. In a more sinister reading the audience is being alerted, however unconsciously, to the inherent dangers of admitting these representatives of the abnormal into decent society. What I really resent about this particular style of ‘humour’ is the failure to question, in fact the requirement that I, as a member of the audience, share, the view that these particular characters are the proper subject of ridicule. It is this requirement of allegiance to a particular set of class/race norms that, I think,  is the major point of differentiation between this and other types of English ‘mayhem comedy’ such as Fawlty Towers. In Fawlty Towers the comedy lies in the riotous situations caused by actions, reactions and miscommunications between the neurotic Basil Fawlty, his sidekick, the silly Spanish waiter, Manuel, with his poor command of English, Basil’s wife, the class-conscious Mrs Fawlty, and the other workers and permanent guests of the typical English seaside hotel in which it is set. While the exaggerated characters are clearly based on stereotypical characteristics linked mainly to class and cultural norms, all are equally ridiculous – the audience is not presumed to be in alliance with a particular set of norms against which particular characters are selected for ridicule.