The JFL Northwest Comedy Festival was a welcome distraction from the overall dreariness of late winter, cold Vancouver rain, the aftermath of Valentine’s Day—whatever you associate with February. The collaboration between NorthWest Comedy Fest and Just For Laughs featured live comedy as well as film (feature-length and short). I was lucky enough to catch a few films at Vancity Theatre, each exploring the different corners of comedic performance and the nature of what can and cannot be funny.
Rick Alverson’s Entertainment (2015) was perhaps the most uncomfortable movie I have ever sat through—and I’ve seen The Tribe, so that’s saying something. The film follows a thoroughly dejected comedian on tour through the Mojave Desert while on the road to visit his estranged daughter. Gregg Turkington plays the comedian with as much sour attitude and un-likability as possible, spitting out entirely inappropriate jokes for dwindling audiences at every venue. Each night he calls his little girl on the phone and leaves a voicemail message into the void. There is no respite from the discomfort. At first, Turkington’s stage persona seems like it might be a clever bit of satire—an embodiment of entertainment as a dirty and unforgiving leech, sucking on the soul of wholesome fun. But eventually the differentiation between comedic persona and actual personality falls through, until finally what we are left with is a portrait of a complete asshole. And a very depressed asshole, at that, though the film does not accommodate for sympathy. This man is obviously angry and bitter about something we are never privy too, and unfortunately that rawness blocks him from connecting with those around him and with himself. His comedy routine is a manifestation of his own dissatisfaction, his own rotten sense of humour. We have been led down a path to someone else’s existential crisis, unable to look away.
This is not to say the film was terrible; in fact, it was smart and clear in its delivery and the supporting performances were stellar. John C. Reilly’s character was a gentleman and a willing optimist, offering pieces of advice and support to his comedian friend despite zero reward. Michael Cera appeared only once, but his presence was a welcomed bit of familiarity and turned out to be hilariously sinister. Visually, the film was uniquely beautiful. Scenes of the desert were reminiscent of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, injecting a singular kind of sadness into the film. The heat of the desert and the ultimate sameness of the landscape swallowed the comedian whole, leaving him lost on a never ending melancholy trip. The use of colour was particularly stunning. Scenes in hotel rooms and backstage hallways were drenched in solid hues, reds and blues and pinks, transforming the overall drabness into a candy-coated dreamscape.
I would never call this film sweet, however. Ultimately, Entertainment was a difficult experience, exposing the warped underbelly of comedy as an art form.
TURKISH STAR WARS
Turkish Star Wars, directed by Çetin İnanç in 1982, was another wild romp through the desert, only this time there were aliens, an evil magician, and an exponentially greater amount of spandex. In the film’s strange, sci-fi universe, the human brain is the key to world domination. It is the utmost desire of the Magician to capture a human brain, gain access to its willpower, and use it to seize control of Earth. Two space cadets have been sent to save the world from this dreadful fate, battling terribly fuzzy monsters and mind-boggling wizardry.
Yes, this film does take place in an alternate space universe, and yes, it does include bootlegged footage from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, but that is where the similarities to its namesake stop. The Magician, who could perhaps be pegged as a Turkish Darth Vader, looks more like Evil Emperor Zurg from Toy Story 2. The Force has been translated into a spiral of yellow light which turns people into crusty old mummies. And there are no light sabers. There is, however, a jagged sword made of (what appears to be) cardboard, painted gold with glitter—a fair trade.
Despite the film’s utter absurdity and general discombobulation, it was quite the cinematic treat. The further it progressed, the more humorous it became, until every spaced out monologue or throat punch registered as comedic genius. I was particularly enraptured by the effortless assemblage of repeated shots and duplicated sequences. I think I saw the same footage of one macho space cadet descending from the sky (in perfect high kick form) at least eight times, but it never lost its zest, not once. Some scenes hardly held any narrative weight, but I didn’t mind in the slightest. An unnamed character has decided to philosophize about the origins of the Muslim religion while wearing a brightly coloured, sparkly headband? Bring it on! The Magician has started to drink the blood of his victims through a meter-long twisty straw? Please continue! If none of this is making sense to you, do not worry. That, I think, is the beauty of Turkish Star Wars. It was a dazzling display of filmic collage, a myriad of nonsense—the ultimate pop culture rip-off turned endearing original.
JFL NorthWest runs from February 18-27, 2016. For tickets and information, visit jflnorthwest.com.