I am not sure quite what those who live outside Britain will make of it, but I really enjoyed Hot Fuzz
. It was kind of like Police Academy
meets The Wickerman
(the original version obviously, - indeed it even starred Edward Woodward), only written by and starring some of the finest talent in British comedy today. It was not that
funny - but parts of it were and are genius - and it is far better than the trailers make out. Go and see it anyway.
This post however is not really about Hot Fuzz
as such but about the main writer and actor in it Simon Pegg
, and aims to be nothing more than a simple outline of what I think is his creative dialogue with cultural Marxism. Star Wars and Gramsci
Pegg first came to prominence in about 1999 in his cult TV show Spaced
, which was one of those shows which begins as a late night show on Channel 4 which only school and college students really watch but if successful within a few years almost everyone claims to have watched it religiously right from the beginning. However, before then Pegg was a student himself studying Drama at the University of Bristol and it was here he seems to have discovered Marxist theory.
In many interviews, reference has been made to the fact that Pegg wrote his University thesis attempting a Marxist analysis
of Star Wars
: 'I studied film theory at university and I love it. It’s great fun to dissect and pick apart films to see what their social impact is. I wrote my thesis on a Marxist analysis of “Star Wars.” It was great fun! I’m a huge fan of the first three films, but not particularly the new ones. “Star Wars” was an expression of post-Vietnam, Reagan era, kind of desperation of trying to get back to being heroes when after this time when good and evil had been so difficult to distinguish. Suddenly you get these big grand bad guys, and grand good guys. The good guys are young, white American people and the bad guys are these older English Imperialists types. It’s all there on the page and it’s not difficult to dissect. I’m a big fan of that stuff.'
While I have not read his thesis, nor to be honest am I ever likely to, and while I certainly would not want to challenge his knowledge of the Star Wars
films, it seems to me that some of his analysis here is a little flawed. I buy the thing about the American elite wanting and needing to rediscover their sense of 'right and wrong' after the horror of Vietnam but I disagree a bit with this bit: 'The good guys are young, white American people and the bad guys are these older English Imperialists types' - as if Star Wars
is primarily an attack on the (by then falling) British Empire. While some of the Emperor's officials appear to be kind of old English imperialists (Peter Cushing's role for example), I would have thought that the 'evil Empire' if anything rather represented the Soviet Union in the context of the Cold War. The most 'English' character after all is C3PO - who is a 'goodie' while Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan is also obviously an enemy of the 'Darkside'. Still it is an interesting thesis - and perhaps does throw some light on the way in which American power was spread around the world without direct colonisation as in the British Empire.
In his Guardian interview
, Pegg revealed his interest in the work of Antonio Gramsci, noting his dissertation was entitled 'a Marxist overview of popular Seventies cinema and hegemonic discourses'. As the interviewer noted, 'when I roll my eyes and say, "Oh there's nothing like a bit of hegemony," he [Pegg] tells me that "an awareness of the postmodern condition is still the intellectual bedrock" of his comedic method.' This method manifested itself first in Spaced
, which incidently in episode five
apparently featured a character selling Socialist Worker
who had a dog called Gramsci who was trained to bite rich people, and then bit his SWP owner when he won the pools or something. As one reviewer wrote: 'There's a wee bit of philosophy and science in this episode, Bilbo talks about the class war (Minty is selling 'Socialist Worker') and the Italian Marxist Gramsci. Brian makes a foray into the world of Mathematics when he muses on the influence of chaos theory in the Star Wars trilogy'.
Pegg's career however took off when he made Shaun of the Dead
in 2004 - a pisstake off the popular zombie movie Dawn of the Dead
(incidently, though I still need to confirm this, there looks like there is a bit of 'Stop the War' flyposting is on the street when the main character lives) and Hot Fuzz
is clearly a spoof of US cop films like Bad Boys II
- only with 'N.W.A.' standing for Neighbourhood Watch Association instead of anything else. However, what is interesting I think is what Pegg does next, now he is a massive star. Merely spoofing popular genres of films (Zombie films/Cop films etc) is brilliant - and the team he has around him do it brilliantly - but it arguably only gets you so far.
Pegg does bring some politics into Hot Fuzz
(albeit in a subtle way) and I am not suggesting that Pegg should get directly political and aim to become 'the new Ken Loach' - whose The Wind that Shakes the Barley
I have also seen recently and was quite simply not only the best introduction to Irish history in the twentieth century one could wish for but also an outstanding film in its own right. All I suppose I am saying is that if one takes the apparent current 'postmodern condition' too seriously, there are dangers. Most people in Britain today have a rather different experience of the police today than that reflected in Hot Fuzz
. Most people do not see them as essentially good people or bumbling fools but rather as almost psychopathic bastards with very little social conscience whatsoever, who are acting on the orders of a Government which is currently extending police powers and ordering 'terror raids' on Muslim communities with often tragic and dangerous consequences. The real world is marked by the 'war on terror' - scarred by it
, to use George Galloway's phrase. Yet just as the Vietnam war led to the birth of not just films like Star Wars
but also the whole Zombie genre of films - so might something completely new and far more satirical ultimately emerge out of the barbarism of Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems to me that Marxist students of film should always be attentive to the possibilities of the new - rather than simply honouring and paying tribute to the achievements of the old.
Labels: film, Marxism