Now if you’ve ever read any of my work before, probably to many’s disdain I enjoy addressing, you, the reader every once in the while, and occasionally taking the piss as and when I can. And ever so once in a while I can be quite self referential too, like right now, but why am talking about myself and my habits all so at odds with my usual style. Well like any writer worth their salt I’m trying to start my post in an engaging and relatable way before attempting to subtly segway into the crux of my piece. And I’ve already started. But what am I really getting at, as so to dispense with all the formalities of writing and break the normal form of things; meta humour. Which of late has become a big part of cinema and massively on display this month with the release of the both the excellent and ballsy Deadpool and the yet to be seen and the slightly less impressive looking Pride + Prejudice + Zombies.
Fourth wall breaks and meta humour have been on show for decades in cinema and makes up a significant part of film language. A lot of things can be meant be meta humour, webster dictionary defines it as if you want to know look it up yourself. Meta Humour is in-jokes, self-referencing, referencing other movies and quips about real people, is a starting point to understanding meta humour. These ideas started with the likes of Chaplin and Keaton and has continued since with some films focusing on a meta idea or its humour derived from fourth wall breaks. But it isn’t always done for the course of humour, with Woody Allen using the fourth wall break in the likes of Annie Hall to progress the story and use the audience as sound board for his inner monologues.
It’s an inherent piece of film language and one which has given rise to the potential of a new sub-genre; the Meta-Film. A sub-genre which could be as diverse as the idea itself. Pride + Prejudice + Zombies being an example of this emerging genre, taking the tale of the Bennet’s and Mr. Darcy and throwing zombies into the mix, taking two massively opposing genres and bringing them together in a tangible way. We’ve seen such sub-genres brought together before in the likes of Shaun of the Dead, Cockney’s vs. Zombies, Dogtooth, ideas once considered premises for the B-movie genre have evolved into something else. Had the obscure classic The Valley of Gwangi been made today it could be considered one of the most meta-films pitching cowboys against dinosaurs after venturing into the forbidden valley. But this is all just the example of one possible meaning for the potential genre, do we consider these types meta or hybrid, or are they just joke films dreamed up in a dwindling possibly drunken hollywood think tank?
But then there’s the other side to meta a more realistic and serious one, which writer Charlie Kauffman has made his career on with the likes of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation both take place within themselves in the case of Adaptation, the story dictated by both the characterized representation of Kauffman and the real life Kauffman writing the actual film script. Then there’s Being John Malkovich taking a real world as well as fictionalized personality and representing it on screen in a fully fictional world. Trying to explain the metasism of those films is a challenge itself, but if your still not getting my train of thought a simpler idea would be The Truman Show, while not a meta film it is a representation of meta-ideas out of control, to put someone in a completely fictional world but make it feel as real as possible to an individual, with the show knowing its a show while also trying to represent real life. To be fair probably none of that has helped as that was no easier to explain. But all I’m trying to say is do these idea’s have the potential to be a genre or are they all simply exaggerated jokes or a device to create new and engaging humour while being introspective of our own lives and environments. Sorry to get deep on you there and also may have just made up a few words in that last sentence too but hopefully you know what I’m getting at, if not guess I’ve got to work on this whole writing thing. So to make it easier just check out these Meta classics and for once I’ll let you make up your own mind on the subject:
Scream, The Last Action Hero, Adaptation, The Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Being John Malkovich, This is The End and my personal favourite Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
But if we are just speaking in terms of humour it is one of the greatest dialects of film language with Deadpool this month being an excellent example of how to use fourth wall breaks and meta humour to create a feel and style to a film. But meta-referencing has been a fan-boy favourite of many a director for years with many going by unnoticed and simply there for the enjoyment of the one’s involved but with the expansion of the internet and home media many of these little secrets have been discovered, all for our enjoyment too so here are some of the best to grace the silver screen, and I’ll do my best to explain them but you can always just search out the films for yourself.
- The Ultimate Cast – Austin Powers Goldmember – in which the opening titles descend into a movie within a movie with well known actors playing the actors of the characters of the film. DeVito as Mini Me need I say more.
- Stan Lee isn’t Stan Lee – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – i
gnore the film it’s all about this moment with Stan Lee being rejected from Richard and Sue’s wedding as a direct reference to the event in the comics where a Stan Lee lookalike gets turned away.
- Stallone is the Terminator – The Last Action Hero – I mentioned Last Action Hero earlier as a meta film to watch and this is a prime example why, Schwarzenegger plays the famed hero in whose world the Italian stallion has replaced him as the Terminator as seen when they enter a video store to discover a cardboard poster of Stallone as the T-100 in T2. And the quip that follows is classic.
- Darth Maul vs. Storm – X-Men – Who’s the man behind the black and red face of Maul in Phantom Menace is one Ray Parks who later went on to play Toad in Singers’ X-Men and in a brilliant bit of meta during his duel with Storm, Toad wields a pipe, spinning it with as much grace and style as a double ended lightsaber, simple, totally awesome and for those in the know a wicked moment!
So now you’re all clued up, if Hollywood keeps pushing this type of humour I’m sure we could have an emerging new sub-genre on our hands but for now it’s all just for a bit fun. But you know what I’ll be nice for once and let you do a bit of researching and decide for yourself.