A Salute to Comedic Heroes
I didn't realize it until now, but the opening paragraph of my last post owes a debt to a snatch of dialogue in the highly underrated Whit Stillman film, Barcelona. I realized this today as I arrived in -- you guessed it -- Barcelona. In the exchange I'm thinking of, a pretty Spaniard attempts a compliment, telling an American naval officer, "You seem very intelligent for an American." Unsure whether to insult himself or his country, he responds, "Well, I'm not."
My last post also owes a debt, of course, to National Lampoon's European Vacation. Someday, I hope, Chevy Chase will be recognized for his masterful critique of the WASPish arrogance of the American male. His characters are never bad guys: they're just out for casual sex or easy money or nice vacations. The genius of his best characters, however, is that they have no idea how their small, simple goals hurt the world around them.
Clarke Griswold sees nothing insensitive about leading his family in a singalong of "Jim Crack Corn." He just wants them to have fun on their long drive. He doesn't realize that throwing Rusty's beret off the Eiffel Tower will result in the death of a small dog. And of course it never occurs to him that his ooh-la-la videotape of his wife will end up in the wrong hands. He is the perfect embodiment of the unintentionally dangerous American.
The other master of this type of role is Chris Eigeman, one of the stars of Barcelona. He's the one who gets to say "Well, I'm not." In Stillman's first movie, Metropolitan, his character hits on something very American when he accuses a new acquaintance of being "one of those public transportation snobs" who won't take taxis. In Barcelona, his character jumps from a cab to change graffiti that snipes at "Yankee pigs" to make it say "Yankee deer."
Unlike Chevy Chase's characters, Eigeman's are well aware that they are in a culture war. They just have no interest in settling it peacefully. Eigeman's characters know they aren't particularly intelligent -- even for Americans -- but they regard victory as their birthright. Remind you of anyone?