Black comedies are awesome. The first time I knew I really loved a good black comedy was when I saw Dr. Strangelove in high school. It was then that I finally realized the true meaning of both Cold War paranoia and comedy irreverence. To me, there was no greater feat than the one pulled by Kubrick in Strangelove. He managed to instill a sense of foreboding fear while, at the same time, making a movie with Slim Pickins. In fact, Dr. Strangelove is often pointed to as the granddaddy of all black comedy, the coup de grâce of bleak and funny film, the movie that made it all happen. So, without further adieu, I present to you black comedies that I have known and loved, in no particular order:
Death to Smoochy: This 2002 film was widely regarded as a failure as a movie and a total dud in the theaters. Where this movie lacked in coin, it made up for in cultish brilliance. Director Danny DeVito often called this movie a cross between Pulp Fiction and Barney which, in and of itself, makes this movie watchable if for no other reason than to see what those two genres would look like collided. Critics hated the results, but kids like myself, raised on movies like Pulp Fiction and shows like Barney and Friends, were in awe. The story is typical, about the rise and fall of a star, but the trappings are brilliant: the Irish gang, the colorful set dressing, the vengeful murder plot. Good stuff.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: George Clooney decided to direct a movie, which often sets movie critics’ faces to grimace. After all, where does some handsome-boy and former TV actor like George Clooney get off in wanting to direct a feature film? All grumbling ceased when the movie came out and was not only funny but visually stunning. Low-tech camera tricks abound, and everyone got the general sense that this Clooney kid knew what he was doing.
Confessions is the story of Chuck Barris, former host of The Gong Show and pioneer of trash TV with shows like The Newlywed Game. In an autobiography he wrote in the eighties, Barris also mentions that, in addition to being a game show host, he was also an assassin for the CIA. This visually stunning movie shows what happens when you mix the intrigue of espionage with, well, The Gong Show.
Dr. Strangelove: The granddaddy of all black comedy, Dr. Strangelove had a significant impact on me as a teenager. I’d never quite understood Cold War-era nuclear paranoia until I saw this movie. As a child of the eighties, I didn’t really have to. The Wall was already down by the time I began learning how to ride a bike, and the democratic revolution in Russia played softly in the background as I played with Barbies. When I finally saw this movie, I understood why everyone was so crazy back then. It took a black comedy about a situation that could never happen to make me realize why everyone was so afraid of a nuclear war with the USSR.
Dr. Strangelove also began my love affair with George C. Scott, one of those actors I missed out on because of my age. A year later, I saw Patton, a movie that also blew my mind. I often wondered why they didn’t make movies like that anymore. Where there any great actors anymore? Where were the George C. Scott’s of my generation who could chew through the dialogue of Dr. Strangelove, and do so with such depth and sincerity, making the movie’s hilarious premise? While I’m still waiting, I could watch this black comedy again and again.