April 18th was a very important day. For some of us, it signalled that it was 2 days until we could break our Lent promises and eat that chocolate that had been sat lonely in the fridge for the past 38 days. Yet, for Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and The World’s End, April 18th was a day to reflect on the past 40 years of his life whilst fans tweeted him celebratory fan art and variations of “happy 40th Edgar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This article is supposedly a review of Hot Fuzz, but it’s impossible to talk about one of Wright’s films and not mention his TV work—where the story of the Simon Pegg-Nick Frost-Edgar Wright combo began—and his other four films (if you count Fistful of Fingers, which I most certainly do). For, in all of his work, there exists a distinct individualism, allowing it to both stand as a piece of work in its own right as well as stand as part of some auteurist architect’s carefully planned project to redefine the skyline of cinema.
“But Kate,” I hear you say through your chocolate-filled mouth, “I wouldn’t call Edgar Wright a master of cinema, wth you on?” The thing that I am ‘on’, dear reader, is admiration. Edgar Wright is no Tarantino clone, despite many critics’ tendency to brand him as such. Unlike Tarantino, Wright’s gore doesn’t feel the need to be blown up to an exploitative level in order to deliver a shock or a laugh. And when Wright intends to humour the viewer through gore, the shots are so swiftly cut and daftly angled that the audience cannot help but give way to a childish giggle of pure sadism. It’s as if he takes Tarantino’s work and applies a British sensibility and dryness--a “Chevok’s Gun”-like approach to exploitation: if the gore does not serve a purpose in the plot, it’s unnecessary.
Thus it is for this reason that Wright symbolises a movement in modern cinema. He is a voice in an inevitably Tarantino-inspired-world that doesn’t just follow the grain, but enhances it. He’s a craft ale to other Tarantino-inspired directors’ similarly potent—but more unoriginal—Stella Artois. But, if you want proof that his work has created a seismic shift in the film and television industries, allow me to give you a whistle-stop tour of the craftsman’s career--starting with Spaced (Fistful of Fingers, Wright’s first film, unfortunately and perhaps slightly understandably made little impact on cinema—but it will make you pee with laughter).
Spaced is a sitcom for the broke British twenty-something, a more realistic and essentially British approach to Friends that floats on a surrealistically-expressed relevance that’s trapped by pop culture. Its slapstick style humour, combined with its nerdy references and genre parodying, created a new trend in modern television comedies, and is particularly noticeable in Graham Linehan’s work—one has to look no further than Mike Watts and Twist to see where the IT Crowd’s Moss gets his absurdity from. After Spaced, Wright moved on to write and direct Shaun of the Dead with his Spaced colleagues. Shaun of the Dead is probably the last of the great 2000s’ cult films, although many films since have played on its rom-zom-com fusion to try to achieve the same cult status (Zombieland and Juan of the Dead, anyone?). It singlehandedly rekindled many cinephiles’ love for Raimi’s Evil Deads and Romero’s zombie masterpieces, whilst also moving the British comedy market away from Richard Curtis (thank God). Next up for Wright came the film in question: Hot Fuzz. Through Hot Fuzz, Wright showed the world that small-town England had just as much potential to thrill as the sprawling urban jungle of Miami, intelligently rewiring the whole detective-thriller genre to make the genre’s own parodies seem lazy. No doubt it gave the British horror genre a boot too, reminding directors and spectators of similarly small-town-based British classics such as Samuel Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. Then Wright appeared to remove himself from the British scene altogether, directing Scott Pilgrim vs The World in Toronto. This film should have been better received than it was. Its phantasmagorical editing and quick-fire humour failed to win over the box office as it had the critics, but Scott Pilgrim nonetheless marked a resurrection in cult cinema. It is often thought that cult cinema had more or less tailed off after Shaun of the Dead as independent producers decided to take a step back from the balls-to-the-wall outlandishness that the decade previous had produced. B-movies made for the SyFy Channel took the place of these well-furnished original cult masterpieces, and it appeared that cult films were only becoming cult because they were so ridiculous (Birdemic being a prime example)--Scott Pilgrim was thus the first cult film in almost a decade to be truly deserving of its title. And it is here that we are brought back to the current with Wright’s latest, The World’s End. Like its Cornetto siblings, The World’s End has the same offhand gags as the others, the same trademark wipe cuts and close-ups, but surprisingly, an even bigger heart. As of yet, its impact on cinema cannot be measured—but if more sci-fi films start to contain Wright’s signature self-deprecating humour, we’ll know where that came from. How’s that film career for a slice of fried gold?!
The huge force that keeps Wright’s admiring following so loyal is his consistency. He is the case of the perfect auteur, one un-phased by Hollywood’s glaring light and one that manages to make each film in the same style as the last, no matter the budget. He’s no Godard; yes, he may accept Hollywood offers—with Ant Man, a Marvel film set to be released 2015—yet he would never sell out his style in order to assume the role of a studio’s pet. His unique visual stylisation has a comic book-like amiability and ease of access, making light play of the prominent themes of death, alcoholism, murder and grievance explored in his films. The film-to-film coherence even makes the audience believe that all of his action occurs in one world, in the way that one would believe the films of Wes Anderson to transpire in a world of their own. The truth is Knives Chau and Shaun could not be any more different in terms of their visual presentation and character arcs, yet the way in which Wright delicately deals with their yearning for love and compassion makes the audience feel a cosy familiarity with both—for they aren’t just characters, they are almost surrealistically-presented symbols of human nature, temperament and morality… They are us. The same applies to Gary King and Scott Pilgrim: two almost diametric characters who share the same romantic ideal of staying young forever… Who hasn’t wanted to stay young forever?! Such characters only form part Wright’s filmic equation, as each film comes packaged with layers of humour, both visual and narrative, and a huge, thumping heart at the centre.
As a study of all of Wright’s work, let’s take Hot Fuzz—besides, this is meant to be a review anyway! Hot Fuzz finds its heart in the unlikely friendship between Simon Pegg’s Nicholas Angel and Nick Frost’s Danny Butterman. Pegg’s Sergeant is a frustrated, alienated man, haunted by his own perfectionism and struggling to come to terms with his girlfriend’s affair and his work demotion—and Pegg plays the role brilliantly. His muted expression and concentrated brows crack for the first time 47 minutes into the film, and even when shooting a pensioner his face remains the personification of focus, never grimacing or twitching to acknowledge the havoc he has wreaked. The genius of Wright’s and Pegg’s (who co-wrote the film) characterisation is the fact that Angel’s personality is undeniably churlish, with his responses to expressions of genuine care being oftentimes brusque. Yet his character is presented so that his actions are understandable and his mood relatable, making Angel the representative of own innermost thoughts. Then there’s Frost’s otherwise irritating Danny Butterman, walking around with the same swagger and mind set of a 15 year old and a seemingly insatiable thirst for the swift-talking-cop-action he’s seen in “the movies”. But again, his charismatic childishness and playful persona only make the audience warm to Butterman even more. The supporting cast is wealthy and extensive, and Wright’s subtlety in handling this cast (Cate Blanchett was Angel’s ex-girlfriend?! Peter Jackson was the Santa that stabbed Angel through the hand?!) reaffirms the point that no matter the scale of production, Wright is never overwhelmed by his cast or growing popularity: hence his consistency. And of course, there’s that sublime editing. Take the plot’s climax fight near the end of the film: the crash zooms and gun close-ups and Dirty Harry dialogue and screams of pain and side swipes are somehow mashed and sliced into a cohesive whole, the clarity of Wright’s “finished product” being equivalent to Peckinpah’s famous climactic gun fight in The Wild Bunch.
For me, Hot Fuzz was the first film—and Edgar Wright the first director—that made me consider editing as its own element. Wright had unknowingly and accidentally taught me how to deconstruct film, and showed me that humour could be generated simply by placing two certain shots next to each other or by shifting the angle of the camera. Most importantly, Wright taught me that film was an art form, a canvas for experimentation and expression. If it wasn’t for Edgar Wright, I would never have thought to appreciate film in the manner that I do today. Perhaps, instead of writing this review right now, I would be reading a book. Or maybe even revising... Which admittedly I probably should be doing anyway. If Tarantino inspired the 90s generation of filmmakers, I’d like to think that Wright has inspired the 00s generation of filmmakers—especially the British ones.And, if you think that Woody Allen is 78 and still making films like there's no tomorrow, hopefully we can squeeze at least another 40 years of pure filmmaking out of Edgar. Wright once said of Spaced that “it’s a show by geeks, for geeks”. I suppose that makes this article an article for a geek, by a geek-inspired geek. So, as Shaun said to Ed in appreciation of a warm beer, I shall say to Wright in appreciation of his last 20 years of filmmaking: thanks, babe.