TGB, Described

Look, Amazon has up what I assume is the dust jacket copy for The Ghost Brigades:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers — a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin’s DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin’s electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

In case you didn’t know, no, the author doesn’t usually write up the text for the dust jacket copy; I actually don’t know who does (I assume it’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden in my case, but I’m not entirely sure). It reads a bit like the pitch I made for the book before I wrote it, but it’s not exactly what I wrote. Be that as it may, I’m perfectly happy with this text, which gives the basic plot set-up without revealing any of the major secrets. It’s a pretty decent come-on for the potential reader, I think.

Anyway, if you had no idea what The Ghost Brigades was about before, now you know. Within reason.  

The Comedy Canon: A Meme for You

By a rather substantial margin, Whatever readers have suggested that of the three other Rough Guide Movie books that were released with The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, they would be most interested in seeing what The Canon for comedy films would be. I’ll get to the canons for the Horror and Gangster books later on, but now, without further ado, I now list The 50 Most Significant Comedy Films of All Time, as selected by Bob McCabe, author of The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies. They are, in alphabetical order:

All About Eve
Annie Hall
The Apartment
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Blazing Saddles
Bringing Up Baby
Broadcast News
Le diner de con
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Duck Soup
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Four Weddings and a Funeral
The General
The Gold Rush
Good Morning Vietnam
The Graduate
Groundhog Day
A Hard Day’s Night
His Girl Friday
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Lady Killers
Local Hero
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
National Lampoon’s Animal House
The Odd Couple
The Producers
Raising Arizona
Shaun of the Dead
A Shot in the Dark
Some Like it Hot
Strictly Ballroom
Sullivan’s Travels
There’s Something About Mary
This is Spinal Tap
To Be or Not to Be
Toy Story
Les vacances de M. Hulot
When Harry Met Sally…
Withnail and I

For those of you want to make an online meme out of this, the idea is to put the list on your own blog/journal, bold the ones you’ve seen and put an asterisk next to the ones you own on DVD/video (I’ve personally left the list clean so people who copy it don’t have to unbold and unasterisk my selections). You can/should also add your own comments on the list and what you think of the films chosen, which I have done immediately below. Make sure to attribute the Canon correctly (to Bob McCabe and The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies). If you want to come back here and leave a link in the comment thread so that people can find your thoughts on the comedy canon, that’s just groovy by me.

Now for my analysis:

Films of the Canon I’ve seen: All of them, except for Le diner de con. This should not be entirely surprising as I have been a film critic for a decade and a half.

Films Whose Presence in the Canon I’m Particularly Gratified to See (pick up to five): Broadcast News, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Groundhog Day, Roxanne, Strictly Ballroom

Films in the Canon Whose Presence Should Not Be (pick up to five): Austin Powers, Dodgeball, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Rushmore, Shaun of the Dead

Films I’d Pick to Replace Them (pick up to five): Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, Safety Last, A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Looney Tunes written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones*

(* This deserves an explanation. Fact is, the vast majority of animated shorts up until the mid-1960s were produced to be shown in the theaters, and in my opinion the Jones-Maltese collaborations are the best of these. It’s also my opinion that Michael Maltese is one of the great comedy writers of the 20th Century, whose contributions to the genre are overlooked because a) he worked in animation, and b) much of his efforts are attributed to Jones, who directed most of the best shorts Maltese wrote (McCabe does a bit of this in the book by crediting the writing on What’s Opera, Doc? to Jones). This is no disrespect to Jones, of course. However, it’s a point of fact that his most memorable pieces were with Maltese, and that the two of them were better as a team than as individuals. However, it doesn’t look as if McCabe included any short comedy on his Canon list, much less animated shorts — which could be something to quibble with the Canon in itself.)

To go back to the films which should not be in the canon, I’m willing to concede Life of Brian and Rushmore, the former because I think it’s a matter of preference which Monty Python is better (or more representative), and Rushmore because I take as a given other people think more of Wes Anderson than I do (I find his work a bit nerveless). But Austin Powers is what you get when you remix Peter Sellers with a moron and both Dodgeball and Shaun of the Dead, while quite amusing, are the very model of minor comedy, neither particularly significant nor representative of anything much. If one had to replace them with movies similar in tone/era, I would substitute Wedding Crashers and the Evil Dead movies for Dodgeball and Shaun, and as for Austin Powers… hmm. There’s nothing quite like it recently, although that’s not an argument for its continued Canonicalosity, and no, that’s not a real word.

However, I grant that McCabe had a rather more difficult task formulating a comedy canon than I did formulating my science fiction canon, as comedy as a genre has far more movies in it — or at least far more significant movies — than science fiction does. On balance I think it’s a pretty good list, and with the exception of Philadelphia Story and Fish Called Wanda, it features most of my very favorite comedies. And in any event, as I noted with the Science Fiction Canon, these sort of lists are the beginnings of conversations about film, not the end of them.

Your thoughts?