AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Comedian Sam Coex is ready for his big break, but it’s Joey Myers who’s the standup king at the local club and its owners don’t want him replaced. So Sam takes matters into his own hands and murders Joey. Now given a chance to show his stuff, he’s an instant hit, and things get even better when he shacks up with the delectable Ann, a stripper. However, Ann is addicted to drink and drugs, and Sam is terribly haunted by what he’s done….
When our boss Bat offered me [amongst others] a Blu-ray screener of a film called The Comic, I assumed that it was the 1970 movie starring Dick van Dyke and Mickey Rooney about a silent movie comedian; seeing as I’ve recently been rediscovering the delights of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, it’s a film I was really looking forward to seeing. Okay, it may not sound like Arrow Video fare, but it might be something that the more ‘upmarket’ Arrow Academy might release. However, it turned out to be a very different The Comic, one that I’d never heard of. Now surprises can be fun, but when the main piece of information that I could find about this film was that it premiered in the Scala cinema in Central London five years after it was made and that the director had to be escorted out secretly as it was getting booed and heckled and they feared for his safety – well – my heart sank. As I sit here typing, having just sat through the thing, I honestly don’t know what make of what I’ve just watched, nor what it was trying to be or do. By any standards, this is an inept, incompetent attempt at a motion picture, though I get the feeling that producer/writer/director Richard Driscoll was aiming for high artistry. He tells his story in the most confusing way possible, coming on like a crappy version of Nicolas Roeg or David Lynch, with jolting editing, stream of consciousness imagery, confusion of when and where we are, and characters and scenes which seem to have no point to them. I continually found myself constantly asking why things were happening, and sometimes I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be seeing. Now of course this kind of thing can sometimes result in thrilling, thought-provoking mind-bending cinema, but, because Driscoll seems to possess only rudimentary filmmaking skills which lead him to botch scene after scene, the result is instead rather excruciating.
We begin with a woman telling us that this story takes place, “in another time, another place, in a world where time means nothing and there is no light, just the black inner core of society”, while people scuffle and ride by on horse carriages behind her. Cut to a large, gloomy-looking soup kitchen where distinctly Fascist-looking guards keep watch. A ill-looking man starts to cough and tries to hide under his table so that his coughing can’t be seen – or that’s what I assumed he was doing; it’s hard to tell what people are doing and why they are doing stuff all throughout this movie, especially when the camera tends to just observe at a distance. In fact it’s just occurred to me that the whole alternate reality is rather pointless. There are a few scenes with these ponytailed guards who like to beat people up, but they could have been turned into normal policemen. I suppose it was done so that it doesn’t matter if we see lots of large rooms with very little in them. These guards beat up this poor man just for coughing [no this film wasn’t made in 2020] it seems, and then drag him off. Now we meet our ‘hero’ or ‘anti-hero’ Sam asking a manager in a club if he can get a slot at the club they’re in. No, he’s told, Eddie Myers is the best, though you wouldn’t know it judging from the only joke we see Eddie tell. For some reason the audience laughs when he tells of an 85-year old man who married a 16-year old girl. “Aren’t you worried about too much sex being fatal? “ the man’s friend asks him. “If she dies, she dies” says the man. Ho, ho, ho. After the show, Eddie chats to his prostitute girlfriend in an extremely stiffly written and acted scene, then visits a psychic who hypnotises him so he remembers an incident from his childhood in which he witnesses murder of [I guess] his grandmother by strangulation; however this seemingly important event is never referred to again. Other images fill the screen, either flashbacks or just fantasies, notably a demon that looks like Sam saying “I will kill him”, presumably an externalisation of Sam’s anger.
Murder is committed, though exactly where is initially hard to make out. I initially thought that it was supposed to be taking place in a barn judging by all the hay on the ground and the audio that sounded as if what we were seeing was taking place indoors, but actually it seems that it’s supposed to be the street outside Sam’s house, in a film where Sam seems to live in a flat with a door that opens right out onto the street, where the sound mixing is so poor that nearly every scene sounds like it’s taking place inside even if it’s not meant to, and where nearly every scene looks like it’s taking place inside even if it’s not meant to. Anyway, it’s a good job Sam wasn’t caught, seeing as the bloody killing in the middle of the street takes a while. After a bit of sex with a prostitute [I don’t think there’s one woman in this film who isn’t a prostitute], Sam’s crime begins to haunt him, but this doesn’t stop him from taking Eddie’s place, somehow wowing the crowd with a supposedly comic bit of business that I found funny because of its un-funniness [I know that makes no sense but then neither does anything in the film]; he pretends he’s passing a flea called Mary from one hand to the other and then putting it in a bag. I’m laughing as I type but only at the sheer crapness. Sam gets a permanent slot, then is picked up by Anne, a stripper at the same club, and they go to his place to have sex. There’s a really long ‘love’ montage with several things being intercut with each other several times, but the editing of Driscoll [he does a lot of jobs in this movie but doesn’t seem to be much good at any of them] has no rhythm to it. However, things aren’t hunky dory for too long, because Ann’s addicted to drink and drugs. This is first shown in the most clumsy way, with Sam returning home to find her so ‘out of it’ that she picks up a glass and smashes it on one of his legs [yet he walks fine in the next scene] though it’s hard to tell what the problem is with her because of the blurry slow motion. Only a few scenes later are we properly told of her addiction.
Early on in the film we’re informed of a George Ellington, a gangster boss who’s the real owner of the clubs in the area, so we build him up in our heads as some formidable toughie, but when he eventually turns up much later he looks like a meek and mild chap who’d run at the first sight of any trouble. He espies Anne and she doesn’t seem to mind him either. You know where things are going here, and in fact later brutal events didn’t surprise me much either in this film which does seem to be influenced by Crime And Punishment and 1984 even though Messrs Dostoevsky and Orwell would probably be horrified if they were still around now and saw this film. In the final third we move forward in time even though we don’t get any feeling of years passing, while Driscoll’s excuse for a climax is to mostly replay lots of the dream images we’ve seen several times in separate scenes together, some of which are very drawn out and hard to actually make out. Rather than leaving us pondering on what we’ve been watching, this is more likely to make us just shrug our shoulders, yet I was a little annoyed, because in some respects The Comic should be a film I ought to love. Instead though, I quickly got tired of things like the slow double-printed shots, the terribly framed shots, and the shots where the camera whirls all over the place. I didn’t care about the main protagonist because the script barely characterises him and Steve Munroe is so wooden he’d be turned down for Neighbours. I get that this is a very low budget film, and that therefore the performers in it may not all be professional actors, but Monroe doesn’t even try, so thank goodness for this straight male viewer that Berderia Timini was required to show her breast at regular intervals. That might be an un-PC thing to say, but I’m clutching at straws here, trying to find some good in these acres of bad.
Some of the randomness I’d probably like in a good movie, like somebody literally coming on stage to deliver the funniest joke in the movie and then disappearing, and some bizarre supporting characters where it seems as if Driscoll just told the folk playing them to act really weird, like an odd compiere and the even odder leader of a group of guards. Elsewhere it seems like a lot of connective tissue is missing, even though it probably actually isn’t, like several scenes of a prostitute in a red dress; we never find out what her connection to anything else in the movie is. And why does Sam pay for somebody to be smuggled out of the country with a small bag of ‘something’ [which surely can’t be gold], especially when the smuggler doesn’t even check to see what’s in said bag! And then there’s the wallpaper in Sam’s flat; I don’t think I’ve ever seen such poor wallpaper hanging. Even I could have done better [and that’s saying something]. Is it just hurried set dressing or some kind of symbolism of something or other? Maybe if you peel back the layers you’ll find some meaning in The Comic, but I well and truly doubt it, so maybe Driscoll is just taking the piss. Who knows? And, last but not least, is the heavy use of fog all over the place, even indoors. Maybe it’s to disguise the lack of detailed sets, but it fails to do that; rather it just seems like a stylistic choice that gets tiresome very quickly.
While dark moments aren’t always easy to make out, some effort has been made by cinematographer Alan Trow to use lighting well; dark scenes are often bathed in blue which didn’t become the fashion till sometimes after, while red or pink lighting bathes many interiors. Sometimes it gets rather sickly, but again, I’m trying really hard to praise when I think I can; likewise a couple of good live jazz band performances, though the music score is mostly two long notes repeated over and over again. I found very little to appreciate or enjoy in The Comic, yet it must have a fan or two at Arrow, and I do have some admiration for the way they sometimes treat a film most people would regard as being really shoddy far better than it probably deserves; fair play to them. But it was something of an ordeal for me. Yet, as I finish the main part of this review, a little part of me wonders if I could be wrong. Maybe I’m missing something – or missing a lot. Maybe The Comic is some kind of avant garde, subversive masterpiece that’s trying to expand the boundaries of cinema and is actually saying a great deal. Maybe in a year’s time you’ll be reading another review from me where I say how very wrong I was the first time round. Stranger things have happened.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
The Blu-ray format does what it can with this highly inconsistent-looking film. Some dark scenes contain too much grain even for my grain-liking eyes, which sometimes makes it even harder to see what’s going on, but the brightly coloured stuff is vibrant. Clarity of detail at times shows up strange things that may not have been obvious on video [yes, this was available on video], such as the window of Sam’s flat being a shop window. On his audio commentary, Driscoll says that he’s very pleased with how the film now looks, so I’ll take his word for it.
Original uncompressed mono audio
I don’t often comment on the sound, because my audio set-up is quite simple. But The Comic has a strange aural scheme in which dialogue is sometimes muffled, and sometimes very loud. The same can be said of the music which often sounds a bit separate to everything else. But hey, the director is happy, and there probably wasn’t much that could be done to be honest.
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new introduction with actor Steve Munroe [1 min]
This is so brief, not to mention stiff, that I don’t why they bothered.
Tangerine Dreams: a newly-filmed interview with actor Steve Munroe [18 mins]
Fortunately Munroe seems much more at ease here, where he discusses the film with what seems to me to be partly disguised [but only partly] hidden bafflement. We learn that it was based on true events involving a local comedian, how his role in it was initially just as the heckler at Joey’s performance until rows with actor Jeff Pirie caused him to walk and Sam became the main character in what was a chronological shoot, with a crew member doubling for Joey for the characters’ later appearances. He also says that the “overuse of smoke machines” caused him to be nearly unable to breathe in one scene. I was hard on his performance, but Munroe seems like a decent guy, so I hope he forgives me.
Scene select audio commentary by writer/director/producer Richard Driscoll [50 mins]
I hoped [silly me] that Driscoll would take the time to enlighten me about some of the bizarre things in his film, but he didn’t. Ignoring that though, this is a not unpleasant listen, with Driscoll being very honest about what he thinks works and what doesn’t, and describing the many problems he had making the film. He admits to making a lot of mistakes and having to compromise so much that what ended up onscreen was only about 25% of what he intended. I’d like to know what some of his original conceptions were, and I get the impression that Driscoll is holding back somewhat. But I did appreciate his film very slightly [but only very] more after listening to his track, which must be a good thing.
Re-release trailer [2 mins]
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
EXCLUSIVE O-card with alternate design by The Twins of Evil
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring additional cast/crew interviews
Recommended – for masochists