Director Profile: Edgar Wright

Being one of a collection of movie directors whose work I particularly like and why.
Edgar Wright
Best known for: Spaced (1999-2001), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), The World's End (2013)
Most emblematic: Shaun of the Dead
Widely considered the best: Shaun of the Dead
Most underrated: Hot Fuzz
Personal favorite: Hot Fuzz
First one I ever saw: Spaced. In theaters: None as yet(!).

Favorite actors: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Recurring themes and tropes: Other movies. Geek culture. Slackerdom/growing up. The fantastical in the most mundane of locations.
Elements of style: Using the full range of filmic tools to create jokes (editing, music, sound design, lighting, camera angles, effects, etc.), in particular hard cuts and extreme close-ups (see Tony Zhou's short video dissertation on the subject, well worth it). Visual gags and references one only catches several viewings later.
Reputation: As someone who can create absurd universes in familiar, even boring surroundings. Big movie fan. Amiable and fun on social media.
Appreciation: And I'm a big fan of HIS movies. Has not directed a rotten one in the bunch (nor any of his television episodes) as far as I'm concerned. And though the scripts and topics tickle me, what makes him so rewatchable is his visual inventiveness. It's not enough that there be a joke in the script, he has to make everything funny or at least clever where the "joke" is perhaps an "inside joke" for those who have similar geek/film cultures to his, or who have seen his other movies, where certain memes might resonate. His oeuvre turns you into the ultimate insider, if you let it, and you're laughing at the funny stuff on screen like everyone else, but also chuckling at those private jokes that you share, as if intimately, with the director and fellow fans.

And as a genre enthusiast, I don't think we get enough genre comedies that have the right stuff. It seems the usual tack is spoof and parody, which can range from Mel Brooks on one end, and go through Airplane-type gag films right on down to the woefully terrible Scary(etc.) Movies. But even the best spoofs don't quite tell their own coherent, original stories. Some feel like sketch shows running long, most will not have "heart" because they're too busy checking of a list of references the audience will get. Edgar Wright doesn't work in that mold. His stories have genuine narratives and character arcs, and don't "wink" at the audience, pulling it out of the story. That's probably because he's not mocking a genre the way, say, Naked Gun mocks cop movies. He really does work WITHIN the genre, with all of that genre's bag of tricks. So while Shaun of the Dead has comedy characters and situations - and funny filmmaking, let's not forget - it's still a horror film, with scares, gore, and dramatic moments of great loss. Hot Fuzz's plot is ridiculous, but it's shot like an action film as much as its influences Bad Boys and Point Break. The World's End is about a great big bender, but its effects-heavy action scenes are top quality, at once filled with gags and completely serious. Wright creates immersive worlds, where so many genre-inspired comedies are basically about breaking the fourth wall and destroying any claim at immersion, so you care more for the characters for whom this is all very serious. (That said, I think Paul Feig may be heading in this direction between Spy and Ghostbusters, and movies like Detention and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil feel very Wrighterly to me. More, please!)

And lastly, I like my stories to have second meanings and themes, and Wright's do, something he brings out in the dialog and the visuals. Shaun of the Dead contrasts zombies and slackers, creating a new definition of unlife for us to ponder. The World's End is the epic name of a pub, the end of a man-child's sustained adolescence, and an alien invasion. Scott Pilgrim is a POV-enriched romance/band story told as a video game/superhero narrative. Looking at his non-director credits, there should be no surprise he acted as producer on such fare as Attack the Block. Now if only I could skip ahead 20 years to see more of his output. The slow path is too slow for me!

But how do YOU rate Edgar Wright?


Mister Harry said...

I've admired and enjoyed Edgar Wright's work right from the early days of Spaced - how I'd love to see a Spaced reunion. I was disappointed when he parted from Ant-Man, though his influence is still felt in Luis' narration scenes. Although I still enjoyed Ant-Man, how much better would it have been with Ed at the helm? I've not yet seen Scott Pilgrim - must pick that up soon.

Siskoid said...

Scott Pilgrim is perhaps the most stylistically "Edgar Wright" movie of them all!

Toby'c said...

Personal favourite is Hot Fuzz, in my top 50 films of all time. Shaun of the Dead is just shy of the top 100.
First I saw: Hot Fuzz, in October 2010, introduced to me by my cousins. Never seen one in a cinema.
Most underrated: The World's End (again, not even in the IMDb top 1000.)

Not quite on my favourite directors list, but I can see him getting there in the future.

Marty said...

Mister Harry, the Luis scenes actually weren't from Edgar. They were actually added by Adam McKay (The Big Short).

Siskoid said...

Who is turning out to have quite the flair for quirky/funny directing as well.

But I agree with Mister H, it would have probably fit Wright's style.

Toby: I must admit there's no research behind my "underrated" category, merely my impression of which films people bring up in conversation, either as their favorites, top rankings, or at all. But it's a crying shame The World's End isn't higher on IMDB, as it's possibly the most accomplished.

Darrin Sutherland said...

Great post. Love all of these films and shows, especially Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Spaced. Really appreciated your comments and insights.

Mister Harry said...

Marty - I hadn't realised that about Ant-Man; the scenes felt like something left from Ed Wright and Joe Cornish's earlier drafts.

As for my take on Edgar's work:

Most Underrated: Hot Fuzz (even by me - each time I watch it, I'm surprised just how good it actually is).
Personal Favourite: Shaun of the Dead (it's going to be hard to beat)
First one I ever saw: Spaced
In Theatres: Hot Fuzz

And I'm going to seek out Scott Pilgrim without delay!

Siskoid said...

Our girl DJ Nath (for you podcast/LSB fans) insists on watching it, like, at least once a year.


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