Tag Archives: Paul Laight

MOVIN ON UP; Music to play at my funeral by Paul Laight

MOVIN ON UP; Music to play at my Funeral by Paul Laight

When I shuffle off this coil thingy and my strange life has come to an end I would like these songs played at my funeral please. I’m not dying by the way but I just thought I’d write this down now while it’s on my mind.

1. Con te partirò (Time to say goodbye) – Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman

I first heard this song in an episode of The Sopranos and it is truly incredible. It just has a very simple hook and is beautifully sung by Bocelli and Brightman. Perhaps it’s too grand for a basic bloke who grew up in Battersea but I like its simplicity and wonder.

2. There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

The Smiths are probably my favourite band ever and I would like to pay tribute to them. I love this song as the lyrics are both poignant and morbidly funny to me. If buried I would also like the phrase “Here lies the late Paul Laight who Started Something He Couldn’t Finish!” Another nod to Morrissey and Marr and quite fitting I think.

3. Light My Fire by The Doors

I’m a massive fan of The Doors psychedelic 60s rock blues and I’d like this song played if I am cremated. I considered The Doors’ song The End but that’s a bit depressing so this song works better for humorous and uplifting purposes.

4. Intermezzo – Pietro Mascagni (opening theme from Raging Bull)

As a film geek I wanted some classical music to play as I am sent from and into the Earth. I thought about using something by Ennio Morricone or even The Terminator theme song and maybe I still will. I like the idea of The Terminator theme playing and Sarah Connor uttering those infamous words, “You’re terminated, f*cker!” as I’m laid to rest but thought that may upset people in the audience so Intermezzo offers a more suitable piece for peaceful contemplation.

5. Moving On Up – Primal Scream

I’d like to end on an upbeat track and this classic pop song has lyrics and a killer tune which are perfect to send the grieving away with a spring in their step. I don’t believe in God but if there is a heaven hopefully this will be the song playing when I go through the Pearly Gates or am plunged into the Fires of Hell. Either one is fine by me. Got to be the Scream’s original classic too!

AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (1987) – CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (1987) – CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEW by Paul Laight

Louis Malle’s brilliant wartime drama set in a French Boarding school is a subtle, yet somehow brutal drama which perfectly captures the horrors of war during 1944 Occupied France.

It centres on the relationship between the children who were sent from the cities of France out to the countryside to avoid the Allies bombing. More specifically it looks at the relationship between Julien Quentin and new boy at the school Jean Bonnet.

The adult characters throughout the film such as the parents, priests and teachers all do their utmost to protect the children from the fact that a war rages on. This is demonstrated by the fact the children are sent away from the city where the Allies are bombing non-stop as heard in one of Madame Quentin’s letters. Moreover, Julien’s mother is clearly a loving woman committed to protecting her sons showing this in the opening scene. On the platform Julian is quite vicious to her but she knows this is from fear and being upset at being sent away. The way she hugs him and reassures him tells us she cares very much.

Certainly, the Church and school grounds are both physically and figuratively seen as the main shelter for the children during the film. The location of the school in the countryside away from the main ally bombings also illustrates the desire to protect the children from the war. In addition, so does the blackout curtains and placing the children in the catacombs while an air raid takes place. The fact that Catholicism features heavily in the film offers religion and God as more symbolic protector of the boys.

But as the narrative progresses the world outside and events prick the temporary and flimsy protective bubble. Despite their efforts the adults cannot protect the children fully from the harshness of war with German soldiers, French Military Police and eventually the Gestapo converging on the school.

The colours throughout the film are washed out and somewhat drab with darker hues such as brown, navy blues, black and greys dominating the clothes, curtains and mise-en-scence generally. Married to these colours is a bleached, pared down cinematographical style which combine to create a cold, oppressive feeling during the film. There is a sense the characters are not only trapped by the ongoing war and in the boarding school but also by the weather. Indeed, it appears that a permanent winter hangs over the characters. Moreover, the lighting is served as naturalistic emanating from windows, candles and skylights.

Altogether, this tells the audience that the filmmakers are portraying events as realistic and this is confirmed by the knowledge the narrative comes from a real event in Louis Malles’ childhood. As such the colours, lighting and design combine to create a bleak and stifling environment for the characters; a feeling that war is a difficult climate to exist in with little in the way of bright colours or sunshine to provide escape.

As aforementioned, Jean and Julien’s relationship propels the narrative. Jean Bonnet is portrayed as a studious boy who excels at most subjects notably music and mathematics and is singled out for praise by the teachers. Initially, he attempts to keep himself to himself not forging close ties with any other children other than those he knows. The reaction from the other children is mixed. Some ignore him but others tease him about his name. Julien is indifferent until he is asked by Father Jean to keep an eye on him.

My feeling was there was a real tragedy surrounding Jean and this is testament to the director and the casting of the boy who portrayed him. While many of the children are pale in colour Jean was paler almost ghostlike. The kiss Father Jean places on his head at the beginning of the film seems innocent but becomes portentous by the films’ end. Being Jewish also lends his character a real sense of adversity and there is much suspense to be derived as to when he will be discovered.

Initially, their relationship is strained with Julien not reckoning Jean but over time they slowly begin to bond. Father Jean requests Julien becomes a ‘guardian’ to Jean and Julien takes on this responsibility. He is also naturally curious about the new boy and his background having discovered him praying in Hebrew at night.

Aside from their close proximity in the bedroom area events conspire to bring the children closer together. Julien’s bed-wetting not only causes him distress but also leads to the discovery of Jean’s religious background. Moreover, a mutual interest in playing of the piano provided common ground between the two characters as echoed in a lovely scene later in the film showing them playing together despite the air-raid going on. Indeed both music and film (Chaplin’s ‘The Immigrant’) are shown to be provide a form of escape from the horrors of the outside world.

Julien is a naturally inquisitive boy and when he sees Jean praying at night he becomes intrigued. His interest is piqued further when Father Jean asks him to look after him. This separates Jean Bonnet as different. Moreover, the way they are integrated into the school is different also. Many of the other boys arrive on the train from the city while the Jewish children arrive separately almost in secret from a mystery place.

Julien’s detective work is initially done clandestinely. He searches Jean’s locker at night and finds books with his actual name in them: Kippelstein. This gives him the impetus to begin asking his brother questions about the Jewish people and why they are disliked so. His brother reveals a lack of knowledge and thus Julien also asks his Mother too. As his ‘investigation’ continues and he gains Jean’s trust he then asks him directly about his parents and where he comes from. Over time he gains Jean’s trust and Julien finds out about him personally as well as his background. As such a bond is built via Jean’s secret.

The key event which brings them together is when they get lost in the woods. The scene separates the boys from the rest of the school and shows they support each other in their plight. Julien doesn’t dream of giving Jean up to the German soldiers in the woods and their friendship is confirmed from that moment onwards. However, there’s a sense that it is Julien who gives Jean away to the Gestapo at the end because of their bond but this is a harsh assessment.

Ultimately, it is the crippled Joseph who gives the Jewish children away. While the capture of Jean and the other boys is certainly a tragedy I find Joseph to be the saddest character in the whole film. This is a character who has been dealt a really bad hand in life. He appears to be an orphan, is disabled and is also of lower social standing compared to the richer kids who surround him. Furthermore, he is bullied mercilessly by the other children despite the fact he actually helps them get cigarettes and stamps through his racketeering on the black market.

The biggest tragedy is that he is the one who must pay for the whole ‘black market’ affair with the privileged children being castigated but essentially unpunished for their roles in breaking the rules. Even Father Jean admits as much that Joseph is the scapegoat in the event. My emotions empathised with Joseph at this point and felt maybe he could have been forgiven or at least asked to forgive his sins. But no, he is cast aside and this causes the downfall of Father Jean and the Jewish children.

There is no justification for Joseph’s actions but he’d been forced into a corner like a gutter rat and came out fighting. While his actions are reprehensible he had revenge and spite in his mind as he had lost everything. It was a decision based not only on retribution but also a desire to gain power. At the end as he smokes what he believes to be a victory cigarette the audience knows the Germans will eventually lose the war and poor Joseph has chosen the wrong side.

But does Julien betray Jean in the classic end scene where for one brief second he looks back at his new friend? No. My understanding of the meaning of betrayal is an individual going out of their way vindictively to divulge a secret or secrets for personal gain or self-preservation. And while it’s Julien’s turn and look around which gives Jean away to the Gestapo I don’t believe he has betrayed him. The look around is out of fear for his friend and is an instinct rather than a decisive move. There is no malice aforethought but rather a reaction due to the nervousness of the situation.

There’s also a question of motive. By the end Julien and Jean have become good friends so there is no real reason why he would betray Jean. Moreover, he could have given Jean up many times before that, notably when they get lost in the woods and taken back to school by the soldiers. Overall, I think it’s the Nazis who betray Jean. Their actions have ultimately led to the horror of war and moments such as these in the classroom. Thus, every innocent in this film is betrayed, not just the Jewish children and Father Jean.

Some critics have argued that Au Revoir Les Enfants is as much about childhood and a loss of innocence as it is about the Second World War. It too could be seen as a universal film about life in a boys’ boarding school. I agree with this to some extent it could be seen as a universal film about life in a boys’ boarding school. The film shows the sadness of children being separated from their parents and the closed off nature of the boarding school. It shows the rough and tumble of boys playing in the grounds and how they make fun of each other’s looks and names. Also, there is a real sense of sadness in the isolation of being away from their families and the joy provided when the parents come to visit the children. We indeed see the children cared for by the teachers and Priests so in effect there is a sense of them being orphaned but they are not deprived in any way and their childhood is nowhere near as bad as say an Oliver Twist character.

Thus, in my view, we must view the film as predominantly a film about Second World War. Without it we would have none of the major themes prevalent throughout notably the loss of innocence and childhood. WWII and its’ events give the story a real gravitas and dramatic walls to bounce off. It gives the whole film subtext and tragic events of the narrative making it difficult to view the film solely about life in a boarding school.

The film is microcosmic and analogous using the characters – in a similar way Casablanca (1942) – to represent certain groups present during WWII. One could argue Father Jean represents the Resistance; Julien represents the French nation awakening to the horrors of war; Joseph represents the colluding Vichy government; and more unambiguously Jean is the Jewish people and the Germans the Germans. Therefore, the film offers a positive portrayal of the French when Father Jean and Julien are shown both befriending and protecting Jean.

This film is what I would describe as a quiet tragedy. Big events occur almost incidentally with emotional scenes unfolding and ending before you’ve had a chance to take in the enormity of what has occurred. Louis Malle does this with a very unobtrusive and subtle filmmaking style. The camera positions are relatively neutral throughout shooting in a medium shot on the whole with hardly any close-ups or extreme long shots. The music is also very subtle and another filmmaker may have had a rousing score to deliver emotions but much of the music in the film is diegetic either from piano or violin playing during the Chaplin screening.

The filmmakers’ style allows the audience to make up their own mind about events and bring their own emotions to the scenes. This also occurs with the characters throughout the narrative. These are very human characters and aside from the Germans and the French collaborators who are seen as the enemy there are certainly many grey areas where the children are concerned. Having said that even the Germans are shown to be humans such as when the German soldier asks to provide a confession.

The beauty of this film is the subtle way it conveys its story and meaning. So, when discussing the potential legacy of guilt it is important to look at the characters and their place in the story. There are clearly defined antagonists in the Germans and positive protagonists in the children, Father Jean and his teaching staff. Moreover, in Julien and Joseph we have, in my view, the most complex characters of the film. Joseph is the anti-hero and where much of the legacy of guilt could be fed through. Additionally, there is the suggestion of guilt in Julien’s turn and look that gives Jean away. But guilt here is not necessarily overt and is conveyed between the lines in keeping with the masterful direction Malle provides throughout.

Similarly, the film does not show the French as anti-semitic throughout; quite the opposite in fact. While the children show ignorance of Judaism this is not through prejudice but rather a lack of knowledge and when given the chance to betray the Jewish children the French display grit and resistance against the Germans; something to feel proud rather than guilt about.

So, in conclusion, underneath the surface there is a sense of guilt that pervades the characters and film in general but it is subtle and underplayed and the film is all the more brilliant for it. It does not smash home any singular messages regarding a legacy of guilt but shows all facets of the French people at wartime. Both the positive and negative and the result is not a simple case of black and white but instead a powerful grey like the colour of the Nazi uniform itself.

CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEW – THE BIG LEBOWSKI by PAUL LAIGHT

CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEW - THE BIG LEBOWSKI by PAUL LAIGHT

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) – Classic movie review Paul Laight

“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.” THE STRANGER

The Coen Brother’s comedy-noir-musical par excellence The Big Lebowski (1998) is a film that shouldn’t really work. A hybrid of various genres with the spine of Raymond Chandler’s classic noir novel The Big Sleep; skin and bones of upper-class, artistic and counter-cultural characters; clothes of idiosyncratic narrative twists; all the while tattooed with chimeric pop references and eclectic soundtrack. But you know what? It does work. Brilliantly! Because it has a big, big heart. A heart transplanted via the screenplay and direction of arguably the most inventive filmmakers of a generation, Joel and Ethan Coen. A heart given its’ beat by Jeff Bridges laid-back, insouciant career-defining performance as Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski.

The Big Lebowski opens with tumbleweed drifting across the beachy Los Angeles landscape as the Sons’ Of the Pioneers warble, appropriately enough, Tumbling Tumbleweeds on the soundtrack. The Stranger’s (Sam Elliott) warm laconic tones establish time (circa 1991) and place and then introduce us to “quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County” – our ‘hero’ – The Dude. But from the moment two thugs piss on the Dude’s rug, the gentle opening gives way to a series of hilarious misunderstandings and scenes involving: double-crosses, ‘kidnappings’, car-beatings, bowling, toe-cutting, naked art, doped-up musical numbers and purple lycra jump-suited pederasts.

The Big Lebowski – like many Coen Brothers’ movies – is one that actually gets better with further viewings. On first watch there is so much going on, so many elements, surprises and odd characters that’s it’s difficult to know what to make of it. It’s essentially a comedy with a noir plot which borrows heavily from Raymond Chandler’s aforementioned The Big Sleep but the plot is very loose and really just a way for the Coen Brothers to showcase their latest band of eccentrics. Indeed, as with Fargo (1996) – where the criminals are revealed from the start – the Coens’ screenplay is not interested in following genre convention. The Big Lebowski reveals a major plot point (Bunny has kidnapped herself) early in the film, thus, subverting the conventions of the detective story so reliant on mystery and intrigue.

Jeff Bridge’s ‘Dude’ is arguably one of the most memorable characters the Coen Brothers have created. He is the ultimate dope-smoking slacker and probably the most unlikely ‘detective’ in cinematic history. His relationship with Walter, and the hapless Donny, anchors the movie in a heightened, yet believable reality. These are just three working class guys chewing the fat while bowling who happen to fall into a manic misadventure involving the kidnapping of a rich man’s trophy wife. Obviously, the term ‘working class’ is used loosely where the Dude is concerned, as he doesn’t actually work. Together, Dude, Walter and Donny resemble a postmodern Three Stooges going from one crazy situation to another and while their hilarious and antagonistic dialogue at the Bowling Alley add real fizz to the story.

The roles were all written specifically for Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi and in many scenes Bridges actually wore his own clothes. Even more interesting The Dude is apparently based on a real-life character, independent film promoter Jeff ‘The Dude’ Dowd; who helped the Coen brothers secure distribution for their debut feature noir-horror, Blood Simple (1984). Meanwhile, John Goodman is quoted as saying Walter Sobchak is his favourite film role and who can blame him. Walter is a gift of a role with Goodman playing this loose cannon, Vietnam vet, “I can get you a toe, Dude” nutter brilliantly. Walter, like the Dude, is inspired, in part, by a real life person – the bombastic film director John Milius. Lastly, Steve Buscemi, as “Shut the fuck up!” Donny excels in a much understated performance; unselfishly playing the permanently bemused straight guy.

The Coens take these three social underachievers – the Dude and Walter especially – and contrasts them with a whole host of misfits, from the Dude’s dancing landlord, marmot-wrangling German nihilists to one of the most incredible individuals from all Coen Brother’s movie canon. I am of course talking about Jesus Quintano played with joyful abandon by Coen cast regular John Turturro. “The Jesus” receives a grand introduction – for a minor character with no bearing on the story – in purple, in slow motion with the Gypsy Kings’ version of Hotel California blasting over the soundtrack. And it is in this moment that you realise that you are watching a film of unbridled fun. The fact Jesus is also a “flasher” adds a guilty edge to the scene. Should we be laughing at this ridiculous character who happens to be a pederast?

Within the subtext of the screenplay there are elements of a class struggle between the Dude, his Musketeers and the upper class LA types represented by The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) himself and his daughter Maud Lebowski (Julianne Moore). But it is not the Coen Brothers’ intention to comment on such socio-political conflict; merely an opportunity to create humour from such contrasting styles of people. Throughout the film the Dude finds himself a dupe or conduit in the underhand plans of the rich. But he’s either knocked unconscious, drunk on White Russians or so doped up that any potential drama is undercut with a sense of the ridiculous. Indeed, in another odd plot twist the Dude is ‘seduced’ by staunch feminist Maud, so she can conceive a child but have nothing to do with the father. Conversely, much of the conflict is undermined by unconventional characters and there is little palpable danger even when Dude is being attacked in the bath by the nihilistic ferret. Only poor Donny’s heart attack lends the movie a sober and poignant end but it’s a sense of reckless fun rather than suspense or danger that permeates the movie.

Overall, The Big Lebowski is an alternative comedy from filmmakers taking chances and playing with genre expectations in the most unexpected ways. It has no intrinsic meaning and makes little sense narrative wise. Flowered with coarse and colourful language (fuck is said over 250 times) it’s a rich postmodernist movie which references or pastiches everything from: Busby Berkeley musicals to porn movies, Krautrock, film noir, progressive rock, TV show Branded (1965), The Eagles, avant garde painting and even has time to feature a cameo from Saddam Hussain in one of the bizarre musical dream sequences. After the critical and commercial success of Fargo the Coen’s delivered the offbeat The Big Lebowski to confused critics and relative commercial failure. While The Big Lebowski made $27million worldwide ($15million dollar budget) it is a cult movie in the true sense of the word and in The Dude it has one of funniest characters ever committed to celluloid. But as the man himself said, “that’s just my opinion, man.”

GRAVITY (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

GRAVITY - FILM REVIEW

GRAVITY (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

If there is a better film to see at the cinema than GRAVITY this year then I can’t wait to see it because Alfonso Cuaron’s space opera is a masterful cinematic vision which combines beautiful vistas with knuckle-biting tension.  Indeed, director Cuaron has carved out an impressive sci-fi story: economical, tense, thrilling, touching etc. which will deserve all the awards coming to it.

Sandra Bullock’s novice Space Doctor and George Clooney’s charming veteran Astronaut are on a mission to service the Hubble Telescope via the Space Shuttle Explorer but before they can complete the job catastrophe strikes. What then follows is a white-knuckle ride of tension and excitement with action unfolding with breathless pace. The writing is so lean and precise that there is little in the way of backstory before we’re propelled into the astounding action. I hate spoilers in reviews so won’t go divulge anymore but it is pure cinema at it’s finest and at times was so tense I felt like I was watching a space thriller as directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The succession of events which befall the characters reminded me of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953) as Bullock and Clooney are faced with all manner of life-threatening dangers.  Bullock herself gives a sterling physical performance thrown from one side of space to the other while Clooney’s dulcet tones provide the kind of assuring voice to settle the nerves when you’re up space creek without a shuttle. There’s existentialist gold in the story too with the themes of life after death,  birth and rebirth and above all else the struggle of the human spirit to overcome powerful adversity.

Yet it’s the muscular narrative, action and incredible cinematography which gave me the most enjoyment watching this. My advice is to watch it on the BIGGEST screen you can find.  Even the 3D — which aside from the odd animated feature I hate — enhances rather than detracts.  So, overall a big hit for me and while I wanted a more risk-taking ending from the filmmaker I cannot fault this film whatsoever.

RESPECT MY AUTHORITAH – My favourite 17 SOUTH PARK episodes ever!

I always had doubts about being a parent and wondered if anything good would come of it, how…ever, in early 2013 something finally did. Indeed, I must say a massive thanks to my near-teen son Rhys for reintroducing me to the comedy genius of SOUTH PARK.  I used to think SOUTH PARK was an uncultured TV show, populated by foul mouthed, crudely animated and squeaky voiced characters spouting an incessant stream of poo, pee and dick jokes.  The latter is of course true but SOUTH PARK is also one of the most subversive, intelligent and satirical shows that’s ever been on telly. In fact, it is the greatest TV comedy show of all time.

A bit of a lofty claim given the great many classic comedies that have been on the goggle box since that Scottish bloke Logie Baird stuck a tube into a thingy and said, “This invention will one day kill Rod Hull!”  Indeed, for sheer consistency and quality of ideas, jokes, plots, characters, satire, sociological and political incorrectness, SOUTH PARK deserves so much praise. It doesn’t just push the boundaries but absorbs them anally before taking a massive hilarious boundary crap into your brain.

Being an obsessive I have, since early 2013, watched nearly every episode of SOUTH PARK at least twice.  And with the seventeenth season almost upon us in the UK I give you my favourite – at time of writing – seventeen episodes. Please raise your glasses to Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the Gods of SOUTH PARK – because I, “Respect your  authoritah!”

**Btw – this list was more difficult to make than Sophie’s choice in the film Sophie’s Choice (1981). So I am definitely wrong with some of these. Listed in Season order.**

MECHA-STREISAND – (Season 1)

DEATH is probably the best episode of the first season but I love this one because Robert Smith from The Cure is in it.  This is one of those crazy episodes which combines a fantastical plot concerning the Triangle of Zinfar while plundering modern culture with references to Godzilla movies, a passionate hatred for Barbara Streisand and film critic Leonard Maltin all combined to create a hilarious monster mash-up. Streisand was picked upon because she criticized Denver and whether she was right or wrong the writers really go to town on her personality, tortuous singing and vain pursuit of agelessness and power; a truly great monster in a show which is full of great monsters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcnQFPbXvyQ

CHICKEN LOVER – (Season 2)

This, I think, is the first episode where Cartman utters his classic catchphrase, “Respect my authoritah!”  The plot revolves around imbecilic cop Officer Barbrady being discovered as “illegitimate” – i.e. he can’t read. Barbrady must learn to read and solve the mystery of the sicko going round raping the South Park chickens.  The reason this episode rocks is because the boys are made deputies by Barbrady and what ensues is a baton-wielding Cartman dishing out violence to anybody who commits even the most minor of misdemeanours.  The scene where Cartman smashes Kenny’s parents while Kenny laughs his parka off is particularly hilarious. Although, it’s more Stan and Kyle’s investigative skills which capture the Chicken-fucker even though Cartman’s police brutality assists his demise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx4jn77VKlQ

CAT ORGY – (Season 3)

South Park not only packs filth, gratuitous violence and satire into the show but also has ingenuity in the structure of its silly stories. A great example of this is the cross-structured ‘Meteor Shower Trilogy’ incorporating this episode, ‘Two Guys Naked in a Bathtub’ and ‘Jewbilee’. I love ‘Cat Orgy’ because it is packed with brilliant gags throughout notably Shelley the babysitter’s many turd puns – e.g. Turdman of Alcatraz – in reference to Cartman. Indeed, Cartman very much meets his match in borderline psycho Shelley and their battle of wills powers the mirth and plot.  I also love the fact that Cartman is shown to have terrible taste in popular culture such as his love of ‘Wild Wild West’ and this becomes a running gag throughout future seasons.  Mr Kitty on heat simply adds to the hilarity, especially Cartman’s rage at the pet when he utters with incandescent rage, “Shut up, Mr Kitty!!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTL_Wmlzvmc

THE SUCCUBUS – (Season 3)

Chef (Isaac Hayes) was a great character who provided consistent laughs and funky inappropriate songs during his tenure in South Park. As such he became a surrogate father to the children and it is much to their dismay when he decides to marry.  The episode also throws in Cartman’s battle with his Teutonic optometrist who refers to him as “Piggy”; Chef’s bewitching fiancé Veronica who has romanced him with the love theme from ‘The Poseidon Adventure’; and most hilariously Chef’s parents who regale the kids with bizarre, yet amusing, stories of the Loch Ness Monster’s attempts to cash hustle them for – “about tree fiddy”. Naturally, all these elements are woven together skilfully enough to return things to the status quo with the children ultimately defeating Chef’s demonic intended.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hwogg8EYtDs

HELEN KELLER THE MUSICAL – (Season 4)

The show has never been shy of breaking taboos and to feature, not one but two, prominent disabled characters in Timmy Burch and Jimmy Valmer is challenging on the writers’ part. Challenging because it doesn’t patronize the disabled but makes them positive characters with desires and emotions.  The plot of ‘Helen Keller – The Musical’ has Timmy playing Helen Keller (he’s the only one who knows the words) in a rather splendid children’s stage version of The Miracle Worker.  Usually Timmy’s vocabulary is limited to just his name but here it’s extended when he forms a bond with ‘performing’ pet turkey Gobbles.  Timmy’s relationship with the lame turkey is actually very touching as Timmy fights for Gobbles’ place in the play despite efforts to kill him off.  Aside from being chockfull of gags the episode is ingenious in the way it both presents the disabled in a positive and humour inducing light while sending up precious theatrical types at the same time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzIxx03ldOA

TRAPPER KEEPER – (Season 4)

I love this episode because it contains sci-fi film references to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘The Terminator’ AND satirizes the drawn-out Bush-Gore American election farce of 2000.  It is both silly and serious balancing two very distinct plot strands with some fantastic gags to glue it altogether.  In one strand a cyborg called Bill Cosby is sent back to destroy Cartman’s Skynetesque school folder and in the other the kindergarteners find it impossible to decide on a Class President.  By the end the monstrous hybridized Cartman is pitted against the equally monstrous celebrity Rosie O’Donnell.  Celebrities often take a hit in South Park and quite right too especially the ones who think they are important just because they act and sing songs. I really hate those guys!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18hz9C9BT4k

SCOTT TENORMAN MUST DIE – (Season 5)

Eric Cartman is venal, vile, selfish, corpulent, controversial, racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic, petty, childish, vain, arrogant, money-grabbing, spoilt, deranged, and devious – name a negative word and he is IT!  He is, however, the greatest comedy character ever created. And probably a genius too. Because when Cartman sets out on some task or scheme be it: Hallway Monitor, News Anchor, Theatre Director, Dead Foetus Salesmen, Christian Rock Band artist etc. he is invariably brilliant and professional at it.  Of course, his plans generally end up with him getting his comeuppance, but, in ‘Scott Tenorman Must Die’ he enacts a Shakespearean revenge so brutal on the eponymous older boy it literally takes the breath away. All throughout Tenorman gets the better of Eric but the ending is something else. This was the first episode which used a singular plot and while Cartman’s revenge is heinous and above reproach you cannot hide how ingenious it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GqUarJQ7aU

MY FUTURE SELF AND ME – (Season 6)

I’m a sucker for these “futuristic” type plots and this episode is wonderful.  Following a thunderstorm Stan is confronted by a future version of himself. The Future Stan is a train-wreck of a human being having succumbed to alcohol and drugs. This forces Stan to commit to a drug-free life.  Eventually, Stan (and Butters) realise they have been victims of an ill-judged attempt by their parents to warn them about the dangers of substance abuse by using actors. What I love is that, as in many other episodes, the parents are shown to be cowardly and dishonest when it comes to actually speaking to their kids about social issues; even when Stan finds out the truth and pretends to cut his own hand off, idiot father Randy, cuts the actor playing Future Stan’s hand off rather than tell the truth.  Cartman’s “Parental Revenge Centre” which involves smearing poo on walls merely adds to the hilarity and the final payoff involving Future Cartman is just dandy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enfTUxZ3OHI

CASA BONITA – (Season 7)

It all starts when Kyle denies “fat-ass” the chance to attend his birthday party at the legendarily themed restaurant Casa Bonita.  Cartman tries to get back in Kyle’s good books by being less Cartmanesque but when that fails he is told the only way he can attend is if someone else drops out. And so hapless Butters is convinced by Cartman that a meteor is about to hit Denver and he helps Butters to hide out. The Cartman/Butters character axis has all the hallmarks of a Master/Servant dynamic.  Butters is generally the target of some heinous Cartman schemes and in ‘Casa Bonita’ the poor boy suffers more than ever. Moreover, what makes Cartman’s plan so evil is that Butters actually thinks Eric is helping him.  This devious plan actually works because Cartman gets to visit the restaurant even though he ends in juvenile jail for it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45feLPzu6xw

AWESOME-O – (Season 8)

In many episodes the cute, naive Butters ends up being the victim of some horrific experiences.   However, in ‘Awesome-O’ the writers of South Park finally give the boy a break and allow him to get his own back on Cartman.  It all starts when Cartman wears a poorly designed robot costume as a prank on Butters. The prank backfires when Butters admits to having an incriminating video showing Cartman dressed as Britney Spears.  What makes this episode hilarious is Cartman is really made to suffer when he must remain in the costume while in pursuit of the said videotape. There are also some brilliant digs at the Hollywood scriptwriting system and the generic nature of their output especially the moronic, yet unbelievably successful films of Adam Sandler. Incredibly, this episode was produced in THREE days – the shortest ever production in the series history!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a-5XeJ1iXM

GOOBACKS – (Season 8)

‘South Park’ like many fine comedy shows has recurring catchphrases.  “Goddamit!”; “Oh my god, they killed Kenny!”; “Screw you guys, I’m going home!”; “Respect my authoritah” and “I learned something today. . .” are just a few. One of my favourites – featured prominently in ‘Goobacks’ – is “They took our job!” which eventually becomes just a high-pitched cock noise, “Dey turk err jurbs!”  Amidst this pronunciation tomfoolery is a spot on satire of the nature of immigrants and the impact they have on the town.  The immigrants in this case are people from the future who come back using “Terminator rules” and work for peanuts knowing if they save money now they will be worth a fortune in the future. The episode satirizes both sides of the argument and the men’ solution to the Gooback problem is to have a massive male-on-male orgy to ensure there will be no more children or future people.  It is a memorably sick and stupid ending and once again it is left to the children to come up with a more sensible answer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brj2UkUPjCI

DOUCHE & TURD – (Season 8)

‘Douche and Turd’ is another triumph of the writers using the children of South Park to highlight their views on America’s political system and voting in general. They also take the time to satirize Animal activists PETA and arrogant uber-star

P. Diddy.  When PETA object to the South Park Elementary School’s use of a costumed cow as their mascot the kids must then decide between a Douche and a Turd Sandwich for the replacement.  Stan thinks this is ridiculous and refuses to vote. He is then banished from the town.  He is, ironically, taken in by PETA and begins living with them as they cohabit and breed with animals. Stan does much soul searching and is advised by a PETA colleague that “an election ‘is always between a douche and a turd’, because they are the only people who suck up enough to make it that far in politics.” I love this episode because Stan’s dilemma is one I feel every time an election comes along. I mean who do you vote for when they are all either giant douches or massive turds.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pji_IX-UacM

 ERECTION DAY – (Season 9)

Like many stand-up comedians Jimmy Valmer is an attention-hungry, vain and ambitious performer but overall remains a very positive character. In Erection Day he gains our sympathy when he battles unwanted erections while in public. Stupidly, Jimmy seeks the advice of Butters who tells him that he needs to have sex in order to vanquish the unwanted boners.  With Cartman acting as a young, fat Cyrano De Bergerac, Jimmy eventually seeks the help of a STD ridden prostitute but ends up in a ‘turf’ war with a local pimp.  What I love most about this is the basic comedy misunderstanding of naive Jimmy taking a hooker to an Italian restaurant to “woo” her and then the determination he shows to try and win her back from the pimp; even involving himself in a car chase and shoot-out.  Jimmy’s “romance” results in a brilliant finale capped off by the oft-used but never-more-fitting parody of THAT ‘Officer and Gentlemen’ final scene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a11-NH2kxVU

MAKE LOVE, NOT WARCRAFT – (Season 10)

This is an Emmy award winning show and probably the funniest ever!  I love it because it features all the children actually joining together to defeat a common foe; namely the guy with “no life” who is going round and killing all their characters in World of Warcraft.  The show was made in conjunction with the team who make World of Warcraft and there is both gentle affection for and ribbing of the game and its’ players. The comedy flows thick and fast notably from hearing the kids voices emanate from Dwarves, Knights, Mages etc.; especially the stuttering Jimmy. There is a lovely reverse parody of sports movie montages where instead of getting fitter the kids get fatter and more ill through their continual playing of World of Warcraft. Indeed, they are so chained to their computers Liane – Cartman’s mum – even holds a bucket for him while he takes a crap.  The episode has the whole cake and eats it with a mild warning of the dangers of videogames to children, but it does it in the most fun way possible. Brilliant title as well!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNsMgl9KKIA

HELL ON EARTH (2006) – (Season 10)

The show has, over the years, had some really near-the-knuckle plots including: Cartman infecting Kyle with H.I.V; Christopher Reeve using stem cells to become a super-villain; Cartman using Crack Baby’s as athletes and many more.  But in this episode to use murderers Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy as latter day Three Stooges killing and screwing corpses is really sick but bloody funny as well. Ironically, that wasn’t even the most controversial part as there were more complaints at the time about the incredibly bad taste Steve Irwin gag which really took the cake.  Talking of cake, in this episode, it’s Satan’s birthday and he’s having a “Sweet 16” birthday bash with loads of dead celebrities invited and Satan is determined the party is going to be “the bomb”.  I wasn’t aware of these horrific MTV “Sweet 16” shows until I saw this and the fact that the show deems these spoilt American teenage brats WORSE than Satan is fantastic satire.  Throw in a brilliant ‘Candyman’ spoof involving dead rapper Biggie Smalls and a coven of Catholic Priests upset at not being invited to Satan’s party and this glorious episode has something to delight and offend everyone.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fs3bUIp87c

CANADA ON STRIKE – (Season 12)

South Park has pretty much offended every major country and some minor ones over the years with its’ crude stereotyping and the Canadians have been lampooned mercilessly in many shows as well as the musical movie.  In this episode the poor Canucks get all upset about not receiving their share of the World’s wealth and thus call a bemusing strike to stake their claim to something or other.  The kids get involved because Stan’s adopted brother Ike also goes on strike.  The Canadians demand some of that “internet money” and the boys set out to earn it by doing a stupid skit of THAT “What-wat in my butt” using “that gay kid” Butters. Butters becomes an internet star and the children become theoretically rich.  When they go to claim their money they come across all the internet “hits” from the last decade including:  Tron Guy, Chris ‘Leave Britney alone ’Crocker, Sinister Beaver-thing, Afro Ninja, Chocolate Rain and other dumb things millions of idiots watch on the internet.  Chaos and a massive bloody fight ensues and it turns out that it’s very difficult to monetize profit on the internet. Both funny and satirical this episode went up in my estimation when I found out the writers were also sending up the Writers’ strike in Hollywood.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEpwBVXbKhs

MARGARITAVILLE – (Season 13)

This episode should be shown to children as it’s as educational as it is funny.  I think here the writers are at the top of their game as they take on the economy and the global recession and distillate concepts surrounding these mysterious entities to great effect.  It’s not always laugh out loud funny but really connects with the cerebral funny bone as the economy itself is compared to another enigmatic thing namely religion and: GOD!  As Stan follows his way up the economic ladder trying to take back a Margaritaville machine, Kyle tackles the economy in his own way and eventually becomes its’ saviour as a latter day Jesus figure.  Obviously, Cartman becomes a Jew-hunter and tries to get Kyle killed in the story for GTA: Chinatown.  I like many people am very simple and do not understand the economy as well and what this episode does is show you the layers and layers of stupidity present in a system which is patently out of control. The stand-out scene is representatives from the US Treasury “checking the charts” using a colourful board and a chicken to determine the value of things. To be honest, this is probably the most sensible explanation of how the economy works I’ve seen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wz-PtEJEaqY

FAITH HILLING – (Season 16)

South Park delights in spoofing stupid stuff on the Internet.  This one is brilliant for that as it mercilessly sends up the craze for ‘memes’ and delights in highlighting how ridiculous humans are.  It opens with the boys actually working in harmony together to pull off a “Faith Hilling” prank at a Republican conference.  It’s quite a light episode but it mines the laughs continuously as the boys move from one ridiculous memetic performance to another such as: “Tebowing” and “Taylor Swifting”; even getting involved in a gang fight because of it. The main subplot involving the idea that cats are now becoming as intelligent as humans is hilarious as we get repetitive shots of THAT internet cat saying, “Old Long Johnson” over and over again. If this is what makes us laugh as humans then it deserves the ridicule this episode gives it. Indeed, while the Internet is a wonderful tool it has also given a format to not-so-wonderful tools and crazes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7FFMM-ZwMY

CASH FOR GOLD – (Season 16)

Great art whether it’s comedy, painting, television, cinema, sculpture, dance and so on should always hold a mirror up to humanity and say, “Hey, what the hell are you doing you idiot humans?!  Stop it!”  This episode is a perfect example of that. Stan turns investigator when he’s given a crap piece of jewellery by his Grandfather bought from one of those exploitative TV shopping channels. At the same time Cartman sees a way of making money and starts his own business buying and selling tacky items.  The satire is damning of humanity as we get an ingenious montage which shows the cycle of stupidity involved as the jewellery is sold online; sold back to Cash For Gold stores; dismantled; smelted down; sent to Asia where kids in sweat shops make the jewellery; before it finally gets sent back to the QVCesque shopping channel to be sold yet again on TV. The final image of a TV shopping channel host blowing his brains out off screen is satire at its’ most brutal and artistic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9_OL1eceY0