Dialectical Apatow

So I’m reading this week’s issue of The Onion, and in the AV Club there’s an interview with Funny People writer/director Judd Apatow. My review of Funny People will be up on the Daily Cardinal’s website shortly, but until then, I think that what Apatow says in this interview illuminates some of contradictions at the heart of his work.

Throughout the interview Apatow presents himself as an artist rather than as a manager of talent. He explains that while making a film he’s very mindful of how test audiences respond to the work-in-progress: “And if they tell me I hate it, I try to figure out what I’ve done wrong. But every time out, the audience wants me to go deeper […] they don’t want these movies to be shallow. So they really urge me to tell them a complicated story, and then when I do so, they’re thrilled.” Here we have Apatow the artist who creates not for some ideal audience, but rather for an audience that actually participates in the development of the film through their responses to test screenings. Sounds great and democratic, right?

Later, in recounting a story about eating lunch with Warren Zevon, Apatow says that he’s been very influenced by Zevon’s attitude about artistic production: “I told him about a screenplay I wrote, and I was telling him how I was waiting for the notes to come in from the sudio, and I said ‘Hopefully they’ll like it.’ He said, ‘Why do you care if they like it? Why would you listen to their notes?’ Because he came at everything as an artist, it wasn’t about what anyone else thought. He was the person who was toughest [on Zevon’s own work], and it actually shamed me into really being much tougher about my work, and not making concessions.” Here we have Apatow the artist who is less than comfortable bending over backward to please corporate strawmen. But don’t these studio suits stand to profit from listening to the opinions of the test audiences who Apatow is looking to please? I don’t mean to seem critical for the sake of being critical, but I think the dialectic going on here is really intriguing. Apatow basically constructs himself as an artist who doesn’t care what others think of his work, except for the times when he does. Suits = bad, layman test audience = good; ‘absolutely no concessions’ is married to ‘sure, I’ll take your thoughts into consideration’.

Finally, Apatow concludes the interview with this remarkable nugget: “I like to make movies the way people made movies in the ‘70s, where they lived and died with these stories, and cared about them, and went to war for them, and they all said something they wanted to say. And I do think there’s a way to do that while making thoughtful comedies. You can do that and it doesn’t have to be about the Communist Revolution.” Interesting that Apatow would bring up Marx, because Class is actually at the center of some of my own thoughts about Funny People, as y’all will see soon enough. The rest of the interview is available here.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: