The BFI has announced a new season of programming with Comedy Genius (22 October 2018 – 31 January 2019), starting with the re-release of 9 to 5 and Jane Fonda in conversation...
Comedy Genius promises to be the UK’s greatest ever celebration of film and TV comedy. From boundary-pushing writers and performers who say the unsayable, to silent slapstick heroes of the past and disreputable and anarchic voices of the present, this season will celebrate comic genius with an array of talent taking part throughout the season. Guests will include Jane Fonda, John Landis, Tracey Ullman, Lenny Henry and Jennifer Saunders, while silent star Mabel Normand is given her long-overdue moment in the spotlight. Following on from previous landmark BFI blockbusters including Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, The Genius of Hitchcock and Black Star, Comedy Genius will be a provocative and timely moment to pause and contemplate comedy in contemporary Britain. As we collectively face fundamental questions of identity, social responsibility and nationhood in a post-Brexit and post-#MeToo world, are there now some lines that simply should not be crossed or are the lines more blurred than ever? Is it possible to enjoy un-PC comedy of the past with a clear conscience? And how are a new generation of ‘woke’ comedians changing up the game? As arguably the most subjective form of entertainment, comedy has the power to provoke exciting and varied debate – and make us laugh with fart jokes.
Heather Stewart, BFI Creative Director said: "In a divided Britain, in a world where we may be uncertain about what we’re allowed to find funny anymore, we need a laugh more than ever. Just seeing Sid James holding a sausage roll or the sight of Jack Benny at the front of a bunch of goose-stepping Nazis in To Be or Not to Be, cheers me up. Whether it’s Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin indulging in a drug-fuelled fantasy of bringing down their sexist boss, Peter Sellers’s maniacal Dr Strangelove, Buster Keaton’s deadpan face, Sharon Horgan’s hilariously frank take on family and relationships, or Tiffany Haddish’s grapefruit tutorial, we think there is enough wisecracking, slapstick, satire, smut and innuendo in our Comedy Genius season for everyone."
Trailblazing, wise-cracking women will be front and centre of Comedy Genius, kicking off in style with the one and only Jane Fonda, who will be In Conversation at BFI Southbank on 23 October. Fonda will discuss her remarkable career thus far, and introduce a preview of a BFI re-release of 9 to 5 (Colin Higgins, 1980). Hilariously tackling issues that almost 40 years later are finally being taken seriously, Fonda co-stars with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton as a trio of women who refuse to put up with their sexist boss’ behaviour any longer. 9 to 5, a long-awaited sequel of which is now in development, will be re-released at selected cinemas across the UK from Friday 16 November. Also being re-released on Friday 2 November in selected cinemas UK-wide will be a sparkling new 4K restoration of Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959), a film which has consistently topped polls of the best comedies of all time.
A major season at BFI Southbank will welcome comedy stars including: Jennifer Saunders, Tracey Ullman, Lenny Henry, Jo Brand, Henning Wehn, Vic and Bob and Nish Kumar, as well as the casts and crews of Nighty Night (including star Julia Davis) and People Just Do Nothing. Additional guests introducing some of their favourite comedies and appearing in onstage Q&As will include Sandi Toksvig, David Walliams, David Schneider (The Day Today, The Death of Stalin), John Landis (Coming to America), Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners), Morwenna Banks (Absolutely, Damned), Felicity Kendal (The Good Life), Marc Wootton (High and Dry), Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf), Steve Nallon (Spitting Image), John Lloyd (QI, Blackadder), Jim Howick (Yonderland), Mathew Baynton (Bill, Horrible Histories), plus more to be announced.
Comedy Genius will reach every corner of the UK via a programme of screenings and events funded by the BFI Film Audience Network (BFI FAN), a touring programme presented by the Independent Cinema Office (ICO) and a bevy of comedies in our Rental, Subscription and Free services on BFI Player. The BFI will spotlight the trailblazers of the past, from the beloved Laurel and Hardy, celebrated with their own month-long season in January at BFI Southbank, to the overlooked, such as Mabel Normand, one of the comedy greats, eclipsed in posterity by Chaplin and Keaton, but now given her rightful place in the firmament. Normand starred in over 167 shorts and 23 features and The Marvellous Mabel Normand: Leading Lady of Film Comedy will be a package of short films including rarities from the BFI National Archive, comprising Mabel’s Blunder (Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, 1914), Mabel’s Dramatic Career (Mack Sennett, 1913), His Trysting Place (Charlie Chaplin, 1914), and Should Men Walk Home (Leo McCarey, 1927), which the BFI is making available to venues UK-wide with a newly commissioned score by The Meg Morley Trio.
HIGHLIGHTS OF COMEDY GENIUS WILL INCLUDE:
The BFI will re-release the all-too-relevant 9 to 5 (Colin Higgins, 1980) at selected cinemas across the UK on Friday 16 November. 9 to 5, which stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, is the story of three women who are sick of their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss, and seek to change their all-female workplace for good. Ahead of the rerelease, the film will be previewed at BFI Southbank on Tuesday 23 October, introduced by Jane Fonda – actress, activist, business woman and global icon. With a sequel of 9 to 5 now in the works and Fonda confirmed as executive producer and all three stars looking to reprise their roles, this re-release offers a perfect opportunity to revisit, or discover for the first time, this classic feminist comedy that was decades ahead of its time. Running alongside Comedy Genius, BFI Southbank will also host a dedicated Jane Fonda season, kicking off with an In Conversation event, also on Tuesday 23 October. Full details of the season, which runs from 23 October – 31 December will be announced soon.
Re-released by Park Circus in selected cinemas across the UK in a sparkling new 4K restoration from Friday 2 November will be Billy Wilder’s perfect comedy caper Some Like It Hot (1959), featuring the all-star cast of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Routinely voted in polls as the funniest film of all time, no comedy season would be complete without it. The film will play on extended run at BFI Southbank and at selected venues across the UK.
COMEDY GENIUS ON TOUR – PRESENTED WITH ICO
The Independent Cinema Office will be distributing a curated tour of films to bring Comedy Genius to cinemas, film societies and community screens across the UK. The tour will cover a wide survey of comedy titles, ranging from the eccentric brilliance of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975), through to Juzo Itami’s heart-warming food comedy Tampopo (1985).
EVENTS AND SCREENINGS ACROSS THE UK
The BFI Film Audience Network (BFI FAN) will work closely with venues and organisations across the country to bring Comedy Genius to every corner of UK. Full details of events and screenings will be announced soon; highlights will include:
- Queer Film Network UK & Ireland will present ‘Gay as in Hysterically Funny’, a touring programme of comedy films featuring diverse LGBTQ+ representations
- We Are Parable will present ‘Barbershops and Black Comedy Legends’, a series of immersive pop-up barbershop installations inspired by Desmond’s (C4, 1989-94), enabling participants to watch iconic episodes of the classic sitcom, as well as a national tour of Black comedy films to venues across the UK
- Live Cinema UK will host a celebration of the twisted comedic mind of Alice Lowe this Halloween – ‘Alice Lowe-en’ will include screenings of Prevenge (Alice Lowe, 2016), plus a mystery feature presented by Lowe, who will take part in an extended Q&A as part of the event
- Victoria Park Productions will present a series celebrating Asian comedy including screenings of The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, 2017), Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010) and comedy classic Bhaji on the Beach (Gurinder Chadha, 1993), with special Q&As taking place across the Midlands at the Midland Arts Centre, The Mockingbird Cinema and Electric Cinema
- OFF-Y-GRID venues in Wales, including Pontio in Bangor and Galeri in Caernarfon will present special screenings of writer Meic Povey’s classic Welsh-language biopic Ryan a Ronnie (The Life of Ryan and Ronnie) (Rhys Powys, 2009) celebrating the legacy of funnyman Ryan Davies, which will be accompanied by live stand-up performances by new Welsh-language comedy talent
- Broadway Nottingham will present a Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) ‘strum-along’ for ukulele enthusiasts, as well as a mini-season celebrating French comedy
- The Dukes Cinema Lancaster will host a screening of Mel Brooks’ homage to horror Young Frankenstein (1974) in a spooky historic location
BFI SOUTHBANK SEASON, OCTOBER – JANUARY
The Comedy Genius season runs at BFI Southbank from 22 October, comprising screenings, special events and discussions dedicated to exploring comic genius in all its forms, and in January we welcome in the new year with a month-long season dedicated to the legendary comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, with 10 features films and 16 shorts from the Hal Roach period (1927-40), to coincide with the release of Jon S. Baird’s Stan and Ollie (2018) in UK cinemas on 11 January.
Highlights of the BFI Southbank programme will include:
- Comedy legend Jennifer Saunders will be In Conversation about her incredible career, from the early days of The Comic Strip and working with Dawn French on French and Saunders to appearing in Ben Elton’s Happy Families, writing the WI-set Jam and Jerusalem, and of course, her iconic role as PR maven Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous
- Tracey Ullman On Ullman will see the multi-talented Tracey Ullman take to the BFI Southbank stage to talk about being one of the first non-US female comedians to have conquered American TV, as well as her early work in the UK (A Kick up the Eighties, Girls on Top), and her latest projects for British television such as Tracey Ullman’s Show
- Director John Landis, alongside Oscar-winning Costumer Designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, will take part in a Q&A following a screening of the hilarious Coming to America (1988) which sees Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem arrive in America looking for a wife
- The season will present Father Ted Talks with comedy greats mounting provocative talks on subjects close to their hearts, kicking off with Lenny Henry, who will address the lack of black British comedians who have made it to big screen in Black Comedy of the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown
- Stand-up comedian Henning Wehn will host a session looking at funny German films, posing the question Are German’s Funny? This will be followed by a screening of German comedy Manta, Manta (1991) as well as a Q&A with Wehn and the film’s director Wolfgang Büld
- Iconic comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer will take part in a Q&A following a TV preview of Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out (BBC, 2018)
- Jo Brand: The Unvarnished Truth will welcome the trailblazing comedian to discuss her painfully honest observational comedies such as Damned and Getting On, which were inspired by her background as a nurse, as well as her wider views on life, humour and her comedy influences
- The latest in the BFI’s ‘Hot Take’ series will welcome thinkers, comedians and performers to debate the provocative questions around political correctness and comedy; It’s Political Correctness Gone Mad will question whether there’s a line that comedy shouldn’t cross and how we should respond to films and TV, both historical and contemporary, that some find funny, while others find deeply offensive
- Pass the Mic: The Black Comedy Revolution will be a day that brings together intergenerational black comedians for riotous confessions and wisdom sharing, including a celebration of BBC sketch show The Real McCoy, which ran for five seasons in the 90s and was a watershed moment in black British comedy
- There will be celebrations of iconic TV shows including I Love Lucy (1951-7) starring the brilliant Lucille Ball; The Young Ones (1982-4) which was a key entry in the new wave of 1980s alternative comedy; and Nighty Night (2004-5) starring Julia Davis as the hilariously manipulative sociopath Jill Tyrrell; Davis will attend the Nighty Night event alongside further cast and crew to be announced soon
- The Mash Report’s Nish Kumar will host The New Wave of Satire on TV looking back at great satirical shows such as Spitting Image, Time Trumpet and Brass Eye and address how they influenced current satirical shows from The Thick of It and Veep to Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, The Last Leg, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest show Who Is America?
A selection of films at BFI Southbank starring some of the best-loved women in comedy. Films screening will include:
- Mickey (F Richard Jones, James Young, 1918), a silent romantic comedy featuring Mabel Normand
- She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman, 1933) starring Mae West in her first major role
- A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971), the criminally unknown black comedy written by, directed by and starring Elaine May
- The hilarious body-swap comedy All Of Me (Carl Reiner, 1984) starring Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin
- Garry Marshall’s classic Overboard (1987) starring Goldie Hawn
- Sister Act (Emile Ardolino, 1992), one of the most successful comedies of the 90s, starring Whoopi Goldberg
- The note-perfect high school movie Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004), with a hilariously dark script by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey
- Last year’s smash-hit Girls Trip (Malcolm D Lee, 2017), featuring a star-making performance from Tiffany Haddish
- There will also be a day to celebrate the comic geniuses behind the screen, from the self-deprecating wit of Nora Ephron to the acerbic stylings of Mindy Kaling, the Trailblazer’s Day will pay tribute to female comedy screenwriters of yesterday and today
- A free exhibition on the mezzanine at BFI Southbank called ‘Playing the Fool’ (26 October 2018 – 6 January 2019), draws on BFI National Archive collections to celebrate women as early pioneers, experimenters and accomplished clowns in film comedy
- A new free-to-access film and TV collection in the Mediatheque at BFI Southbank includes a century of British women from Millicent Martin and Meera Syal to Hattie Jacques and Sharon Horgan, and includes episodes of The Joyce Grenfell Show and Beryl Reid Says Good Evening. Collection highlights will also be available in BFI Mediatheques in Birmingham, Bradford, Glasgow, Manchester and Wrexham
- A BFI Player video-on-demand collection will include trailblazing women in comedies such as Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012), My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936), Death Becomes Her (Robert Zemeckis, 1992) and Prevenge (Alice Lowe, 2016), as well as a selection of overlooked pioneers from 1899-1950
Agents of Chaos
Featuring anarchic and wild comedy moments from stars including Barbara Streisand, Jim Carrey and Peter Sellers:
- Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? (1972) starring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal as a couple of hotel guests who find their fates intertwined when four identical red cases go missing along with their contents
- The Cable Guy (Ben Stiller, 1996), a darkly comic classic which gives Jim Carrey’s manic, ‘agent of chaos’ persona, a full workout
- Dr Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) featuring not one, but three, virtuoso performances from Peter Sellers
- The classic Marx Brothers caper Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933) which sees the brothers caught up in escalating tensions between two small countries
- Carl Reiner’s The Jerk (1979), written by its star Steve Martin, which led to Martin being recognised internationally as a true comic genius
Every Saturday night throughout the season we’ll be keeping the doors of BFI Southbank open until late for our Stoner Saturdays series – screening in a late-night 11pm slot, these films are brilliantly surreal classics and will be paired with stand-up routines by up-and-coming talent to be announced soon:
- If you’re ill-mannered, have a poor sense of social responsibility or are just plain careless then beware of Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994); Kathleen Turner’s hilarious suburban housewife also has an appetite for murder
- The greatest spoof film of all time Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980) sends up 70s airplane disaster movies and features a career-changing performance by Leslie Nielsen
- Real-life Hip-Hop duo Kid ‘n Play branched out into acting with House Party (Reginald Hudlin, 1990), which also spawned three sequels
- This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984) was a mockumentary so believable that many audiences thought it was real. With hilarious details, quotable lines and an ensemble cast of brilliant performers, this is an iconic satire of the rock business
- Completing the line-up is Stir Crazy (Sidney Poitier, 1980), which reunites the comic pairing of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, who star as unemployed friends given 125-year prison sentences after being framed for a bank robbery
Screwball comedies set a cracking pace for American screen comedy and found a voice for smart, wise-cracking American women. We’ll screen a screwball classic every Sunday afternoon during the season, including:
- Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938), the definitive ‘screwball’ movie, where a stuffy palaeontologist played by Cary Grant is driven to irrational acts when he encounters Katharine Hepburn’s eccentric socialite and her pet leopard named Baby
- Howard Hawks’ black comedy His Girl Friday (1940), starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as a newspaper editor and his former star reporter trying to secure the latest scoop; it features some of the fastest dialogue in the history of film
- Preston Sturges’ classic The Lady Eve (1941) chronicles an encounter between an innocent, snake-loving rich boy and a beautiful card-sharp
- Also screening will be Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (1942), a sparkling saga of sex, lies and money starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea
- Other titles included will be Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937), Gregory LaCava’s My Man Godfrey (1936) and Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living (1937)
No comedy season would be complete without the pratfalls, accidents and mayhem of slapstick heroes such as Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. The Slapstick programme will take place at the weekends, with accompanying workshops for children looking to perfect that pratfall. Titles will include:
- Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Jacques Tati, 1953) the classic comedy that firmly established Tati as an international star, with its broad humour, visual satire and lack of dialogue making it a popular family favourite for 65 years
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Blake Edwards, 1976), introduced by actor and author David Walliams, which sees Inspector Clouseau return for another instalment of the hugely successful Pink Panther series
- There will also be shorts programmes dedicated to the great Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin
Fun With Nazis!
Celebrating bold and original talents who took head on – and made fun out of – the biggest political issue of their day:
- Charlie Chaplin’s iconic The Great Dictator (1940) saw the performer play both leading roles – a ruthless fascist dictator and a persecuted Jewish barber. A searing political satire, and arguably his most popular film
- Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942) about a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who use their abilities at disguise and acting to fool the occupying troops, features the great Jack Benny and Sig Ruman as ‘They call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt’
- Completing the line-up is Mel Brooks’ popular comedy The Producers (1967) in which a pair of crooked musical producers try and put together the worst musical of all time in a bid to create an immediate flop and keep the profits. The resulting musical, ‘Springtime for Hitler’ is a ludicrous farce about the happy home life of a brutal dictator
Great British Smut
A day of saucy and risqué humour with a double helping of entendre at BFI Southbank on 10 November, featuring:
- A screening of Carry On Cleo (Gerald Thomas, 1964) to mark the 60th anniversary of the Carry On film franchise, which began with Carry On Sergeant in 1958
- The Joy of Smut, a clip-based event celebrating the kings and queens of British smut such as Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd and Beryl Reid
- Should We Still Be At It? will be a panel discussion addressing the place of smut in comedy and in the modern world
Quintessentially British humour will be celebrated with a programme of English Eccentrics including:
- Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987) about two out of work actors played by Richard E Grant and Paul McGann whose trip to a country cottage goes disastrously wrong
- Dark Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949) featuring Alec Guinness as all eight members of a doomed aristocratic family
- Founding cast member of Spitting Image Steve Nallon, who provided voices for multiple characters in the show including Margaret Thatcher and Alan Bennett, will introduce a screening of The Belles of St Trinians (Frank Launder, 1954) starring Alistair Sim (in dual roles as the Headmistress Miss Fritton, as well as her twin brother) and Joyce Grenfell
- Also screening will be legendary religious satire Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979). Dubbed by some as blasphemous at the time of its release, Life of Brian is consistently hailed as one of the best comedies of all time, and follows the life of Brian Cohen, a young Jew who was born next door to Jesus Christ on the same day, and is consequently mistaken for the Messiah
- English Eccentrics will also appear on BFI Player with comic rarities from the BFI National Archive including work featuring Arthur Askey, Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Terry-Thomas and Leonard Rossiter
The programme during December would be incomplete without some Christmas classics, and comedy offerings will include:
- John Landis’ Trading Places (1983) starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as a rich commodities broker and a homeless street hustler who unwittingly end up the subjects of an elaborate bet
- Festive favourite Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003) starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, who after being raised by Santa’s elves in the North Pole, comes to New York in search of his biological father
INTO FILM FESTIVAL
The 6th Into Film Festival, 7-23 November, is the largest free youth film festival of its kind welcoming almost half a million 5-19 year old students and their teachers at screenings and events across the UK. The 6th and final strand, Comedy Genius: Slapstick to Subversive, complements the BFI's blockbuster autumn season Comedy Genius and will give a platform to the stand-out comedians from film history. The strand is compiled with the help of young programmers from Into Film's Youth Advisory Council and the BFI's Film Audience Network (FAN) programming groups who have provided their view on what constitutes comic genius.
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