BL&F 1: PROLOGUE: BETWEEN LAUGHTER & FAILURE
EXTENDING THE FANTASY OF DJANGO AWAY
Early artwork for a Spaghetti Western-inspired Django Away! poster.
My appreciation of the work of Daniel Hutchings is as praising or as damning as he sees fit. Many a time I have probed the depths of his artistic aspirations and its reflections of his personal neuroses through his shower curtain as he warbles his favourite songs. But I have also had to listen to the silence between his rhetorical questions while he tries to figure out what he’s trying to say. Hearing the cogs turn is one thing, but enduring the silent screech of them grinding is another.
I was first called upon by Hutchings when he was devising his web series, Hutchings' Half Minute and performing at comedy club gong shows and new act competitions. For a while, he didn’t want anything more from me than merely a sympathetic pair of ears for his ideas for short experimentations that made up his series and to sympathetically nurture the development of his more long-term aims.
Though Hutchings' Half Minute showed Hutchings’ self expression, it did not bring much in the way of exposure or attention. It was then that Hutchings began to actually discuss with me in more detail the mechanics of what he was doing and how it was affected by the effect he wanted to have on an audience. It became clear to me that the act of creativity and self expression alone was only a part of what Hutchings hoped his work to be.
With his web series and a year’s worth of performing any comedy gig he could to draw upon, Hutchings’ own take on the medium of comedy began to coalesce into a very particular thing. It was at this point that he first asked me what I thought of Auteur Theory (as defined by the French New Wave, refined by the Hollywood Movie Brats and revived by Tarantino et al) and what its relationship to a comedy character could be. To this I blew a giant raspberry and gave an answer of pure gibberish noise, all wet with farty lips. But to my dismay, he heard an answer in my sounds! “Yes, definitely!” he excitedly exclaimed! “There are shades of such things in any director/performer of comedy, Woody Allen for example, and you’re right, the relationship between the two isn’t as interesting or as rich in potential material as taking Auteur Theory at its word and making the distance between your imagination and the screen as short as possible”. I didn’t realise I was so eloquent!
With Hutchings' Half Hour, Hutchings established his comedy character proper including all the sitcom details such as character, social standing, etc, but it also explored abstract, simplified and essential versions of Hutchings’ own dreams, fears and fantasies. Moving its monologue between interior and exterior, Hutchings meditated on the glorious freedoms his current situation offers whilst having to live within all the restrictions of being at the very start of his career and the lack of currency this entails, whether that is financial or in kind. “I don’t just want to do something that isn’t very good and rely on technical shortcomings to make people laugh” Hutchings told me as he was writing the script with me sat at the end of the bed like a good little pet. “I want people to identify with my films, to be taken on a journey by them and ultimately be touched by my sincerity and uplifted by a celebration of life’. Dustin Jelly for tea anyone?
Next came Django Away!, the subject of this book. Just as we were gearing up to start shooting Django with his zero budget methods, I asked Hutchings “Are you not concerned that the results will just be terrible? That your performances won’t be funny? You might fail miserably and become a laughing stock?” He answered, almost tersely, “I would’ve thought you’d find that funny, Hugh?”
If Hutchings does ask me my opinion, it is not often that he takes my point of view on board. In fact, he will often go the opposite way, no matter how much I try to convince him. We often debate what could work in his performances and films. In these discussions, I throw out idea after idea in a frenzy for him to discount most of them by saying they were too obvious and that if he did have anything to offer an audience he was sure it would have to be something that no-one else could. When we first met, I felt I knew his comedy and that I got it. As Hutchings' oeuvre has grown, what he considers funny has evolved to encompass more that just the surprise of oddness. I can't say I laugh at him as much these days, but when I do, I laugh so hard I either need a defibrillator or a wetwipe.
I have named this book Between laughter and Failure after what Hutchings calls the pre-credits overture which opens the film. This not only tells you the two elements balanced on an imaginary scale as we judge Hutchings’ comedy character, but also how we judge Hutchings as a comedian and filmmaker. Throughout Django Away! “extend the fantasy” was one of his mantras. In doing this Hutchings has used his dreams, ideas, fantasies and daydreams as his material. This book is replete with the mirrors Hutchings has made of these fantasies as well as the various imagery that they reflect. Now this book is done, I can now see what Hutchings was trying to achieve and I think a lot of it is very close to what Hugh Moir is all about.