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Premieres & Events

Fuzz Grows in New York

By Christopher Campbell

The Film Society of Lincoln Center may have gotten stuck with the 10th and final spot on the American "Hot Fuzztival" tour, but it certainly made up for the lateness with an added bonus and a surprise guest. The tour, which began in D.C. on March 23, consisted of a series of preview screenings of Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz, each followed with a Q&A featuring Wright and the movie's co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Depending on the city, audiences were also invited to take in a showing of one or more cop movies, which influenced and inspired Hot Fuzz, including Lethal Weapon, Infernal Affairs, Point Break, Bullitt, Bad Boys II and L.A. Confidential.

Fuzz-y Four: (L-R) Kevin Smith grills Hot Fuzz braintrust Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg at Lincoln Center

At the Walter Reade Theater Tuesday night, the accompanying selection was James William Guercio's Electra Glide in Blue, an odd gem from 1973, which played early in the evening, before the main event. As a bonus attraction, Wright was on-hand to introduce the film, which he claimed was one of his favorite cop films. "You guys are going to have one up on all the jerk-offs who come here just to see Hot Fuzz," he explained to a very sparsely populated auditorium, "There are some parallels, and that is why I wanted to show it. Also, Peter Cetera makes his second most bad-ass contribution to cinema by playing the character Bob Zemko – the first bad-ass contribution being of course 'Glory of Love' on the Karate Kid II soundtrack."

After the "slow-burn appetizer," as Wright called Electra Glide in Blue, the theater filled up past capacity, and Hot Fuzz was introduced and then unveiled. For the next two hours, the Walter Reade Theater experienced probably its loudest film presentation ever (Film Comment Editor-in-chief Gavin Smith agreed with me on this) and perhaps its most enthusiastic audience, which included at least one attendee in costume (a black vest with 'Metropolitan Police" insignia).

For such a special occasion, in which film geeks likely outnumbered the usual Film Society set, it took a special host to conduct the post-screening Q&A. There was no choice more fitting than Kevin Smith -- and not just because of his fluency in geek speak. Smith is an admitted "massive fucking fan" of Wright/Pegg/Frost -- he claimed theirs were three of the ten dicks in the world he'd suck -- and vice versa, as the trio's original collaboration, the television series Spaced, apparently might not have existed were it not for Clerks. Pegg even attended a screening of Chasing Amy a decade ago, which included a Q&A with Smith. "I asked you a question," Pegg told Smith, either remembering the humble experience, or more likely giving a spot-on impression of the usual, obligatory Q&A nuisance, "and I'm going to ask you it again now: 'Your characters are so well-drawn and they seem to be so, you know, real. Do you draw inspiration from real life?'"

This camaraderie on stage overflowed into the audience, which is both perfect and dangerous for a crowd of fans -- they eventually seem to think they are constantly involved in the conversation, long after they ask their obscure question -- and which is so inclusively hilarious that it is impossible to convey into words just how entertaining the event really was. From such diverse topics as Eddie Murphy movie trailers, The King of Queens, Jorge Grau horror imports with badly translated titles, "space cakes" and swan casting and wrangling amidst an avian flu pandemic, there came huge laughs that would unfortunately not translate well here.

Other topics, those more focused and more informative, rounded out the night's discussion, with one being of particular interest both to fans of Wright's work and to fans of Smith's. Pegg, who often refers to Frost as his heterosexual life partner, additionally threw out the idea that Frost is his Jason Mewes. "I would take that as an insult if I were you," Smith told Frost, "Jason Mewes has played one character; you have now played at least two – or three."

Follow the jump for some other conversation topics that should appeal to just the Wright film fans.

On how Shaun of the Dead almost wasn't: "We had got to the point where somehow we had our own TV show," Pegg said, "and that sort of led us forward into thinking maybe we could get our own movie. I mean we were very naïve in the fact that we just decided to do it."

"We went around to the film companies," Wright continued, "and Film Four, which was a spin-off of Channel 4 [the producer of Spaced], was interested and liked the idea. So we started developing it and we probably wrote for 18 months and had done a first draft, and then Channel 4 went bust. And that was awful because we not only had not done a third season of Spaced, but we turned down all these jobs to take time out to write the screenplay, and then the parent company we were writing for went bust. I said, 'Aww, shit, man we really screwed up.' But thankfully Working Title came to the rescue."

On preparing for Hot Fuzz: "We spent like four or five months doing research," Wright said, "half of which was theoretical and half of which was practical -- the theoretical bit being watching 138 cop films and the practical bit being interviewing real policemen in London and in the country. This was the first time we had the chance to do research on something. You know, we couldn't do ride-alongs with zombies for Shaun. This is the first time we're working outside our comfortable white slackerdom, really."

On Frost's lack of training as an actor: "I'd never acted before [Spaced]," Frost said, "and if someone had come to me and said that I was going to be an actor, it would have been the worst fucking job they could have given me, literally. I was terrified of it. And when we started rehearsing or even the first couple weeks of shooting I would blush when I acted, because I felt weird with people looking at me. But if you're going to make big money as a waiter (his former job), you can't serve everyone the same. You have to be like a chameleon. And that is the key to good acting."

On Hot Fuzz's improvement through repeat viewing: "My favorite film of all time is Raising Arizona," Wright said, "because even on fifth or sixth watch I was still spotting little sight gags and things and details. So when sat down to write Shaun we knew that we could write setups with payoffs that come when you watch it a second time, when you know what the ending is. And this film is designed to be enjoyable once you know who the baddies are. We love doing all that kind of stuff. And we're kind of anal and we spend ages putting those things in."

"It's all about putting the punch line before the setup," Pegg added, "so it's impossible to get it in that way until you see it again. So when you go into the second viewing you have that information ready to go. I think you owe it to the audience in this day and age of DVD to make films bear up to repeated viewings, so you can watch them again and again. And have different experiences on each watch."

On avoiding the term spoof: "The only reason we [avoid] the word spoof is because, unfortunately, of how tired the Zucker Brothers rip-offs are – not the great Zucker Brothers films, and I love Airplane, Top Secret, Police Squad, but all the ones you've had in the last 20 years that keep getting worse and worse and worse. Unfortunately that's what most people think of as spoofs. That's unfortunately what I think of when I think the word spoof. And what I suppose what we want to do is not only make a love letter to that genre, but we want them to be funny genre films. So I would much rather Shaun be called a horror-comedy than a zombie spoof."

Posted at April 12, 2007 6:49 AM

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