4 Lions – when does bad taste become dark humour?

Back in January 2009, there was a little article in The Guardian referring to thefunding of a film by Chris Morris by FilmFour, the film production arm of Channel 4.   The film, “4 Lions”, has now been produced and released to mixed reviews, some of which will have undeniably been influenced by the subject matter of the film – a comedy about Islamic extremist suicide bombers planning a bomb attack on the London Marathon.

The film was described as  showing the “the Dad’s Army side to terrorism”, as four incompetent jihadists plan an attack.  For some reason the description of the film reminded me of the description of the spoof musical ‘Springtime for Hitler’ as ‘ A Gay Romp WithEva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden’ in the movie ‘The Producers’.  Interestingly enough, given the calls from relations of people involved in the 2005 bombings for the film to be not distributed or screened, ‘The producers’ had some difficulties at the start of it’s life with problems with getting it made or shown.  Eventually it was released as an ‘art house’ film and then got big ‘word of mouth’ takeup.

Now, I love ‘the Producers’, but I’m rather less enamoured with Morris’s film, and it set me thinking about what makes some ‘bad taste’ films acceptable and others unacceptable.

I guess the first thing is the timing.  When ‘The Producers’ was made in 1968, WW2 was 23 years in the past; whilst easily within living memory, it wasn’t raw.  Less than 5 years have elapsed between the July 2005 London bombings and the release of this film.  Probably too close for comfort – and releasing the film around the time of the 2010 London Marathon was probably a brilliant wheeze  from a marketing point of view but a little ‘naff’ for those taking part in the Marathon or remembering those killed in 2005.

Then there’s the closeness to real life.  Let’s stick with ‘The Producers’ as our control here.  They made one of the two most evil men of the 20thCentury look like a buffoon, and had a series of song and dance routines that were so far over the top – and intended to be so – that there was no real link to reality.  “4 Lions’ has a group of four would-be bombers – complete with Yorkshire accents – coming down from the North to London to do the attack.  Sound familiar?  Just a little too close.

Then there’s the delicate issue of who makes the film.  ‘The Producers’ – bad taste comedy about the Nazis made by a Jewish producer, with Russian and German Jewish parents, and who also served in combat in WW2.  4 Lions is the brainchild of a comedian / comedy writer who’s best known for sketches and set-up pieces that often involve unsuspecting people who believe that they’re taking part in something ‘straight’ and are actually the butts of the humour.  4 Lions could well have been more acceptable had it been made by another comedian or had the involvement of someone directly involved.

Basically, as far as ‘4 Lions’ is concerned it’s badly timed, too close to home and made by a team who appear to be unsympathetic to the issues involved.  Morris and the film makers apparently did a great deal of research in to the whole mindset and culture of extremists to make the film.  Perhaps they should have researched whether it’s just too soon.  Or whether it’s a good idea at all to laugh about people being blown up less than 5 years ago.

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