A lovely appreciation of Austin Powers by Tino Muchina that very cleverly adopts and reproduces its insouciant tone: Short, sassy, cheeky, smart and delightful:
I am interested in the conventions of cinema and the way the parody/spoof film subvert the tropes and codes of cinema and replicate them creating new meaning. The horror genre especially uses parody with repeated cinematic codes and indicators to portray what is ‘scary’, the Scary Movie films by the Wayans brothers especially succeeded in highlighting the repetitive nature of the genre but also shed light on the humour in these conventions and found a way to entice audiences into the spoof genre over a number of years. Jay Roach’s Austin Powers is famous in spoofing the early James Bond films as well as other films of its time and the recognisability of these intertextual references have rendered the film iconic even today; nearly two decades later. The way in which the film deals with the action/spy genre in a comedic yet celebratory nature is undoubtedly reason for its success.
Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me (1999) is a comedy/parody written by Mike Myers; who also stars in the film as Austin Powers and as his nemesis Dr. Evil and insider spy Fat Bastard. The film has a wide range of intertextual references modelling it as a film that is in dialogue with the history of cinema but also as one that works with and against the codes and conventions of the film form. The story follows international spy Austin Powers as he returns to 1969 where Dr. Evil prepares to destroy the world with a laser on the moon and Powers’ task is to stop him and retrieve his mojo that has been stolen. As well as the obvious homage and spoofing of the James Bond franchise, I also find it to be a commentary and celebration of society and film history. Jim Jarmusch speaks of not “concealing your thievery” but instead celebrating it which is what I feel the film especially does in terms of its parody style but also in regards to the swinging 60’s. I will also explore the female spy figure, metafiction within the film and duplicates in the film versus the originals all surrounding the issues of imitation and mimicry versus that of homage and celebration.
One particular strength of the film is in the way the spoof form allows it to be self-reflective of cinema and the perhaps the worn-out forms in which it tells its stories. I am especially interested in reading Austin Powers as a postmodernist film as outlined by Linda Hutcheon’s theory as opposed to that of Frederic Jameson. Specifically, in that Hutcheon suggests that postmodernism works through parody to “both legitimize and subvert that which it parodies.” In this way, the way in which Austin Powers rather ridiculously makes light of the spy film genre and the events around the time at which the film was set can be read in this postmodernist way. In this way, it’s not within the films storyline that I find merit, I find the film especially succeeds in its humour at times and the way in which they can laugh at society and at cinema itself. The film is especially interesting in its use of duplicates throughout which can be read as being reflective of what the parody film is- the correlation between the original and the copy. The most obvious representation of this is in the cloning of Dr. Evil with Mini Mi, who have become iconic figures in popular culture today. Something can be said about the way the film especially focuses on duplicates in this way and can be highlighting the films own use of mimicry and the copying of other films and film styles.
The way in which the film is in dialogue with the history of cinema is ever present throughout. It effectively opens with a homage to Busby Berkeley’s ‘By a Waterfall number’ from the 1933 musical Footlight Parade. Images of Powers surrounded by synchronized swimmers are very playful yet effective in replicating that of Berkeley’s choreography. Further highlighted through the use of the bird’s eye view.
Familiar imagery such as this continues to be featured throughout the rest of the film. Perhaps the most famous, being that of Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) as she emerges from the sea in a direct mirroring of Ursula Andress’ Honey Rider in Dr No (1962). Indicative of the films spoof nature, it is at this point that the camera pans across to Austin Powers who is identically dressed in a provocative nature in the same white bikini set.
A particular interest of mine is the way the film represents the female spy figure, especially through their innate sexual interest in Austin Powers as though he’s irresistible. It is clear he is a heart throb which is ironic due to his appearance as he’s been deliberately made to look repulsive; especially by means of his dirty, brown and pronounced teeth, which are used as a visual gag throughout the film and his overtly hairy chest. The teeth also provoke this feeling of British-ness as it is a stereotype commonly associated with the British. This is indicative of the spoofing of male protagonist conventions. However, I am also interested in the girls overtly sexualised names suggestive of the spoofing of a number of the bond girl names. The three featured girls in the film named: Felicity Shagwell, Ivana Humpalot and Robin Swallows have perhaps taken inspiration from the girls of the James Bond franchise: Octopussy, Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead and Xenia Onatopp.
Although aesthetically the film does not achieve much cinematically in the traditional sense in terms of cinematography and complexity of a film plot, for me, Austin Powers succeeds as a piece of art despite lacking these qualities. Its way of using the form of parody to twist conventions but also to provide a means by which audiences do not have to take the film seriously but can instead laugh at the irony of what is being presented is integral to entertainment and to cinema. “Parody is thus effective, paradoxically wearing the mask of that which is seeks to undermine.”- Linda Hutcheon. There are a multitude of films that the film refers to and the ways in which the film employs them implies a celebration of cinema and of the tropes we have become accustomed to.