Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace hit me at just the right time, the perfect blend of mocking satire and charming daftness being just what I needed in my last year of senior school. Directed and co-written by Richard Ayoade, it presented itself as the lost tapes of a forgotten 1980’s hospital-horror program, interspersed with talking head segments by the “crew” involved. My friends and I had a taped-from-TV VHS of the series (ugh, I feel old) that we passed around daily, memorising the dialogue and cracking up at the hokey effects and pompous posturing. There was something wonderful in the talentless and self-obsessed cast members referring to themselves as auteurs that struck a chord with me and my friends, and with Ayoade on Ayoade, Richard has returned to that rich vein of comedy.
A rather literal version of Faber’s Directors on Directors series, Ayoade on Ayoade sees the author self-deprecatingly interview himself, complete with all the paranoia and neuroses that accompany such a concept. Arranged like a shooting script, complete with slightly bizarre location and character detail, the subject is asked a series of questions and soon manages to turn them inside out. The Ayoade who is interviewing (1) seems slightly at awe at all turns, dropping little footnotes that generally tend to undermine what the Ayoade who is the subject (2) is saying. Ayoade 2 is a pompous and self-obsessed bore, generally coming across as a slightly more clueless version of Marenghi. Prone to childish outbursts and intent on pontificating, he’s a difficult subject for Ayoade 1 to pin down.
The books feels a little Python-esque, with warring footnotes and surreal asides abound. What is interesting is that underneath all the gibberish and jokes, there might actually be some nuggets of truth. A list of ridiculous and clearly fabricated “facts” has a couple of real ones snuck in under the radar, and Ayoade manages to show off his expansive knowledge of film by hiding real movements under layers of pastiche and twaddle; such as his amusing Dogme 95-style Manifesto For F(i)lm. Ayoade is clearly a fan of film in all its forms, as well as being well versed in a wide range of genres, using cheeky gags to show his familiarity with the medium. Films that have made a big impact on him leak out of the pages in different guises, as delicate and thoughtful Tree of Life director Terrence Malick is reframed as a barely literate celebrity-obsessed tweeter, and high-brow films are juxtaposed with culturally-panned references.
I am probably reading way too much into this. All in all, this is a fun antidote to the overblown biographies that seem to surface on directors, with enough gags and faux-pretention to keep Garth Marenghi fans hanging on his every ridiculous word.