When thinking of auteurs, many look towards Hollywood heavyweights such as Scorsese, Tarantino, P.T. Anderson, or to European visionaries like Almodovar or Winding Refn. However, a young British filmmaker from Dorset has laid claim to the title of auteur this year; despite flying relatively under the radar, allowing the star of his renowned Three Flavoured Cornetto Trilogy, Simon Pegg, to take much of the limelight, in 2017, Edgar Wright has provided a big-hit solely attributed to himself, Baby Driver. Critically acclaimed, and an international box office hit, the film is the pinnacle of its director’s career so far, highlighting his craftsmanship and the need to acknowledge him as one of the great filmmakers of the 21st Century.
Wright’s Point of View
Born in Dorset and raised in Somerset, Wright began making films in the late ’80s and ’90s. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, he directed many short films, mainly comedic pastiches of popular genres, including the Dirty Harry tribute Dead Right. After completing an ND in Audio-Visual Design from Bournemouth and Poole College of Art in 1994, Wright made his debut feature film, a spoof western titled A Fistful of Fingers, which after a limited theatrical release caught the eye of Comedians Matt Lucas and David Williams who gave him the opportunity to write and direct within Television. After working with Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson on the 1996 Comedy Asylum they asked him to direct their new sitcom Space, and the rest is history. From the success of Spaced, he went on to write and direct alongside Pegg, the British genre films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, which formed The Flavours trilogy. In 2010 he made a shift into the American market with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, however, despite a positive critical reaction it struggled to reclaim its budget. Baby Driver earmarked his entrance as a heavyweight into not only American Cinema, but also into international cinema, receiving not only widespread praise from critics, but also from audiences trebling its budget within a month of its release.
Wright works fundamentally within the comedy genre, choosing to hybrid this with other popular genres whether it be horror, crime, or science fiction. Furthermore, he has a tendency to pay homage through pastiches of these famous genres, for example, the American Bro-Cop film within the British set Hot Fuzz. His style of comedy is very dark and features heavy amounts of sarcasm and wit through his characters, mise-en-scene, and small motifs within his films.
Wright’s films don’t particularly have a running theme or agenda within them; he isn’t a political filmmaker or trying to make a thematic statement, but more a filmmaker for filmmakers. He is undoubtedly a film lover and buff, with the referencing and pastiching his favorite films a running current within his canon.
Arguably, a potential theme within his work is the notion of the trapped protagonist. The common link between Shaun, Sgt. Angel, Gary King, Scott Pilgrim, and Baby is that they are all trapped within their surroundings, and fundamentally not by their own doing. They are unable to escape this entrapment without pragmatic action and must fight for their survival, or else face their demise. Furthermore, this ties into another potential theme that all his films represent some form of a challenge against the establishment. For example, Sgt. Angel revolts against his Neighbourhood Watch Alliance and the way they govern the village, quite literally with a mass shootout, and Baby, through choosing to kill Bats causes a chain of events that implodes the entire bank robber faction that employs him.
The technical aspects of Wright’s films are incredibly unique. His camera is almost always active, with constant movement within his shots. Where a stationary shot is needed to be used, slight push-ins tend to be employed to give action or edits with fast cuts to disguise it. For example, in the opening shot of Baby Driver, the car is active, with the wheel entering the shot. In addition, Wright also frequently uses J-Cuts, jump-cuts, and the aforementioned rapid cut montage sequences within the editing process of the films, which complements the active pace within the film created by the camera. This is displayed perfectly within Hot Fuzz, during the opening sequence of the film.
Sound plays a major part of Wright’s filmmaking DNA. Firstly, and most notably, he has a penchant for pop music, including this within his films through both diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Take, for example, the hilarious, but masterfully crafted, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in Shaun of the Dead, the swelling tense score is suddenly cut out by the Juke Box bursting into life with Queen’s hit. What is heard by the characters and zombies within the pub becomes the soundtrack for the audience. Similarly, in Baby Driver, the song ‘Neat Neat Neat’ is played through Baby’s headphones and then that epic baseline becomes the audience’s soundtrack for another heist scene.
Fundamentally, the opening sequence within Baby Driver is the best example to show his filmmaking pedigree. The first 6 minutes utilize everything in Wright’s technical locker; jump-cuts, whip pans, and a hyperactive camera within a thrilling action sequence that utilizes immense sound mixing and a killer soundtrack, with a suave comedic style.
Essentially you cannot discuss Edgar Wright’s films without mentioning the extreme, caricatured violence that saturates his canon. The list is endless, Bat’s untimely death via an overhanging metal rod in Baby Driver, Tim Merchant’s head being obliterated by a falling church spire in Hot Fuzz, or virtually any scene within Shaun of the Dead, including the ‘Girl in the Garden’ who is impaled on an umbrella stand. These deaths have an air of Final Destination meets Tarantino about them but are crucially another unique Edgar Wright calling card, something that sets him apart from other filmmakers.
Edgar Wright is one of the most unique characters within modern filmmaking, and as Andrew Sarris said, what determines an auteur is that ‘over a group of films, a director must exhibit certain recurrent characteristics of style, which serves as his signature’. After considering the evidence, Wright displays a number of characteristics that leave a recognizable imprint on his body of films, which serve as his filmmaking signature, cementing his place as a post-classical auteur.