Rosewater: When Satirists Turn Serious
If you're a fan of The Daily Show, or even if you just happen to have been on Twitter at any time in the last few months, you'll probably already know who Jon Stewart is. As the lead anchor on America's most popular satirical news programme for the last 16 years, Stewart has become one of America's most beloved TV personalities, often described as 'the voice of sanity' in American politics, skewering everybody from George Bush to Rupert Murdoch and providing an antidote to the often biased or sensationalist output of American news channels like Fox News and CNN.
When he announced he was leaving the show after more than a decade and a half as one of the world's best political satirists, the outpouring of grief on social media was genuine and the flood of tributes included a plea from President Obama himself not to quit the show (actually, it was more of an executive order, and one that Stewart politely ignored).
The burning question on everyone's lips though was over what he would do next. In the last few weeks footage has emerged of his stint hosting this year's WWE Summerslam event, where wrestler John Cena offered his thanks by body-slamming Stewart into the canvas, but no; Jon Stewart isn't planning a career in wrestling.
Instead, he's been working on his directorial debut, Rosewater, a film based on the memoir by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who found himself incarcerated for four months by the Iranian government when they accused him of 'spying' for the U.S.. During his incarceration, Bahari was blindfolded and interrogated, never being able to see his interrogator, whose presence he could only identify by the distinct smell of rosewater, hence the film's title. As you might imagine from the subject matter, this is no comedy.
Stewart's film stars Gael Garcia Bernal in the role of Bahari, with a supporting cast that includes Kim Bodnia as Bahari's interrogator, as well as Dimitri Leonidas and Claire Foy. Garcia is impressive and the film has more gravity than you might imagine from a director who has made a career out of finding humour in the most grim of situations. But, if there's anything that has endeared Stewart to his audience, it has been his palpable passion for justice and a knack for having a common sense view of any political situation. Rosewater is imbued with the same passionate approach and the film is all the better for it, offering a bleak but engaging account of Bahari's ordeal.
You can find the trailer for Rosewater below, beneath that we've picked three other examples of satirists who opted to take a more serious approach later in their careers...
Charlie Brooker – Dead Set / Black Mirror
Charlie Brooker has made a name for himself as one of the sharpest satirists around and is perhaps the closest we have in the UK to a Jon Stewart-type figure. From his early contributions writing for Brass Eye and Nathan Barley to his more recent output on shows like Weekly Wipe, Brooker's writing has always been infused with a sense of anger, which is often what makes him so funny. However, he's also turned his eye to different styles on occasion and although they are probably the least 'serious' inclusions on this list, his apocalyptic zombie mini-series Dead Set and the utterly nightmarish Black Mirror exhibit a much darker side to his imagination. Yes, you could describe both as black comedies, but where Black Mirror is concerned you have to ask how black a comedy has to be before it becomes dystopian science fiction. As Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnell once memorably said: “The answer is none. None more black.”
Alan Bennett – The Madness of King George
Alan Bennett's first success as a writer came in the form of Beyond The Fringe, a satirical revue type show which he wrote for and co-starred with such comedic luminaries as Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. However, over the years he has also proved himself as an excellent dramatist with films like The History Boys, but it's his 1994 film The Madness of King George that perhaps best represents his more serious side. Starring Nigel Hawthorne as the titular monarch whose problems with mental health (now believed to be the result of a blood disorder) led to wwhat became known as the Regency crisis, Nicholas Hytner's screen adaptation also features an impressive cast that includes Helen Mirren, Rupert Graves and Rupert Everett among its rank. More than just an account of an old man losing his faculties, the film is examines the nature of power and the state with the same skill that makes Bennet such a fantastic writer for comedy and satire.
Woody Allen – Interiors
With a new film each year for as long as anyone can remember, Woody Allen must rank as one of the most prolific satirists of modern times, but while he will always be known for his sharp, brilliantly written comedies like Annie Hall or Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex..., every now and then he turns out something much, much darker. His 2013 film Blue Jasmine is a case in point, with Cate Blanchett delivering another performance that threatens to dislodge Nicole Kidman as any casting director's first choice for the role of 'Icy Bitch No.1'. For us though, his 1978 film Interiors was his first real stab at straight-up drama and it's still one of the heaviest things he's ever written. Diane Keaton, a regular feature in Allen's films in the 70s, puts in a great performance, but it's Geraldine Page who steals the show here and she earned a BAFTA for her efforts, as well as an Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress. It's as uncomfortable to watch as it reportedly was to make, but where Woody Allen is concerned this is a serious as it gets.