Hitting the base notes

Film - Philip Kerr salutes two vulgar, offensive, puerile icons - Austin Powers and Mozart

For a long time now, the storylines of the James Bond movies have looked more preposterous than the Swiss navy. As infantile and formulaic as powdered baby milk, as overblown and boring as an Academy Awards ceremony, the movies keep coming back like a recurrent herpes infection. The last one that made any sort of narrative sense was probably Goldfinger, as long ago as 1964; and certainly since Roger Moore took over the character, in 1973, they have been parodies of themselves.

Pace Cyril Connolly (Bond Strikes Camp), James Bond was spoofed as early as 1967 with the rancid Casino Royale (directed by John Huston), and rather more successfully by the Flint and Matt Helm movies starring James Coburn and Dean Martin, respectively. Other franchise spies such as Harry Palmer (Michael Caine), Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) and Ethan Hawke (Tom Cruise) have walked a fine line between parodying Bond and imitating him. No such problems of attribution attend the Austin Powers movies, which are affectionate send-ups not just of Bond, but of everything British. (The scene where Austin Powers is knighted by the Queen looks every bit as comic as the real thing.)

Goldmember is the third outing for Mike Myers's velvet-suited, snaggle-toothed, groovy British spy, and an increased budget means that the movie is full of special effects and action sequences - not to mention a whole souvenir-store of big movie-star cameos - that are almost the equal of anything you would see in a Bond movie; and the only major difference between Austin Powers and a James Bond movie in 2002, is that Goldmember is so much more entertaining.

Playing four different characters, Myers guys at the camera like an actor on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe taking the groundlings into his confidence. It is a very winning technique employed to great effect, and only the po-faced or the politically correct will dislike this movie. And they will. There are fart jokes, dwarf jokes, erection jokes, double entendres below even Benny Hill's notice, and more than a few shit jokes, and I don't mean jokes that aren't funny. Indeed, there are times in Goldmember when Myers's vision is so hilariously "excrementious and stercoraceous, rancid and urinous" that you might think he had sprung from the pages of Swedenborg wearing a pair of yellow-tinted spectacles and dun-coloured trousers. It's tasteless and vulgar, offensive and utterly puerile. I loved every minute of it.

I don't think anyone seeing Amadeus: the director's cut, based on Peter Shaffer's marvellous play, would be in any doubt that Mozart would have loved Goldmember just as much as I did. Addicted to masturbation, Mozart loved a good willy joke, and relished the ripping sound of a loud fart with the same childish delight as Mike Myers.

In his book Mozart: his character, his work, which appeared in 1945, Alfred Einstein was the first to try to reconcile Mozart the musician with Mozart the man. "There is a strange kind of human being," he wrote, "in whom there is an eternal struggle between body and soul, animal and god, for dominance. In all great men this mixture is striking, and in none more so than in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . . . sometimes the picture that emerges of the man seems no longer to agree with our conception of the musician. In reality, however, there is a glorious unity."

The synthesis of these diametrically opposed personalities, Einstein argued, finds perfect expression in Mozart's dramatic works. "His music speaks of secrets of the heart that both the man and the artist well understood."

This is the subject of Milos Forman's marvellous film. The composer Salieri (F Murray Abraham) is confronted with the Godhead in the shape of the scatologically minded Mozart: "Why?" he complains, "would God choose an obscene child to be his instrument? This giggling, dirty-minded creature?" Obliged to recognise his own mediocrity, Salieri hates God for it, and resolves to destroy Mozart.

"Director's cuts" are usually a waste of time, and most of them come about only because the director has realised that his career has foundered and that he needs the money. They are rarely, if ever, better than the original movie, but there cannot be a better excuse to justify the cost of making a new print than that a whole new generation of movie-goers can see - not to mention hear - a really good film like this one for the first time on the big screen. F Murray Abraham won a much-deserved Oscar for his near-Satanic performance, and it is somehow tragic that since 1984, when Amadeus was first released, this wonderful actor has struggled to find work in the cinema as anything but a B-movie villain. I can't think of a better reason to send a fart flying up to heaven than that.

Austin Powers in Goldmember (12) is on general release; Amadeus: the director's cut (PG) is at selected cinemas

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