Fresh from displaying his unstabbed member in Simon Stone’s production of Baal (RT103, p35), which made rather more headlines for the nudity of its cast than for its engagement with Brecht or the mastery of its stagecraft, Redding is playing down the suggestion that there is anything more to Cop Hard than bad accents and vulva jokes. He insists the 13-part web series he has co-produced with auf der Heide and starring a line-up of some of Australia’s most talented and psychologically unhinged young actors is actually less distasteful than a lot of what passes for entertainment in some other, more conservative circles.
“There’s actually a very large group of people who are fundamentally offended by this kind of ‘inoffensive’ theatre,” he continues. “Theatre, film and television that acts as some kind of counselling session, so that an audience can switch off or walk away from what they have witnessed with the comforting knowledge that they are living to the best of their ability and there’s no need for greater understanding or change, is offensive to a lot of people. So maybe producing an idiotic series like Cop Hard, where penises are allowed to float freely, kids are shot in the head and girlfriends make out with mothers, goes a little way to redressing the balance.”
While less vitriolic than his co-conspirator, auf der Heide nevertheless agrees. “I think we’re just producing work that we would want to see and wish there was more of,” he says. “We’re taking this opportunity to provoke our audience and have fun doing so.”
While Cop Hard is certainly provocative, it is arguable that the less perverse among us may find its producers’ sense of fun somewhat baffling. The series tells the story—and I use the world loosely—of mustachioed American detective Larry Hard who finds himself on the trail of a cop-killing clown after a number of his partners are murdered. In the meantime, he sleeps with everyone from a one-legged prostitute to the department’s resident shrink, watches approvingly as his parents copulate on the table during Christmas dinner and shows off his presumably fabled nipple to a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire. It is the last thing one would have expected from the pair whose last collaboration was Van Diemen’s Land (2009), the deadly serious feature film about Australia’s cannibalistic convict, Alexander Pearce, which was warmly received by critics even as it failed to make much of a showing at the box office.
“I felt that we told the story of Alexander Pearce the way it needed to be told,” says auf der Heide, who co-wrote and directed Van Diemen’s Land. “But just because I felt that the style we chose for that film was the best way to go doesn’t mean that I solely want to make contemplative art house films. Cop Hard was a reaction to that and probably an exaggerated one.”
“When you’re working on something like Van Diemen’s Land there’s such a serious nature to the story that the seriousness becomes a side effect of the way you approach the work,” Redding says. “We certainly had a great time making Van Diemen’s Land—a lot of good whiskey was put down in the evenings—but there was no escaping the challenge we faced and how hard we had to work to bring truth to the world and the story being told. Cop Hard seemed like a great opportunity to have a good laugh at ourselves.”
Consisting of 13 three- to seven-minute episodes, at least half of which bear no connection whatsoever to the series’ overarching narrative, the result is not only a pitch-perfect parody of 1970s police procedurals—Spike Jonze’s video for the Beastie Boys “Sabotage”, with its bad stick-on moustaches and I-have-come-to-clean-zee-pool swagger, is its closest relative—but also a masterpiece of ‘non-sequitural’ absurdity.
“Yeah, the series does seem to grab its influences from all over the shop,” Redding says. “One minute it’s Hill Street Blues or Dirty Harry,” auf der Heide continues, “and then it’s something from left field like Twin Peaks. It’s also a journey into a kind of American culture without boundaries, where ego and self-righteousness are without limits, much like Larry himself.”
“But the show digs its heels into Australian culture as well,” he says. “Our entertainment is so saturated by US content that I honestly believe Australians don’t like hearing their own accents on cinema screens. An Australian show shot in Melbourne with American accents is a great way to give the finger to the Americanisation of our culture.” “Although at the end of the day,” Redding adds, “it isn’t really making any cultural comment at all. Although cloaked in the stars and stripes, it’s much more preoccupied with provocation, using very familiar archetypes of pop culture and fucking with our expectations.”
While the pair is quick to dismiss any suggestion that the series might have some deeper meaning, or any thematic connection to their previous work, these dismissals nevertheless strike one as slightly disingenuous. If nothing else, Alexander Pearce and Larry Hard share a fairly obvious fascination with flesh and all things carnal. This obsession is one shared by many of the theatrical productions with which Redding and a number of the pair’s other collaborators have been involved with, as is the series’ depiction of sexuality and its fluid interpretation of masculinity. If James Bond is a man that men want to be and women want to be with, Larry Hard is a man that men want to be with, too.
In one particularly memorable scene, Larry goes undercover in prison where he has violent sex with a talkative inmate in order to uncover his next clue. The inmate in question is played by Thomas M Wright, who not only appeared in Van Diemen’s Land but also alongside Redding in Baal, as the pansexual titular character. Both Wright and Mark Winter, who plays Larry in Cop Hard, are Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm alumni.
Redding nevertheless believes that the similarities have little to do with a genuine thematic preoccupation and more to do with the nature of collaboration and the creative environment that these groups are working in. “It’s chicken-and-the-egg-type stuff,” he says. Auf der Heide is a little less circumspect. “I haven’t had any involvement with any of those theatre productions, but there’s definitely similarity in all those works and what was going on with Cop Hard,” he says. “But it’s probably just the result of a bunch of like-minded people banding together and fighting the good fight against conservative entertainment.”
“That said,” he adds, correcting me, “I don’t think Larry Hard and Alexander Pearce could be any more different. Pearce never drives the story of Van Diemen’s Land. I wanted him to be a victim of circumstance. Larry, on the other hand, has free rein to do whatever he wants. He drives the story to unpredictable places because he can do anything without consequence.”
As for the consequences of releasing the series online, with the audience free to donate via PayPal if they like what they see, the pair has found the break from feature film distribution enlightening. “We’d been financially crippled making Van Diemen’s Land,” auf der Heide says. “We wanted to cut out the middle-men—the distributors and exhibitors—by giving something directly to the audience.”
“We loved the freedom of doing a web series where you don’t have to cater for a mass demographic or satisfy a third party. With Cop Hard we could take risks because our aim was to purely indulge a niche audience who we know would love it. The donation system is working well and hopefully, as the show grows in popularity, it will cover its costs. Which is something we’ll never be able to say about Van Diemen’s Land.”
“We’re getting a lot random views out of places like Mexico, Brazil and Turkey,” Redding says, “though most of the interest is coming out of the States. A project like this will always start by finding its feet in and around the friends you have and any industry connections who might be interested, but your core fan base is always going to come from somewhere else. That’s the great thing about the web. As a distribution platform, it isn’t really the future anymore. It’s the present.”
NOTE: Footballer-turned-filmmaker Charles C Custer, the series’ US-based director, was hunting numerous species of animal at the time of this interview and was unavailable for comment. On the basis of his unprofessional, borderline-offensive interviews in other publications, this strikes the author as no real loss.
Cop Hard: http://cophard.tv/
RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. 30
© Matthew Clayfield; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com