December 30, 2010

Real Life, Real Nudity, and the Breast Actress

What follows is a type of confession. By that, I'm not saying that this is the sort of thing in which I admit that Ben Affleck is actually pretty good in Surviving Christmas. No, this is the sort of thing in which I admit that I'm not a very good person and don't particularly care.

There were two events that led me to post this. One was the brief mention of "real nudity"--the sort of nudity mentioned by Bill in which you see a featured actress' parts, and not a nameless, often faceless, stripper's. Real nudity is the sort of thing that intimately involves you in the life of a famous actress--irrevocable and invasive, it has very little to do with sex and quite a lot to do with the destruction of privacy. Also, it's awesome in every way and a few I'll never be able to articulate.

The other event is Bryant Frazer's piece on Fantasia--a leisurely and fair dissection of one of my favorite films. "Of course," you might think, "the Pastoral Symphony section is too goofy for words." What can I say? "If it accomplishes nothing else, it does seem pretty fucking 'pastoral?'" Anyhow, my band-aid having been fully removed, it's time to go for broke and tell my little story.

So I'm having a conversation about the greatest films of this era with a girl--a friend--who has just turned 21. My assignment, and hers as well, is to pick the major Academy Award categories (Picture, Director, Screenplay, and the four Acting categories), but for her lifetime instead of any particular year. I add on a pick for Foreign Film, not because pretentiousness gives me little cerebral erections, but because she came up with one first. And I try to avoid repeating films wherever possible. So here are my choices (I don't entirely remember hers, but they are non-terrible and non-interesting):

Best Picture 1989-Now: Pulp Fiction
Best Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Best Director: Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves
Best Supporting Actor: Samuel Jackson, Pulp Fiction
Best Supporting Actress: Lara Belmont, The War Zone
Best Foreign Film: Hero (I actually prefer Hable con ella, but she's already an Almodovar fan, and they're so close in my mind, I went with something I didn't think she had seen.)

So my list, if you know me, isn't particularly surprising. I feel no responsibility to mention less common films just to seem worldly, so I find the lack of anything idiosyncratic strangely idiosyncratic. My friend told me her list, listened to mine, and nothing of any particular value was discussed. Then I started thinking about my list.

It's not particularly interesting except for the fact that both of my best actresses play sexual victims. Lara Belmont is raped by her dad and sets her own breast on fire in front of her brother and still somehow comes out in better shape than my best actress, who basically allows her disabled husband to talk her into getting fucked to death by strangers. I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty great in There Will Be Blood, but he doesn't have to take a bowling pin in the butt. No doubt Day-Lewis, the consummate professional, would set his nuts on fire if the role depended on it--one thinks about the tears jerked from a hypothetical filming of My Left Ball--but the fact is that the sexual degradation of dudes isn't interesting. Not from a plot perspective, and not from a "real nudity" perspective.

Naked tits have value, even in this Google and external hard drive culture. Readily available, not to mention the most infantile valuable object ever conceived, a previously unavailable naked boob is very possibly one of the last true currencies. This isn't the sort of thing I'd write on resumes, and it isn't exactly uncommon, but I know if it's possible to see a famous girl's boobs. Which famous girl? Pretty much all of them. Is this a creepy sexual thing? Well, it's creepy, but it's not sexual.

I don't want to fuck Zooey Deschanel. I mean, sure I'd marry her, but that's not the point right now. First of all, putting aside all issues of taste and decency (and feminism), wanting to fuck her would be impolite; I don't know her. Also, she's a vegan and it's difficult (though not impossible) to make fun of someone cooler than you while you're fucking them. So to recap, if you walked up to me with a faceless picture of Zooey Deschanel's vagina, I'd decline on the grounds that I have better reasons to hate myself. But.

If you told me that there was in existence a completely authentic picture of Zooey Deschanel's face and naked boobs, I would fetishize that picture in the completely insane (and mostly asexual) way that people fetishize new photos of the Titanic under water. I mean, it's HER face and HER boobs.

You can never undo that.

Human interaction has come a long way. People can look, hopefully, at another person's picture on a dating site, and instead of thinking, "Is the possibility of having sex with this person worth getting stabbed in the throat with the smallest and least impressive member of a terrifying collection of mail-order ceramic pastel unicorns?" they think, "Well, at least he claims to love his mom." There's something kind of great about the optimism with which we face relationships these days. But it's total bullshit--more people than ever before know that most every aspect of polite society is the overcorrection we publicize to make up for how damaged and deranged we are all the time.

So I'll come right out and say it. When the film theory types talk about the voyeurism inherent in female screen nudity, they're on the wrong track. A voyeur has a goal, a point of view. That's not what happens when a girl is naked on screen. It's not about looking; it's about showing. Female nudity, real nudity, is truth--not the manufactured, italicized truth that shaky-cam and other verite techniques claim to be, and certainly not a documentary either. No, real nudity is better--more and less pure, it's theater and fiction and the girl you always wanted to see naked and a real person whose nudity can never be revoked. If you're the kind of person who'd rather see guys naked, then I apologize, but there simply isn't an analogue. A dick can be theater and fiction and desire, but no one ever thinks that to show your dick is to give away a piece of yourself. I hesitate to say that boobs--either literal boobs on display or literal boobs slightly hidden or metaphorical boobs commenting on the female experience or metaphorical boobs commenting on the nature of being an actress (metaboobs?)--are necessary aspects of any quality female performance, but my hesitation is based on shame and not analysis.

When it comes to my choice of best actresses, I'm more than willing to call myself a misogynistic pervert and call it a day. But the fact is that women will never play Day-Lewis' part in There Will Be Blood or Jackson's part in Pulp Fiction. Oh sure, the scales will balance and all that jazz, but there have been only a handful of men asked to carry a movie like Day-Lewis carries There Will Be Blood. To expect a role like that for a woman is simply childish.

But if our expectations of real nudity and film as a whole are a distilled and amplified concoction of theater, fiction, desire, and truth, maybe those women are the best actresses after all. How do you compete with a man who methodically rapes the country and beats a man to death? If you've seen Breaking the Waves, perhaps the analogy isn't far off.

December 16, 2010

UPDATED w/ANSWERS + WINNER: "Somewhere" Giveaway

Want to win a Somewhere prize-pack featuring a $25 movie theatre gift card, a copy of Lost in Translation on DVD, and, best of all, a Somewhere poster autographed by writer-director Sofia Coppola? Of course you do. To qualify, all you have to do is submit your answers to the quiz below along with your name and address to by Wednesday, December 22, 2010--the day Somewhere opens in select cities across the U.S.. (Speaking of which, this giveaway is limited to residents of continental North America.)

Alas, we only have one of these to hand out, and the winner will be drawn at random from among the correct entries.


A COPPOLA FAMILY QUIZ
1. How many Lisbon sisters are there in The Virgin Suicides? FIVE
2. Which actress did Sofia Coppola replace in The Godfather Part III? WINONA RYDER
3. What was the name of the magazine Francis Ford Coppola started in the 1970s?
CITY (though whether he started it or hijacked it is I guess open to debate)

4. Which of the following actors is NOT a member of Sofia Coppola's family: Nicolas Cage, Alicia Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, or Talia Shire?
ALICIA COPPOLA
5. How many Oscars do Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola have between them?
6 (five for Francis, one for Sofia)

6. What did Sofia Coppola use as a stage name in the 1980s?
DOMINO
7. Which of her father's films did Sofia Coppola co-write with him?
"LIFE WITHOUT ZOE," from New York Stories

8. Six degrees of separation: connect Stephen Dorff to Sofia Coppola pretending that Somewhere doesn't exist.
I loved reading this answer. Most of you used Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center to Nicolas Cage (Sofia's cousin as well as her Peggy Sue Got Married co-star). My personal answer to this was Stephen Dorff to Giovanni Ribisi (in Public Enemies), narrator of Sofia's The Virgin Suicides.

9. What is the pseudonym Anna Faris's character uses to check in with in Lost in Translation?
EVELYN WAUGH. (Everyone got this--I thought it'd be harder since it's not part of the film's Wikipedia entry.)

10. Sofia Coppola played a resident of what planet in Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace?
NABOO


Congratulations DANIEL NUNEZ of WORCESTER, MA. Your prize-pack is on the way. Daniel, for what it's worth, had the most esoteric answer to #8: Stephen Dorff to Stan Tracy (!) in I Shot Andy Warhol. (Veteran extra Tracy earlier drifted through Francis Coppola's The Cotton Club.)
My thanks to Focus Features for sponsoring this contest. In the meantime, carry on as you have been--intrigued to see something of a backlash forming against cult darling Scott Pilgrim. Lots of good stuff coming up, by the by, including our own Top 10 lists for the year. Any guesses?

December 03, 2010

Spy in Our Midst

If you're wondering why my Twitter avatar has been stealing the identities of others, well, blame Valve's brilliant "Team Fortress 2"--one of those countless obsessions that tend to crop up at the most inconvenient moments. But hear me out, blog patrons, I'm going somewhere with this.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the parameters of this game are basically identical to its prede
cessor: a multiplayer first-person shooter that pits two teams, comprised of nine classes (Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper and Spy), against each other in various wargames. Balance is the key to success--the advantages of one class can be circumvented by the advantages of another--and that's precisely what made the original game so popular. The same dynamic carries over, but a lion's share of the the sequel's lasting appeal lies in its backdrop. "TF2" takes place in a retro-futuristic version of the early 1960s, but what's interesting about this world is that it doesn't really try to parody the era in question. The game carries no pretensions beyond a series of visual and musical cues: it never lets you forget that it is a straightforward fiction created by people born several years after the fact--their idea of contemporary culture dictated by pastel comedies, Silver Age comic books and action movies.

Appropriately, this mentality extends to the purely conceptual inhabitants of "TF2". The classes were updated to reflect this new landscape; the characters in the first game were little more than faceless ciphers, but their '60s counterparts are given personalities based on an Americocentric view of the world. The Heavy is a meatheaded Russian; the Spy is an obnoxious Frenchman; the Medic is a straitlaced, sadistic German--and they all comment on their enemies' performance as they kill them. In an interview with Game Informer, writer Chet Faliszek talks about writing and casting actors for the classes:

"'Team Fortress' was fun, because we knew we wanted to make it sounds like what Americans in the '60s would have imagined these people had sounded like, not what they actually sounded like, which I think got some positive reviews and some negative reviews. Depending on what country you're from, because as we updated each nationality that nationality would be outraged that we got the accents wrong."

However, in terms of visual influence, the creators cite Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell and J. C. Leyendecker, all of whom came into prominence long before this period but reflect "TF2"'s aesthetic intentions quite well. The dominant question, then, is not "where are we" but "from where have we come"--and subsequently, we must imagine what forces have led us to this point in time. How did we come to accept these stereotypes? Why do they serve as cultural signifiers for the 1960s? What are these RED and BLU corporations that hire such men to kill one another? Supplementary materials expound upon a century-long war between two obscenely-powerful brothers vying for world domination, but most the specifics are left to the imagination. (The game's production/update blog humorously notes that the game was first created in 1963--the birth year of the modern conspiracy theory.)

After nearly a decade of production and innumerable rebuilds, "Team Fortress 2" was released in 2007 to great fanfare, and it has maintained a steady fanbase since then--thanks in no small part to Valve's savvy marketing campaign. Which brings me to the reason why I'm sharing this game with you, my fellow cinephiles: Valve has produced several promotional videos introducing the viewer to each member of the "Team Fortress" team. They were first utilized as trailers, and now release periodically to celebrate major updates to the game.
Over the past three years, these videos have caused enough ripples across the Internet that even those who are vaguely familiar with the game might cry "old meme." But in the interests of crossover (and passing my personal obsessions on to you), here's the "Meet the Team" series. (HD and fullscreen are highly recommended.)

Meet the Heavy
(2007) was the first video, released some five months before the game itself. I can't possibly imagine a better way to introduce the concept--recounting the mechanics of gameplay (can you devise a strategy to get past this bruiser?) while clearly stating that it would be driven by a deep sense of personality.




The dialogue flows beautifully, but pay close attention to the body language in Meet the Engineer (2007)--the subtle way that this pleasant, easygoing dude shifts his shoulders and grins as you slowly come to realize what sort of man he really is.





Later profiles would describe the Soldier as a rabid hawk who fought the Nazis independently ("I did three goddamn tours of duty and I wasn't even asked!"), but maybe you can already infer that from
Meet the Soldier (2007), which deftly intercuts two similar forms of insanity before smashing them together.




Using a format similar to that of Meet the Soldier, Meet the Demoman (2007) is the first video to directly acknowledge that the characters of "Team Fortress 2" are built on broad stereotypes. Describing himself as a "black Scottish cyclops," the Demoman laments that he is several times removed from the rest of his team--and by placing an angry, depressive interview against the chaos of the battlefield, the video operates as a harsh self-criticism on the use of tokenism in fiction. (The game reaches beyond the setting to further comment on the character's racial politics--a haunted sword called the "Eyelander" would later join pimp hats and afros as the Demo's accessories, further sneering at stereotypes by throwing them in our faces.)




Meet the Scout (2008) also toggles between "documentary interview" and "narrative violence," but blurs the line separating them--his self-congratulatory rhetoric is just as aggressive as his assault on the Heavy. By breaking the fourth wall and addressing the camera on such direct, physical terms, the video introduces the Scout as "that guy" we all know: that guy who's so consumed with talking about how great he is that it becomes a part of why he's so great.




Meet the Sniper (2008) is accompanied by a lovely homage to Lalo Schifrin's title theme from Magnum Force. Most of these videos are in one way or another about the love affairs between men and their weapons of choice. But like the opening title sequence of that film, the video concludes that there are only three things that matter in this world: a man, his gun, and the job. (Whether or not the world outside will understand is another matter entirely.)




We have yet to see Meet the Pyro or Meet the Medic, but Valve filled the gap with Meet the Sandvich (2008), the promo that introduced the titular health item to the Heavy's inventory. By now, the writers are confident that you can recognize their characters--and imagine their hilariously perverse scenarios--without seeing anything at all. The closing shot, functionally identical to the closing shot of Meet the Heavy, establishes that "Team Fortress 2" has developed a culture unto itself.



The same goes for Meet the Spy (2009), which shoves four of its most abrasive personalities into one room without a second thought. This one appears to break the mold set by previous videos--concentrating on BLU characters in an exclusively narrative setting--but it takes an appropriate route by presenting the cutthroat Spy as a man known only by reputation. With that in mind, I like how the video lightly touches upon the fact that these mercenaries are the same characters on either side of the war. Who better to deliver this monologue than the man "closest" to the subject?




Valve has certainly capitalized on the potential that these wonderful short films provide, encouraging viewers to link and share them at their own discretion; while the videos themselves are technically copyrighted, their title cards are labeled with the same notice in fine print: "COPYRIGHT LOLOLOL." Further updates--new items, achievements and voice clips--make direct reference to their stories and dialogue. What's important to understand is that these additions never feel like excessive self-regard or autocannibalism. They simply add to the growing universe of "Team Fortress 2". Is it so difficult to imagine this band of mercenaries watching these videos and studying up on their rivals? Constantly rewriting the rules of their own meta-world, Valve sees "TF2" as as a crossroads between media--a cinematic experience as well as a playable experience.

Because of that artistic malleability, the idea of "interactivity" must be held under close scrutiny. "Team Fortress 2" is an online strategic-multiplayer FPS, so the thing is practically built on player interaction. (Trolls notwithstanding.) Like any good enterprise, Valve pays close attention to how the fans interpret and reinterpret their work--but most interesting is how they incorporate and facilitate those interpretations. One minor example: when players found that they could contort the Spy into a bizarrely unnatural position, Valve referenced the resultant joke as a character taunt.


Fan art has always been encouraged (and design contests have been used to introduce new items!), but one particularly notable outlet is
machinima. Through the use of sandbox tools like Garry's Mod, players can fool around with the basic elements of specific video games. Given free reign over character models and environments--with a library of sound clips at their disposal--users can take screenshots, create their own games, and yes, make their own movies. While Garry's Mod and machinima in general have been around for a good long while, it shouldn't come as a surprise that these specific characters have inspired a wealth of fan films. Creative output ranges from the straightforward...




... to the parodic...




... to the bizarre...




... to the surreal.






"Team Fortress 2" films have become an everyday occurrence on YouTube, and every time there's an update to the game, the new material is almost immediately folded into that collective. Of course, none of these concepts are exactly new. Any popular artistic property will produce
in-jokes and memes--the very idea of pop culture is built on these foundations. As evidenced by the movie references in those fan videos, communities aren't born in a vacuum. But what really fascinates me about "Team Fortress 2" is how it crafted something so self-contained while laying its influences out on the table. It thrives on a system of give and take. It's a '60s-mod landscape that is at once defined and unrestrained by its setting. it's a cult of personality constructed around characters who are self-admitted stereotypes but completely unique all the same. It makes perfect sense that artists and filmmakers would blossom from this particular subculture.

Further reading/watching: Andrew Kepple's Spy & Pyro (a lovely cartoon that recreates the game in its own image in service to a very silly pun); Valve's "The Insult that Made a 'Jarate Master' Out of Sniper" (a perfect spoof of the famous Charles Atlas ad that introduced a disturbing new item to the game); Joe Horan's Meet the Spy (a fan cartoon made before the official video was released, complete with the popular Spy memes and sound clips); FineLeatherJackets' Sniping's a Good Job, Mate (something like a Kids in the Hall sketch); Scoutellite's Scout Becomes a Satellite (weird for the sake of weird--and kind of amazing).

And speaking of recommendations, you damn well better have read Walter's review of Black Swan by now--it's the most incisive analysis of Aronofsky's film that I've read thus far.

November 27, 2010

My Favourite Music Videos: "Across the Universe" (1998, d. PT Anderson)


Fiona Apple - Across The Universe
Uploaded by samithemenace. - Watch original web videos.

Of the four videos Paul Thomas Anderson directed for then-girlfriend Fiona Apple, this one, their first collaboration, is by far my favourite, though "Paper Bag" is quite good and indicates that Anderson has a glitzy Hollywood musical in him--or at least a Pennies from Heaven-style critique of one. The other two might represent him getting some delayed student-film impulses out of his system, and consequently they're somewhat risible in their contrived artiness. He's still recognizably himself in "Across the Universe," doing relatively long takes (especially for the medium), shooting in 'scope*, and even slipping in a John C. Reilly cameo.

Rejuvenating a music-video standby (fiddling while Rome burns), "Across the Universe" is a tie-in clip for Pleasantville that takes place in that film's soda shop and re-enacts--with a visceral impact and visual sumptuousness that makes you wish Anderson had helmed Pleasantville instead of Gary Ross--the riot visited upon it by the titular town's black-and-white residents, who object to the polychromatic painting decorating its glass façade. (Here, unlike in the movie proper, the park bench that goes flying through the window has the ferocious impact of Mookie's garbage can, shocking colour out of the image.) But dollying into the establishment, Anderson gets comically distracted by the pretty girl: snaking illogically but determinedly around a corner and past the looters as if following the siren song, the camera finds the mesmerizing Apple, looking for all the world like a flower child drawn by Disney. She's wearing headphones, and her presence seems to have a similar effect on Anderson, who blots out the world with blissful ignorance. Oh, he tries to zoom out or pan away from her, snatching a few choice glimpses of dreamily-choreographed mayhem in the process, but he clearly can't resist the magnetic pull of her face. While plenty of videos fetishize the hot singer chick, so few of them feel like this, that is to say genuinely infatuated; and those moments when Apple's not on screen suggest a bashfulness on the part of Anderson more than anything else. (The unwavering use of slo-mo is definitely a contributing factor to the sense of lovestruck awe, reminding of that cornball homily from Big Fish: "They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops.") Before long she engages him (or is it the other way around?) in a kind of flirtatious game of chicken, testing him as she tilts her head to the side and what we'll call his P.O.V. follows suit until both are upside-down defying gravity. It's silly, it's romantic, and it's the kind of abstract idea that lends itself to the music-video form. Behold, the stupidity of the mutually besotted.

I think of Tarantino's pastiches as letting me see all the schlock that influenced him through rose-tinted glasses. Similarly, it's hard to come away from this video not pining a little for Fiona Apple, because the piece is so palpably taken with her. That her cover of this Beatles favourite is gorgeous just adds icing to the cake.

*Unfortunately, I couldn't find a version of it in its original aspect ratio on the Internet.

November 10, 2010

Walking Dead 1:2


Something that's been bugging me since the first episode reveal that Officer Dipshit's slut wife was doing Ponch somewhere in the Georgia wood is the timing of everything. Let's say that the assumption was made for whatever reason that our moron hero died when the hospital was overrun - and let's say that people can survive for about a week or so without water. And then let's say that his IV ran out probably later the same day that his unit nurse got lunched on by the shambling horde... doesn't that mean that he couldn't have remained in a coma for much more than a week, and doesn't that mean that his wife decided to do the ol' protein exchange survival strategy not much more than a week after her husband maybe died?

That's maybe why the opening of episode two, in which the wife gets doggy-styled in the wilderness while we look at her wedding ring in extreme foreground, left such an ugly taste in my mouth. Either this fucking whore was already cheating on her husband or she's doing what she's doing to provide for her kid and really misses Officer Doofus. You can't have it both ways, Frank Darabont.

Anyway - the fact that none of these characters are worth a shit is the least of the "Walking Dead's" problems. Not when there's a speech in eps. 2 in which we're told that there's no such thing as "black" and "white" anymore, man, it's just the living and the dead. Not when ace B-man Michael Rooker is wasted completely as some slavering gomer who's the punchline to the worst CGI "oops" since that hot conehead girl ate a Subway sandwich in a few bites to the delight of Chris Farley. Not when there's a Short Round character dropping one-liners and no-time-for-love-Dr.-Jones bon mots before descending into the sewers for no good reason but that whatever dunce directed this episode wanted their very own matchbook-in-a-stairwell sequence.

My fave, though, is when our heroes stand around slack-jawed as they smash into a zombie corpse (but not before Sheriff Andy delivers a soulful speech over it) and expect not to get any zombie gristle in their chops. They do that, see, because they want to roll around in it so the other zombies can't smell their freshness. And then it rains.

Bullshit.

Stupid bullshit, besides.

And what's the deal with the racial representation? It's like the friggin United Colors of Bennetton up there on the rooftop of the Only Department Store in Atlanta.

I'm done. This show has gone from pretty godawful to unwatchable in two weeks, and, folks, life is short.

November 01, 2010

Walking Dead 1:1


Soooo... I was pretty geeked about this series despite Frank Darabont's involvement in it. I liked The Mist rather a lot but he seems regularly to squander opportunities for horror in favor of syrup and, y'know, hard to say which Darabont was gonna' show for an adaptation of Robert Kirkman's Image comic series. Jury's still out. The problem I have is that main character Deputy Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is a fucking idiot. He makes bad choices, seems inconsistent in his acceptance/comprehension of the zombie apocalypse, and, lamentably, exists in a scenario that doesn't sensibly punish him for his idiocy.

Consider that when he returns home after bumbling about in hospital (in straight ripper of 28 Days Later) and making his way through a few impressive environments, he makes quite a spectacle of himself in his house and neglects to dress and arm himself upon his departure. Immediately after, a sympathetic father/son survivor unit warn him that any excessive noise draws the "walkers" (in a world without George Romero, I guess, you call them something else) which leads to The First Night in which Deputy Grimes' suburbia is seen crawling with nocturnal baddies (in a straight ripper of I Am Legend which is, by the by, also not about zombies). The idea that zombies would be more active at night is curious to me - and to the makers of the series as well, apparently, as soon enough our moronic hero rides a horse (!) into the middle of downtown Atlanta into a horde of the hungry undead in broad daylight.

It's not smart. It's kind of stupid, actually. Stupid being exactly what Romero's zombie movies are generally not. Honestly, whenever anyone in a deserted hospital that's obviously the scene of violence decides to go into an unlit stairwell with a pack of matches; well, son, you've already lost me - and most likely for the duration.

Like the scene where Deputy Grimes and his buddies take a hot shower at the local police station, a-whoopin' and a hollerin' in appreciation of one of modernity's luxuries: lost to the horde! But what about the noise? And what about Grimes' complete non-acceptance of the infestation despite witnessing scary hands and a half-eaten body at the hospital? And what about his failure to ask one of his former colleagues if there's any Bub in there after the "sickness" took hold? And what about the stupid cross-cutting between Grimes dispatching a cool-looking zombie chick out of... mercy (in a scene so poorly established that I did wonder for a few moments if the monster was his wife), and his buddy trying to shoot his zombied-out wife and failing in fits of unsympathetic weeping? What's it all about?

Hoping for the nihilism of The Mist, I'm sort of thinking that Walking Dead is more akin to the Eisenhower-era relational melodrama of The Majestic. As it's written so far - with the dumbass dialogue, the wooden performance, the stupid actions of its stupid characters (the wife's hooked up with moron Ponch? who gives a shit about any of these douchebags?) - there's not much hope for me that this derivative though often handsome-looking series is going to be much more than heartfelt pap with occasional gore: zombies your mom could love (to go along with the "Dragon Tattoo" series' ugly rape-revenge-sploitation you could take your grandma's sewing circle to).

Sure, I'll hang with it a couple more installments... but I'm just saying...

October 31, 2010

R.I.P.

The first screening that I attended in a professional capacity was for a now-forgotten piece of quaint English shit, Greenfingers. It was at Denver’s historic Mayan theater, run by Landmark, and I was only the third person to arrive after the lovely publicist, who used to be on a soap opera and has since moved out of the market, and local radio show host Reggie McDaniel. I was nervous – scared, really – and he was kind. He was, in fact, the only person genuinely kind to me for the first couple of months on my new beat – my other colleagues were suspicious of me in exactly the way that I find myself suspicious of all the new faces that show up at screenings in the Denver area nowadays. Reggie passed away a couple of months ago after a long illness so long that I’d started to think of him as invincible. In a lot of ways, his congestive heart failure brought back the last two years of my father’s life for me – I was hoping to replay it, I think, with dad pulling through this time. But he didn’t, and Reggie didn’t. And it’s been hard for me to make it back to the Cineplex ever since his passing. If my output seems anemic lately, well, it has been.

Reggie called his show the “Every Day People’s Guide” and listening to him, and then reading me, you’d be hard pressed to find a lot of common ground. We both loved horror films, but where he tended to find something positive to say about everything that he saw, I tend to find something negative. It’s just the way our critical muscles attached to our public skeletons, I guess, but it didn’t stop Reggie from inviting me onto his show on a few occasions, nor from encouraging me when I was most frustrated by my treatment by an industry that, frankly, doesn’t owe you any favors and knows it. He was wiser than I am still. He told florid stories, gory with embellishment (I think), about times he tried to kill commanding officers with lab rats and his stint as a drill instructor, using them as explanation for his genuine philanthropy. Everyone noted with irritation that he seemed always to be on his phone. Not everyone knew that he was fielding calls from crack addicts, ex-whores, and assorted convicts he’d taken under his wing and into his home. Reggie said he had a lot to atone for.
The truth about Reggie is that he was a keen critic with a good eye who understood that the only way he could parlay his passion for film into something like a living wage was to bank on his expansive personality and play to the dumbest person in his audience. The thing is that he did it without condescension. It’s something that I couldn’t do – and something that I couldn’t always resist judging him for. But in private conversations, he revealed to me a depth of understanding – and a clear, precise way of expressing himself – that belied his persona as the affable buffoon; his careful presentation as the voice of the people. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t know what to feel about that. It’s the part of me that probably needs to lighten up.

I remember a screening of Mulholland Drive where, midway, Reggie muttered “What the hell?” in what might be the most honest initial reaction to the picture. I remember a BBQ dinner at a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall called “Blest” that has, alas, since folded and disappeared, in which a few fellow diners at first disdainful of Reggie in his purple suit were won over by the end by his good humor. I remember telling Reggie that if we were religious at all we’d ask him to be godfather to our kids and him saying that it was just about the greatest thing he could think of that it would even cross our minds – us being not religious at all, and all. I mostly remember shaking his hand and patting his shoulder at every screening, asking after his health and him asking after my “beautiful wife” and “beautiful kids.” He made me feel welcome and safe at every screening that I attended for almost a decade. I miss him.

I met George Hickenlooper after a lecture he gave at the Aspen Shorts Festival several years ago. I approached him after and expressed admiration for his thoughts and the breadth of his knowledge and he agreed to an interview the next morning in the lobby of his hotel. He was modest, unassuming, and ferociously honest about his experiences in Hollywood and the people he met there. During a fest in which I met people like Alexander Payne and Bruce Beresford, it was Hickenlooper that I stayed in contact with. Later, during the Denver Festival a couple of months later, George called to ask that I withdraw the transcript of the interview that we did together because of a possibly embarrassing revelation. I remember talking to him while I stood in a crowded upstairs hall at the filmcenter, waiting for a screening. I remember telling him “no.”

“Listen,” he said, “I really like you and that’s why I told you those things. You’re smart, you did your homework, and I thought we had made a connection.” I responded that I felt that we had as well and that if only he had indicated that his remarks were off the record, I surely would have respected that. I have an entire interview with Bob Rafelson that I can’t ever share because at the end of it he said to me “Oh, hey, all of this is off the record.” Ethics. I felt wounded that George would ask me to be something other than what I was because he was embarrassed that he’d told me too much. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about others doing this job that is, essentially, sitting by yourself in a dark room and then sitting by yourself in front of a little lit square and a keyboard. I’m conflicted again.

Hickenlooper was back in town this year for this year’s edition of the Denver Film Festival. I’d reached out to him through Facebook; I’d hoped that we could have a drink and put it behind us and talk again, as we had years ago, about the auteur theory, and what a boob Bogdanovich could be, and Welles, and final cuts and confederate ghosts. I saw it as a way to get back on the proverbial horse, maybe cover this fest again with the same kind of enthusiasm and gusto as I had before I lost my shit and let my frustrations with what you can’t control get the better of me. I’d even chatted with a fest director that I’d alienated some time in the past and done my best to bury the hatchet. Truth be told, I was almost moved to tears to see him.

And then Hickenlooper was found dead at the age of 47 in his hotel room. With apologies to Nick Ray, it’s a lonely place. With apologies to Cory McAbee, this space is a lonely town. R.I.P. Reg, R.I.P. George. Welcome to the downhill side.

October 25, 2010

Watch Out Where The Wehrmacht Goes

Good Hallow's Eve, my children of the night, my darling spectres and succubi. Gather close. Closer still. Are you sitting comfortably? Right. Let me tell you a tale, my little sex pumpkins.

Let me tell you what a shitty movie
Dead Snow
is.



This derivative Norwegian lump (
Død Snø) made a stir on the festival scene back in 2009, and its trailers became an online sensation. Nazi zombies! How fun! How new! But I'm pretty convinced "Nazi zombies" was just the incantation that summoned earnest money from investors, who'd never heard of a little gem of Cushingiana called Shock Waves.



Look at that! Not just Nazi zombies, but underwater Nazi zombies. That's amping things up a bit.


I digress. Thing is, Nazi zombies, unless deployed in a correct context, are no scarier or more dangerous than regular zombies. Once risen, all zombies are equal, no matter what they did in life. We know that barricading oneself in a snowbound cabin with an undead horde outside is an untenable position, so does it really matter if the walking corpses are wearing Schutzstaffel armbands, or lederhosen, or nothing at all?

Not unless you're going to take it all the way. What do Nazis do that's bad? Two things come to mind, and since the setting of
Dead Snow is the ass-end of the fjords, we can discard "annexing the Sudetenland." If the trapped protagonists, each just vague silhouettes of slasher-flick victim stereotypes, had some personal or ancestral stake in the matter -- if one or more of them were Jewish, say, or if they were the only ones in a position to repel a Nazi zombie putsch into the population centers -- that makes a difference. If the zombies had some ultimate purpose beyond, apparently, safeguarding the gold they looted during the war and killing any warm human who snowshoes onto their glacier -- that makes a difference. If their undeath spread like disease, as zombiehood usually does, and victims risked being transformed not just into walking corpses but into doctrinaire National Socialists ... you see where I'm going. Real monsters are metaphors, and these monsters are devoid of any meaning deeper than a uniform and a snarl.


The filmmakers would probably rather we not discuss politics, but they brought it up. Nazis are political, and any cinematic impact they carry is rooted in their well-recorded misdeeds. (I mean, they recorded them themselves.) I fear we're moving too far away from that history, so there's no shame in proving Godwin's Law anymore. Dead Snow is like a facet of the Tea Party protests, where fringies decry national health care with reductio ad Hitlerum placards -- for shock value, just to get the cameras turned their way.

Dead Snow's posthumous brownshirts, although acting in an organized military fashion, aren't driven by any racist or nationalist ideology or even a hunger for brains. It's dangerous in that it's so free of real-world reference. Even
Shock Waves had the sense to touch on Nazi medical butchery, to make the gimmick matter. Raiders of the Lost Ark highlighted the Nazis' territorial aggression and racial doctrine, and then meted out God's incinerating justice.

Halloween movie fests are a tradition. It's fun to select a stack of flicks for your party or sleepover and indulge in a case of the creeps, or the titters. Dead Snow is available on Netflix Instant Watch. Avoid it. Don't rent the disc, don't torrent the stream. I don't care how much you love ScandiHorror -- this is not Let the Right One In. As horror spoofs go, this is not even Shaun of the Dead and it's a hell of a long way from Evil Dead 2. It's just a waste.

Okay, I misspeak -- there's
one good kill. One! A Nazi zombie hooks his fingers into a fat guy's eye sockets and pulls until his skull splits and his still-living brain flomphs out on the cabin floor. That's ... pretty awesome. But it's just a garnish on a bucket of vacuous bilge, something that's hollow and desperate at best and, at worst, subtly corrosive to the untutored conscience.

You know what else is on Netflix Instant? Shock Waves.


To end on a positive note: I'd love to know the fright films, if any, that find their way to your home screen around Halloween time. My touchstones are the Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and From Beyond, the first Alien, and select Hammer fare including, but not limited to, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Please share in comments ... and Happy Halloween, my tumescent sin biscuits.

October 17, 2010

Goodnight, June

Though I always have "Leave it to Beaver" on the brain, I was thinking about Barbara "June Cleaver" Billingsley specifically just the other day, thinking about how the only thing that convinced me to watch the Muppets in cartoon form, which seemed vaguely sacreligious--and cheap--at the time (circa 1985), was that Billingsley provided the voice of Nanny. The show of course was "Muppet Babies", and while I recall very little of it at this point, I can still hear Billingsley interrupting the opening theme to ask, "Is everything all right in here?" It tickled me then and tickles me now that two of my most (if not the two most) formative amusements intersect in some fashion.

Like her "Beaver" co-star Hugh Beaumont, Billingsley, born Barbara Combes in 1915, drifted back and forth between uncredited parts in film (Invaders from Mars) and bigger showcases on TV series that didn't last ("Professional Father", "The Brothers") before landing the role that would make her an icon. Just what kind of icon is, I guess, up for debate--today there's a tendency to look down on June Cleaver, but I look up, at this towering domestic goddess, whom Billingsley played with warmth, dignity, great humour, and a poignant dash of anxiety. She did housework in pearls, but context is everything: Ward wore a suit to the dinner table.

"Leave it to Beaver" was not actually a hit in first run, and Billingsley quietly retreated from showbiz after the series ended in 1963. (Fittingly, in June.) But syndication had an effect on the show similar to the one it had on "Star Trek"; by 1980, Billingsley was being sought out by the makers of Airplane! for a cameo that traded on the incongruity of the erstwhile Mrs. Cleaver speaking ebonics. She never looked back. Over the next two decades, Billingsley would alternate mild subversions of her alter ego with a resurrection of the real McCoy in the TV movie Still the Beaver and its sitcom spin-off. By the time they made "Leave It to Beaver" into a feature film in the television-adaptation-happy '90s, she was old enough to play stodgy Aunt Martha, but she was nonetheless woefully miscast. Too lovely. Too hip.

Barbara Billingsley died yesterday at 94. But she lives on.

From the first great episode of "Leave it to Beaver", season one's "The Haircut." June's reaction to Beaver's haircut is priceless--talk about an underrated comedienne:


Billingsley's infamous "I Speak Jive" scene from Airplane!:

October 10, 2010

Requiescat In Genre


From the New York Times, Oct. 8:
Roy Ward Baker, an undersung British filmmaker who directed “A Night to Remember,” a vivid black-and-white rendering of the sinking of the Titanic revered by history and movie buffs alike, died on Tuesday in London. He was 93.
Thirteen paragraphs later:
When he returned to feature films, it was largely to work for Hammer, the British studio most associated with horror films. His movies in that period included “The Vampire Lovers” (1970), a tale of revenge and bloodlust that was especially notable for its two nude scenes; and “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” (1971), a campy adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic that adds a soupçon of erotic intrigue by making the good doctor’s evil alter ego a woman.
Let me pose this question: Who the fuck remembers A Night To Remember? It's thoroughly occluded in popular recall by every shipwreck-disaster flick to arise from The Poseidon Adventure on. And really, who gives a shit about the sinking of the Titanic when you could be looking at these? (NSFW.)


I'm saying this hyperbolically, not to argue that Baker's near-documentary accomplishments in A Night To Remember pale next to a few bared knockers. What I'm saying is that Baker's B-pictures have achieved a life well beyond his mainstream work, yet his obituarists felt compelled to log them almost as footnotes, not as part of his respectable portfolio.
American journalism -- unless it's specialized, unless there's some unforeseen eruption into the popular culture (Twilight, Harry Potter), or unless a star reporter chooses to go slumming -- has a notoriously tin ear for genre art. There's a received wisdom about what's important, and that wisdom often overlooks the obvious. Like, say, the fact that Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is still screened, discussed, and even worshipped in a way that Tiger In the Smoke (1956) never was. In the battle to write the obit's lede, the Golden Globe winner tops the midnight movie favorite anyday, and those episodes of "The Avengers" and "The Saint" are carrion for crows.


I noticed this tendency to obscure the genre triumphs of deceased luminaries after Patricia Neal died back in August. From the Los Angeles Times:
"Three Secrets" (1950), "Operation Pacific" (1951), "Raton Pass" (1951), "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951), "Diplomatic Courier" (1952) and "Something for the Birds" (1952) were hardly films to make her a memorable star.
Well, sniffy sniff sniff. Neal's posthumous plaudits were for her outstanding dramatic performances, deservedly, and for her astonishing victory over family trauma and near-fatal brain afflictions; the overall arc of her life is amazing. But I'd wager more people now have seen The Day the Earth Stood Still, and been more deeply affected by it, than have ever seen Hud. The classics of science fiction and fantasy are not ghettoized the way we were brought up to believe, and haven't been for a long time — at least since the B-movies became A-list in the late '70s, and the whole world starting flocking to sharksploitation flicks and space adventures.
Steven Spielberg has Oscars now, although he had to all but abandon science fiction to win them. When his obit gets written, which paragraph will pay tribute to Raiders of the Lost Ark?

October 04, 2010

Make Room! Make Room!


"You are tearing me apart, Lisa!"

Last week, I saw The Room for the first time. I had been aware of its dodgy reputation for a long while--friends in
Hollywood had told me about the perplexing billboard that stood there for a good five years, as well as the various midnight screenings that took place around the Los Angeles area--but there were two roughly concurrent assessments of the film that finally prompted me to sit down and watch it. The first was Newgrounds' "The Room Tribute", a Flash game that recreates the events of the movie as a 16-bit RPG. The other was Alex Jackson's brief paragraph in a comment on the FFC Blog: "Speaking as a 'bad movie' buff, I actually hated it. Made me feel like it would be cruel to laugh. The content is just not abstract enough to benefit from Wiseau's ineptness." Whether it was bad or merely "bad," this was something that I needed to have in my life. Now, I'm hardly an authority on bad movies, but it's always fun to hunt down the most infamous titles and find out how you react. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cringe, and sometimes you find something worthy of honest appreciation. One of the biggest surprises was Phil Tucker's Robot Monster, which was so many kinds of fucked-up that, deep down, it seems somewhat aware of its own ridiculousness; not blinded by Ed Wood's giddy appreciation for cinema, but a story that needed to be told nonetheless. It was only a matter of time before I got around to The Room, but I can't remember the last time I reacted so violently to a "good" bad movie.
The follies of The Room are well-documented: characters repeat the same lines with bizarre regularity; subplots involving breast cancer and a violent drug dealer are forgotten almost as soon as they're introduced; character motivations seem to change mid-sentence. I have to disagree with Alex on one major point--it would be cruel to laugh, but only because the movie is impossible to comprehend. A man, Johnny (actor/writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau (he gives himself a title card for each role)), his "future wife" Lisa (Juliette Danielle), his "best friend" Mark (Greg Sestero) and his surrogate son Denny (Philip Haldiman)... it's true that the film's attempts at narrative are meager and straightforward (woman cheats on her fiancé with his best friend), but the execution goes beyond the pale. No matter how "good" The Room was supposed to be, or how much entertainment value it could provide as a "bad" film, I had no idea what I was watching. The film assumes that we know the characters more intimately than we actually do--did the final cut accidentally leave out a reel? The image looks a little out of place, a little too hazy, for something released in 2003--was it shot in 1987? The first half-hour alone features three sex scenes with the same woman, complete with some repetitive R&B--did Wiseau start out with a porno and fail spectacularly? Why do these people spend so much time playing catch with a football? Why do they fall down so often? Why? Why? Why?




Now, I haven't seen Best Worst Movie, so I can't say whether or not that film provides insight into the phenomenon of "so bad it's good." I have, however, seen Troll 2, the film whose fan base it documents. The dialogue is improbable and the leaps in logic are simply too far to make, but I don't recall ever being bewildered by the structure of it, exactly. It always feels broken beyond repair, but never outright dismantled. I laughed at Troll 2, but The Room's most inexplicable moments are lobbed at the viewer with such aggression that my first instinct was to curl up into a fetal position. The very least of these moments burrowed deep under my skin: when characters call each other "chicken," they don't cluck, they cheep--and Wiseau cheep-cheep-cheeps so many times throughout the movie that I began to wonder if he was making fun of me. Yes, watching The Room confused me, frightened me, and made me just a little paranoid. It's as if there was a joke, and I wasn't sure who was playing it, or whom the intended target was.Wiseau is a somewhat terrifying figure in his own right. He's a mysterious character whose background is fuzzy at best, with an accent that's impossible to place. How did he finance this thing? Again, the details are vague. Wiseau apparently wants to maintain some control over his image. (A one-sided "interview" with the director on the Room DVD also suffers from the movie's most glaring technical flaw--several lines from Wiseau's pre-chewed lectures have been looped in ADR.) But one thing's been bothering me ever since I met The Room with wide-eyed incredulity. If it's so unfathomable and the artistic failure is so complete--and, furthermore, if I can't laugh at it--why can't I regard Wiseau with the same sympathetic eye that I offered the fictional Joaquin Phoenix of I'm Still Here? "They don’t understand The Room was done intentionally to provoke the audience," Wiseau once told LAist, and that was certainly the impetus behind Phoenix's act. But while The Room certainly provoked me, I never actually believed that it did so intentionally. I feel that, if Wiseau ever tried to tell us that his escapades were a hoax, I would ferociously reject that claim. Why? If I embrace the fake clown but deride the real clown, doesn't that make me just as ignorant as Hollywood's condescending Oscar mill?



"I'll go off and beat off and you can lick the seat off. Later, muchacho."

Part of the problem has to be that Wiseau is difficult to pin down in terms of precedent. In fact, the closest approximation to
The Room that I can imagine is a parody of bad cinema. More specifically, a collection of cartoons produced by Something Awful in 2008--the saga of Peezle Ward. What began as an April Fool's Day joke eventually blossomed into a full-blown series about a fictional hack writer who has penned "more than 10 but less than a billion short stories." By "adapting" Ward's scripts in a brusque monotone, Dave Kelly and Josh Jones attempt to understand artists like Wiseau and pick apart the reasons for their failure. The first few episodes (Lawyer Street, Escape from Satan's Ass) establish Ward as obsessed with very important issues without knowing how to approach them: "I know rape is a very sensitive subject, but I believe I handled it very tastefully. It changes Frank forever. In the end, he believes in God. That's called character development. The self-rape was an analogy for time travel; I call it quantum rape." The rest of them (Ghost Unit, Fire Killers, Brave Aeronauts and Christmas in Essex) revolve around one all-conquering hero whose professional brilliance excuses his personality: "That black family thanked me for saving their lives. They didn't care that I had to hack up a dog to do it. May I remind you, officer, it was a black family."

Of course, it takes zero effort to link a dearth of talent to an enormous ego. But the Peezle Ward series tackles the very basic components of The Room by forcing its characters to spout exposition in long strings of static dialogue. More fascinating, and more important to this conversation, is how that dialogue is comprised almost entirely of circuitous insults from the author's surrogate/Mary Sue, Pete (or Tim, or Pip). The profane stream of consciousness mirrors Wiseau's belligerent direction quite well, and by the end of each cartoon you understand Ward as a terrible writer, a screaming misogynist, and utterly self-absorbed... and then you anxiously click over to the next installment, unable to look away. How will Pete stick it to his superiors this time? How will he (improbably) save the day? It makes just enough sense to force you into wondering where it's all coming from, and where it's all going. The series is a great satire because it's completely engulfed by the original source(s)--and if it doesn't completely decipher films like The Room, it explains their allure all too well.





"The Room Tribute" finally puts the rest of the pieces together. The player takes on the role of Johnny, and the game is presented exclusively from his point of view as he wanders in and out of the story proper. Plot holes are filled where necessary--the player has to take drug dealer Chris-R to the police, and we're there when Johnny learns that Lisa has accused him of domestic abuse--but most everything else is taken verbatim from the movie. (It even faithfully recreates the plodding soundtrack in chiptune.) An inventory and a turn-based battle system nominally make it a video game, but these conceits don't actually add up to a challenge. Collect spoons! Make sandwiches! Catch the ball! Throw the ball! Push your best friend! It's more about reacting to the silly plot than anything else. Johnny starts off with some six million dollars, and he never spends more than two hundred--not including the $50,000 used to pay Denny's college tuition in a single, negligible instant. So how can he possibly complain about an elusive promotion at the bank? By utilizing, and then ignoring, the interactivity inherent to the medium, "The Room Tribute" engages a conversation with the player/viewer about how Wiseau ignores nearly everything necessary to create dramatic tension.

"The Room Tribute" succeeds so well not just because it highlights the oddities of The Room, but because it acts as an interpreter of sorts. Now, the game cannot make sense out of the movie, per se. The new dialogue stands so far apart from the recreations of Wiseau's script that it cannot dilute the wackiness of the original work.
Rather, it presents The Room as a supernatural dreamworld. An earthquake cuts the characters off from the rest of San Francisco, defining the playing field in a move reminiscent of "It's a Good Life." Levels are divided into days, and most of them begin with a sequence inspired by the ending of "Super Mario Bros. 2". Every store in the four-block area is operated by the same woman (the owner of the flower shop in the movie), who always makes it a point to mention that Johnny is her "favorite customer."

The game goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Johnny is everyone's favorite--the banker's favorite employee, the cops' favorite citizen, San Francisco's favorite donator. To drive the point home, it's soon revealed that Johnny's big, "confidential" client at the bank is none other than Tommy Wiseau himself. Despite the fact that it sees the movie as beyond all reasonable logic, "The Room Tribute" knows that if it operates within a dreamworld, it must be Wiseau's dream. Again, that's hardly a revelation, but what the game does is isolate Wiseau's ego and labels it as the lone source of all that wackiness. The conclusion is that The Room isn't bad because of the stilted dialogue--it's bad because Wiseau has so little respect for the cast, the medium and the viewer. At the end of "The Room Tribute", the player can either act out the climax of the movie with Johnny, or lead him outside first. In the latter scenario, he will take his anger out
on the various people who have wronged him throughout the week. As he says in the film, "Everyone betrayed me; I'm fed up with this world." Tommy/Johnny is the hero of the story, the saint and the martyr, and that's all the more obvious when he becomes a video game protagonist from the late '80s/early '90s... one who barely does anything to deserve canonization.




What all of that means is that by "interpreting" The Room, "The Room Tribute" also cuts through the bullshit that makes it so difficult to approach. In the final analysis, what's so hard to grasp about an act of transparent narcissism? Portaying him as strange, artless, and not of this Earth, the game does see Wiseau is a provocateur, but not in any way that matters. "Joaquin Phoenix" was a passive character until we responded negatively to his public antics, and from there he revealed our prejudices about art and movie stars. With this big film about big important things ("do you understand life?"), Wiseau came out swinging, demanding our accolades right from the start, like a spoiled child. His artistic aggressiveness comes not from the inanity of his work, but from his self-satisfaction, and weirdness aside, that just makes The Room a run-of-the-mill bad movie. He prodded his audience, and contrary to his later claims, I don't think he ever expected them to prod back. True to his ego, he took in all in stride and grabbed all the attention he could get. The joke that drives "The Room Tribute" (ostensibly another outlet for Wiseau to exploit) is that it's the only tribute that The Room could possibly warrant. I laughed--and it was a catharsis that I desperately needed.

A subsequent viewing of The Room held no additional surprises for me--indeed, despite having a grand old time playing "The Room Tribute", I didn't take much joy from watching the moments that I now recognized as cult iconography. The veil of nonsense had been lifted, and the husk that remained just bored me stupid. I can't say anything for the midnight showings--they might be fun, after all--but they've given Wiseau license to peddle this film as an intentional comedy. No one actually believes him, but it's the mystique of the ultimate bad movie that keeps it alive, and that's far more than what the real movie deserves.