Monday, 28 April 2008

Guilty Pleasures of the Cinematic Kind

After trying, and failing, to write a sequel to Death Of A Salesman, Emma J. Lennox has returned to bestow upon faithful readers her deepest, darkest, and most shameful cinematic favorites. Enjoy!

This guilty pleasure series has brought out a bizarre competitiveness in me. Looking at my esteemed colleagues choices I can’t help but think I can beat them with guiltier sins than hip indie Clerks or nerdy Star Trek. To this end I will be discussing two of the most ridiculous, stupid movies ever committed to film, one of which took me years to watch, because my deep felt embarrassment wouldn’t let me rent or purchase the video. It was only through the joys of anonymous internet shopping that the DVD finally made its way to my clammy hands.

My love of the auteur Trey Parker began, as it did for most, with South Park and although the crude animation is shocking and amusing in equal measures, it’s far too well written and intelligent to be a guilty pleasure. Parker’s first film, Cannibal! The Musical (1996), however, is prime beef. Parker made the feature, with friend and co-writer Matt Stone, during their days at Colorado University, and as a student film it is an impressive, highly successful production. On many other levels, however, it’s just plain stupid, and that’s exactly why I love it. Cannibal! The Musical comes with a whole range of quotable lines and catchy songs to amuse your friends with for hours (and years) so if you’re feeling happy, why not burst into the shpadionkal song and share your joy with the world?

“The sky is blue, and all the leaves are green,
My heart’s as full as a baked potato,
I think I know, precisely what I mean,
When I say it’s a shpadoinkal day”

Cannibal! The Musical is the tale of real life 19th Century convicted cannibal Alfred Packer (played by a dewy eyed Parker) and his attempts to guide a group of miners through wintry Colorado to beat the gold rush. Parker keeps key events and names, but fictionalises Packer as a sweetly na├»ve cowboy who only wants to spend time riding the love of his life; his horse Leanne. But it’s the little details of nonsense which really tickle me stupid. A Native American tribe which shelter the miners and supply food are played entirely by Japanese actors dressed as stereotypical Indians. There is also the appearance of a squirty eyed cyclops and the miner's ever growing, more rubbish looking fake beards. It all has a Pythonesque quality about it, like a hit and miss Holy Grail made for a smaller budget. If Camelot “tis a silly place” then Parker's soundtrack of original songs make Colorado equally ridiculous. Each of the ramshackle band of characters have a moment to shine in the up lifting and purposefully hammy “That's all I'm asking for” in particular earnest George Noon (Dian Bachar) when he sings “I don't need it every night, every morning would be just fine, a little sex that's all I'm asking for”. But the musical highlight for me comes later, when the starved and weary men stumble further into untracked territory, the optimistic and always happy Swan has an idea and it's in musical form.

“Let's build a snow man! We can make him our best friend. We can name him Tom or we can name him George! We can make him tall, or we can make him not so tall. Snowman!”


During the instrumental section, Swan even performs a tap dance in soft snow as the puzzled travelers look on. This turns out to be Swan's swan song as he is brutally shot in the head, mid chorus, by the group's preacher and becomes the first meal on the menu. In a hilarious reprise, the group comment on the dead but smiling face of their former companion, “it's like he's going to sing a song” says Noon. The camera zooms in, the musical cue begins... nothing happens. It's just a dead guy with half his head blown off. There is just enough silliness in Cannibal! The Musical to forgive the flatter moments including semi-serious romance song “This side of me,” poor quality sound recording and overacting by every bit part player. Yet Parker's comedy genius potential is in there, and it inspired me to track down some more of this fool's comedy gold.

The next Parker and Stone film I saw was Baseketball (1998) from the makers of Airplane! and the Naked Gun series. This is not a guilty pleasure, and doesn't fit strictly into the Parker canon, I simply mention it because it's the greatest sports comedy ever made. It's climax hits full whack what other sport-coms only ever allude to and yes it is better than Dodgeball, like dude, seriously! It was then I heard rumour of another movie, made a year earlier, written by Parker and retaining many of the cast of Cannibal! I remember surfing the dial up one day (dude, this was like ten years ago) and slowly uploading the title of the next film I wanted to see. It is about a Mormon duped into making porn films and becoming a super hero and it is called Orgazmo. As a 16 year old I vowed that one day I would watch Orgazmo, but just not then, not whilst I was living in my parent's home, with a communal TV, and brothers and cats in the house, and children playing on the street outside. Hell, even as a 26 year old a film titled Orgazmo would have to be really funny to justify it.

Orgazmo opens with a shot of the iconic Hollywood sign, below a title card fades in stating “Hollywood”. A beautifully stupid joke which confirmed that the £3 I paid for the DVD was worth it. The rest of the movie didn't disappoint either, yes it is in many ways a bad film, conventional even, but the humour is satirical and childish (or should that be boyish) in gleefully absurd ways. In another naive character Parker puts his pretty blue eyes to good use as the Mormon-cum-porn star (pun wasn't intended but if it fits it sticks) and once again the jokes riff off his innocence. This means every blasphemous 'Jesus!' gets an earnest “where?!” and “use your tongue for Christ's sake” is answered with “how would Christ benefit from me putting my tongue in someone's mouth?” There is fun too in the cheesy porn film which camps it up like an episode of 1960's Batman but with characters named 'Chowder boy' and arch nemesis 'Neutered Man'. In an ironic twist Chowder Boy (played by Dian Bachar again) is really a Phd science student and has created an actual Orgazmorator which turns the film into a bizarre genesis story for Parker's unlikely crime fighting hero.

Ok, it's bad. It's an embarrassingly silly film with base humour and some terrible jokes. But this guy went on to make South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999) and Team America (2004), 'more mature' may not be the way to describe Parker's development, but the sharper writing and more advanced technical skills all come from the raw talent evident in these early movies. My Orgamzo highlight is the credits, not only because it's the end of this enjoyably shameful experience, but because it features the best end credit track ever, played by Parker's band DVDA. Entitled “Now You're a Man” I found it on YouTube where some internet genius has posted it with clips of Zack Snyder's 300; a satirical swipe that Parker would surely appreciate. Guilty or not, you'll enjoy it.

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