I saw three movies today -- and all for the price of one $4 matinee ticket. Joe and I drove down to Redwood City to catch "Trainspotting" at 2.50, "Bound" at 5.15, and "Beavis and Butthead Do America" at 7.10. Although Joe almost lost it and wandered the theater when we had to jump from the Bound-Trainspotting double feature to the theater next door for Beavis, I grabbed him by his sweatertails and we pulled off the poorperson's movie hop with finesse and down-low 'tude. Props to us.
I'll start with "Bound," because it requires the least amount of discussion. Bound is a top-notch film -- it violated none of my sensibilities, contained no gaping plot holes (as opposed to "Freeway," an otherwise decent film), suspended my disbelief, and titillated with some fire hot female protagonists. My mother had been urging this movie on me for months (or at least since its opening), and if you see the entire movie (I don't want to give anything away if you have not), you will instantly know why. It is a suspense thriller with class and style. A great film.
As to Beavis and Butthead -- I would say that is good -- a lot better than "Trainspotting" (puke) but a lot worse than "Bound." It was cute and clever, very funny at parts, and had some campy references to old movies and television shows, which I enjoyed, but it could have been shorter. I am not sure why Siskel and Ebert gave it such enthusiastic two thumbs up. Apparently it played into their base love of body gags -- farting, masturbating, and boob-watching. Sure, I have that in me as well, but I try to call 'em as I see 'em.
The thing that stood out in my mind about B&B was what a good idea it was on part of MTV. I don't care what anyone tells me about how schlocky MTV is; having been following them from the beginning, I still contend that it is a media business to watch. While condescending wanna-be intellectuals laugh and look down on MTV, MTV takes the billions this movie will bringing from show sales and (even more so) merchandising and laugh its way to the bank. That is no reason to like a movie, I realize, but somehow it gives me vindication in the firestorm of NTV whining about Way New Television models and Way New Ways of bringing in Bank. (cough, puke.)
And, more importantly, I don't view B&B as a cheap ploy to the viewing public (unlike Trainspotting, below). I never tire of the trademark B&B tendency to miss geysers and grand canyons due to their fascination with the word "anus" and their wonder of modern bathroom appliances (as I wrote in the Well). Word-play gimmicks please me on "Seinfeld;" they please me in "Suck" (the rare times they are done well); and they pleased me in the once-funny Spy Magazine. And, seeing Beavis strung out on uppers was slapstick and funny -- much more so than was Trainspotting's flimsy attempts at shock entertainment (complained about it great length below). The film's premise was a simple one -- Beavis and Butthead go in search of their lost TV, and bungle their way into a FBI hunt which turns against them. Very Ace-Ventura ... slapstick at its corny candiness. It delivers what it promises -- a showcase of clever animation and stupid stupid stupid Homer-Simpson-like anti-heroes.
Trainspotting, on the other hand, failed at what appeared to be a similar goal -- to appeal to the free-wheeling anti-society "Gen-X" pseudo-rebel class with shocking behavior and satiric moons to Daughters-of-the-American-Revolution-type mindless patriotism. (Which B&B did fine by actually mooning the Capitol and using the Presidential emergency telephone.)
Truly, Trainspotting was no less than a huge joke played on the American viewing public, which ate it up like those fake instant-ecstasy pills you can buy at the corner store. In unapologetic Kerouac-rip-off style, the movie started and ended with trite wanna-be-outsider clichés, and filled the middle with palpitating MTV-speed painfully contrived angst.
Its repeated motif of "choosing life" was done much better in about 2000 other films to hit the big screen, from "A Night to Remember" and "Harold and Maude" to "Bright Lights, Big City" and "The Breakfast Club." And Trainspotting's trite closing sermon came straight from Police's 1980's Synchronicity Album or the Who -- "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." For the movie to try to masquerade as some sort of shrine to the James-Dean-like hip rebel, kissing ass to "us," the house-having, 2.25 children-bearing, church-attending, station-wagon-driving American dream family member was profoundly hypocritical, even as a well-dressed pseudo arthouse satiric commentary. Although it seems clear that the aesthetic satiated many a Gen-X-wanna-be, it screamed to me of a cheap pander to the viewing population, which clearly was meant to identify with our protagonist Mark, a decided hero rather than anti-hero.
[In fact, I preferred Beavis and Butthead as the iconoclastic rebels to Mark and his junkie crowd; while the Trainspotters seemed hopelessly lost in naive rebellion against their mystery-enemies, Beavis and Butthead roamed the earth with their own motives in mind, completely uncaring about the norms of society at large. Rebellions will never strike me as genuine as long as it is in reaction to something as uncreative as the white middle class, in particular when it comes from the mouths of pampered young punk-listening fashionable-dressed good looking white kids with married parents who take a genuine interest in their well-being. If I want to see wanna-be-poor-angstful-iconoclasts, I hang out in the Lower Haight, where I am guaranteed an fast overdose of being forced to eavesdrop on the college kids who pretend to be poor while living off the generosity of Mommy and Daddy in Walnut Creek.]
Although billed as an "intelligent satire," the irony was swung about as subtlely as a nerf baseball bat hitting the styrofoam sombreros sold for a dollar in Tijuana. Take the near-opening scene of Mark diving into the "worst bathroom in Scotland" -- while apparently meant to demonstrate the lengths an addict will take to retrieve a lost fix, the movie showed Mark peacefully swimming through a tranquil blue sea, and emerging from the once-shit-laden toilet covered only in water. Was this supposed to be dark comedy? Mark trots home and is seen dressed in a clean plaid neuvo-grunge flannel shirt a few minutes later. This was not the first instance where I felt like odors would enhance a viewer experience with a film. But such a necessity is the mark of weak filmmaking: the director and producer are given two senses to manipulate: sight and sound; and the best ones master the suspension of disbelief and the creation of tension with those two alone.
The withdrawal scene, dubbed by most reviewers as "one of the worst and most painful withdrawals to be shown on film," struck me as straight from the completely non-subtle long running TV campshow, "Married with Children." There are easy ways to demonstrate pain on film -- blood is a cheap-and-easy solution, as are dryheaves and cough-to-vomit sounds. All Trainspotting used were cheesy and outright cartoonish anti-creative so-called hallucinations -- the dead baby (so much cliché camp, so little sense of humor about it) crawling on the ceiling, the betrayed friend banging his chain cuffed feet on the walls; the seduced former-athlete appearing as a skeleton of his former self. Haven't I seen this before -- like in an ABC afternoon special?
Want to know my favorite drug experiences on film? "The Simpsons" -- which, in its first few seasons, used to feature a hallucination in every episode.
As to the plump juicy healthy baby crawling around on the vial-littered floor: may I show you a minute of the Coen Brother's very clever "Raising Arizona" -- or one of my 20 books on East Asian philosophy, where this metaphor is considered archetypal -- instead? And, while the narrator dubs the baby's death as a turning point for his friend Sick Boy ("something died in him that day" -- a cliché I much preferred when used by Dennis Rodman), the film revealed no difference in the mighty Cute slackboy. The baby's very existence perhaps was an attempt at self-referential satire, but its use was hopelessly contrived and non-ironic.
And, speaking of dead-and-buried cheap gags, I do believe that I already witnessed the wise-beyond-her-years-high-school-student on both Beverly Hills 90210, and, for that matter, Happy Days.
The director used only sporadically, and too clunkily most of the time, the time-tested technique of telling the actors to speak and look directly into the camera. To me, the most logical explanation of this was the director's not-so-cleverly-hidden goal to preach to "us." I certainly could not explain this use under the most popular alternative explanation -- the old-fangled shared joke -- since I certainly shared no joke with the unlikeable protagonists who celebrated their youthful rebellion-against-their-parent-figures: Scotland and Mom and Dad. I think I outgrew that stage after "Heathers" -- a film that mastered the genre with far more finesse.
Was there anything of value in "Trainspotting?" Sure. Mark's nice little speech about bisexuality: "heterosexuality is the default, rather than the decision; it truly is a matter of aesthetics -- whom you like, whom you don't." But duh ... I believe I said that in Geek fucking Cereal 8 months ago (and was flamed as homophobic for doing so -- huge laugh there) -- and my comments were taken straight from the mouths of writers like Bell Hooks who have been saying these things since before most Gen-Xers leapt from their cradles. The other inspirational comment: "The world is changing; drugs are changing; music is changing." These words were stated by protagonist Mark, quoted from a letter written by wise-beyond-her-years (tm) high school student Denise, while Mark sat in a club and observed ravers dancing to techno music and brandishing bottles of Evian water. But again, I did not need to see Trainspotting to learn this. I learned this by (as they said in "My So-Called Life") "living in this World," and by watching the scene change from punk-and-heroin to hippie-and-acid to rap-and-ganja to yuppie-and-coke to goth-and-crystal to rave-and-ecstasy to punk-and-heroin again.
In other words, Trainspotting is nothing more than a friendly pat on the head to the 20-something wanna-be-rebels crowd, about as thoughtful and profound as the typical lyrics to any "Hootie and the Blowfish" or Alanisse Morrisette top-40 bubblegum pop tune.
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Copyright 1996 Rebecca Eisenberg firstname.lastname@example.org. All rights reserved.