Thursday, August 21, 2008

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

During August, a month of animation.

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school, on the 2nd floor. Or maybe the roof. A small but nice place to view movies. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

At Film Space on August 23, 7 pm: South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999) by Trey Parker – US Animation/ Comedy/ Musical – 81 mins. When the four boys who are the heroes of the South Park series see an R-rated movie featuring foul-mouthed Canadian comics, they are pronounced "corrupted,” and their parents pressure the United States to wage war against Canada.

I’ve seen this, and I think it’s one of the most subversive films of the decade. Also, irresistibly funny! Crude, crass, vicious, probably the most obscene movie you will ever see, if indeed you are brave enough and bold enough to see it.

I’m going to quote from Roger Ebert on this one:

Roger Ebert: June 30, 1999

The national debate about violence and obscenity in the movies has arrived in South Park. The ``little redneck mountain town,'' where adult cynicism is found in the mouths of babes, is the setting for vicious social satire in “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.'' The year's most slashing political commentary is not in the new films by Oliver Stone, David Lynch, or John Sayles, but in an animated comedy about obscenity. Wait until you see the bedroom scenes between Satan and Saddam Hussein.

Waves of four-letter words roll out over the audience, which laughs with incredulity: People can't believe what they're hearing. The film is rated R instead of NC-17 only because it's a cartoon, I suspect; even so, the MPAA has a lot of 'splaining to do. Not since Andrew Dice Clay passed into obscurity have sentences been constructed so completely out of the unspeakable.

I laughed. I did not always feel proud of myself while I was laughing, however. The movie is like a depraved extension of “Kids Say the Darnedest Things,'' in which little children repeat what they've heard and we cringe because we know what the words really mean. No target is too low, no attitude too mean or hurtful, no image too unthinkable. After making South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, had better move on. They've taken “South Park'' as far as it can go, and beyond.

If you've never seen the original Comedy Central show and somehow find yourself in the theater, you'll be jolted by the distance between the images and the content.

The animation is deliberately crude, like elements cut out of construction paper. Characters consist of simple arrangements of basic geometrical shapes in bright colors. The effect is of sophisticated kids slamming stuff around on the project table in first grade.

The story: A new R-rated movie has come to town, starring the Canadian cutups Terrence and Phillip. It's titled “Asses of Fire.'' (That's the mildest vulgarism in the movie.) The South Park kids, who bribe a homeless man to be their “adult guardian,'' attend the movie, drink in its nonstop, wall-to-wall profanity, and startle their class at school with streams of four-letter words.

One of their moms, deeply offended, forms Mothers Against Canada. The neighbor to the north is blamed for all of U.S. society's ills, Terrence and Phillip are condemned to death, and in retaliation, the Canadian Air Force bombs the Baldwin brothers' Hollywood home. War is declared, leading to scenes your eyes will register but your mind will not believe, such as a USO show involving Winona Ryder doing unspeakable things with Ping-Pong balls.

The other plot strand begins after little Kenny is killed. (Little Kenny is killed in every episode of the TV series, always with the line, “Oh, my God! They've killed Kenny!'') He goes to hell and finds that Hussein, recently deceased, is having an affair with Satan. Hussein wants sex, Satan wants a meaningful relationship, and they inspire a book titled Saddam Is From Mars, Satan Is From Venus.

Key plot point: The deaths of Terrence and Phillip would be the seventh sign of the Apocalypse, triggering Armageddon. It's up to the South Park kids to save the world. All of this unfolds against an unending stream of satirical abuse, ethnic stereotyping, sexual vulgarity and pointed political commentary that alternates common sense with the truly and hurtfully offensive.

I laughed, as I have reported. Sometimes the laughter was liberating, as good laughter can be, and sometimes it was simply disbelieving: How could they get away with this? This is a season when the movies are hurtling themselves over the precipice of good taste. Every week brings its new surprises. I watch as Austin Powers drinks coffee that contains excrement, and two weeks later I go to “American Pie'' and watch a character drink beer that contains the most famous bodily fluid from “There's Something About Mary.'' In “Big Daddy,'' I see an adult instruct a 5-year-old on how to trip Roller-bladers and urinate in public.

Now this--a cartoon, but it goes far beyond anything in any of those live-action movies. All it lacks is a point to its message. What is it saying? That movies have gone too far, or that protests against movies have gone too far? It is a sign of our times that I cannot tell. Perhaps it's simply anarchistic, and feels that if it throws enough shocking material at the wall, some of it will stick. A lot of the movie offended me. Some of it amazed me. It is too long and runs out of steam, but it serves as a signpost for our troubled times. Just for the information it contains about the way we live now, thoughtful and concerned people should see it. After all, everyone else will.

Those watchdogs of Christian morality, the ChildCare Action Project: Christian Analysis of American Culture, have studied the film and have come up with this tally:

131 uses of the most foul of the foul words by children

119 uses of the three/four letter word vocabulary by children

text of three/four letter word vocabulary and the most foul of the foul words

vulgar euphemisms

passing body gas in time to music and in other situations


vulgar finger gesture

calling mother names and suggesting slapping her around

"You have to stand up to your mother"

racial, national, and ethnic insults and petty portrayal of them

a general theme of anarchy, rebellion, and autonomy

many lies

vulgar jokes

Nearly rated NC-17 in the US, but cleaned up a bit at the last minute to receive simply an R rating, for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, offensive material, and for some violent cartoon images. Generally favorable reviews: 73/69 out of 100.

At Film Space on August 30, 7 pm: The Simpsons Movie (2007) by David Silverman – US Animation – 87 mins. This played on the major screens here in Chiang Mai one year ago, and at the time I had this to say about it:

A strange movie. I can’t really claim an extensive acquaintanceship with the Simpsons, nor an affinity with them. I never really watched them on TV, and I can’t say I’m particularly fond of them. I’m afraid I’m confused by the mass appeal of the series. I did laugh watching this movie, quite a number of times, and for the rest, I found it generally amusing overall and the writing quite clever. I enjoyed its irreverent satire. But it left me rather cold and unmoved. Many say it is an accurate reflection of the American family; if so, I think America is facing even greater problems than I thought. The gentle, good-natured acceptance of the cruelties the father and son of this family inflict upon each other is, to me, outrageous. In this representative family, supposedly happy and functioning, I find many amazingly ugly undercurrents, all of which seem celebrated by the movie. An abusive father and an abusive son, played for laughs. Some have said that the Simpsons are a definitive portrait of the dysfunctional American family - stuck with each other and, deep down, OK with it. I don’t like that point of view.

Also, the animation is crude and primitive, to my way of thinking. However, I can see that if you’re one of the millions who have watched a sizable percentage of the 400 TV episodes over the18 years the Simpsons have been on television, then this would be a fully enjoyable experience for you. For you, a tip: you will want to sit all the way through the ending credits for the additional fun along the way. Generally favorable reviews: 80/75 out of 100.

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