day four dawns on the colorado territory, for good or ill, with trey parker's cannibal! the musical (1993).
it is parker's musical "comedy" treatment of alfred packer's story. packer led an expedition from utah hoping to find gold in breckenridge, colorado. an inexperienced guide, he got his party lost and snowbound. food ran out and, according to packer, while he was out scouting, one of the party killed the others with a hatchet and began to eat their flesh. packer shot him in self-defense. this movie is just about as funny as that. for connoisseurs of a certain type of film - amateurish, straight-to-video quality, enamored of its own perceived hilarity - this is the gold mine that packer was searching for. for me, not so much. it strikes me the same way as the television show the state - not nearly as funny as you remember it being the first time around when you saw it in your freshman dorm. it's a good thing for parker there will always be freshmen somewhere. don't get me wrong, i like the guy. i think south park is frequently very funny and parker is exceptional at making fun of people who are in dire need of it, including himself. this business is just underdeveloped, a stepping stone. i am sure the very first song elvis costello wrote wasn't exactly radio radio. here we're watching parker's growing pains, so, appropriately, it is somewhat painful. i admire his pluck, at least. it is ambitious for what is basically a home movie that his friends told him was hilarious. interesting side note - stan brakhage, one of our greatest experimental filmmakers is in this thing. i missed that the first time i saw this. i was probably too busy laughing and writing term papers for money.
next up, a lesson in wholesome depravity with john waters' a dirty shame (2004).
set in the whitebread heart of waters' beloved baltimore, it tells the story of the stickles family and their concussions, perversions and repressions. tracey ullman is a first-class neuter, "normal" person, for whom sex is at best, a nuisance, at worst, an abomination. a blow on the head sets her inner sex freak free and, with the help of saintly sex healer johnny knoxville, the quest to discover a new sex act begins. i think i like the idea, the pieces, of this movie better than the movie itself. it is gleefully filthy from beginning to end, reveling in its parade of fetishes in a way quite unlike any other film i have ever seen. it dares to endorse the crrrrazy notion that there is absolutely nothing wrong with anything two (or more) adults do that is safe and consensual. it's an idea that still poses a problem for some, as the nc-17 rating attests to. that seems a bit harsh for a film with no explicit contact, just brief full frontal nudity and a lot of sexual slang and dirty words. apparently, people still have to be protected from adults talking frankly about sex. for years, john waters has been sweetly relating tales of freaks and marginalized underdogs and now it seems like he and the rest of the world have caught up with each other. if nothing else, this movie will help people understand that we are all the freaks, with sexuality as the great equalizer. that thing you like? it's not weird. trust me. trust john waters. because of this, the movie loses some of the transgressive power of waters' earlier films but i would gladly trade a world where divine would have been gawked at for one where no one has to be ashamed of what makes them feel good and like a whole human being. that being said, as a movie it's no great shakes. it's fun to watch sweet, demure tracey ullman racing around, attempting to extinguish her burning bush but the novelty of that only lasts so long. i will never think of the hokey pokey the same way, that's for sure, and that's good for me. i thank john waters for one more transformative experience, however small. ultimately, though, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. too bad. let's go sexin'!
and what's sexier than dickensian orphans? we finish our day with carol reed's oliver! (1968).
i was thoroughly pleased when i saw this on the list. it is my favorite cinematic dickens adaptation, edging out george cukor's david copperfield (1935) by a bowl of gruel. it lies at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from cannibal! the only thing they have in common is an exclamation point. this is the work of a group of consummate professionals, and i mean that in the absolute best way. carol reed is obviously no slouch. he is responsible for some of the greatest films to ever come out of the UK and he brings his considerable talents to bear on this lively and endlessly entertaining adaptation. it looks amazing. i have seen it enough that this time i spent most of the time watching the periphery, looking at dancers' faces and such and there was not one tiny piece of the thing that wasn't perfect. just watch the "consider yourself" production number if you're unsure. it is a staggering achievement. dozens, maybe hundreds, of perfectly choreographed extras in their finest victoriana, the most likable little rascal in the history of film and a song which will not dislodge itself from your brain. you can probably count the number of musicals i truly love on one hand and this one firmly occupies the second spot, right behind oklahoma! (1955). it obviously skims over the squalor and social ills so integral to dickens' work, but reform is not its purpose. leave that to david lean (whose 1948 non-musical version is exceptional as well). the only slightly bum note is oliver himself. mark lester is a nice enough kid and does a good job, but when you're competing with the likes of fagin, the artful dodger, the firebrand nancy and the brutish bill sikes you had better be personality plus, especially if the tale bears your name. he just doesn't quite have what it takes to keep up with his supporting cast. they all overshadow him with talent, style or menace. it's fine, though. once the story is rolling there is seldom a moment when one or more of them isn't around to keep the proceedings moving. they provide something for everyone, kids and adults alike. you don't see films constructed this well anymore. it is a first-rate piece of entertainment. i can't recommend it enough.
well, that saved the day. it gives me a running start at tomorrow's selections.
juni knows the deal. lace 'em up!