Monday, November 2, 2009

OOOHHHH!! Now I get it!

The hooker picture will makes sense in a few paragraphs. Just go with me for a second.

A million years ago, probably about 1988, my cousins from my dad's side came to town from Arizona for the biannual Westenskow family reunion. It was the end of July in Utah. Hot as hell. Of course, it was quite temperate for our Arizona friends but that's beside the point. We decided that it was the right time to exercise our duty as a Mormon family in Salt Lake with more than nine kids (it was a total of 11 with the Whitmers and us) and camp out on State Street to get a great spot to enjoy the 24th of July parade. It is a rite of passage for all of the proud decedents of pioneer stock. We show our appreciation of the gut wrenching sacrifice of our ancestors by sleeping on an air mattress, waving at marathon runners and then watching a float that features Dick Norse slowly drive by.

Now I can think of few things on this planet less interesting than parades. Unless it features the members of the Utah Jazz and we are all celebrating the 2010 NBA Championship (This is the year, right? No?) then I have exactly zero desire to watch a parade on TV. Much less watching it in person on a hot ass July day. Much less investing a sleepless night to get "great seats" to watch it in person on a hot ass July day.

However, that was one damn fun night. I was about nine or ten years old and I had a cousin that was just a year older than me named Westen. (For the record, his Mom is a Westenskow, hence the name.) For all intents and purposes, we were the same age. And we had a great time just screwing around. We went by all the local fast food places that were open all night and grabbed all the sugar and salt packets and made a huge pile of powdered condiments in the gutter. That thing was the size of a traffic cone. When your nine, this constitutes a good time. We actually pretended it was cocaine and that we were going chop it up to get it ready for distribution. We had Scarface accents and everything, even though neither of us had seen that movie. It was the 80's, man. A time when couple of lilly white Mormon kids playing "Drug Dealer" in the streets while waiting for a Pioneer themed parade just didn't seem that weird.

There's a reason I bring this up. Have you ever had a moment in your life where something happened and for some reason, you weren't completely aware of the moment's complete significance. But a few years later, the full impact dawns on you in a dramatic "Oh duh!" kind of epiphany? Let me illustrate what I'm saying.

As my cousin Westen and I were stealing and then wasting sweetener packets from Arctic Circle, I remember a car full guys pulled up in some beat up muscle car and started talking to some lady that was standing on the corner. Now, State Street isn't the best part of town. It's littered with pawn shops and crappy used car lots. But that's the parade route. It's always been the parade route. As a result, that's where the happy families set up their sleeping bags. Hookers or not. Yeah, I specifically remember the lady getting into the car. And I thought it was a little strange. But didn't think twice about it the rest of the night. I crashed about 5:00 that morning in a sleeping bag on the lawn of a credit union and refused to wake up when the sprinklers came on. I somehow woke up in a corner booth of that Arctic Circle, disoriented and confused. I had slept through the stupid parade. My feelings weren't that hurt.

Probably five or six years later, I was in health class watching some scare tactic, after school special style video about the dangers of drugs. There was a scene that showed a big pile of what was supposed to be cocaine. That triggered my memory of my night on the mean streets, pushing dope with my cous. It then dawned on me like a revelation from above. "That was a hooker! Holy crap! Those guys picked up a hooker right in front of me. That's crazy." That little insight totally changed my view of that night. It suddenly felt all dangerous and seedy. And I guess that it kind of was.

These sort of realizations seem to happen for me a lot. Mostly with movies. I can think of several movies that I saw ten times when I was a little kid that featured some sort of dirty joke. But it wasn't until I saw it the eleventh time, years later, that I actually got it. Sometimes the question involves a complicated plot point. Or sometimes, it's just a realization that a movie I thought was good, in all actuality totally sucks. It just took me fifteen years to figure it out.

Here's a couple of examples that came to mind. These are all movies that I have seen over and over. They have a achieved regular rotation in the general pop culture lexicon. And yet despite my vivid familiarity with them, they have each hit me with one of those "Oh duh!" moments on the tenth or eleventh viewing.

1. Smoke Up Johnny!

The Breakfast Club. It's a Saturday afternoon standard. Federal law mandates that it will be rerun on some cable channel at least twice a month. And odds are good that if I catch any part of it, I'll probably sit on the couch and finish it off. I've seen some portion of the TV edited version probably over 20 times. But it wasn't until I watched the full version in college that I realized the central plot point. They all got stoned together. That's why they had to sneak to Judd Nelson's locker. That's what was in the bag they shove down Anthony Michael Hall's pants. That's why Molly Ringwald dances in her giant boots and why Emilio Esteves strips down to the tank top. In fact, smoking weed seems to be the moral of the film. If we could all just pass a joint around and talk about our feelings, we'd all get along. We'd realize that the dandruff ridden basket case is really Ally Sheedy in disguise.

"Of course, Brian. What movie have you been watching?"

Hey, it's clear to me now. And yet, somehow the full impact of the marijuana element eluded me. With the combination of my dense naivete and the fact that they edit out any actually smoking of a joint on the TV version, you can see why I would make the mistake. But it still took me twenty one years and probably fifteen viewings to get it. In fact I'm pretty sure when I saw the full version at that one guys house in college, I actually said out loud while I was watching it, "So THAT'S why they all of a sudden like each other." It's a statement whose obviousness is along the same lines as, "So wait a minute, Darth Vader is Luke's father? What? OOOOOHHHHH. Now I get it."

By the way, I saw Vacation probably thirty times (recorded off TV, so also edited) before I figured out that Audry was smoking weed she got from her cousin throughout the second half of the movie. I was pretty ignorant to the weed references. Then I started listening to The Beatles and it all became clear.

2. "I Can't Bare To Watch."

I mentioned Darth Vader earlier, so I might as well go with the segway. Now this isn't so much a revelation as it is a genuine question. What the hell is up with Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia? Seriously. In Return of The Jedi, just after Leia frees Han from the carbonite and is captured by Jabba (if you think this post just got nerdy, wait till the next movie), the following exchange takes place:

Jabba: Bring her before me!
Leia: (Struggling as she is forced toward Jabba.) We have powerful friends. You're going to regret this.
Jabba: I'm sure. (Suggestively licks his lips)
C3PO: Oh, I can't bare to watch. (Turns away in horror.)

Salacious Crumb, the little rat thing that sits next to Jabba, then laughs nefariously. The next time we see Leia she is sporting the metal bikini slave girl outfit with a defeated, empty look on her face. The look that you would expect to see on the face of a sex crime victim.

Now let's ignore the trans species element for just a second. Let's just pretend that Jabba is a big fat human being. Read that conversation again and tell me if this can be interpreted as anything but an implied rape? A public rape at that? What exactly was it that 3PO couldn't bare to watch? I don't think I'm reading too much into this. I don't think this is my dirty mind filling in the blanks. This is clearly forced sex.

George Lucas, what in the hell? You had your female protagonist get raped? In a movie geared toward kids? The previous movie you had her making out with her brother. And in the movie before that you blew up her entire planet. Now you have her being violated by a giant slug? What the hell did Carrie Fisher ever do to you? Am I weird in being put off by this? There's a rape scene in the same movie in which the fuzzy wuzzy Ewoks dance around a bonfire. It's a bit of a shift in tone. And it isn't just a rape scene, it's an inter species rape with a hoard of gangsters presumably watching. But not 3PO because he's gay. And this then begs the unpleasant question of just how exactly would a thing like Jabba go about . . . yeah, I'm not going to bother finishing that sentence. George Lucas, you are a sick minded soul.

But I do appreciate the Leia slave outfit. Seriously, thank you for that.

Here's my late coming revelation for The Never Ending Story. Actually, this is more of a confirmation of an opinion I had as a kid. The movie doesn't make sense. The ending doesn't work. It confused the hell out of me as a kid and when I rewatched it a few years ago on TV, it still confused me. And it's not unclear in a "interpret it for yourself" kind of way. But in a muddled, incomplete kind of way.

I feel bad trashing a kids' movie. Not because the movie will have its feelings hurt but because it makes me sound like a massive dork. In fact, just for fun, as you read the next two paragraphs, do it with a Comic Book Guy voice in your head. It'll make this a little more tolerable. Here's a sample to get you going. But massively nerdy or not, this confusion needs to be exposed.

(Begin CBG voice.)

Okay. We are to believe that Falcor flies Atreyu to the Childlike Empress' meteor palace even though The Nothing has already consumed Fantasia. They speak of the weird kid reading the book. By the way, I sell replicas of that book in my store. It is a hot item. The child's name is Bastian, which also happens to be the name of my cat. In the real world, the storm breaks the window and Bastian has to give the princess a new name. Strange since this is a previously unmentioned condition. "I can't. I gotta keep my feet on the ground!" He finally yells out his name of choice which is Moon Child. That happens to be the name of my other cat. Oddly enough, they dislike each other immensely. Everything then goes dark. And suddenly Bastian, the real boy, is now talking to the imaginary Childlike Empress face to face. Now are we to believe he was sucked into the book's world a la Tron? Or is this all an elaborate fantasy of the child's? Perhaps. But we the audience do not know. They look at the grain of sand which is all that is left of Fantasia. And Bastion then learns that he needs to use his imagination more. As if THAT'S not a cliche. Next thing we know, Bastion is riding Falcor through a restored Fantasia. Excuse me? Just how did that happen? And look! Atreyu is riding Artex. Apparently the horse did not really die in the Swamp of Sadness. And now there's the Rock Biter on his tricycle and that really fast snail. Even though Fantasia was destroyed, apparently it really wasn't.

And now, Falcor appears in the real world. (Continue with CBG voice.) Excuse me? Just how did that happen? Are we to believe that a full sized Luck Dragon can leap from the pages of a novel? And if it can be done, then why not document such an occurrence in the actual film? Bastian is now riding Falcor through the streets of a city, chasing the bullies into the dumpster. We've got worlds colliding here with no explanation as to what is going on. Worst. Ending. Ever.

Alright, lose the voice. Now maybe all of it is just Bastian using his imagination. So he brings everybody back to life and then pretends to get those damn bullies. But if that's the case we needed a scene at the end, where he's back in reality closing the book and walking home, or something. There's no resolution! It's unclear.

But you know what? Who cares? It doesn't really have to make sense. It's a movie made for a nine year old for hell sakes. They don't care if works. Why should I?

Now watch this and feel good.

4. Stupid Is As Stupid D. . . Ah F*ck It.

Was it weird for anyone else, that Forrest Gump prematurely ejaculated onto to Jenaaaaay's roommate's robe? You know the exact scene I'm talking about. Yeah, that was a creepy moment for me. Sitting in the theater next to my folks back in '94. I'm pretty sure I understood what was happening at the time. Maybe. Actually, I think I was probably a little confused. But I've never been accused of being the sharpest pencil in the drawer.

Don't get me wrong. It's quite a funny scene. And I'm all for a good jizz joke. And Tom Hanks makes it work. The man really is a king. The guy can do no wrong. As main stream as his appeal is, there is virtually no backlash. Who doesn't like Tom Hanks? As an actor and as a person. He's just that good in everything he does. And you know what else? The Man With One Red Shoe was a fine movie, and I won't hear anything to the contrary.

But while I'm talking about Forrest Gump, I feel compelled to discuss some unpleasantness. Have you ever noticed how it's actually a cheap, manipulative movie that gets its mileage by focusing in like a sniper on the most easily exploited and obvious of nostalgic images? Hanks is still great in it. But you may have walked out of that movie in 1994 thinking that it was the greatest illustration of the Boomer generation of all time. When in fact, it's the cinematic equivalent of one of those infomercials for 60's music hosted by an incredibly old looking Davey Jones. But with tons of annoying catch phrases.

Go ahead. Think of five Forrest Gump catch phrases right now. You won't even hesitate to come up with them and that movies is 15 years old. And you also hate those catch phrases and the bad Gump voice that accompanies them.

I'm not going to say that Forrest Gump is a poorly made movie. In fact, its sentimental precision is astounding. It knows exactly what it's doing. It is, however, far from being the great movie it pretends to be. It fools you into thinking it's this stupendous generational achievement because it is an incredibly manipulative collage of iconic moments and images. It doesn't create real connections to well thought out characters. Instead it drops a goofy yet familiar guy into the equivalent of an iconic Life magazine photo. (Now blue screen Forrest carrying a bucket of water down the street, tripping and spilling the water in a hilarious way on the no longer burning monk and saying, "Sorry I ruined your suicide protest.") That's not real storytelling. That's just historical interloping. And then the directer cues "Smile on Your Brother" by the Youngbloods to warm your heart and fog your mind. You feel good. But in the way Snuggle the fabric softener bear makes you feel good. Not because you just saw a profound, honest film.

You know how in Family Guy, they constantly make random, meaningless references to pop culture nostalgia? And then they awkwardly stick Stewie into it? "Hey it's Thundercats but Quagmire is Lionel. There's no joke. There's nothing to get, there's no connection between that cutaway and the rest of the episode, but I remember Thundercats so I feel included in the reference. Ha ha ha." Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But even when it does work, it's still lazy. It's a comedic cheap shot. It isn't generating a real reaction. There's no satirical commentary. It's just nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia.

That is all Forrest Gump is. One giant Family Guy skit with Forrest inserted into it instead of Peter. "Hey, I remember Watergate! It was Forrest that called the cops! Ha ha! Forrest is dancing like Elvis, before Elvis even knew how to do it. And then they see Elvis dancing like Forrest on TV! And oooo, I also know the lyrics to Imagine. But John Lennon said them inadvertently on the Dick Cavet show when Forrest was talking about China! Man, that Forrest did everything. Shit happens! It sure does. And since I am familiar with the references, I'm in on the joke. Brilliant!"

It's not brilliant. It's cheap.

You can still like the movie. I'm not trying to get you to hate it. But once you see through the stereotyped fluff there isn't much left.

One more thing; how the hell was Bubba not considered a horribly racist characature? I'm not big on politically correct enforcement. It just seems that in an era as self righteous and overly sensitive about offending anyone as the 1990's were, Bubba should have at least pissed off Al Sharpton. Instead he became a restaurant franchise. I'm not complaining. It's just strange.

5. You Sending The Wolf?! Sheeyat Negro! That's All You Had To Say.

While I'm railing on the astounding overrated nature of 1994's biggest Oscar winner, I might as well get a little jab at its chief competition. Pulp Fiction is possibly the most definitive film of the 1990's. And yet upon rewatching it a week ago, it didn't feel that dated. Probably because it is immersed in Americana Pop Culture of every decade leading up to it. It's a sort of Swiss Army Knife of zeitgeist. Sure, some of the dialogue feels a little contrived but that's only because conceited, aspiring screenwriters have been ripping of Tarantinospeak for fifteen solid years. As horrific, violent and vulgar as it is, it is one damn cool movie. But here's my revelation that didn't register with me until my most recent viewing last week.

Did Vince and Jules really need the Wolf to come and tell them to clean up the car?

Jules calls Marcellus from Jimmy's house, frantic because he and Vince have dead bits of Marvin all over inside of their car and they're in the Valley with no friendly contacts and Bonnie will be home in about an hour. Marcellus puts his best man on the job and Jules is down right excited to be working with the Wolf. I get it. Winston Wolf is an illustration of the hierarchy of respect among gangsters. He takes control and gets results.

But what exactly does he do? He basically says, "Clean up the car and then change your clothes." That's it. Like they wouldn't have figured that out? Seeing as time was a factor, why would they wait for him to drive across LA to tell them to do the incredibly obvious? What value did he add? It's like paying money to a corporate consultant that tells you customer service is important. Thanks, buddy. It's still a cool scene. Given the greatness of the rest of the film, it's a bit of nit pick. But I thought it was worth bringing up.

Wow. Sometimes I start on what I think is an original and concise idea and it ends up dragging way too long. The thing with blogs is that if it's longer than a few paragraphs people usually give up. One of these days I'll learn that, instead of beating a semi interesting dead horse into the ground. But again, if you're looking to kill time on a slow Monday morning, I hope I helped your cause.


Chris M. G said...

I watched Three Amigos like everyday when I was a kid and I loved it. I have since realized that it is way better than I thought because I didn't get even half the jokes at the time. Some of my favorite examples:

Ned: its a mail/male plane, didn't you see the two little balls?


Hot Santa Pocan lady: We could go for a walk and you could kiss me on the veranda.

Dusty: the lips would be just fine.

Gregg said...

Brian, you ass. Bastian used the last grain of Fantasia to wish Artex and the whole of fantasia back to it's pre-nothing glory. You can be such a dickhole.

Just kidding man, another classic post.

Nieder said...

Not to bust your balls about the Forest Gump thing, but didn't you post a blog a while back that the 90's needed it's own American Grafitti? Something nostalgic that you could watch and think, yeah, those were the days. I'm just sayin, that's all.

BusterBluth52 said...

Glause - You cannot force open the pedals of a flower. When the flower is ready, it will open itself to you.

When will Carmen open her flower to you, el guapo?

Tonight. Or I will kill her.

Gregg - it wasn't me, it was comic book guy.

steve - i suppose that's a fair criticism. However, I said I wanted a 90's version of Dazed and Confused or American Graffiti, not a Forrest Gump. And although all of those movies get plenty of mileage from nostalgia, I would say the first two movies are very different from Forrest Gump. For the record, I'm not against fondly remembering the recent past. And even though i railed against using nostalgia as a manipulative device (i probably overstated Forrest Gump's guilt in my post), I like watching the imfomercials starring the aged Davie Jones. I just wouldn't give them any Oscars.

summer said...

grease is another one of those shows. we used to watch that like every weekend in jr. high. there is the whole sex scene with the broken condom. and don't forget the whole moral to the story is to give up your virtue and be slutty. nice.

BusterBluth52 said...

Summer, great to hear from you.

Westen said...

Insanely fun night... for a couple of dorky kids! I corroborate everything that Brian said in the lead-in and add some additional fuel for the fire: In addition to our pile of "blow", we also gathered other condiment packets (mustard, ketchup, etc.) and made the biggest mess on the asphalt next to the powder mountain. Arctic Circle was giving out free thimble-sized ice cream cones as a promotional deal and we went in and got at least twenty each over the course of three or four hours.

Once we'd pilfered all the condiments and made our little piles of "contraband" my dad (quite the strict one) got pretty ticked and made me go in and apologize to the store managers we'd taken the stuff from (can't remember if Brian was forced to participate in that part).

By the time we were sleeping on the grass, Brian was plastered Mormon-style: sugar crashed + stayed up way too late. I was amazed that he wouldn't get up even while getting soaked by the sprinklers = unreal. I think it was his dad that dragged him out of the line of fire. I went back to sleep, we woke up and watched the most amazing parade I'd ever seen in Utah (also the only to that point). After the parade, we went into the Arctic Circle and Brian was still crumpled up in the booth, wrapped in a blanket, where his folks had left him.

BusterBluth52 said...

Westen, I was right along side of you as we apologized to the Arctic Circle guy. If I recall, he didn't give a crap. I don't think I was required to join you, but I was scared of your dad.

Also, I had no idea it was my folks that left me unconscious in a fast food booth not a hundred feet from a working prostitute. Crazy world.

Great hearing from you man. I need to find a reason to get down to AZ and catch up.