Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Crazy Theory #8: Ghostbusters as a Metaphor for Koch Era NYC


Last year for my Cinematic Urbanism class, I chose NYC to write about for my final paper. It was not until almost very late in the semester that I chose to write on Born in Flames after realizing No Wave Cinema was not going to pan out due to inaccessibility of most of the films. I briefly flirted with using the more mainstream films of 1970s and 1980s NYC in my paper, including Ghostbusters.*

I conducted some historical research into the Koch era of NYC beginning in the mid-1970s when everything was rather bad and the US government declined to help financially save the city that was on the brink of bankruptcy. NYC began to see some reversal in the early 1980s. But you still see how bad it was in films** - the city did not prevent these films to be made, sort of under the guise of "any publicity is good publicity". Wolfen (1981, Dir. Michael Wadleigh) was shot in the Bronx after a large portion of it was burnt down (primarily by landlords or pyromaniacs hired by landlords) and the borough's destruction becomes a part of the film: 

A shot of the Bronx from Wolfen (1981).

Ghostbusters was released in 1984, or thirty years ago this month. Stories have been told, particularly after Harold Ramis' death in February, about how he helped Dan Akroyd scale the film down so it would have a more reasonable budget and therefore more studio support. The film was originally supposed to take place in space in the future, instead of then-modern day NYC. Perhaps partially due to the fact that Ghostbusters was filmed in NYC as well as a soundstage in Los Angeles, the audience is never shown how rough NYC was or looked, even as it was in the beginning-middle stages of being cleaned up. The Ghostbusters somehow never leave Manhattan, nor do they venture to Times Square or 42nd Street - which were filled with porn theaters at the time, because Ghostbusters is a family film. But their work appears to be a metaphor for the clean up NYC was in the midst of during the film's production and release. They are cleaning out the past to make way for a future for the city (or arguably, the ghosts are the have-nots). This is alluded to in one of the perkier MOR songs on the soundtrack with the line "the Ghostbusters are back here, cleaning up the town, oh yeah!" The only allusion given to the aesthetic state of the city is when Egon says the future Ghostbusters HQ is in "a demilitarized zone." 

But of course the clean up job turns out to be much bigger than anticipated, particularly after the government (the EPA) steps in and releases all the ghosts that they have caught. Despite perhaps only having no more than 6 blocks of the city destroyed by the end of the film, mostly due to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man exploding, we find out that the city and state blamed the Ghostbusters***. By the release of the second film, when the clean-up of the city was a success (and maybe a handful of years before the "Disneyfication" of Times Square), the Ghostbusters are not needed anymore. It is hard to say whether they are there to remind the city to not forget its past, including the past buried in NYC's infrastructure, or to remind the city to come together in the face of adversity.  

* If this post seems a bit stilted, it's because it's somewhat impossible to write about the one film I have seen the most times in my life. I used to watch Ghostbusters obsessively as a child, and I still watch it a few times a year as an adult. 
** While there is a coffee table book released within the past 5 years on NYC in films, I do not know if it chronicles the rougher Koch era much. You can see the issues in not only in Taxi Driver and Wolfen, but in The Warriors, Street Trash, C.H.U.D., Smithereens (and Desperately Seeking Susan to a lesser extent), Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper, Frank Henenlotter's films from this period (Basket Case, Frankenhooker, Brain Damage), and you can see the porn districts in Bette Gordon's film Variety. The documentary Blank City features clips from No Wave films and early Jim Jarmusch films shot in the mid-1970s-early 1980s. Escape from New York was primarily filmed in St. Louis, which also had some trouble during the same period.
*** Okay, maybe I am underestimating the destruction. This simulation video released this week demonstrates the amount of damage the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man would do in terms of zones. The maximum impact zone would be 4-6 blocks, while the total impact area appears to be 24 blocks of Manhattan.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Biker Chick Double Feature: She-Devils on Wheels (1968) & Easy Wheels (1989)

Repost from 2011.


She-Devils on Wheels
Dir. Herschel Gordon Lewis || 1968 || USA

Despite some impressive visuals in the few films of his I've seen, I'm not exactly an H.G. Lewis fan. I sort of appreciate Lewis' use of bright colors in his films, even if I tend to like the artwork on the walls in his films more than the films themselves. With this in mind, I watched She-Devils on Wheels expecting the worst and actually ended up liking the film. Lewis made the film after criticism of how women were often treated in his other films. She-Devils on Wheels is about a female motorcycle gang called The Man-Eaters that often fights better than the male motorcycle gangs. The Man-Eaters race each other, and whomever wins gets first pick in "the stud line", a group a men that come to their house. The film makes an attempt to follow newer recruit Karen, but tends to pick up and drop her storyline as it pleases. Karen comes into play only after the gang beats up her favorite "stud" Bill, who they think she's in love with, which is against the gang's rules. She comes into play later in the film when her clean cut ex-boyfriend Ted warns her about the male motorcycle gang that has it out for the Man-Eaters. Ted often implores Karen to leave, but she refuses. I think Ted and Karen are supposed to be the moral center, acknowledging that being in any sort of gang probably is not good, but most of the film makes it seem kind of fun. However, the majority of the film is racing and the stud line parties. Lewis uses the shots of people driving away and parking way too much, but it's kind of a fun film when there is dialogue. The final scenes of the battle with the male motorcycle gangleader is bananas in the most perfect way possible.

Easy Wheels
Dir. David O'Malley || 1989 || USA

Easy Wheels is an odd and occasionally funny comedy with the pedigree of having been written by Ivan and Sam Raimi (Sam writing under the pseudonym Celia Abrams) and being produced by Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. Like She-Devils on Wheels, it concerns a rival male and female motorcycle gangs, but with added mythos behind each leader. She-Wolf (Eileen Davidson from The House on Sorority Row and the soap operas The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, and The Bold and the Beautiful) is the leader of the gang The Women of the Wolf. They have been riding around the Midwest and stealing babies. They deposit the female babies to a park so that they can be raised by wolves and they leave the male babies with a baby broker who runs a sleazy bar. She-Wolf was raised by wolves herself and believes that she can create a new and more formidable society of women by stealing babies and having them also raised by wolves. They are tracked throughout the Midwest by The Bourne Losers, lead by Bruce, a Vietnam vet with a steel plate in his head that causes him to have visions. The gang's goals are to "find the evil, destroy the evil, and find a really great lite beer." So in real life, they would probably still be roaming around, twenty years later. Of course when they finally cross paths, She-Wolf and Bruce are immediately attracted to each other, causing She-Wolf to want to give up her abstinence (much to the dismay of her more devoted and/or lesbian gang members) so that she and the other members can bear children of free-spirited men. Bruce mostly remains in denial about She-Wolf being a babynapper.

Yeah, for a goofy little comedy, it kind of has a complicated plot. The ending gets a little confused in its message. Both gangs are laughable in their own ways, but I guess it is a given that babynapping is wrong, so The Bourne Losers are given more preference. Unlike The Man-Eaters in She-Devils on Wheels, The Women of the Wolf are a gang not only because they can fight and fight well, but because they are sick of being treated as second-class citizens. But it's hard to view them as "evil" when all they want is to remain independent and have a better society, either at a micro level or at a macro level.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Notes on Horrible Bosses (2011)


You can see Horrible Bosses' lineage throughout the film. It is not just predecessors like Office Space and 9 to 5. The office Jason Bateman's character, Nick, works in looks like a modern day equivalent to the office spaces seen in The Apartment, just more spaced out. However, compared to its predecessors, while funny at times and lazy at others, Horrible Bosses is the lesser film. If 9 to 5's plot layout is anger-revenge-triumph and Office Space's is anger-revenge-acceptance, Horrible Bosses somewhat combines the third plot points of both predecessors, but with a tinge of uncertainty in the characters' triumph or acceptance. Granted, these films were all made in different decades with different historical subtexts (or just texts). 9 to 5 was made a little over a decade or so after women began infiltrating the workplace and the film confronts the sexism still inherent in the workplace with a visible glass ceiling. Office Space appears in a time between the beginning of the spread of technological businesses (although what Initech actually does or produces remains a mystery in the film, contributing to the weird sense of hell that Peter, Michael, and Samir feel) while also acknowledging the "downsizing" or "consultant" culture that either existed or was falling into place for the sake of saving a few dollars. Office Space is the one film where the term "alienation of labor" is entrenched into the film. Horrible Bosses again lies somewhere in between. Nick works in an office that seems sales-based on some level, but we do not know what the company does. Jason Sudeikis' character, Kurt, works as an accountant for a local business that handles chemicals. Charlie Day's character, Dale, is a dental assistant or hygienist. They are all stuck for various reasons, while acknowledging that it is hard to leave a miserable job or find a new job in these times. They come across an old classmate who worked for Lehmann Brothers and now gives handjobs for $40 in the men's room at the local bar and this solidifies their reluctance to leave on top of their individual issues. It is one of the lazier jokes in the film, but it serves as a catalyst for the rest of the film.

Only Office Space attempts to have characters who really see the pointlessness of most work and jobs, although it stops short of allowing Peter, Michael, and Samir's plan to work. Peter appears to learn that as long as you have love, life is not so bad.* 9 to 5 has the three leads create a utopic work environment for workers, particularly women, with flexible schedules and childcare (something that barely exists today - I have only ever worked in one place that has both features, and the child care facility had an 18-month waiting list). Beyond the plot to murder their bosses, Horrible Bosses makes no attempts at what can be considered radicalism. The characters seem to accept the futility of their situation and have no cohorts in their workplaces. Wanting their bosses murdered is mostly for selfish reasons, although for Nick and Kurt, making their workplace a better place for their co-workers may be secondary. They know they have to work, they know they will never stop working. In some ways, it may be the bleakest of the three films.

In a film where only Jennifer Aniston seems to be playing against-type (and seems to be relishing it - although Colin Farrell seems to be playing a frumpy version of his persona from 10 years ago), the only remarkable detail of Horrible Bosses is Charlie Day's character. Dale is introduced into the film in a voiceover stating that all he ever wanted to be when he grew up was a husband, but no one pays anyone to be a husband, so he has to work as a dental assistant. His character exists in a field of gender and cultural disparity. His character is only engaged, not married with children, so it is not an issue of him wanting to be a stay-at-home dad. He is sexually harassed by his boss (played by Aniston) on a daily basis and his friends belittle his problem, although it obviously makes him uncomfortable. If Dale were female, this would be less of an issue.

*No mention of hobbies, although Peter likes to go fishing. Office Space appears slightly before "Do What You Love" or "Find Your Bliss" takes hold and becomes co-opted. In fact, none of these films mentions hobbies much.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Roller Derby Double Feature: Hell on Wheels (2008) and Whip It (2009)

Repost from 2011.

Hell on Wheels 
Dir. Bob Ray || 2008 || USA

Hell on Wheels is a documentary concerning the travails of the early formation of the Texas Rollerderby Lonestar Rollergirls in the early 2000s and the offshoot league, the Texas Rollergirls. And yes, there is a difference, which this movie painstakingly shows. It's indeed more about the politics and administration of the teams and why there are two separate leagues rather than playing the sport itself, and it proves that it takes a lot just to get any event or organization off the ground at a single city basis. It's like The West Wing, but with more static shots and for Austin roller derby. It's quite possibly the most honest film I have seen about starting and organizing an event with a group of women. Given that the sport does feature sexy outfits and is often violent, the women on the teams acknowledge the line between "sexy and slutty" that the teams have to take to make the sport entertaining; but towards the end, that line becomes very uncomfortable as one league is forced to wrestle in oil at a bar to promote the upcoming game.

The film and sound quality for Hell on Wheels is not the greatest, and I'm pretty sure this film was made for a small budget, with cheap equipment, and took several years to come out. There are subtitles for some of the meetings, not because of dialects, but because of where some of the meetings took place (the patios of restaurants with miniature waterfalls). It's still an interesting film to watch if you have any interest in the sport or the recent history of it. Despite all the drama that goes on in the film, it has a happy ending because both leagues became the inspiration for the formation of other leagues all over the US and the rest of the world.



Whip It
Dir. Drew Barrymore || 2009 || USA

In Whip It, Drew Barrymore makes the conscious choice not to follow the politics of being on a roller derby team or a part of a league and instead focuses on what can make the sport so inspiring and fun. The film is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Shauna Cross, who played roller derby in Austin and Los Angeles. The plot primarily concerns Texas alternateen Bliss leading a double life between becoming a new roller derby player and a beauty pageant contestant, something her Mom has had her do her entire life. It is a coming-of-age tale of sorts and I don't want to give much away because it is a good movie with some positive messages. Drew Barrymore has an eye for talent and what makes a good movie (most of the time, your mileage may vary with the Charlie's Angels films she produced and starred in) and I wish she would do more producing and directing work rather than acting in crummy-looking romantic comedies at this point; although she has a small and funny role as Smashley Simpson, the most accident prone of the roller derby players.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Grad School Residue/Image Association: Ghostbusters meets Situationists


"All cities are geological. You can’t take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

These dated images retain a small catalyzing power, but it is almost impossible to use them in a symbolic urbanism without rejuvenating them by giving them a new meaning. Our imaginations, haunted by the old archetypes, have remained far behind the sophistication of the machines. The various attempts to integrate modern science into new myths remain inadequate...Everyone wavers between the emotionally still-alive past and the already dead future."


FORMULARY FOR A NEW URBANISM, Gilles Ivain (Ivan Chtcheglov) Internationale Situationniste #1, October 1953 + Ghostbusters (1984, Reitman)