Watching Best Worst Movie at the Dryden Followed by the Best Worst Movie, Troll 2

I figured it would be fun, so I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Best Worst Movie. It's a documentary about the "best worst movie" Troll 2 which they screened after the documentary. With anchors of cultural infamy in general, I've gone from being oblivious to being vaguely amused of to being vaguely annoyed to being downright cynical. So when I heard Troll 2 had a sort of "cult following" I was somewhat open, but deep inside, my eyes were rolling — "great, just like [surviving zombie attacks, being snarky about MySpace, Snakes on a Plane, pirates, getting on MySpace, etc.] this will be amusing but ultimately transparent."

The documentary is pretty well structured. Michael Stephenson played the role of "Joshua" in Troll 2, and as an adult, decided to revisit the making of the film and what the actors are up to. As such, it follows Dr. George Hardy, DDS — an Alabama dentist who was the one-time star of Troll 2. It lays out the case that a group of amateur and fledgling actors worked on a film by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, each having trouble figuring out the totality of the movie from the script, and further challenged by Fragasso's attention-to-detail and their inability to speak Italian (thankfully Fragasso could speak a little English). And when every single one of them finally saw the resulting product (through exactly two venues: HBO or on VHS tape video), they were aghast at just how bad it was. But — there are a small group of people who adore the sheer terribleness of the film. And as such, Dr. Hardy is a minor celebrity. Emphasis on "minor", as he's a celebrity to fans of the film and some weirdly gregarious Alabama dentist to everyone else.

Fragasso's wife Rossella Drudi co-wrote the screenplay with him. In the documentary, she says she was annoyed with her friends becoming irritating vegetarians, so she decided to have the central point be that the goblins in the film are vegetarian, resorting to transforming people into plants before eating them. (I should mention that there is a connection solely in name to Troll, and nobody in the movie utters the word "troll", always referring to the monster creatures as "goblins" instead.) Fragasso insists the film paints a portrait of American families — more so than Americans can even see.

And what is this portrait? Well basically a family from Utah decides to go on vacation by swapping houses for a month with a family in the rural town of Nilbog whom they have never met. As best I recall, they bring no provisions or luggage, save for an overnight bag or two. When they arrive, they swap keys with their aloof hosts and head in to the house. They find a feast of bizarre pastries but before they can eat them, Joshua's dead grandfather appears to him and insists they must not eat or they will die, freezing time, and giving Joshua time to formulate a distraction. Annoyed with his solution, Joshua's dad Michael (Hardy) sends him to bed early, noting (among other things) that he's "tightening [his] belt one loop so that [he doesn't] feel hunger pains", establishing the surreal scripted line that acts as the make-or-break moment when you, the viewer, decide if you're curious enough to proceed.

I cannot fathom what Fragasso was driving at with the vacation, interactions, and actions of this so-called American family. I wish I knew what I, as an American, am so blind to that my fathoming is in vain.

The movie definitely piqued my interest.  It was made with the full commitment of Fragasso who insisted on his form of perfection. The actors did their best to deliver, but between lack of skill and not being able to access the material, they tended more toward failure — although in their obliviousness, they managed to transmit Fragasso's vision. In the end, I think it is the portrait Fragasso envisioned. And that is why it has a cult following: that is is the tenacious work of one man and his wife to successfully and purely make an artistic statement.

Although I think it's predicated on one more thing. That artistic statement?: it's batshit insane. The metaphors are both ham-fisted and inaccessibly subtle (goblins turn people into vegetables to eat them — American mass-consumerism? turning humans into commodities? hatred of vegetarians? all of the above? one of the above?) Whatever Fragasso and Drudi set out to do, they may have succeeded, but the product of their work will remain an enigma forever.

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Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work at the Little

I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I've never been much of a fan of Joan Rivers — my mom was, and I remember my parents going to see her live years ago and that they were shocked and unhappy that she swore a lot. By the sheer volume of media, I know that Rivers was on the Celebrity Apprentice, and that she gets cosmetic surgery, and that she does some kind of fashion critique at the Academy Awards. In total, I barely had any opinion of her — not her person, her acting, or her comedy.

So I went to the film about as unbiased as I could have. In general, I found it to be absolutely fascinating. It's a year-in-the-life kind of thing, edited more topically than chronologically.

I found Rivers to be generally likable and vibrant, but with a manner of living that is outside how I can imagine myself. She's a powerhouse in media — understanding it on a level that I can barely comprehend. She can somehow digest negative opinions of her and her work and continue to thrive, whereas I'd be back living in anonymity at the first sign of complaint.

She's constantly working on the cutting edge — heck, she's a 75-year-old woman who can still make audiences squirm in her comedy (which is nothing new: consider her joke cut from The Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960's on abortion, [paraphrasing] "she had 14 appendectomies, flying back-and-forth to Puerto Rico; then she walked down the aisle in white") and she was on Celebrity Apprentice of all things. She has a well-contained big heart — generous and kind in what she cares about, but never for purposes of image (despite her claims that she will do anything for a buck).

As I watched, I came to realize Rivers was in charge of the film. I mean, obviously it was a documentary about her, but she expertly used the documentary medium as a means to advertise herself. She constantly sees herself as a brand (and rarely tips her hat to reveal that she sees herself as anything but) so this film was a way to reach another audience. I wonder if I was some part of her target audience — someone who is media-averse and human-interaction oriented. Whether I was deliberately in her cross-hairs or not, it worked for me — I'd even go see her comedy as I found myself genuinely surprised by her punch-lines, uncontrollably laughing out loud. If nothing else, the film greatly improved my opinion of Joan Rivers.

And now I've got another thing to talk with my mom about.

(even her joke cut from The Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960's on abortion was more risqué than some I've heard today: (paraphrasing) "she had 14 appendectomies, flying back-and-forth to Puerto Rico; then she walked down the aisle in white")

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Seeing a Performance of Rossum's Universal Robots at the MuCCC

I went to see Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R.) at The Multi-Use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) (142 Atlantic Ave.) with a group from The Rochester Speculative Literature Association (R-SPEC). When I was in high school, I read the play in English class. It seemed okay back then and I did remember it, but it was amused for my feelings for it all those years ago to bubble back up.

The play starts off with Helena, the daughter of the president, visits the robot factory with the intention to liberate the robots as if they were human. In this, we are dumped into the misogynistic world of 1920 Czechoslovakia de Karel Capek (despite it being set in some undefined future). It was intolerable. The Helena character is borderline mentally disabled, a staple of female characters written by men who never listened to a woman. (I even recall hating Helena in my high school reading as well.) The robot factory is on an island, and (naturally) exclusively operated by men. Even the robots were almost exclusively men [which you may have noticed didn't change in storytelling until writers realized that robots were not superior to humans, at which they started being female] except for one: a replica of Helena who was "useless as a worker" because of her whimsical ways.

But okay, I grit my teeth and did my best to not be overwhelmed by that central theme.

The story trundles along, revealing the robots to be organic things akin to super-smart, human-looking, genetically modified animals. It's clear that Capek is making a statement about the ideal worker in either a communist or capitalist world: one that works tirelessly, has no internal drive, and that requires virtually nothing in the form of pay. The robots (naturally) revolt and (despite their intelligence and realization of a finite lifespan) kill off all the humans. Except for those in the factory, at least for a while. They enslave the factory operators in an attempt to extract the formula to make more robots. But all is not lost for humanity and its attempt to be a god, for Helena R. (the robot) apparently has a function after all — at least in not-so-subtle implication.

Aside from introducing the word "robot" into the lexicon, I have to say this play offers really nothing else. It combines man's desire to be a god, the oppressed rising up against their oppressors, and an overwhelming dose of "women are only good for housekeeping and making babies." I want to say that an adaptation would be improved by eliminating the misogynistic overtones, but it so central to the plot that it seems an insurmountable task. At least the actors did their best with it and did a fine job with the script-in-hand reading.

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