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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