Freddy Got Fingered (2001), dir. Tom Green

Perhaps one of the lessons in cinema is to learn that there is no such thing as a ‘bad movie’. There’s ideologically bad movies; films that abuse the cast and crew, or are badly edited and badly shot and badly written, atonal and unstructured. M Night Shyamalan, despite the perception that has built in the years since Signs (2002), isn’t a ‘bad’ filmmaker; The Cat in the Hat (2003) employed Emmanuel Lubezki, best known for his collaborations with Alejandro González Iñárritu and Terrence Malick, as its cinematographer. The Room has elements that could make a good movie contained within it, and a wealth of intertextuality with Brando and Dean. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie: you might even set out to make a grindhouse B-movie. Perhaps the problem with the nomenclature of “so bad it’s good” is the presence of ‘bad’. Often, early films by directors can be seen as just a shadow of what the director would become; but Dark Star (1974) and Stereo (1969) end up as highlights and as elevated as everything else their respective directors worked on, beyond mere contextual material. Great people work on ‘bad’ movies; bad people work on good movies. There’s ‘great’ films I don’t like all that much. Is there really a “worst film ever made”? Each film should be judged on its own terms. Does it achieve what it set out to do?

Even the DVD’s minimal pull quotes plays into the film’s divisiveness:

“Total anarchy” – Hotdog

“So dumb it’s genius. Classic.” – Loaded

Obviously Tom Green’s style of comedy is going to be divisive. Outside of its 2001 release, it becomes divorced from Tom Green the comedian and MTV act: it has to do its own heavy lifting. Green’s comedy in Freddy Got Fingered relies on the chaos of context: breaking boundaries, moving the metaphorical and unspoken and flippant into the absolutely literal; on the flipside, turning the serious into the flippant. Getting to know animals better? Literal. Characterising your own father in your work? Literal. Fuck off or fuck my ass? Literal.

Is this a film serious about addressing disabled sexuality, discrimination, hypersexualisation, the difficulties of (false?) (completely legitimate?) allegations of sexual abuse and the institutionalisation of victims, the political situation in Pakistan and a hostage crisis, the dangers of child safety from recreational activities?

Probably not.

By recontextualising, Green reconsiders what we consider normal. So much of the film’s gross out humour relies on bodily fluids. As Green says in the MTV making of special on the DVD as he talks to producer Lauren Lloyd:

There’s no point of doing the [horse] scene if you don’t see [BLEEP]. Like, Scary Movie, there was [BLEEP] all over that movie, know what I mean? Human [BLEEP], by the way. I mean, if you can put human [BLEEP] in Scary Movie, you should be able to put horse [BLEEP] in Freddy Got Fingered, right?

Fifty years ago, Elvis Presley couldn’t dance on, what was it, Ed Sullivan, without shooting him from here up [points to his chest]. Now we’re debating whether or not I’m going to whack off a horse.

Speaking in his heightened persona, he explains the process of making a stallion’s penis erect, and explains against censored graphic footage:

You know, I’ve always wanted to touch a horse’s privates. […] Dream come true time. If I was involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and I was a child, well, this would have been my wish. […] If I was a sick kid, I’d want to whack off a horse.

Green relates to camera from the studio:

When I dreamed of being a comedian, those weren’t my dreams, whacking off barnyard animals. That’s porno! My dream was not to be in porno.

Even Green feels a three second cumshot would be going too far. Why can we show humans getting boners, jacking off and cumming in porn, but not the exact same thing when it happens to animals – the ethics of sexually arousing animals aside. It’s an everyday part of farm work; Green forces us to approach that. (In a deleted scene, Green is seen drinking milk directly from a cow’s udders – as if it isn’t already weird to drink animal lactation on an industrial scale?)

He throws one thing after another at us. What’s truly wrong with licking out a friend’s gaping open wound if it disinfects it? If parents can eat their newborn’s placenta, then what’s wrong with cutting open an umbilical cord with your own teeth – with the blood and gore of a body horror – and delivering the baby – not even a stillborn – just fine? What’s really wrong with chatting up a girl, Beth, at the desk in a hospital, or even flicking creamers as a way to cope with working at a hospital?

Of course Gord Brody is an awful human, dismissing the possibility of a girl he just got the phone number off because she’s a “cripple” (already lying to her about being a business consultant and stock analyst), or buys her off with jewels she never asked for or wanted. After revealing she’s an (amateur) rocket scientist and an alarm goes off, the camera pulls away, as she pulls off in the reverse direction to reveal her as a wheelchair user. The fact that an audience may already have precluded her from being a wheelchair user from the static framing of the desk reveals implicit biases. But at least Gord isn’t his father (Rip Torn) that reduces her personhood completely, never redeems himself and labels her as the R slur? She empowers her own sexuality, has her own boundaries and the acts of flagellation she likes. But her insistence on blowjobs seems pretty abusive without anything being talked about beforehand?

The film is a time capsule of the MTV culture of pre-9/11 2001: an Eminem closing song and soundtrack of pop music, being able to get a $1 million commission for a cartoon despite no industry experience and harassing the first employer you go to under false pretences, independent animation companies like Radioactive Animation Studios still existing (Fox’s own animation studios may potentially be under threat from the Disney merger), being able to joke about bombs, pass through security with no consequence, making jokes about CSA and ‘fingering’ minors in an industry (including Fox) that helped support, ‘rehabilitate’ and facilitate abusers.

Maybe placing yourself into the position of Gord is an awful idea. But it perfectly encapsulates the period of your 20s. I’ve been watching the DVD of The Young Ones (1982-84), a series that works much more strongly when you can reflect your own experience of student housing back against it – and is celebrated for its ludicrous, anarchic humour in a way Freddy Got Fingered isn’t. But what’s the difference? Through a heightened way, it makes truths real. The pressure from parents to get a good, successful career; the imagined pressure from a girlfriend to be the absolute best, the internal self-deprecation of seeing somebody do better and make more progress than you are (even when he doubts Beth), wanting to pursue a lifelong dream and passion but not seeming good enough, being rejected, begging for jobs, working shitty food industry retail at Submarine Supreme and breaking down with copious amounts of cheese because you’ve just had enough, being bossed by someone younger and shorter than you, having the time or enough hands to commit to a dream completely because everything else in adult life has to happen, wanting to maintain being silly and being immature even when you’re supposed to be ‘mature’ and have an ‘adult’ job. The situation of living at home as an adult and having to reconcile childhood with the present, the future, and still come away with a family bond. Why do we need a respectable, sensible comedy about family therapy?

Of course, actions have consequences: we follow a protagonist blind to consequences. But it’s not like these people don’t exist and continue to do shitty things the way they are. Perhaps the only sane person in the film is Gordy’s mom, deciding enough is enough, getting a taxi away from her shitty ableist, destructive, threatening, potential sexual abuser husband to find a new man – hypersexual enough to not even care about her own son being rescued from an international hostage crisis. Green lets over a year pass like nothing, he lets father and son reconcile like nothing, he lets injured children bleed like nothing. This film is a blast.

License to Drive (1988), dir. Greg Beeman

License to Drive actually has some pretty significant messages. The failures and expense of the American healthcare system are so vast that it’s more cost effective to destroy two cars and allow a teenager without a license to shift into reverse in a cadillac that isn’t road safe. The 80s dudebro attitude to photograph a comatose date in a moving vehicle is enough to risk your life and kill you. Be the responsible dude and turn down a girl that wants to make out and go down on you when she’s past it and about to chunder.

It’s still 80s teen comedy misogyny: a father so inept that even when he keeps track of her contractions, fails to recognise his wife is in labour. It’s a film about misleading people, being unable to tell your girl the truth that you can’t drive (and only learning in the first place to impress girls) and hiding her in the trunk without thinking about her safety – let’s suffocate her and treat her like it’s the opening to Goodfellas (1990)? The aptly named Mercedes (Heather Graham) is turned into a pin-up by pasting her face onto a porno pose car girl. But Mercedes still has agency over her sexuality and her relationships with other men, including leaving an abusive one.But it’s at the end of the day a film about getting the girl and driving into the sunrise. It’s neither progressive neither quite as regressive as it could be. Heather Graham still plays a male fantasy. (Corey Feldman, rather than Haim, went on a date with her during filming.)

It’s a film I could have done with when I was 17, alongside those other teen car driving classics, American Graffiti (1973) and Teen Wolf (1985) – the time where my anxiety capped out with the feeling that all my friends were learning or knew how to drive. Of course, they didn’t, it was only a handful of people in the entire sixth form, but it offered that feeling of needing escape and freedom. I tried to make sense of this feeling in a 2015 poem:

Entrusting yourself
In the curve slightly too much to the left
In hands divided between the satnav and steering wheel
In horizontally vertical parking spaces
And invisible curves
Is freedom

[…]

Under the grey-white clouds
And the windscreen meeting the horizon
It exists outside time

At 22, I barely know that many people my age that are actively driving. It’s weird how the significance of these goals shift when you grow older. Who cares quite so much about taking a girl out on a nice date and making it to a burger joint and rebel from your parents like it’s the only thing that matters?

Duran Duran: Unstaged (2014), dir. David Lynch

The concert film David Lynch should forever be associated with is the astounding Industial Symphony No. 1 (1990). But Duran Duran: Unstaged uses quintessential David Lynch iconography, intersecting his areas of work – blue lights overpowering the screen, utilising colour, shadow and silhouette, intentional use of monochrome, alluring women, commercial assignments, surreal, misshapen human sculpture, the motions of machinery, suburban American lawns, cars upon the long road, barbecues and houses, bad digital graphics, floating characters of the alphabet, taking the more baffling option when the linear choice is there, adapting to internet production and distribution. What’s more David Lynch than not appearing on the stage during the final curtain?

Duran Duran: Unstaged feels like a stepping stone towards Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). Lynch has long enjoyed a connection with music, whether it’s listening to (The) Nine Inch Nails on the set of Lost Highway, casting David Bowie as Phillip Jeffries, using I’m Deranged from Outside for Lost Highway’s title song, In Heaven, Mysteries of Love, Crying – or the albums Lynch has released as Thought Gang or alongside Chrysta Bell – or the music that forms the background of his films. Unstaged embraces the music to the point where the music is the thing – not the thematic intersection midway through the film – it’s the closing of each episode in the Roadhouse, without interruption. It’s not Angelo Badalamenti, but it’s Notorious, Hungry Like the Wolf, The Man Who Stole a Leopard, Girl Panic!, Rio, A View to a Kill, Girls on Film. Name me something better. Twin Peaks: The Return at its heart is the coalescence of Lynch as an experimental filmmaker, narrative filmmaker, television producer and director, a musician, a surrealist painter and sculptor that embraces the digital. Unstaged leans in the same direction.