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.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), dir. Joel & Ethan Coen

It seems clear that A Serious Man (2009) is the Coen Brothers’ most explicitly Jewish film, but it is certainly far from their only Jewish film. But O Brother, Where Art Thou? seems to be their film that most explicitly approaches Christianity – specifically, white Southern Christianity. That’s not to say O Brother, Where Art Thou? doesn’t have a framework of Judaism within it also: besides the cross, the film often deals in Old Testament imagery, with the parting of the waters that catapults a miraculous flood, with a raft able to survive with a fraction of those present. It’s either salvation from God, or progress into the New Deal future through hydroelectric dams flooding previously inhabited areas. The film’s Classical Odyssean narrative – relying on surprise and the unexpected – resembles the philosophy towards God (and a broken marriage) expressed by the Rabbi in A Serious Man – a sense of come what may.

But the film’s most explicit allusion to Judaism is through staging a KKK rally in Mississippi, led by the town’s Christian religious leaders and political hopefuls – like the film’s Homer, Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall) – that denounces miscegenation, Jews and African Americans. Set against the backdrop of the Depression, the rally comes adjacent to the rise of racist, anti-Semitic Nazism and fascism with rallies across Europe and America. The Coens may not be Spike Lee, but reducing lynchings and burning crosses to farce are still personal. The film expresses progressive, racially inclusive politics in the decades before the three main protagonists are released from their imagined prisons in the 1980s, relying upon allyship and material support towards other marginalised people – their singer friend Tommy Johnson (Michael Badalucco). Of course, ‘Tommy’ has its own racial connotations – to the notion of an ‘Uncle Tom’. African American characters are often to the side of the film in unspoken roles – working the railroad, prison labourers – but the ruins from slavery in the South and their presence is still felt. Perhaps ironically, it’s the black characters that survive – a white bankrobber dragged into police custody, lit by torches, boasting of his upcoming execution – as Tommy survives lynching. With the three protagonists given their own extrajudicial nooses, Tommy has no noose, as the black gravediggers around them sing their own song.

God is simultaneously knowable and unknowable, depending on one’s perspective. The Coens split between three characters with their own religious perspectives. Everett Ulysses (George Clooney), in a moment of crisis, begs the Lord for mercy and forgiveness, apologising for his pride and wanting to see his family again, in an overhead shot as though the viewer is God Himself. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a circular film: Ulyssees rejects baptism, casts doubt on the involvement of God (though begins, if briefly, to accept the sorcerous notion of Pete reduced to a toad), and ends by once again advocating for a “brave new world” of scientific reason and an American ideology of industry – the spreading of electrictal grids – but also adopts hope for an age of reason and the demise of “mumbo jumbo” and superstition. ‘Mumbo jumbo’ is equally problematic – a corruption and rejection of African tribalism by the colonial English language. But whether it’s the 1930s, 1980s, 2000 or 2019 – America and the South remains, despite demographic shifts – a majority religious and Christian country, driven in spaces by hate, xenophobia, racism – and indeed, superstition. The passage of time hasn’t solved the South.

In O Brother, Where Art Thou? we recognise the hypocrisy of Christianity. In white robes, we’re baptised, but can a life of criminality be all forgiven by cloudy, dirty water? Ulysses’ chain gang companions, Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete (John Turturro) proceed through the film with a semblance of religious belief that arguably provides their salvation: Ulysses leads their journey through lies and the prospect of material survival and riches, itself sinful. Christianity is corrupted: it’s purely a vehicle for Big Dan Teague (John Goodman) to exploit the lucrative Christian market with Bible sales in the same era as Paper Moon (1973) – without practicing Christian values himself, starting violent fights and stealing all that Ulysses and Delmar have to them, murdering animals: Christianity as something to preach down the radio, not affect one’s life.

Lovely By Surprise (2007), dir. Kirt Gunn

Is this weird mid-00s indie film the most obscure title Eureka has ever released? It combines every single variety of indie film from this era: mumblecore about a writer, Marian (Carrie Preston) and her professor, Jackson (Austin Pendleton), metatextual exploration of the constructs of the writing process, a quirky impossible world with heightened characters, a black comedy about a car salesman and his grieving ‘mute’ daughter at a crossroads in life, shifts in temporal setting. But the prescriptivism of following her former professor’s (and lover) instruction to have one of her characters die to create conflict – as though all narratives must follow this cliché structure – is pretting aggravating, especially considering the extramarital nature of their relationship that really does come across as predatory, especially as her much older senior.

Perhaps selling the DVD cover with a literary construct in his underwear, covered in a green mud mask in a bathtub is the worst marketing decision that could have been chosen, underselling the perspective, narrative and (relatively) complex structure of the film, playing somewhat similarly to Seven Psychopaths (2012). There are some good lessons to impart on how writing becomes completely a part of you, takes over your life and responding to fictional characters emotionally as real people. But it’s genuinely cringeworthy and embarrassing to be seeing so much time spent in underwear, whether it’s digging through boxes of cereal for a free gift inside, or talking to a little girl (!). The strongest aspect is a 70s car dealer refusing to sell cars to the ire of his manager (who there’s some completely undetectable homoerotic subtext with, per director Gunn’s commentary track), but even his daughter having to learn to speak again after grief seems to be used more as a plot device than as a fully formed psychological exploration of the manifestations of trauma in childhood.