Thursday, November 17, 2005

Day 48: C.H.U.D.

So after all my caterwauling and gnashing of the teeth about strong female voices in cinema, fate has forced my hand, denying me Cold Comfort Farm and replacing it with C.H.U.D.  Oh, Movie Gods, you mock me so!

Before saying anything else, let me just state that, for all its weaknesses, I enjoyed C.H.U.D.  It features a god awful score, lacks any verisimilitude when it comes to its homeless characters, and contains some glaringly out of place genre moments that stick out as being motivated solely by commercial interests*.  The pace of the movie stops dead halfway through as an expositional conference room scene stretches on into infinity, repeating the same beats ad nausea.  The look of the film is also a problem.  When the characters enter the subterranean dwellings of homeless people and CHUDs alike, it’s far too bright down there and looks exactly like the set it is.  More than once as John Heard and Daniel Stern clomped about in the sewers, I wondered what could have been done with the gritty, disgusting environment given either more time for the makers of the film to exploit their setting or a more talented D.P.  And, hence, the slickness gives it a feeling of being too cheap.  

Nevertheless, the script is a fun, straight-forward horror script which also contains similarly straight-forward allegorical elements about the neglect of the homeless problem in New York City by the governing bodies.  The characters are appropriately arch, and the script uses them in interesting ways.  I was delighted when Daniel Stern’s hippy Soup Kitchen proprietor joined forces with Christopher Curry’s square police officer Captain Bosch to fight the oppressive forces of the government.  The performances are enjoyably campy; I really enjoyed most of Daniel Stern’s hammy performance and how John Heard looked rumpled all the time.  And I think there’s something inherently creepy about a monster in the sewers, the place where we flush all of our shame.

According to its page on imdb, C.H.U.D. came out in 1984 which would put it out in the same year as Ghostbusters.  I think it’s instructive to compare the movies, since they deal with an uneasy dread that, secretly, something is very wrong with New York City.  And both deal with conflicts of local control vs. national control and come to similar conclusions.

Ghostbusters, being the more mainstream of the two (by far), offers the American Dream as the solution: small business owners solve the (in this case, supernatural [but I believe the movie actually treats the supernatural as an inevitable, natural force as it would if it dealt with tornadoes or rain]) problem with industry and invention and make themselves rich (and famous) in the process.  Their biggest obstacle is the Environmental Protection Agency, represented by Walter Peck, who’s convinced that the whole thing is both phony and a danger to the public health.  When he shuts down the Ghostbusters’ containment grid, he believes he’s helping the public, but is, in fact, endangering them in his zeal to assert his governmental authority over the business.  Faced with a choice between siding with the local Ghostbusters or with the national EPA, the Mayor of New York places his faith in the local boys.  Ghostbusters posits that New York’s problems are unavoidable and can be solved through local free enterprise without interference from dickless government agents.

Entrenched in genre and, thus, outside the mainstream, C.H.U.D. has the ability to be far more cynical.  C.H.U.D. states that the problem is, in fact, a perversion of both humanity and nature and that the national government itself is responsible for the secret problem in New York City.  Indeed, the real monster in the film is the national government since the movie ignores the ultimate fate of the mutated monstrosities, choosing to focus its climax on the way the New Yorkers oust the national government from its seat of power (uniting, for instance, the square cop with the hippy liberal, both locals, against the national forces).  C.H.U.D. ultimately offers no solutions to the monster problem in favor of offering solutions to conspiracy and, as a result, is all the weaker for it.  It serves merely as a cautionary tale about the dangers of national forces meddling in local affairs with monsters representing the result.

And, so, C.H.U.D. isn’t super.  It’s, at best, a mediocre film, but there’s enough wit and cleverness on display in the writing and the acting to make it a fun dose of mediocrity.  Oh, and John Heard has one of the more hilarious freak-out scenes I’ve ever seen.  When he and Stern stumble across some mutilated bodies in the sewers, he tries to run, Stern tries to stop him, and they both fall down.  Then, the two tumble about until Heard calms down a bit.

*I’m thinking particularly about a clumsy moment when Lauren, the main female character, finds a mutilated dog in a space underneath the basement of the building in which she lives, calls the cops, and then takes a shower.  The shower drain is clogged and so she attempts to clear it with a wire coat hanger (this is actually rather interesting imagery since, prior to this scene, we’ve learned that the character is pregnant and has discussed terminating the pregnancy with her boyfriend).  A jet of blood spurts out from the drain and onto her.  I don’t object, necessarily, to the showering here (illogical as it may seem given the course of events and exploitative as it may be) but rather to the unconvincing physics behind the jet of blood and the way this scene is dismissed by the rest of the movie as if it hadn’t happened.  In Lauren’s next scene, she’s casually arranging flowers with no sign of disturbance from previously being showered by blood.  This is clearly a “shock” moment, a cheap one, capitalizing on the vulnerability inherent in bathing, and, abortion symbolism aside, adds absolutely nothing to the film.

The George Miller/Romero post

George Miller made the Mad Max series. Now he's making this: Happy Feet. It's true he made Babe: Pig in the City, but that had, among other things, a nice Dickensian quality that actually felt dangerous at times. This looks like it has a nice Disneyensian quality circa the year 2000.

I was into penguins before penguins were cool.

Then I saw this posted on GreenCine Daily and thought I'd share. An analysis of Land of the Dead. I enjoyed reading it, though the movie's definitely not aging well within me. In particular, I think Big Daddy's makeup was a Big Daddy mistake.

We can only hope that Tom Savini can someday preserve the Romero dynasty with Vampirates. Ah, Vampirates. Why don't you exist right now???

Week 6 Index

Day 37: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Day 38: Who's That Knocking at My Door?
Day 39: Bad Company
Day 40: Day for Night
Day 41: Q: the Winged Serpent
Day 42: Sex, Lies, and Videotape
Day 43: Parents