How is it that great movies end up forgotten, or worse, undiscovered? How does a masterpiece, meaning some important work clearly recognized as having amazing artistic merit or qualifications, wind up sitting on a shelf in some studio, quietly distributed and then all but disregarded? It seems to happen all the time - a director’s magnum opus newly uncovered, an actor’s best role just recently released. Such is the case with the flawless Australian film Bad Boy Bubby. Before hitting DVD a few years ago, this 1993 wonder from Downunder was celebrated by a select few, known among cinephiles as an explosive tour de force. But to the rest of the cinematic status quo, Rolf De Heer’s allegory of purposefully arrested adolescence was that lost diamond in a celluloid cave full of rhinestones and fool’s gold - and it definitely didn’t deserve to be.
The story centers on Bubby, a deranged manchild who has been living in the horrific Hellhole of his mother’s bunker like home for over 35 years. Cautioned that the real world outside the barricaded front door is dangerous and poisoned, he spends his days isolated and afraid, his only friend a feral cat (which, in pure psycho-logical profile style, he relentlessly torments). Mother makes demands of Bubby, her menopausal loneliness leading to inappropriate acts of abuse and incest. When a stranger arrives at their door, claiming to be the overgrown boy’s Dad, our stunted savant goes crazy. Soon, he’s escaped his dungeon-like domain, and goes on a perplexing Pilgrim’s progress through a series of social interactions. In the end, Bubby winds up a vitriol spewing member of a rock band. He also helps those unable to communicate to “voice” their heretofore unheard thoughts.
Imagine Christ born, not in a manger, but in an abattoir, the Virgin Mary so lost and biologically bonkers that she beds down the matured messiah any chance she gets. Now turn our soiled savior into a combination Johnny Rotten and Sigmund Freud, disconnected from the real world but capable of linking with society’s frightening fringe. Wrap it all in an amazing performance by actor Nicholas Hope (who is truly remarkable) and exceptional direction by A Quiet Room‘s De Heer, and you’ve got some idea of the level Bad Boy Bubby exists within. In this uneasy, unforgettable portrait of pain amplified into aggression, we see humanity defiled, personality perverted, compassion corrupted, and the healing power of love tossed aside for an equally therapeutic dose of hate. In fact, convert the aforementioned Biblical angle on its head and this could be the Antichrist’s biopic.
Told in movements, each one meant to mimic our lead’s claustrophobic sense of the world, De Heer manages the unthinkable. He turns the derelict into something defendable, the sadistic and malignant into the somewhat soured milk of maternal kindness. We get why Bubby’s mum is the way she is. It all comes back to her - and us - when “Dad” returns. Her demented defense mechanisms have colored her son’s 35 plus years on the planet, making him completely ill-prepared for reality. This in turn sets up the finale for the first act, a disgusting, destructive jag that indicates just how deep Bubby’s bruises go. Sure, there are elements that seem excessive, but in comparison to what we’ve seen in the set-up, our heroes acts are some of the most cruel - and cathartic - of any movie ever made.
Thus we enter De Heer’s second “symphony of struggle” and the outside world is just as traumatic. Bubby is inundated with goodness and badness, both sides of the social coin unprepared to make sense of, and or exploit, his naïve nature. It’s like a Pynchon novel as envision by the two Davids - Lynch and Cronenberg. Toward the end, when his stardom and psychic abilities are secured, the final movement manages the truly remarkable. Here, in this stunted, stifled human being is potential fully realized, acceptance gained without a moment’s hesitation or a single personal compromise. Bubby might not be settled, but he sure as Hell is happy…for once.
Indeed, like any struggle for enlightenment, Bad Boy Bubby is about channeling the past in an appropriate and productive manner. It’s about finding your place, no matter how long you’ve been out of the currently running rat race. In this case, the outrageous physical and sexual abuse he’s been subjected to, in combination with the limited purview of his experience, results in Bubby’s uncanny ability to communicate. He’s not special, he’s just really, really tuned in. The punks respond to him because he knows pain, knows it like an unnatural love (and lover). Similarly, the physically handicapped connect with him because he’s used to reading minor changes and gestures as details. With De Heer presenting everything in a kind surreal puzzle box of pleasures, visual - and most importantly aural - approach simulating Bubby’s perspective, we become lost in this undeniable stunning cinematic exercise.
It’s an experience accented by the new Blu-ray release from Blue Underground. Porting over all their extras from the original DVD, we are treated to interviews with De Heer, Hope, and a strange short film, Confessor Caressor (the catalyst for landing the actor this part). There is also a trailer, as well as an accurate audio track which recreates the binaural set-up the director used to put the viewer directly into Bubby’s brain. It can be disorienting at first, especially when you consider that the technique was meant to capture the craziness going on in the character’s head. While some may be sad that a rumored commentary track from other region releases didn’t make the switch to the new format, the updated technical attributes (including an amazing 2.35:1, 1080p image) more than makes up for its absence.
In fact, Bad Boy Bubby is one of those rarities that requires little actual supplemental support to matter within the motion picture artform. Sure, it’s a set example of its time and place, a reflection of the unusual filmmaking fervor overtaking Australia during the ‘90s. But it’s also a potent metaphor for the horrors of youth translating into an equally scary adult sense of dread. As the old saying goes, Bubby was not born bad. He was made that way after years of neglect and trauma. But if the results lead to a kind of redemption, to a freedom forced through violence and aggression, then maybe it was worth it. To suggest that something good can come out of depravity and disease is just one of this film’s finer pleasures. Then again, that’s the great thing about lost gems - they’ll surprise you every time.