Introspection is key to an artist’s imagination. Reflecting life is one thing. Inspecting the inner existence is an equally important facet. In essence, it’s the ultimate expression of self, a sense of what makes a mind tick, a brain bubble, and a thought process percolate. In film, some of our greatest directors have made masterworks out of the creative core concept. Fellini gave us 8&1/2. Woody Allen offered Stardust Memories. David Lynch divined Mulholland Dr. And now Giuseppe Andrews steps behind his wholly independent lens to give us a take on cinema, karma, movie history, and Hollywood phonies. Oddly enough, he draws a very interesting conclusion - It’s All Not So Tragic.
For film historian Greg Connor, things haven’t been going well. He’s had mental problems ever since the day he ruined his chance at being a DVD commentator. During the featurette for a favorite noir classic, he committed an unspeakable, unnatural act. Now his shrink is suggesting he take a small vacation to get away from it all. Running out of gas, Connor comes across a fallen crossing guard, a psychotic with a pick axe, a young lady named Distosia, who is studying to be part of a cult, one of his favorite soap stars, and a young man he once photographed in the nude. All of this leads to a kind of psychotic breakdown where Connor’s sexual dysfunction manifests itself in more and more bizarre ways. Eventually, there’s nothing left to do but dance and sing. Besides, life’s not too bad when you think about it.
Like a fever dream infected with rabies, or a Tinsel Town satire slathered in scatology, It’s All Not So Tragic takes some getting used to. Not in a bad way, mind you, but unlike previous offerings from America’s trailer park Godard, this narrative is so knotty it tends to cannibalize and consumer itself. What begins as a simple road trip, a chance for one messed up man to escape the demons that force him onto the couch and into the bottle, turns into a freak show Ferris Wheel, the next turn of the tale offering up increasingly disconnected delirium. Naturally, sex plays a major part in the plotline, but this time around its more violent and ‘self abusive’. The end result is a film that challenges the conventions created by Andrews and his anarchic mobile hominess. Instead, we witness one man’s tenuous grip on reality slowly draining down his pants’ leg and into the sewer.
Of course, there are obvious targets. Daytime dramas get skewered as our hero sits back and enjoys a shower-oriented scene from his favorite serial As the World Spins. The writing and realization of this sequence is so spot on it mandates its own movie. Similarly, Andrews’ regular Marybeth Spychalski shows up as a brainwashed religious cult chick, clamoring for the very Scientology like “Wolancoism” belief system. Her conversations with star Miles David Dougal are classic in their crackpot philosophizing. Elsewhere, DVDs get a slamdance stake through their bonus feature hearts, our lead longing to be legitimized by placement as part of the format’s added content. Even soap box racers (and those put in charge of maintaining traffic safety for said cardboard cars) get skewered. Andrews is amazing in this way. Just when you think he’s covered all the narrative possibilities, he finds more fodder for his unsettled cinema.
Not so clear is the motivation behind the last act montages. Since he loves music as much as film (his CDs are well worth picking up - they contain a wealth of equally eccentric sonic sensationalism), Andrews presents a series of songs interspersed with a clown satisfying himself with a vacuum cleaner and a collection of seemingly unconnected clips. But deep thinking reveals some clues. Early on, it appears that every time something sinister is about to happen to our hero, someone appears from out of the blue and blows the threat away with a handgun. Naturally, it seems nonsensical at first, until you apply the motion picture standard by which violence - and most specifically, gun violence - solves most problems. In that regard, Connor’s various packing saviors appear practically sane. The sudden dive into song and dance could clearly be a reflection of the old school Hollywood-ism that any depressive down time can be “cured” with a little celluloid whimsy. Here Andrews’ amazing muse provides the perfect antidote to the main character’s descent into debauchery and delusion.
While star Dougal redefines the concept of a tour de force, the rest of the writer/director’s standard company gets reduced to extended cameos. The venerable Vietnam Ron plays an unhinged stalker, while Sir George Bigfoot travels around with a suitcase full of cockroaches. Guitar wizard Ed stands in for the dome doc, while Walt Dongo plays a pissed off member of the Walancoism sect. Noticeably absent this time around are Karen Bo Baron (star of Andrews’ masterful Orzo) and that queen of the ancient art of the flapjack dance, Elaine Bongos. Their peculiarly endearing presence is always missed. Thankfully, our filmmaker finds ways to substitute and persevere.
That he continues to grow as an artist is no surprise - true talent finds a way to flourish, instead of stagnating and straining - but how this amazing auteur channels his creativity is what continues to make his movies so amazing. Giuseppe Andrews has an oeuvre now that far surpasses many who maintain a place in the hallowed halls of cinema’s standard bearers. For what he’s done in expanding the realm of homemade moviemaking, for providing a voice to the disenfranchised and the routinely marginalized, for locating brilliance where others would see idiosyncrasy, hopelessness, and despair, he becomes the most independent of true icons. He also remains the most staunchly original voice working along the fringes of the artform today. It’s All Not So Tragic continues to prove his place among the true creative champions.
// Notes from the Road
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