[10 January 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s the last place people would look for art. It’s the infamous home of white trash and inbred hillbilly rednecks or so we’ve been told. Tornadoes are drawn to them like fanboys to an online production diary, and their boxy, aluminum accoutrements render any semblance of dignity into the social equivalent of sardines. Once they may have been the Sun City summit of retirement living, but now they are just fodder for a hundred Jerry Springer Shows. Call it a double-wide or a home-on-wheels, but the trailer is tantamount to an aesthetic death sentence in the minds of most.
One filmmaker is out to change the image of these reviled residences once and for all. Giuseppe Andrews, sometime Hollywood actor (he has appeared in such films as Independence Day, Cabin Fever and the upcoming Homo Erectus) has lived along this architectural fringe of the human outskirts his entire life. He claims to have spent his formative years in a shed out behind his father’s camper, and over the years, has moved up to owning his own modest mobile abode. In order to pass the time and explore his burgeoning interest in filmmaking, Andrews decided to get a camera and cast his fellow trailer park residents in a series of experimental narratives. The results have been nothing short of monumental, the kind of cinematic shockwave that is destined to be ignored by the current pop culture mindset, but praised a few decades from now.
Andrews’s moviemaking modus is as important to understanding his amazing oeuvre as the actual films themselves. Befriending several of the drunken, down and out people who live like outcasts from the rest of the normative world in these standardized metal shells, Andrews discovered individuals with distinct personalities and earthy genuineness. Hoping to tap into their inner honesty, he would craft complex, talky scripts that highlighted their idiosyncratic qualities, usually laced with as much profanity and sexual slang as he could create. He then gave his “actors” their line readings, and when they were ready, he would videotape them spewing his devilishly dirty dialogue. Once all the separate takes were in the can, Andrews would meticulously edit them together into crazed conversations with distinct narrative strands.
Call it the filmic version of author William Burroughs famous ‘cut and paste’ writing method (the scribe would take individual sentences and chop them up, rearranging the words into new and novel phraseologies), but there is more to Andrews’s filmmaking folly than making the alcoholic elderly look foolish. Somewhere between the jokes about jerking off and fascination with feces, amongst the (faked) depictions of pregnancy porn and homages to homeless hygiene, is actual heart and humanity; an honest and riveting exploration of what life on the very edges of the civil consciousness must look and feel like.
Thanks to those mighty indie titans at Troma, a few choice examples of Andrews’s amazing work is now available on DVD. January 2006 sees the release of his fabulous first film, Touch Me in the Morning (along with three marvelous shorts), while later this spring an entire box set of his baffling brazenness is due. Prior to this, several of Andrews’ other masterful works Trailer Town, Dribble and Who Flung Poo? were released. Together, they stand as a twisted testament to his flawless filmmaker’s vision and energy, and argue for his place in future discussions of current artists whose work transcends the medium to directly impact and change the form itself.
Andrews is a pure ‘point and shoot’ sort of director, rather than someone obsessing over angles and approaches. His lighting is always stark (like his images) and the occasional camcorder defect is readily incorporated into a sequence’s messy mis-en-scene. There is abundant nudity and some disturbing segments of bodily functions featured, and all discussions seem to center on race, retardation, sex, shit, booze, balls, fetishes and fucking. In Who Flung Poo?, for example, the title character is an artist who uses the scat of homeless people to cover his canvases. When that line of expression dries up, he purposefully impregnates his wife so that she can make smutty sex films. Similarly, Dribble deals with a failed basketball player desperate to get his game back. Unfortunately, the crazy old coot is no longer a wicked white shadow, and spends most of his Caucasian crankiness hurling unreal epithets at the minority members of the current sports system.
By broaching these subjects, by dwelling in the intellectually awful and the physically offal, Andrews opens up the doors of cinematic realism and invites the truth of the world we live in to make a good, albeit slightly gratuitous, showing. During his After Skool Specials (greatly edited vignettes from some of his other films, featured on the Touch Me in the Morning disc) Andrews explores interpersonal relationships, mostly between father and son (with a marvelously unwashed mental case named Vietnam Ron as his whack job daddy). Instead of treating parentage like a combination of Shakespeare and the sitcom, Andrews allows his characters to be flawed, freaky, and every bit as fragile as humans truly are. When his befuddled, bearded poppa finally finishes the documentary on ants he has been working on (from the vignette of the same name), the touching sense of satisfaction, combined with a look of manic glee, is so fresh and so authentic that you can’t help but feel proud for his perplexed pappy. Similarly, Ron’s rants about yard sales (from Wiggly) suggest the secret heart of the suburbs has gone stale and sour.
Dealing with one’s kinfolk is also at the center of Touch Me in the Morning. Unlike later works, he fiddles with a real live plot this time around; it’s a squalid little story about a boy trying to deal with his crack whore mother and an ex-con gigolo father. Dad has just returned from the Big House after DNA testing cleared his name, and now he wants his family back. Unfortunately, Mom is too busy with her new black boyfriend and the pipe to care. For her, a teenage soon is the harshest of buzz killers. It is up to Andrews, playing the oddly named Coney Island, to try and deal with his felonious folks while learning the secrets to satisfying his hopelessly hippy girlfriend in bed.
The vast majority of this mesmerizing movie is made up of conversations between Andrews and his actors. Dad is played by trailer park stalwart Bill Nowlin, a man whose gruff and tumble demeanor makes Lawrence Tierney look like Tinkerbell. Nowlin has been a part of Andrews’s efforts since the beginning, playing the pissed-off baller in Dribble , and the lead loose cannon in the director’s remarkable magnum opus, Trailer Town. In one scene, Nowlin and Andrews discuss sexual technique in language that will go down as one of the classic moments of cinematic comedy,
As dad delivers his sermon on ‘the mount’, he and his carnally clueless sonny boy stand around in their underpants. Andrews looks relatively normal in his long hanging briefs. But it’s Nowlin, dressed in a far too small thong, that adds a level of lewd anarchy to what is already a ripe bit of fetid farce. Indeed, all throughout Touch Me in the Morning, Andrews uses shock to solidify his themes of emotional connection and individual longing. Sure, the characters are cursing like grade schoolers after an episode of South Park, but there is undeniable genuineness in the sentiments being expressed.
All of which makes something like Trailer Town a true masterpiece. The premise is basic and pat: a group of retired comedians get drunk and goof off until they learn their trailer park is being closed and they will be evicted. Then it’s time for a shooting spree. Far less violent than it sounds, and once again working within Andrews’s fractured facets, Trailer Town is the kind of film that feels disjointed and awkward at first. We try to get a handle on what the director is trying to say, and the cast initially comes across as crude, rude, and repugnant. But then Andrews opens up the storyline, laying bare many of the trials and tribulations of being homeless, addicted, and forgotten by society. Indeed, the reason why his films function so well is that they truly offer their “stars” a chance at regaining the dignity they’ve lost at the hands of an uncaring and inconsiderate establishment machine. When they finally take up arms, going cockeyed commando to save their mangy mobile condos, we see their desperation, their true inner hatred of how they’ve been treated by the rest of the priggish populace.
In essence, this is the theme of all Andrews’s efforts. Sure, part of his parameters involves a kind of snuff film fascination with how the sick and the unsavory live their miserable little lives. He finds it inherently hilarious to see inebriated hobos discussing their genitals (so do we, for better or worse). Yet such salaciousness is just the superficial layer of laughter here. What Andrews is really striving for is a sense of understanding, of turning these so-called examples of subhumanity into human beings once again. By making them artists, sports figures, comedians, prostitutes, and parents, he removes the stigma and instills a kind of ironic individuality. He turns them from statistics into stars. He also thrusts them back into the public eye and asks we sanctimonious citizens if we care. No one wants to imagine themselves outside the realm of materialism, unable to buy the car they crave or the clothes they long to wear. But the individuals who make up Andrews’s actors are without said choices. They are forced to eek out the existence that they and their stunted public standing created. It’s a truly harsh reality, one that Andrews uses to make his ballsy blue humor into creative social commentary and occasionally, perverted poetry.
Some may say that he is just a one trick pony exploiting his “neighbors” for a lamentably lewd lark. Others will see his efforts and laugh at, not with, his attempted art, finding it hopelessly amateurish and rife with ridicule for its subjects. But they will be missing the message behind Andrews’s amiable madness. By using the elements around him to feed his need for expression, he is a true cinematic savant. His is a format newer than any French Waver and more in touch with reality than a dozen nattering Neapolitan neo-realists. As the history of film is written, there will be certain names that instantly receive recognition. Here’s hoping that audiences and critics look beyond the grotesque and the grim to find the genuine genius within Andrews’s amazing oeuvre. In the realm of outsider auteurs and homemade heroes, he’s the REAL real deal.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/gibron060111/