[6 June 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Martin Scorsese has his Robert DeNiro. Tony Scott has Denzel Washington. In fact, there are a lot of directors who single out a certain actor to realize their particular vision. Even in the independent and outsider markets, filmmakers rely on specific performers to “sync up” with what they have to say and make it happen. This is certainly true of the Pasolini of the Trailer Park, Giuseppe Andrews. With his company of real life mobile home residents, the actor turned auteur has had the pleasure of working with some amazing talents - Bill Nowlin, Tyree, Walter Patterson, Walt Dongo, and little person Karen Bo Baron. But no one has been better, more consistently creative and iconic than Vietnam Ron. Scraggly bearded and mop haired, this wide-eyed acid casualty from decades gone by is Andrews ace in the a-hole, a demented center of crazed calm in the maelstrom of maladjusted fringe dwellers - and his latest starring vehicle, Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences, is a titanic tour de force.
Doily lives with his psychic wife Haley Comet. She does readings, and has sex with clients on the side. He spends his days dishing with his friends Terrace and Sabado. At the beginning of one memorable summer, Doily is chased by a bee. The insect eventually hunts down and kills his buddy Terrace, who is then brought back to life by a mysterious alien object. Next, a client of Haley finds his hair cut and shampooed - and he didn’t do it. Then a dinner party at friend Colby Jack’s turns weird when the host is transformed into a giant pot pie. In between, our hero is attacked by a monster and a household slipper, and rediscovers his love for crystal meth. But when buddy Terrace turns up again, this time as a talking VCR, Doily starts getting scared. While Haley considers all these events mere “freak occurrences”, her lover man is convinced they are signs that someone is trying to kill him.
As a showcase for Vietnam Ron and his silent movie star acumen, Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences is fantastic. It’s like a day in the life documentary except the subject here is a fragile little man being targeted by the more maniacal aspects of fate. When our lead goes gonzo while being chased by a bee, we can instantly see the appeal. Vietnam Ron, for all his aging ambiguity, it so gosh-darn likeable, so intensely loveable and entertaining that he can read the phone book for an hour and we’d believe it to be genius. There is nothing mannered or put on with this true-to-life character. What you see is (presumably) what you get. Ron often represents Andrews at his most unhinged. Unlike Tyree, who tackles the tawdry sex talk the director excels in, or Dongo who delivers his lines within a haze of permanent alcohol intake, this wiry wonder is all facial hair and freak out attitude.
All of which makes his leading role presence all the more important to Andrews’ sunny comedy. This is really nothing more than a series of sensational set-ups, situations waiting for Ron and his comely co-star Marybeth Spychalski to react to - and both definitely deliver. Andrews is also using them as the means to some evocative cinematic ends. He experiments with the lens, giving us an insect-eye view of the opening bee attack, while adding some gloriously amateur special effects to the alien/slipper sequences. While the strange occurrences seem to have no legitimate symbolism or theme, one can easily see Andrews evoking the nonsensical traumas of a typical life. It’s even Haley’s excuse for everything that’s happening. But because of Doily’s insistence that there is more to it than happenstance, we look deeper into the delirium - and therein lies the movie’s magic.
Like the protracted puzzles he often creates with his screenplays, Doily’s issues can be chalked up to emotional and environmental faults. He loves Haley so much that he tolerates her occasional affairs. She also has a deep and never-ending affection for her man, since she is also willing to forgive his equally selfish sins. He’s also a recovering meth addict - though, in reality, he’s more like a junkie who has his cravings under some manner of control. The brain baffling side effects of living in a narcotic haze could explain many of the oddball things that happen here, but Andrews doesn’t make the connections clear. Instead, he uses the drugs and the drain of relationships as the dragons Doily must slay simply to survive. In the end, when it looks like life will consume him, our hero simply recognizes his devotion to Haley, and their precious “pillow talk” leaves the movie on a memorable last (and legitimate) beat.
As with almost all his films, Andrews’ Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences is as important in its journey as its critical conclusions. The trip to Colby Jack’s home is particularly memorable, with Walt Patterson putting on his best jerk-off jackass persona. Kai Scott, as Sabado, is also a highly unique presence. Speaking in a genial, gentle tone that underlines his hefty size, he’s the esoteric voice of reason in a circumstance that has very little rationality. As usual, Sir George Bigfoot makes a memorable statement as a visiting monster, and Dongo’s discussion of his Luddite planet’s need for paper and pens is classic in its off the wall insanity. Those looking for - or used to - Andrews’ love of the scatological will be glad to know that most of Haley’s issues come from a rather burdensome period, and there is a sequence where Doily hallucinates a client’s butt singing a song about farts. But those are the rare instances of risqué content.
Indeed, Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences proves that, as a filmmaker, Giuseppe Andrews is an overflowing fount of artistic ambition and ideas. How he can go from serious dissections of human misery to goofball explorations of fate, mock Italian neo-realism to outrageous statements of psychedelic surrealism and still maintain his indie auteur cred is a lesson a few so-called outsiders could - and should - contemplate for a while. After all, here is someone who works with basically the same company of characters, uses the same backdrops and settings, explores the same elements and aspects of human nature, and yet turns in one unique gem after another. Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences is another flawless feather in the man’s already overflowing cinematic chapeau - and this time, it’s thanks to stellar star power of one Vietnam Ron. As the yokel yin to Andrews’ yang, he’s a national treasure. He’s also the reason why we come to love every minute of this memorable masterwork.