Sunday, November 28, 2010

Which is the more unlikely: “Freddy Got Fingered” is now ten years old, made a profit, or may be released in a Director's Cut?


To my mind, they all sound equally impossible, but all three, dear reader, are true.
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Dear reader! Ha!
In my continuing quest to present posts of interest to as few people as possible, I think I may have struck gold with this one.
Is there even a hypothetical possibility that anybody with Movietone News on their blogroll has the least interest in a post on Freddy Got Fingered? Is anything less likely? Is anyone even still reading now? Even I may not bother reading it all the way to the end.
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Freddy Got Fingered is not only my guiltiest guilty passion, it's the guiltiest guilty passion anyone's had ever, easily proved when the two concepts of 'guilt' and 'passion' are correlated objectively using graph paper and a lead ball on a string.
But the fact is I was fascinated by Tom Green in his heyday and must have seen this film a couple of dozen times. Was it really ten years ago? Apparently so, but how hard to believe. If there's one thing Freddy Got Fingered was never intended to be it's ten years old. This is a film that runs on sheer nowness. Films like this do not age like wine, they embalm themselves. It will never truly find a fresh audience: only those who were there, and innocent bystanders. I still watch it, on the increasingly rare occasions my wife lets me, and I can quote whole stretches of the dialogue. (Which is not to say that I do: just one of the many things that sets me apart from people who like Monty Python's Flying Circus.) I used to have the poster for it on my wall, but it got torn when I first moved in with the little lady I married. To this day, she insists she did it accidentally.
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I don't think it's good, as such, but then I never did. I found it compulsive. And there was something - and nothing about me is more mysterious to my better half - that I found equally magnetic about Green, who had something that can't actually be called comic invention but was, for all that, very definitely something, and something that his peers and progeny lack to a man. In a funny sort of way it was charm, a palpable idiot charm, and that combustible mix of self-deprecation and extreme confidence that you see in someone who is riding a wave of adoration in a job the nature of which (unlike that of pop star, say) prohibits the explicit acknowledgment of it. (Comedians are supposed to be humble. Only in the last few years has civilisation degraded so far, and the balance of power between society and its minstrels so shifted, that we allow comedians to look and behave like rock stars. That preening turd Russell Brand, for instance.)
The comedian needs to be laughed at, and so coolness is fatal. Peter Sellers never recovered from a taste of it, and that's why he was never able to revive his career after it was withdrawn. You see the same thing when Woody Allen's on the Dick Cavett Show in the early seventies, and groupies are yelling from the balcony: this tension between the nerdish persona and the fact that everyone knows that really you're the coolest thing of the moment. (Allen got the balance more or less right - though Annie Hall now seems an unwarrantedly arrogant film - but readjustment when the spotlight moves on can be understandably hard, the main reason, I really do think, for the crotchetiness of Allen's latter work.)
The same thing happened to Green, who more or less disappeared after this film was released. Green, though his persona was that of the post-adolescent dropout goofball, would go on chat shows around this time, and see girls with placards calling him the sexiest man alive. Then he got to marry Drew Barrymore, which I bet he still finds hard to believe: a case of Mr Smith not only going to Washington but becoming president too. And then Twentieth Century Fox came to him and said: "Would you like to star in your own movie? Tell you what - why not write and direct it as well!"
The extraordinary confidence he must have felt at this time was poured into this astonishingly hubristic film that contains not a drop of wit but pulses with manic energy, and is so unusual that at times it feels more like an art house movie than a big studio star vehicle. Imagine watching it with no idea of who Green is - think of it purely as a narrative about a young man who wants to be a cartoonist - and you'll see what I mean. It's a uniquely strange piece of work, for all its nods to the American gross-out tradition, and to Green's own work on tv. It also has real momentum, and each scene is different from the last, revolving around some new, separate idea.
The best scene for me, where all the threads come together in joyous concert, is the bit where he takes Marisa Coughlan to the fancy restaurant -a bravura sequence from first to last, buzzing with incompatible comic ideas and ending in an orgy of slapstick so unjustified by the narrative as to play closer to Bunuel than American Pie. I'm not saying any of this is intended, or that any of it is done with great style. But even if you hated it more than any film you ever saw, of all the insults you could fling, you know that 'boring' is the least likely one to stick. Most bad comedy films just run out of energy and lie there. Freddy never runs out of energy. It has too much. It's overlong, and there's way too much in it, but it's never dull, from the exhilarating opening titles, with Green skateboarding through a shopping mall to the accompaniment of the Sex Pistols' 'Problems' to the finale, as he and his father return from their Pakistan hostage ordeal and, among the placards greeting them at the airport, is one that reads WHEN THE FUCK IS THIS MOVIE GOING TO END?
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Nobody thought it would do badly; indeed, among the many fascinating extra features on the DVD is a live soundtrack of the audience at the film's premiere, cheering, whooping with delight and screaming with laughter.
But, as we all know, the film was rleased just as that coolness bubble burst, and it got near-universally bad reviews and became the film that defined Hollywood comic excess. Overnight, Green turned from a superstar to a pariah.
Like everything else in his career to that point, the moment was somewhat overplayed. Not every review was a pan: it actually got a rave from the New York Times, and an imdb contributor made the following valuable observations:
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This movie, although not solid in plot, is that of comical genius. People are too easily offended by the actions of Tom Green, not able to see the comical genius this movie has. Breaking barriers is comedy, and that is exactly what Tom Green does in this film. The things he does, from jerking off a horse, to pretending to be a deep sea diver are all great ways to get the point across, this movie is something different. People who have any sense of moral value or a tendency to vomit should stay away, but who has moral values anymore? In the end this movie is nothing more then an inspired way of making me laugh. The movie is funny enough as it is sober, I however would suggest you see it stoned or drunk off your ass.
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Green wearing his cheese helmet. What do you mean, you haven't seen the film and you don't know what I'm talking about?

And that, I thought, was that.
But it seems it's not just me that still gets it down from the shelf when their wife is at her Italian class. The film has a real following, as Green discovered on his recent stand up tour, where fans would yell for him to 'do the Backwards Man', or sing 'Daddy, do you want some sausages?'

Green picked up the story in a Vanity Fair interview this January:

And everybody in the place started cheering wildly. Like they knew exactly what the line was from. And I’m like, “Wait a minute, I thought this movie was supposed to have bombed?” I didn’t realize it until recently, but it’s developed a real cult following. I mean, I knew there were people who liked it, I just didn’t realize the extent... So I did the song and everybody started to cheer. And it was really sort of fun, because I realized that people do respond to the movie. You know what I mean? They get it... I actually want to re-release it as a director’s cut. This was the first time I’d ever directed a movie. And when you do that, a studio brings in focus groups and they make changes to it. They’re like, “You’ve got to shorten it, make it exactly 89 minutes long.” So it ends up being not exactly what you intended. I called the studio and said, “I’ve been out there doing standup, and literally hundreds of kids are coming out with their DVD copies of the movie, screaming out their favorite lines. I want to do a director’s cut.” They did some research and it turns out the thing has done extremely well on DVD. They didn’t even seem to know. It’s actually made a profit, which is more than can be said for most movies that come out of Hollywood.

Oh poster, I remember you...

Though it's hard indeed to watch the film and imagine that the studio compromised Green's artistic freedom in any way whatsoever - if any film ever screamed director's cut it was Freddy - I'm proud to say I contributed to the fact that it went into profit. How much would I like to see a newly edited version? Let's just say if they released a director's cut of this, and a director's cut of The Magnificent Ambersons, and for some reason I was only allowed to see one of them... well, let's just hope that never happens, that's all.