Monday, July 02, 2007

Meet the Feebles (1989)

Meet the Feebles (Peter Jackson, 1989)

This is Sesame Street directed by the more perverted twin brother of Larry Clark. The puppets are all psychopaths and maniacs: including an overeating diva hippo with a depressive personality. a philandering, drug-dealing, porn-producing walrus; a shell-shocked crack-addicted gecko; an emphysemic chain-smoking worm; an obnoxious good-for-nothing rat; and a sodomy-loving fox. It doesn't stop there. There's also an innocent hedgehog who will fall under the love spell of a dreamy poodle; an elephant who is threatened with a paternity suit by a loose hen; a panty-sniffing anteater; and a rabbit who is suffering from the muppet-version of AIDS.

It's all done in bad taste. Peter Jackson, way before being tamed by the voluminous epic of J. R. R. Tolkien, is a genius in low-budget filmmaking. With funds saved from the grant he got for Bad Taste (1987), he developed this idea (with collaborators Fran Walsh, Danny Mulheron, and Stephen Sinclair) of repulsive characters in repulsive situations. The idea of turning the characters into puppets and mascots is golden; it allows Jackson and his crew to up the depravity without being absolutely obnoxious to the middlebrow viewer. No matter how gross and amoral things become, it'll always be perceived as satirical and not pornographic or gratuitous.

I think that Meet the Feebles is a product mainly created for fun and laughs (yes, weird sex and pointless violence is funny). However, it's not completely depleted of sense --- in fact, the film makes more sense than most pretentious issue films. The subtext of the horrors of show business hinges on legends and stories of drug-inducing, sex-starved, and suicidal stars that have graced the entertainment business. The sleaze, treachery, sex, drugs, and all that jazz that surround the business are exaggerated for laughs and giggles; the disturbing bit here is that it's not necessarily far from the truth. That showbiz people are portrayed as worms, flies, rats, lizards and hogs ups the statement a few notches higher.

The miracle of the movie is that despite its overt trashiness, Jackson inadvertently creates some nuggets of solid magic. That black-and-white flashback to the hippo and the walrus' first meeting evokes the timeless appeal of a newly discovered dreamgirl, where romance and fame mix in unhealthy quantities. That short bit in a puppet version of the Vietnam War has actual grit. Of course everything ends with a gargantuan punchline (the walrus cheating on the hippo with a seductive feline; and the lizard using the Vietnam bit as bate for donations for his drug fund).

Jackson would inevitably lose some of the zaniness of these films (although he somewhat tops the insanity of Meet the Feebles with Braindead (1992), an all-out romp of flying blood, meat and guts). His best work remains to be Forgotten Silver (1995), which is also his most effective joke (that despite being known as the biggest practical joke in cinematic history, remains to be still very funny and quite touching). Heavenly Creatures (1994) would pave his way to Hollywood wherein he will forever be known as the Academy Award-winning director of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, a grand epic with a less than desirous lack of Jackson's humor) and King Kong (2005). With his feet upon a high pedestal, I wonder if he still has the guts to return to his roots and give as a lovely yet salty-sour-sweet confection like this one. I hope he does.

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