Friday, May 13, 2011

Masterpieces in Camp

Do I really have to explain with Camp is, I don't really feel like it, read Susan Sontag's 'Notes on Camp', I'll just really quickly note that according to Michael Musto (renowned raconteur, gay icon, and Village Voice critic for like a million years and counting) classifies Camp as something that is so ridiculous that you can't possibly believe it's meant to be taken seriously. Usually, Camp is applied to Queer Cinema, trash  films, and Kenneth Anger. The Drag Queen is the perfect example of a Camp entity. The exaggerated make up, hair, and clothing give credence to the idea that Camp is an exercise in the abnormal. It is trying to stretch aesthetic the furthest from the serious and the real as possible. Thus the confluence of this is usually cult comedies and trash films from the likes of John Waters (arguably the most recognizable Camp filmmaker). Camp is an absolute favorite of mine, I learned a long time ago not to take anything too seriously, particularly film. I used to be a Hitchcock/Welles/Renoir junky until I discovered that Paul Verhoeven, Jack Smith, John Waters, and Andy Warhol were creating a certain subjective attitude that reflected itself in films as pure gaudy, filthy, and amazingly fun nonsense. I want to pay homage not only to those filmmakers (which I will exempt from this post considering they are all pretty obvious) but to some of those films that have been called everything from irredeemably filth to disgusting trash. To me, these are in fact positive critiques. Who says that every film has to be a calculated meticulous opus of life, love, and death? And who says that those subjects aren't fair game for satire, glitter, and fun? I am leaving the following a few this list because I've either blogged about them in the past, or are the work of John Waters who's entire body of work is purely Camp. I know I need more examples, this is what I have so far, i'm pretty busy right now. More to come (no pun intended, or maybe intended). 

Valley of the Dolls (Mark Robson, 1967). Based on the seminal camp novel by Jacqueline Susann and her experience in show business, her obsession with Judy Garland, and her penchant for pill popping, this film was an amazingly accurate adaptation. It details the lives of three women all struggling in their own way to find their niche in what they are passionate about. Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) is the star of the film. She symbolizes every actress from old Hollywood that was horribly misguided and destroyed by fame, in a most outlandish and comic manner. She opens her bottle of dolls (pills) and chugs it like a Gatorade saying that she's expected to 'Sparkle Neeley, Sparkle!'. 


Helen Lawson: They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway. But Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way, I've got a man waiting for me.  

Anne Welles: Neely, you know it's bad to take liquor with those pills. 
Neely O'Hara: They work faster. 

Anne Welles: You've got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls. 

Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes, 1998). Most of the dialogue in this film are taken directly from the writings of Oscar Wilde. This film was almost universally shunned, and wrongfully so, because closed-minded critics couldn't see the proverbial tragicomedy forrest for the trees. Loosely based on the life of David Bowie and to a lesser extent T. Rex's Marc Bolan, this flashy and ironic musical is Camp while being tragic. It follows the life of Brian Slade who later reinvents himself Maxwell Deamon, a seminal force in Glam Rock and bisexuality who's own ego is the foundation for his own destruction. This is Citizen Kane bedazzled. The narrative is the same as Kane, where a journalist must discover the mystery behind his idol's identity and disappearance and subsequently travels back in time to when platform shoes, orgies, and glam rock were all the rage, pumping life back into dreary and cloudy London. 


Reporter: Tell us, Brian, are the rumors true when they say you and Curt Wild have some sort of plans up your sleeve? 

Brian Slade: Oh yes. Quite soon we actually plan to take over the world! 

Brian Slade: Ha! Nothing makes one so vain as being told one is a sinner!  

Cecil: According to legend, when Curt was 13 he was discovered in the family loo at the service of his older brother, and was promptly sent off for eighteen months of electric shock treatment. It was guaranteed the treatment would fry the fairy clean out of him, but all it did was make him go bonkers whenever he heard an electric guitar.  

Curt Wild: Excuse me, fellas, while I raise my glass to the loveliest man in Europe. 
Brian Slade: And they tell you it's not natural.  

Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven) 1995. What has often been accurately described as All About Eve in a thong has evolved into a cult juggernaut. Talk about being universally panned. If we're comparing stuff, we could just as easily say that Black Swan (2010) is All About Eve in a tutu. Only this film is so much more than just a stripper version of the Bette Davis classic from 1950. Elizabeth Berkeley known as the neurotic goody-two-shoes Jesse Spano on the pseudo-crappy show Saved by the Bell, totally surprised everyone appearing on screen 80 percent of the time naked in this Paul Verhoeven classic. And yes, it is at this point just as bona fide a classic as All About Eve. Verhoeven isn't necessarily a camp filmmaker, but his exquisite wit and sarcasm transpires into films of every genre that make fun of not only themselves but of films that we think of as 'definitive' of their respective genres like his awesome Sci-Fi extravaganza complete with comically large cockroaches called Starship Troopers. Back to Showgirls though, it pretty much spells out all of our secret guilty pleasures as cinema spectators. All we really want is T&A, choreography, and cat fights, and this film covers all bases brilliantly, sprinkles them with gold glitter, and shoves them down our pretentious serious throats. I defy anyone to say that they see nothing redeeming in Showgirls or that you've never watched it. We all have, and it's better to just admit that it's amazing and throw an ironic Showgirls themed party where everyone dresses up as different costumes of Nomi Malone. My favorite is the bright pink fringe number, and of course the black and sleek 'Versayse'. 


Tony Moss: Can you MGM backwards? I bet you can't. 
Spelling Dancer: MGM 
Tony Moss: I'm impressed!  

Nomi Malone: Don't they have brown rice and vegetables? 
Cristal Connors: Do you like brown rice and vegetables? 
Nomi Malone: Yeah. 
Cristal Connors: You do? 
Nomi Malone: Sort of. 
Cristal Connors: Really? 
Nomi Malone: It's worse than dog food.
Nomi Malone: It is! 

Cristal Connors: I've had dog food. 
Nomi Malone: You have? 
Cristal Connors: Mmm-hmmm. Long time ago. Doggy Chow. I used to love Doggy Chow.
Nomi Malone: I used to love Doggy Chow, too! 

Zack Carey: Are you afraid? Don't be. 
Nomi Malone: I'm not. I liked it when you came. I liked your eyes.  

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