gratuitous violence

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This October, I’m proud to present the latest entry in the EPHEMERA screenings: SAFETY FIRST!   Featuring safety and instructional videos from the 1930s to the early 2000s, SAFETY FIRST is what happens when a pile of vitally important and boring information has to be shown to an audience who doesn’t want to hear it. There’s a few general approaches, including The Paternal Condescender, The Shock and Awe (aka The GoreFest or ‘You’ll Poke Your Eye Out’), and The America’s Funniest Home Videos, but today I’ll focus on The Goofus And Gallant.

(Oh, and if you’d like to see more stills from all the films, I’ve also created a Pinterest board where you can see all the shining weirdness of these ephemeral films for yourself.)

Goofus and Gallant films feature a ‘Gallant’ – a Johnny Do-Right who follows all the rules to a T and is rewarded with health and prosperity. He’s often accompanied by a Goofus, some slacker who heightens Gallant’s proper example with his oafish slacking and blatant disregard for the rules. If he gets injured (usually he just comes perilously close), the violence is cartoonish and silly. Sometimes the relationship is supernatural, with Gallant being a guardian angel-type who must continually rescue the dimwitted Goofus from certain harm.

 

First we have ‘Domestic Disturbance’, a training film for officers responding to domestic disturbance calls. In this case, the Gallants are in active danger from the Goofuses, and following the rules becomes doubly important as everyone’s safety is in the hands of the Gallants. The film acknowledges officers’ reluctance to respond to such calls – as one office says ‘at least with a standoff you know the situation…domestic disturbances are unpredictable’. ‘Domestic Disturbances’ was filmed in 1970s Minnesota, making for an unfortunate overlay of awkward clothing and accent distracting from the serious matter at hand.

personal space

Domestic Disturbance  calm direct

 

‘Safety: In Danger, Out of Doors’  was also obviously filmed in the 70s and features Guardiana, a crossing-guard-turned-superhero. Guardiana must rescue the stupid children around her from danger, but not before lengthy voiceovers pointing out every stupid step they’re taking towards getting themselves killed.

guardiana

guardiana 1

 

‘Christmas Tree Harvest Safety’ (2002) seems to be made for a multilingual audience. Voices are dimly heard and mostly hidden behind loud ‘ding ding ding!’ noises when something’s done right, or a car-alarm when something’s done wrong. The Goofus of this film is a lanky white guy who takes every possible opportunity to chop his leg off with a chainsaw, and the Gallant, a middle-aged Hispanic man, is the one pointing and gesturing the proper steps to take. I’m going to say the film’s continuous use of The Mexican Hat Dance whenever the Gallant points out correct action is probably racist.

Christmas tree safety

 

‘Hazards In Motion’ (2001) features an actual guardian angel, helping the film’s Goofus avoid certain death at the hands of mining equipment and his own blind confidence.

Hazards In Motion white overalls

 

‘Hospital Safety’ is mostly neutral, showing people repeating actions done wrong immediately (except for the one time that guy caught everything on fire).

Hospital Safety lift

Hospital Safety  body lift

 

‘Hands In Motion’ is 90% a Shock-And-Awe film, avoiding gore by using an adorable abstract hand cutout to show the many, many, many ways you can mangle your fingers. Here we see a Gallant of a glamour shot – proper glove-wearing for handling molten metals.

On Every Hand power glove

 

From ‘Days of Our Years’, the most depressing and moralizing of the films (available as an MST3K short which helps it go down a bit easier), we see the RIGHT way to approach someone wielding a giant torch: using ‘gentle touch’. Of course the protagonist was too excited to do that and got blinded before he ever saw his first child, but that’s just the way this movie rolls.

RR sparks

RR gentle touch

 

‘Stairwell Safety’ takes a look inside the mind of the modern secretary pool. Featuring a bee woman instructing fellow ‘drones’ on how to not get killed on the stairs, the inspiration for this likely came from a whimsical Hallmark calendar sitting on someone’s desk.

Stairwell Safety attention

Stairwell Safety seriously

 

I just included this image because office dress code is ok with ‘Big Dog’ t-shirts.

Stairwell Safety bee lady

Oh, ‘Will You Be Here Tomorrow’. You are the violentest, most over-the-top safety film I have ever seen. Here is one of the brief moments in this short film where someone is not actively losing a fake limb and spattering blood everywhere.

Will You Be Here voice of experience

 

The protagonist of ‘A Safe Day’ achieves a full 1000 days of safety, because he makes it his business to be safe. He’s the ultimate Gallant example, carefully thinking through every action and stopping potential injuries before they happen. Goofuses and their horrible manglings are bloodlessly shown through double exposure.

A Safe Day smiley

A Safe Day common sense

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Tuff Turf

It’s taken me over 10 months to process seeing the James Spader/Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle ‘Tuff Turf’ (1985), and I’m still trying to fully comprehend what I saw. This is a genuinely strange film from surface to structure  - as if an 80s movie algorithm put a script together and no human bothered to give it a pass before filming.

Let’s start with the script:  the movie opens extraordinarily high-concept and just keeps piling it on: our protagonist is the young black sheep of a wealthy Connecticut family. Well, they were wealthy; as the movie opens the family’s living in the lower-middle class part of town with former-banker-dad now driving a taxi and mom mourning the family’s fall from yuppie grace. So within this family adjusting to a new income bracket, our protagonist rebels against his family’s former upper-class and current bourgeoisie values. Got that? MOVING ON.

Our young rebel, Steff Morgan, played by James Spader, is forced to start over at dreaded public school in their upper-lower-class town after being kicked out of all available private schools, much to his mother’s chagrin. Said school, populated by every 80s trope save skiing (I’m pretty sure someone was radboarding over their breakdancing friends in the parking lot) is ruled by the most shirtless gang this side of the Warriors.

shirtless gang

Hazing involves renouncing buttons.

Unfortunately for Morgan, he’s already on the gang’s bad side/in love with their alpha girl after interrupting their nighttime mugging kicks on his bike (adding in the 80s trope of bike shenanigans). Inquiries concerning the becrimped young lady lead to an oddball friendship with Jimmy Parker (Robert Downey Jr. still in the ‘goofy punk sidekick’ phase of his career) and his bike getting destroyed by the gang leader’s car after school.

Jimmy’s in a punk band with Jim Carroll (checking ‘punk’ and ‘band’ off the list) and invites Morgan to the show. It’s the 80s and every town has a warehouse set aside for The Punk Club, just like the other side of town has its Posh Club for Toffs on the water. Who should Morgan run into but Frankie, the crimped love of his life (her hair is a marvel unto itself- that must take HOURS every day, and constant vigilance not to get it caught in every door). At first, Frankie’s resistant to Morgan’s confident insistence they date despite her already having a gang-leader boyfriend. Only through the magic of awkwardly choreographed line dancing, a la Pat Benatar videos and ‘Footloose’, does he begin to win her over. Their dancing is interrupted by fight-dancing on the part of said boyfriend’s heavies, leading to a ‘don’t mess with my girl’ car theft. Joke’s on the gang though, as they get pulled over and the boyfriend’s arrested for car theft! Hah! Now that he’s out of the way, nothing can stand between Morgan and his crimped woman. Well, nothing save CLASS ISSUES.

At first, everyone wins everyone over after taking a tour of ‘their world’ – Morgan takes Frankie and her trashy friends to crash the Rich Kids Regatta and irk the maitre’d, Frankie takes Morgan to some weird club featuring the jazz stylings of  a lesser-Doobie Brothers, shows off dance skills likely reflecting her future employment opportunities, and everyone falls in love.

a lesser Doobie Brothers
Popular Youth Music.

JUST THEN Frankie’s boyfriend gets out of jail (I’m assuming he wasn’t charged as a minor because he’s definitely over 23) and proceeds to chainwhip Spader in a fairly brutal scene (few PG13 movies feature the nearly-nude lead getting chain-whipped by a group of shirtless dudes. Hell, few porn movies do).

so damn shirtlessPictured: not a porn movie.

But the physical brutality is nothing compared to the icy emotional rain showered down upon Frankie at the family dinner Morgan invites her to. Frankie isn’t  upper-middle class (forget the fact Morgan’s mom isn’t either, at the moment), and she never will be. Leaving distraught, the message for Frankie to stop striving for upward mobility’s reinforced by her solidly criminal boyfriend, who decides to vengeance-whomp Morgan’s taxi-driving dad in a misplaced bout of rage. Do you see? DO YOU SEE HOW QUICKLY CONVOLUTED THIS GETS?!

Morgan’s dad turns out to be surprisingly good at self-defense for someone who presumably spent decades as a soft, white-collar office drone. He takes on all three punks at once and is kicking ass, so Frankie’s boyfriend pulls out a gun AND SHOOTS HIM (more on the ridiculous escalations of violence in this film in a moment). Morgan’s family blames The Lower-Class Girl, but Morgan still cares for her (shown via requisite slo-mo love scene. Ew). Frankie’s boyfriend’s on the run and has a taste for blood now. After Frankie scotches his second attempt at adding ‘murder’ to his rap sheet, he calls Morgan and demands he meet him for a final showdown at The Warehouse (checking….warehouse…off the list). The remainder of the movie is the final, extraordinarily bloody showdown between Frankie’s lower-class thug boyfriend and Spader’s yuppie rebel doing his best ‘Straw Dogs’ impersonation. Not surprisingly, Morgan comes out on top and everyone ends up in the Doobie Bros. strip club dancing like no one’s watching (at least that’s the best explanation we canhope for that sort of flailing), but NOT before the following happens:

- James Spader holding two guns while kicking a man down the stairs

down he goes

- Pistol whippings for everyone!

- Robert Downey is revealed to be apparently Latino, shows up with large, convenient attack dogs (because he’s Latino), gets shot in leg

Attack, ye dogs!

(told you so.)

- Frankie proves willing to shoot her boyfriend; gun, alas, is empty

- Soon, they’ll make a board with a nail so big it will DESTROY THE WORLD!

- Seriously though, don’t bring a board with nails in it to an axe fight.

Now. There is already A LOT to unpack here, but let’s focus first on this movie’s wild leaps in violence. Moving from ‘win the girl’ to ‘shooting your dad’ to ‘gang fight in the abandoned warehouse with attack dogs’ – This is Morgan’s THIRD DAY OF SCHOOL, WHAT THE HELL. Also, Robert Downey Jr. was shot in the leg, and the next day (I’m presuming it’s not the same day) he’s back dancing at the club! HE’S NOT EVEN LIMPING. The strange bubble of extreme brutality this movie exists in is hinted right from the start – the second scene of the movie features Morgan watching beetles crawl the walls of his family’s new slum before popping up (shirtless, of course), guns blazing, to shoot them into blue oblivion. And yet no one comments or calls the cops after hearing shots fired, nor does his family seem to mind/care their rebellious son has two guns of his own.

 

An aside: so much teen shirtlessness. It’s an epidemic in this town. Hot pants, no shirts,  half-shirts, just vests, unitards. Is there no dress code at this school?

meets the dress codePictured: A totally acceptable school outfit.

Maybe that’s the heart of this town’s violence issues, along with poor curriculum centered around woefully out of date fictional history films teaching Gunfighters had to save The Settlers. “They brought a new code to the Old West…a code written in their blood and the blood of the men they faced!” So, getting back to the violence, the lesson Morgan learns first day at his new school from this film is ‘bad people have to die for things to get better’. And he meets his new best friend as the young man hands him a switchblade to deal with a ‘problem’ that hasn’t even happened yet. Yep, seems on par for this movie’s universe, and definitely helps explains the ending where everyone’s hanging at Club Wacky Band like Morgan DIDN’T JUST KILL FRANKIE’S BOYFRIEND IN A WAREHOUSE. But hey, the boyfriend was ‘bad’ and wouldn’t ever change; he didn’t even show signs of upward class mobility and so he had to die. It also didn’t help the guy he went up against, Morgan, also overreacts with toughness no matter the situation, leading to the aforementioned deadly nailboard/axe face-off.

 

James Spader. James Spader, the very concept of Preppie so courses through your veins, they had to make it part of your character’s background even if it went against all logic. I’m not sure I could’ve even believed him coming from a working class family. It’s no coincidence one of  his most memorable roles is jaded preppie Steff in ’16 Candles’ – he is that character, wallowing in the horror of realization money can only buy things he’s already bored with.  Given the intensity of his performance towards the end of this movie, stealthily kicking ass and Gymkata-ing the bad guys, his blood-smeared, malevolent smile brandishing that axe (again with the escalation in this film), oh, they should’ve used him in a horror movie. They should have cast  him in an 80s version of ‘American Psycho’. I suppose it would have been too soon, too on-the-nose. Still, he technically killed Robert Downey in Easton Ellis’s ‘Less Than Zero’; close enough.

psycho spader

He also killed my personal sense of dignity when in ‘Tuff Turf’ he sits down to sing his lady a ballad (checking emotions through song/dance off the list). I must admit, I didn’t actually watch this. Couldn’t actually watch this. You try watching a man who excels at projecting detached, smug superiority project raw, earnest endearment. It just doesn’t work, and I got the sense while watching even he didn’t buy it. Still, he plays along gamely, and given his solid portrayal of an overly-enthusiastic Egyptologist in ‘Stargate’ 9 years later, the fault seems to be with the singing, not the acting.

spader singsSpader Sings!

 

Given Morgan and his family were bland yuppies before all this, where the hell did he and his dad learn their superfighting skills? I’d like to see the prequel where Morgan’s older brother (beloved preppie golden boy of the family) was sacrificed to mom’s wish for a lawyer in the family; while mother and son have a disturbingly close relationship in the background, father and Morgan band together to take on their town’s bad guys, one fistfight at a time. Maybe that’s why dad lost his job and seems so mildly concerned by it in ‘Tuff Turf’; his family was run out of town by some no-good fat-cat sheriff and the rich jerks under his protection in the prequel. That movie ends on more of a ‘Chinatown’ feel, then we pick up with ‘Tuff Turf’. Which somehow must belong to the same space as ‘Breakin’ Two: Electic Boogaloo’, due to sheer quantity of half-shirts. Wait…The principal does warn Morgan away from ‘holding rock concerts on the roof’ when he gets called into the office…’Breakin’ 2′ came out a mere year before…the rich jerks from ‘Breakin’ 2′ could be the same rich jerks who screwed over Morgan’s dad’s business in the prequel! WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE, PEOPLE. I’d like to see a follow-up movie as well, where Morgan and Robert Downey, Jr. go off to college, and it’s a direct cross between wacky screwball college romp and Falling Down. Those scum are gonna get a higher education….in pain. Something like that. We’ll workshop it.

 

Turns out this movie has its fans:

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In the grand tradition of blasting in the new year with unnecessary gunfire, here’s the trigger-happy trailer for ‘Johnny Hamlet’, a 60s Spaghetti Western adaptation of The Bard’s classic tragedy.

JOHNNY HAMLET (Enzo G. Castellari, 1968) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.

Playing this January as part of Spectacle Theater’s ‘Fistful of Shakespeare’ program, this film was shot on location in the ‘American’ ‘west’ (note the ‘Native American’ cave paintings and guy getting a beatdown) and features gratuitous violence, soliloquies, and murder most foul.

After a solid week editing this thing, I could still listen to the theme song on loop though I’ve apparently misheard the lyrics the entire time- lines like ‘Find the man who never kills, not even for the love of gold’ I heard as ‘I’m the man…who never kills, not even for a lot of gold…’ I sort of like my lyrics better: ‘The dreamer grows wise when he sees you with his eyes….and shadows seem more real than old men’s lies…’

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