May 11, 2013

Salvation!: Have You Said Your Prayers Today?




Before becoming the high-profile and wealthy silver-screen stud he is today, Danish-American actor Viggo Mortensen starred in a number of surprisingly unflattering, albeit sometimes rather interesting and idiosyncratic, roles, including in the Charles Band produced penitentiary-based horror flick Prison (1988) directed by a then-unknown Renny Harlin and the rather impotent TCM sequel Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) directed by horror hack Jeff Burr, but probably his most peculiar (and, incidentally, first starring) role was as a superlatively pissed off proletarian prick in the sacrilegious celluloid satire of televangelism, Salvation! (1987) aka Salvation!: Have You Said Your Prayers Today? Directed by a seemingly bitchy broad with the strategically banal and pretentious name “Beth B.,” who was originally associated with the so-called “no wave” scene with other artless auteur filmmakers like Amos Poe and Jim Jarmusch and went on to co-found (with her husband Scott B. and cinematic sped Nick Zedd) the aesthetically repugnant “Cinema of Transgression” movement, Salvation! is indubitably the feisty female filmmaker’s greatest (non)success as a filmmaker, which I guess does not say much when considering the rest of her largely disposable gritty celluloid works and the pastiche leftist politics that plague them, but I would be lying if I did not admit I had fun watching a rather undignified yet ballsy blue collar Viggo Mortensen going on anti-gay and anti-Christian rants and trying to swindle a tyrannical turd of a televangelist out of his suavely swindled donation money. Featuring a soundtrack that is largely better than the film itself, including songs by New Order (before they were a gay pop group) and Cabaret Voltaire, Salvation! is a lovingly lowbrow celluloid artifact directed by a woman who probably finally realized that making pointless and plot-less avant-tard works does not pay the bills, thus she attempted to bring her pseudo-subversive Weltanschauung and angst-ridden auteur aesthetic to the mainstream with rather mixed results. Shot on 35mm film with a small but reasonable budget of $800,000, Salvation! is proof that a little bit of money can go a long way, even for hack experimental female filmmakers of the hysterically heretical sort. Made in the wake of the easy-to-satire Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals, Salvation! was apparently heavily inspired by Beth B.’s ironic hipster attendance of what she later described as a “evangelist super-conference” at the Rev. Jerry Fallwell's headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia, thus the film does have a certain sardonic authenticity to it that makes one get the sense that the director has some vague inkling of “respect” for the rabid reverend she so blatantly and blasphemously portrays in a tastelessly cheap cinematic work that has much in common aesthetically with the televangelist shows it so ludicrously lampoons. 



 Jerome Stample (Viggo Mortensen) is one pissed off proletarian and he certainly has a number of reasons to be as his mentally perturbed and mystically minded wife Rhonda (punk diva Exene Cervenka of the LA punk band X, who married Mortensen in 1987 after the two met on the set) donates half of his paycheck to a Christian carny Televangelist named Reverend Edward Randall (Stephen McHattie). On top of that, bourgeois preppie brats in expensive sports cars hassle him, calling Jerome “white trash” and further pushing him over the edge. After Jerome has the supreme dishonor of being fired from his less than prestigious shipyard job, he comes up with a malicious scheme to blackmail the good Reverend Randall, who is a closet porn addict and alcoholic, by using his sexy sister-in-law to seduce the servant of god and entrap him in a saucy sex scandal. A man who is rather perturbed by the fact that “New York City is the least Christian City in the United States” and that Catholics (“these people who are SO CLOSE to being saved…), Jews (aka “those bankers”), and atheists (“worshipers of the devil”) are the majority in the big rotten multicultural apple, Rev. Randall seems to have even more visceral hatred in his holy soul than Jerome, but things change when a naughty nympho named Lenore (played by marginal musician/actor Dominique Davalos) randomly shows up to the miracle man’s house to relieve him of his metaphysical chastity belt and steaming sexual repression via her rather lecherous and sadomasochistic ways. Of course, lascivious Lenore, who is Jerome's sassy sister-in-law, has been recruited by the ruthless redneck schemer, who faithfully believes that the positively divine primetime man is “jacking-off your cash, my cash, everybody's cash so he can dress like a faggot,” thus feeling his blackmail plot is quite morally pristine as some sort of loony left-wing redneck Robin Hood. Naturally, Rev. Randall is no fag and especially no friend of fags, but he does learn that he is into lurid S&M after exploring large legs Lenore’s sin-ridden flesh. The Reverend even tries to rape Lenore, which sends hysterical hillbilly Jerome, who can't keep his hands off his wifey's little sis, off the deep end, inspiring him to attempt to murder the horny holy man while rattling off a number of pseudo-Nietzschean philistine diatribes. Like Lenore, gentleman Jerome gets a hick kick out of physically ravaging the Rev, albeit in a less sexual manner, but it is the brazen blue-collar hero’s TV-addicted wife Rhonda who ultimately impresses the religious man. After fleeing from his less than humble abode to escape the flagrant and fetishistic physical abuse of Jerome and his sister-in-law Lenore, Rev Randall hitches a ride with Rhonda by happenstance, whose militant “fight fire with fire” philosophy to Christianity and dealing with its enemies rather impresses the televangelist. Radical Jesus fan Rhonda ultimately talks the Rev into allowing her to be a co-host on his show and the rest is history. Introducing a rather lame form of Christian heavy metal with Rhonda as the fierce frontman, money literally begins to fall from the sky for the Christ-rocker and Reverend Randall, but perennial proletarian loser Jerome gets the short end of the stick via divorce by his unhinged (and now filthy rich) wife in the process. 



 Beginning in a quasi-politically incorrect and thematically and aesthetically heretical manner, Salvation!—a cinematic work that is essentially the (unsurprisingly) less known East Coast equivalent to Alex Cox’s immaculate punk cult masterpiece Repo Man (1984)—unfortunately devolves quickly into a tedious piece of both intentional and unintentional celluloid anarchism that feels like it will never end until it does end and the viewer is rather shocked by what went wrong in what could have been blasphemous celluloid bliss. Indeed, being someone who previously made experimental short films and a couple feature-length works with her husband, Beth B. was probably ill-equipped to create a normal, quasi-mainstream movie and it certainly shows in Salvation!—a film that seems to have fallen from celluloid grace. Additionally, the two lead actresses, Exene Cervenka and Dominique Davalos, who resemble Beth B., as well as the director’s god awfully repellant ex-collaborator Lydia Lunch, are almost indistinguishable with their chubby cheeks, unkempt ebony hair, and overwhelming homeliness. Judging by what little I know about her, I would have to assume that like Lydia Lynch—a self-professed ‘predatory woman’—Beth B. utilized Salvation! as a way to carry out a fantasy of sexually debasing a holy conman via living vicariously through her virtual doppelgänger characters. While Judeo-Christian evangelists have destroyed about ¼ of American brains with their pseudo-mystical minded mumbo jumbo, it pales in comparison to the seemingly irrevocable damage liberals and Trotskyites have done to academia and the entertainment world, not to mention Hollywood's heinous effects on the majority of ADD-addled American minds. Indeed, I cannot help but agree with raunchy redneck Rhonda when she states “Secular humanism…they are the worst type of all” as humanists are just lapsed Christians with a more sophisticated slave-morality or as Nietzsche expressed in On the Genealogy of Morality (1887), human rights were designed for the weak to constrain the strong, thus denying the emancipation of life as opposed to its idealistic agenda to further it as they perversely profess. 


 Whether its backwards medieval style Amerikkkan pseudo-Christianity or atheistic liberal humanism that is to blame for the cultural vacancy and social degeneration that reigns in the glorious United States of America, one must admit that the Reverend Randall was right when he stated, that the “great American dream has turned into a hideous American nightmare.” Of course, the Rev was probably on to something when he also stated, “There are more Jews in New York City than there are in the Holy Land. And there are more banks in New York than there are anywhere else in the world,” but people like Beth B. would never admit such a thing as it would go outside her 'subversive' comfort zone.  After all, what groups are more safe to spit vehement hatred on than Christian and work-classing whites (but especially a combination of the two), which Salvation! does rather conservatively, but at least Beth B., unlike the heebs in Hollywood and shabbos goy toys in academia, had the decency to demonstrate that rednecks can make for much better iconoclasts and assertive anti-Christs as portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in a curiously charming performance that the actor probably now regrets.  One also must give credit to a woman who directs a film with highly quotable lines like “more cash for gash” and “cash for the hungry gash,” even if she meant it to be a biting spoof of lowbrow misogyny or something. Of course, until the day comes when someone makes a holocaust satire in which neurotic Jewboys like Woody Allen or Larry David go around hysterically kvetching in a concentration camp about the lack of kosher food will a truly biting and bodacious cinematic spoof of the first order be born.



-Ty E

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