Oct 3, 2013

Cecil B. Demented

Aside from possibly A Dirty Shame (2004), Cecil B. Demented (2000) is undoubtedly John ‘Pope of Trash’ Waters’ most aesthetically repulsive and innately idiotic semi-mainstream film to date, which is rather ironic considering it is not only a satire of Hollywood and its plague-like diseasing of the American populous' already fragile minds, but also a sardonic cinematic snipe at both underground filmmaking and avant-garde auteurism; two worlds the director has worked in and cinematically defiled. Aside from being a proudly debauched director of both mainstream and underground trash, Waters is also a lifelong cinephile and in no other film does he pay greater (anti)homage to his celluloid heroes and enemies than Cecil B. Demented; a film about terrorist filmmakers in the spirit of the Red Army Faction (in fact, one of the original promotional posters for the film featured a star/gun logo similar to the RAF logo) led by an eponymous character played by Stephen Dorff who kidnaps a positively pompous A-list Hollywood actress played by Melanie Griffith and forces her to star in their own sub-underground film, which is shot in a psychopathic cinéma vérité-like manner of nonsensical ultra-violence that makes the radical realism films of Werner Herzog and Harmony Korine seem like they were produced by George Lucas. Like the Patty Hearst (who actually has a small role in the film!) story meets The King of Comedy (1983) directed by Martin Scorsese meets the Troma-maniac ‘masterpiece’ Terror Firmer (1999) directed by Lloyd Kaufman, Cecil B. Demented shows what happens when a queen bitch of a diva develops a nasty case of Stockholm Syndrome and engages in cinematic terrorism against the mainstream Hollywood studio system, the ‘social-conditioning’ centers aka movie theaters that screen high-budget trash, and the brainwashed mainstream filmgoers who keep on literally and figuratively buying into Tinseltown’s lies, thus giving credence to Baltimore sage H.L. Mencken’s dictum, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” A film that is just about as emotionally and aesthetically vapid as any of the mainstream films it ludicrously lampoons, except with seemingly infinite references to various films and filmmakers that only an idiosyncratic sleaze cineaste like the unholy “Prince of Puke” could dream up, as well as low-camp exploitation scenarios featuring a number of mainstream actors in uniquely unflattering positions (Melanie Griffith's career essentially ended after being in the film), Cecil B. Demented is not only Waters’ most cinematically reflexive film, but also proof that a cinematic work can be totally aesthetically and thematically irredeemable, yet be wildly witty and exceedingly entertaining. Featuring then-rather-unknown Michael Shannon (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, Boardwalk Empire) as a gay white trash trucker and Fassbinder fanboy, Mestizo Entourage star Adrian Grenier as a heroin-shooting junky with an unhealthy obsession with Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a seemingly autistic Crowleyite who worships the films of Kenneth Anger, among various other certifiably sick cinephiles turned cinematic terrorists, Cecil B. Demented is cinema history heresy in its most hopelessly and haphazardly humorous form. 

 Like any rational person who has been to the superlatively shitty quasi-Third World city, popular A-list Hollywood actress Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) hates Baltimore, but being a psychopathic actress seemingly modeled after Julia Roberts (whose brother Eric Roberts has a cameo role in the film) and whose ostensible sweetness and positivity is nothing but a false front for the press, she tells the media that, “Baltimore is the best,” even if crab cakes make her want to puke.  Luckily, little does Ms. Whitlock know that an anti-Christ auteur named Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff) and his motley crew of ‘Kamikaze filmmakers’ named ‘Sprocketholes’, who live in a shabby Warhol Factory-esque factory in an abandoned movie theater, have plans to kidnap her, makeover her appearance in a manner that seems like she was run over by a truck driven by John Waters’ deceased man-muse Divine, and force her to play the lead role in their ultimate work of unhinged underground cinema, which involves real terrorism, shootouts, and deaths. Having infiltrated every movie theater in Baltimore as undercover employees, including the place of the premiere where they kidnap Honey Whitlock, the Sprocketholes have already carefully calculated where their entire film-within-films will be set. Upon kidnapping Honey Whitlock, who has very little respect for the art of cinema, especially of the low-budget underground variety, Mr. Demented has his Sprocketholes, a slavish crew of screwballs with idiosyncratic personalities and flagrant sexual perversions, who sport tattoos of their favorite directors, introduce themselves, which include an art director named Lewis (Larry Gilliard, Jr.) who is probably the only black rapper in the world that likes David Lynch, an ex-porn star turned lead actress named Cherish (Alicia Witt) who worships Warhol but is in lecherous love with Mr. Demented (even if she can't fuck him until they finish principle photography for the film), a self-loathing heterosexual hairstylist named Rodney (Jack Noseworthy) who has a special place in his balls for homo Hispanic auteur Pedro Almodóvar, and a negative Nelly of a negress named Chardonnay (Zenzele Uzoma) who works as sound artist and wallows in the celluloid hate of Spike Lee, among various other rejects of the film world whose taste in cinema parallels their perversions and pathologies. 

 After being given a Liquid Sky-inspired makeover from hell by faux-fag Rodney, Honey Whitlock, who would almost rather drop dead than star in a no-budget movie, is forced to give the performance of her lifetime, which she initially does less than halfheartedly, but after having her life threatened, she does it with gusto, even upstaging her 'dead serious' (they are more than willing and will ultimately die for celluloid) kidnappers. The group's first major filming location is a beyond bourgeois luncheon featuring a number of anally retentive Hollywood turd types for the Baltimore Film Commission and against her better judgment, Honey Whitlock jumps off a building in a daring stunt at the behest of Mr. Demented and in the aftermath, a shootout breaks out between the Sprocketholes and the cops, which kills Rodney and wounds Cecil. In the chaos, Ms. Whitlock makes the amateur mistake of attempting to turn herself in after committing the cinematic crimes, but her new comrades save her, thereupon completing her course in Stockholm syndrome, even declaring herself “Demented forever!” and embracing a demented brand being burned into her arm. In a seeming unlikely scenario, a sequel to Forrest Gump entitled Gump Again is being filmed in Baltimore and the Sprocketholes make it their business to crash the film production, bringing celluloid carnage that ultimately results in the maiming and death of a number of Demented’s debauched comrades by way of obese Teamsters who hate non-union film crews. Honey and the Sprocketholes seek shelter in a porno theater where there is a showing of ex-porn star Cherish’s anal sex flick, so a bunch of masturbating perverts help her and her comrades evade the police. In the end, the final scene of Cecil B. Demented’s movie is shot at night at a Baltimore Drive-in theater and to show her commitment to the cause, Honey Whitlock sets her precious hair on fire and the Sprocketholes commence the shooting wrap-up by having sex (Demented demanded nothing less than abstinence during the production!) While screwing Mr. Demented, Cherish is shot dead via a bullet in the head by a cop and the deranged director, who is crippled from the various times he has been shot/maimed, sets himself on fire and rides a wheelchair off a building, thus enabling Honey Whitlock to make a great escape, which she fails at, but does not matter due to her newfound popularity as America’s most famous A-list criminal actress and certified demented diva, even if she will probably have a lengthy stay in prison. 

 Described by Roger Ebert as being like a “a home movie [with] a bunch of kids goofing off” and featuring music by synth-driven grindcore/mathcore group The Locust, Liberace, Moby and even a negrofied rap theme song entitled “Demented Forever,” Cecil B. Demented is indubitably celluloid trash at its most aesthetically worthless and degrading, yet it is also an iconoclastic piece of sardonic cinephilia directed by a man who clearly loves cinema, be it the homoerotic Hollywood Biblical epics of Hebrew Cecil B. DeMille, the artistically meritless exploitation films of Semitic smut-peddler Herschell Gordon Lewis, or the autistic anti-auteur pieces of Andy Warhol, thus making it a sinephile's semi-botched wet dream. Satirizing Hollywood for their vanity-inspired philanthropy (the film begins with a scene of a crippled kid who was able to have a heart transplant due to donations from a film premiere) and soulless comedy-dramas like Patch Adams (Cecil B. Demented’s crew invades a theater where audience members are sentimentally crying about kids with cancer) which turn audiences into infantile philistines, but also underground filmmakers with the auteur-inspired egomania and proclivity toward celluloid fetishism (indeed, it is no mistake that every Sprockethole has some sort of preternatural sexual perversion), Cecil B. Demented is a true work of equal-opportunity cinematic offensiveness that is more like a cinephiliac romp than a rant. While I did not take too kindly to Cecil B. Demented upon its release over a decade ago, the film has certainly grown on me since, sort of like a pair of goofy boxer shorts, and I now regard it as one of John Waters’ greatest mainstream flicks. After all, who could hate a film directed by the Pope of Trash featuring Michael Shannon playing the role of a homo hick who is unsoundly obsessed with the girth of Mel Gibson's Catholic cock?! If there ever was a filmmaker with a total incapacity for taking anything serious in life seriously—be it cancer patients, terrorism, or his own films—it is most certainly John Waters and, quite arguably, no other film of his better personifies this in 'mainstream' form than Cecil B. Demented, a work featuring a fantasy underground cinema revolution that would be great if it actually happened, but certainly never will, especially in an anti-culture sewer like Baltimore. Also, one must give credit to John Waters for ruining Melanie Griffith's acting career, for the actress never looked so ludicrous in a totally tasteless way and that is saying a lot!

-Ty E

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