Nov 6, 2014
If the word ‘American’ actually still meant something and reflected the silent majority population of the United States, I would probably describe myself as a self-loathing American, but it is simply impossible for me to ‘feel’ American. Despite my lack of attachment to my arbitrary nation of birth, I oftentimes think about how it must feel to be a citizen in one of the modern multicultural and technocratic Americanized European nations. I know that my Dutch grandfather, who was born in 1919 and left the Netherlands in the early 1950s after his country went kaput as a result of the Second World War, was in for quite the shock when he visited his native nation after living in the United States for a couple decades and discovered how morally and culturally degenerate the country had become. It's just mere speculation on my part, but out of all the western European peoples, it must suck the most to be English, which is certainly reflected in British music (after all, punk was spawned from this little island), film, culture, and the once glorious but now decidedly defunct nation’s increasingly ‘colorful’ multicultural population. While I’m not all that big of a fan of skinhead bands, I think Skrewdriver said it best when they sang, “once we had an Empire, and now we've got a slum.” Indeed, you know your country is royally screwed when rather primitive people that you had previously colonized like the Pakistanis are turning your preteen daughters into sex slaves and a city like Birmingham contracts a misandristic feminist artist to create a public sculpture depicting a ‘normal family’ as two single non-white sisters with mongrel bastard children and no husbands. Created over three decades before Britain became the totally foredoomed pre-third world multicultural hellhole it is today (not that it was not already a multicultural hellhole at the time it was made), Voice Over (1983) written and directed by Welsh auteur Christopher Monger (Repeater, Girl from Rio), the man who is best known for the ‘tranny yuppie’ satire Just Like a Woman (1992) and especially the PG-rated ‘feel good’ Hugh Grant comedy The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995).
Certainly, considering the director's rather unfortunate subsequent works, Voice Over is not a film that I would have watched had I not read a review comparing it to the haunting and dispiriting spirit of the revolutionary post-punk band Joy Division, who probably better expressed more than any other group of their time the sense of alienation, abject hopelessness, nihilism, and somberness of England during the late-1970s/early-1980s. Before directing his absurdly underrated no-budget 16mm cult flick Voice Over and eventually becoming a mainstream filmmaker (of which, the director would later reflect, “I never saw myself as becoming part of commercial cinema – if you'd told me then that I would end up in Hollywood I would probably have been appalled”) Monger was a meager art student from Cardiff, Wales who attempted to take a theoretical formalist and deconstructivist approach to cinema as influenced by the French New Wave, especially Godard, as demonstrated by his early feature Repeater (1979). It was only with Voice Over that Monger managed to speak to his zeitgeist and demonstrate that he was one of the few British filmmakers to understand the foreboding spirit of his time to the point where even Americans were able to relate to it, or as the director stated regarding how the work managed to singlehandedly jumpstart his filmmaking career, “In 1982 I had shown VOICE OVER at a festival in Los Angeles. At the end of the screening I had an agent, a manager and a lawyer. It would take me almost a decade to make a film here, but I suddenly found myself in a culture that embraced me.” The dark yet oftentimes humorous story of an educated yet seemingly Asperger-plagued ‘DJ’ of the terribly lonely sort who lives in a fantasy world whose Jane Austen-esque early 19th century romantic radio serial becomes successful, albeit for all the wrong reasons, thus plummeting the character into a pathetic world of ridicule from the fairer sex that eventually erupts into the most sickening of crimes and obsessions, Voice Over has been labeled by certain fecund-deprived feminists as ‘misogynistic’ but I guess that reality then would also have to be misogynistic.
Voice Over begins with dreamlike scenes of a beauteous early 19th century blonde debutante named Elizabeth (Bish Nethercote) dancing at a ball with her much desired aristocratic male soldier suitor during a wonderful romantic evening that, as described by the narrator, had “risen to her splendid expectations.” Elizabeth’s story is part of a 19th century romance radio serial called “Thus Engaged” that is written and narrated by lonely middle-aged fat man Fats Bannerman (played by British actor Ian McNeice, who went on to star in big Hollywood films like Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) and Roman Polanski’s 2005 adaptation of Oliver Twist) who lives in a fantasy world of his own making where he ‘rewrites’ Jane Austen novels from the perspective of a woman, Elizabeth, inspired by incidents from his own life while listening to early 19th century music and looking at a stack of paintings from the same era for artistic inspiration. A dejected divorcee of the monetarily cuckolded sort who has to pay a huge amount of alimony to his wife who took the kids to live in Italy, Fats lives a non-existence in a dilapidated warehouse located in a white ghetto on the docks. A perennial loner who has been thrown into isolation out of circumstance, Fats’ only friend is special effects man F.X. Jones (John Cassady, who had small roles in big films like Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Highlander (1986)), who he credits for his show’s artistic integrity. Fats is a traditionalist who hates the modern world as demonstrated by the fact that he looks in disgust at a young man who resembles a negro albino who dares to play his vulgar music in the subway. When Fats moves away from the belligerent young man and the bombastic noise being excreted from his boom box, the youthful degenerate follows him. Later that day, Fats adapts his subway experience for his radio serial via his alter-ego Elizabeth, which he translates as follows: “So Elizabeth had not enjoyed the coach journey. Her close proximity to an uncouth lout, intent on the singing of bawdy songs had been most upsetting.” Needless to say, Fats’ loser life takes a dramatic change when his radio show becomes unexpectedly very popular and he even wins a prestigious award, though he is not prepared for the unpredictable consequences of said success.
While Fats is quite happy and humbled by his recent good fortune, it only takes an exceedingly bitchy journalist and ‘modern woman’ that clearly has a master’s degree in feminist lobotomizing to forever taint his attitude and overall outlook on life and obstruct his sanity. After turning down an interview with TIME magazine because it is a hateful rag that even “Marlon Brando won’t touch,” Fats makes the major mistake of agreeing to do an interview with a corrosive young enterprising journalist named Cecilia Crane (Sarah Martin) who digs up as much dirt as she can on the radio playwright and then throws it in his face when he least suspects it. After mocking the fact this his exceedingly sentimental radio show has somehow become a big hit, Ms. Crane accuses Fats of attempting to hide from the “mucky 20th century” and when he concurs, she states, “So you want to forget about today and all its complexities and return to some idyllic, aristocratic, simple world.” After that, Ms. Crane patronizingly asks Fats why he would bother to write “romantic tripe” when his own personal life is full of failures, including a nasty divorce. When Crane asks Fats who he thinks makes up his main fan base, he defensively replies, “Okay, tell me. White, middle class, middle aged, university educated, is that it? Because if it is, I don’t mind that. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s not a crime. At least I have an audience, a big one,” thus indicating that he thinks the journalist is a cliché liberal academic type who gets a self-righteous kick out of cowardly trashing her own racial and cultural background. Of course, Fats is somewhat surprised when he learns that his main audience is “teenagers” and “mostly poor kids” who listen to his show because they find it outmoded and unintentionally comical. Fats also is dismayed to discover that he has a cult following of older people who listen to the show for its “kitsch nature.” Naturally, it is the last straw when Ms. Crane accuses him of writing “rip offs” of “paragraphs of Jane Austen, with a few words altered” and reveals that she knows he specialized in Jane Austen's work in college.
After his corrosive date with Ms. Crane, Fats walks out on the interview, gets good and drunk at a local bar to the point of staggering in the streets and collapsing in a grimy gutter, and eventually somehow staggers into a punk bar where he speaks about Elizabeth’s “wet fart,” stating out loud to himself while in the company of young punk folk, “That really would amaze the whole room. Elizabeth farted loudly. Her skirt rose noticeably. Mr. Bennet commented on its agreeable scent.” When two young female Fats’ ‘fans’ take him back to their apartment, they humiliate him by accusing him and his male radio serial characters of being “queer,” cocktease him, and then take turns physically assaulting him while accusing him of being an “asshole” and “dirty old man,” among other things. Combined with his hateful write-up by journalist Cecilia Crane and his emotional and physical abuse at the hands of two beauteous yet sadistic blonde babes, Fats is from then on a changed man and his radio serial Thus Engaged begins reflecting that fact. Indeed, the show turns into a sort of dark and salacious horror show involving phantoms, murderers, and female vampires posing as prostitutes to lure in unsuspecting aristocratic gentlemen. Fats’ best friend and collaborator F.X. confesses he does not like the new route of the show and blames it on Ms. Crane’s article. Despite the disturbing character of the new show, it becomes all the more popular and the radio station begins receiving tons of new sponsors.
Meanwhile, Fats ‘finds’ a seemingly comatose girl (played by Bish Nethercote who, in an interesting case of casting, also plays ‘Elizabeth’ and one of the two girls that assaulted Fats) on the street who has been brutally raped and beaten and brings her back home with him where he nurses her back to health with the help of a discernibly reluctant doctor friend who attempts to coerce his comrade into bringing the physically and emotionally battered young lady to an institution, “She’s in shock, deep, deep, shock.” The Doctor even suspects Fats of being the brute who brutally battered and sexually pillaged the young girl, but he confidently, if not somewhat dubiously replies, stating, “I met her once a long while back, I recognized her. She was in the alley,” thus hinting that she is indeed one of the two girls that had previously tormented him and that he may indeed be the one who ravaged her (in fact, Fats even goes so far as confessing that he would have done something like that when he was younger). Despite making her more or less his slave, Fats attempts no sexual contact with her and even covers her body with a blanket while changing her clothes since she cannot do it herself due to her comatose state. Eventually, Elizabeth begins walking but hardly talking, with “bitch” being the only word she utters, as if it was the very last word that was said to her by her rapist during that fateful night when she had her womanhood irreparably despoiled. Since it is the first and last word she utters, “Bitch” becomes the emotionally destroyed dame’s name.
When Fats’ show becomes so successful that it gets picked up by a major radio station, he buys a new apartment for himself and ‘Bitch’ to stay in as he hopes to make his would-be-beloved an honest bourgeois woman but she seems completely unaffected by the change and the glorified radio DJ mumbles to himself while brooding in his tighty whities “how much longer can the silence endure?” in regard to the sad and static state of his non-relationship. Indeed, more and more Fats' radio show begins reflecting his lonely non-life, with Elizabeth representing the ‘Bitch.’ On a particularly heated show, Fats recites, “It had all changed for him and was changing still. It had all gone. He had traveled so far. A dead landscape. All dead! Elizabeth dead, her remains unburiable. Out of reach, out of all sight, moving away from him so fast.” After one particularly botched show, Fats, who suffered a speech impediment as a young lad, begins stuttering live during the broadcast. After the show, Fats has salt rubbed in his wounds when he bumps into reporter Cecilia Crane who mockingly states regarding his stutter-ridden broadcast, “Yeah, you’re really using yourself now, aren’t you, Mr Bannerman? Your new approach, very modern. And you’re not losing your audience, either.” Eventually, Fats completely loses his cool and airs a show featuring numerous multiple loops of him talking to the grating sounds of static noise, thus reflecting the cognitive dissonance that has completely clouded his frail forlorn mind. Somewhat inexplicably, ‘Bitch’ is so deeply affected by the landscape of the seemingly demonic and deranging horrendous noise that she leaves her house for the first time and shows up at the broadcast studio to meet Fats as if instinctively responding to a mating call. After the anarchic show ends, ‘Bitch’ and Fats walk hand-in-hand into the night and eventually end up at the warehouse where they used to live. While ballroom dancing for the first time in a scene in stark contrast to the opulent and deeply romantic balls of the DJ’s radio serial, Fats drives a pair of scissors into Bitch’s heart and then proceeds to violently stab her deathly stunning blood-soiled corpse.
Despite being rather humorous and somewhat quirky in parts, Voice Over is easily the darkest, most disconcerting, and nightmarishly nihilistic British film from the 1980s that I have ever seen, with the no-budget and strangely sympathetic Dennis Nilsen ‘biopic’ Cold Light of Day (1989) directed by one-time female auteur Fhiona-Louise, who purportedly committed suicide, being probably the only Brit flick of its time to even remotely compare to director Christopher Monger’s work in terms of outstanding abject hopelessness. Indeed, if Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977) influenced Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis to hang himself on that fateful day when he committed suicide, I don’t even want to know how he would have responded to Monger’s mesmerizingly melancholy cult masterpiece. In her January 23, 1983 review of the film, Janet Maslin demonstrated her complete and utter incapacity to understand the work by remarking, “Whatever Mr. Monger's purpose may be in showing Fats's progress from Jane Austen to this juncture, it is of less interest than his method. His VOICE OVER […] which ought to be shocking, has a weary and repetitive flavor,” as if she, like the other liberal pseudo-elite critics, who in her own minor way as a mainstream film critic helped foster and support the sort of post-industrial multicultural hellhole that exists in America, Britain, and the rest of the Occident today, is in total denial of the dystopian world that currently exists. Of course, it is easy to see why a film that is so poetically truthful and ultimately unnerving would soon disappear after its brief release, as it not only forces them to think, but also confront their precarious situation during a troubled time in history of almost seemingly apocalyptic proportions. Indeed, Monger's film is the rare sort of unrelentingly brutal and absolutely artistically uncompromising film that makes the work of Ingmar Bergman seem optimistic by comparison and probably even has the to power to push a potential lone nut shooter type over the edge, though they might not be able to articulate why they found it so unsettling and inciting, as Voice Over is a work that captures the emotional spirit of a zeitgeist without so much as making a single reference to political trends or even popular culture of that era. Indeed, one of the film's major strengths is in what it chooses not to show and not because of what it does show, especially in regard to cultural trends, as it makes the protagonist's alienation seem all the more obscenely tragic. In fact, auteur Monger cannot even explain why his film is so potent as demonstrated by his remark: “What I do know, now having written literally dozens of screenplays, is that stories have a strange organic life of their own. It is often only later that you find out what you were truly writing about. More problematic, what the filmmakers 'make' and what the audience sees can be very, very different. To attempt to say what I think VOICE OVER is about at this distance would be at best a lie, and at worst, an apology. What I can say is that what it really represents for me is me becoming a filmmaker.” Rather unfortunately, Monger would never become a better filmmaker as none of his subsequent works would feature the originality or artistic integrity that he achieved with Voice Over, but he would go on to receive much greater commercial success and is still somewhat successful, as he co-penned the screenplay for the critically revered HBO film Temple Grandin (2010) starring Claire Danes as the eponymous real-life autistic livestock behavior expert and pioneering autism activist.
With the rebooting of seemingly ancient children’s cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the ostensibly ‘ironic’ dress style of effete bourgeois-born fashion victims known as ‘hipsters,’ and the obsession of Hollywood and mainstream television with postmodernism and pointless pop culture trivia, it seems that the West, especially America and the countries that have been worst hit by the post-WWII culture-distorting trend of Hollywoodization, is obsessed with re-obtaining some lost golden age that never existed in the first place, with the protagonist Fats of Voice Over being a more ‘idiosyncratic’ and ultimately tragic example of this trend, as he has totally isolated himself from mainstream society and sought refuge in a bygone puritanical time when things were much simpler to the point where people find his work entertaining for the exact opposite reason he originally intended. Indeed, Fats is a sort of radio serial equivalent to European arthouse auteur filmmakers like Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Der Tod der Maria Malibran) and his pal Daniel Schmid (Tonight or Never, La Paloma) who, instead of taking part in creating the sort of trendy and aesthetically static polemical works that were popular during their unfortunate post-68er-Bewegung zeitgeist, sought solace and escapism in decadent aestheticism of the pastiche high-camp kitschy yet cultivated sort. Ironically, the film almost perfectly predicted some trends as demonstrated by Hebraic hack novelist Seth Grahame-Smith's pomo flesheater abortion Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), which is a mashup work that absurdly combines elements from Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice with new zombie scenes and full-color images that is predictably being adapted into a film by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) that is set for a 2015 release. Although I am not exactly an Austenphile, I almost vomited zombie guts when I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on display at Borders a couple years back, as it reflects the worst of our vapid and mindlessly nihilistic culture and is certainly something more ominous and disturbing than the early 19th century radio serials of Voice Over protagonist Fats. A true modernist ‘horror’ show that is, at the very least, a minor masterpiece and one of the best kept secrets of 1980s British cinema, Monger's celluloid psycho-drama manages to do the seemingly impossible by enabling the viewer to sympathize with and feel pity for a fat stuttering Brit slob who commits the most heinous and deplorable yet equally pathetic of crimes against a borderline catatonic beauteous blonde rape victim, hence the film's dubious misogynistic reputation among feminist dykes, so-called social justice warriors, and other slave-morality-ridden rabble who cannot possibly fathom that a man can commit horrendous acts against women yet still have a startling ‘humanity’ about himself.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:50 AM
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