Only when you drink from the river of silence shall... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

— Kahlil Gibran

Ringing Bell (released in Japan asチリンの鈴, or Chirin no Suzu) is an anime film from 1978. As you would expected from the studio that created Hello Kitty, it’s a descent through a corridor of nightmares, with walls of pulsating snakes. It’s fairly dark. I knew its reputation, and it still surprised me with its offhand brutality: it hits you like a loaded body bag dropped from twenty feet. It’s unusually thought-provoking. Usually, “adult anime” means Genocyber or MD Geist: tits and gore plus a childish concept (hey, I watch that stuff). Ringing Bell is different: it uses the vocabulary of childhood nostalgia to tell a mature and sophisticated story about existentialism, injustice, transformation and other topics usually left for incel 19th century philosophers.

Chirin is a lamb. He frolicks in a field of butterflies and small animals. His mother warns him to stay away from a nearby mountain, where a wolf lives.

Disney cliches are piling up fast, and we assume the rest of the movie will be “Chirin disobeys his mother, visits the wolf, suboptimal events occur, and Chirin learns a lesson about the importance of obeying your parents (et cetera)”. But the movie doesn’t go down that road. Chirin is well-behaved lamb, who (aside from one early mistake) obeys his mother. It is emphasized that Chirin does everything right and it doesn’t help in the end.

The wolf invades the farm, because that’s a thing it can do. It slaughters the sheep, because that’s a thing it can do. They die without resisting, because that’s a thing they can’t do. Chirin survives the massacre, but only because his mother leaps upon his body and dies in his stead. In one of the movie’s greatest shots, the wolf lunges, and the (hypothetical) camera zooms in on a scar on its eye. The scar seems to elongate through the black fur, like tear ripped in paper, revealing a slash of orange, which soon darkens to red, and then the red fragments into isolated twists of smoke, as though it wasn’t gore but fire. This is great filmmaking. Director Masami Hata found a way to imply flesh tearing and blood spurting, while displaying no on-screen violence whatsoever.

When Chirin recovers, he sees his mother dead, and the wolf gone. He does not understand. Why does he deserve this? He stands at the cusp of the movie’s central insight: it was not unjust. He is a sheep, and this is what being a sheep means. Millions of lambs have stood in his place. He is not special.

When a movie is about animals, it’s usually for a reason. One of three reasons, actually. The first is that the filmmakers had no choice. Maybe they’re adapting a children’s book written by a laudanum-addicted Victorian pederast called Archibald Featherwyckbottom III and that book has animals. Or they have some suit breathing down their neck, saying “We need to sell eleventy billion plushie dolls this quarter, so make the characters cute animals. We need the furries on our side here, so make them fuckable.”

The second is that it distances the setting from the human world, allowing access to the grand and mythic. It is difficult to tell a yearning, primal story about a character that has to pay rent and file TPS reports. Civilization is an anchor slung around your neck: it keeps you stable, but does no favors if you want to fly. A book like Life of Pi or Lord of the Flies has to forcibly extract its character(s) from the human world before the story can begin. An animal tale like Watership Down can simply get on and tell the story.

The third and most important reason is that animals have characterization built-in. Owls are wise. Lions are regal. Sharks are predatory. Dogs are loyal. Cats are devious, solitary, and sour. Foxes are devious, solitary, and cheerful. Eagles are libertarians. Hamsters are alt-right shitpoasters. Goldfish are effete limousine-liberal crypto-Kautskyites whose commitment to The Struggle is frankly more show than substance. We all know these tropes, and when there’s an animal in a movie, we understand its character before it even says or does anything.

With that in mind, what is the identity of a sheep?

Passivity. As a sheep, you are an object. You get herded around by slow but smart apes and fast but less-smart canines. You graze stupidly and endlessly, mulching grass through four successive stomachs before excreting it into pellets so uselessly precise they look like they came from an injection mold. Even your shit looks domesticated. Such is your life, a hollow tube that grass flows through, until the day the shepherd separates you from the flock, a high-velocity slug engraves death into your skull and the world spins on without you. Nobody asks your permission. Things are done to you, and done to you, and then finally you are done.

(I actually own sheep, and they’re not as domesticated as their rep suggests. They can be very stubborn and aggressive, particularly in breeding season. Males will headbutt you hard enough to leave bruises through thick jackets. I’m sure a nonzero number of people get killed by sheep each year.)

Being a sheep places Chirin in a role of servitude. If he was a man, he would be a helot in 500BC Sparta, a black person in 19th century Louisiana, or a contemporary person who doesn’t find Jacqueline Novak’s stand-up very funny. He is an oppressed minority, living in a cruel and gray world that hates him, and his life is a living hell. He makes an audacious decision: I will not be a sheep any longer. But does that even make sense? A sheep is defined by not having a choice. You can’t choose not to be a sheep, any more than a tongueless man can talk or a legless man walk. (Conspiracists deride normies as “sheeple”…but if we’re truly sheep, we have no choice but to be fooled by the conspiracy. It’s pointless to even complain about. )

So if you could decide to not be a sheep…wouldn’t that mean you never were a sheep to begin with? And thus your mother’s death was a cosmic injustice, and thus his desire to become a wolf is also unjustified? It seems paradoxical. There is comfort in believing the world is neutral of morality, and a different sort of comfort in believing in right or wrong, but you have to pick a lane. However paradoxical the desire, Chirin decides to stop being a sheep.

He tracks the wolf down, and demands that the wolf fight him. The wolf ignores him: denying him even the respect of an enemy. But then Chirin starts demanding that the wolf teach him wolfish ways. The wolf responds with mockery, yet curiously, he does not kill Chirin. It might be that he’s already begun testing Chirin (if you’re truly a wolf, you’ll not be deterred by “you can’t do it”)

Chirin stays by the wolf’s side, and learns the way of the fang and claw. They go on adventures together. The movie drags a bit here, falling into master-and-apprentice martial arts cliches. There’s a cheesy reprise of the theme song, with goofy rock guitar licks dubbed over the top. Ringing Bell can be a somewhat “broad” movie at times. Particularly the music, which lyrically emphasises things we can already see on screen in a very heavyhanded and obvious way.

But then we arrive at the final act, where a movie that has been fairly fascinating becomes utterly engrossing. Chirin is given a choice by the wolf. It’s a brutal all-or-nothing decision, not just for his life, but for his soul. His reaction and what happens next is psychologically complex and fascinating.

Otherwise, it’s just a fairly well-made short film from 1978. The production studio, Sanrio, modeled itself after Disney. Except where Disney was an animation studio that branched out into merchandizing, Sanrio was a merchandizing company that branched out into animation. “Sanrio” is apparently meant to be a portmanteau of “San” (as in “San Francisco”) and “Rio” (as in “Rio Grande”), thus making the company’s name “Saint River”. Truly, they are the Sleve McDichael of the corporate world. Their artistic ouevre could be described as “diet Madhouse”, telling surprisingly deep and complicated (and weird) stories within the conventions of 70s anime. I assumed director Masami Hata later worked at Madhouse, but that seems to not be the case. He did later work on Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. But every animator in history worked on that movie.

In many ways, Ringing Bell is a product of its time. The art style is very “70s anime”. Characters are designed with circles, where modern anime prefers triangles. There is a tragic dearth of sparkling magical schoolgirls and panty shots and oppai moments. A modern viewer would regard this as a relic of another age.

It is heavily influenced by Disney films—and both subverts those influences and plays them straight. Bambi is an obvious influence—it almost watches like a parody of that movie. The changing of the seasons, the death of a parent, the design of the adult Chirin. The marketing on the poster tries to play up this angle still further, prominently featuring furry critters and an owl who I don’t think gets one line of dialog in the actual movie.

But there’s also a Japanese character to the film which is deeply felt. The arrival of the wolf is an apocalypse, like a bomb falling on the sheep. We see it tearing them apart via silhouettes on the wall, which made me think of the permanent shadows of Hiroshima. It’s based on an anti-war manga. I was reminded of writer Kenzaburo Oe’s realization that the Showa emperor was in fact a mortal man. What better metaphor for a mother dying than that?

The truth is a gift, even when it hurts to hold. Chirin is granted a glimpse of the true reality of the world, one that most folks never get until they’re too old to change. He wishes he could return to the safety of his old life, but there never was any safety. He just had his eyes closed, and now they’re wide open. He lives in a world without justice and fairness. It has sheep and it has wolves. And it has Chirin, who is a sheep and a wolf.

A vacuum fills itself with whatever’s available in the atmosphere.... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath

A vacuum fills itself with whatever’s available in the atmosphere. Under the ocean, it’s water. On dry land, it’s air. So what does it mean when a vacuum fills with hate?

On the weekend of July 22, 1999, concert organizers Michael Lang and John Scher flung open the gates to Griffith AFB in Rome, New York. Three days later, Woodstock ’99 had become a roasting, filth-smeared concentration camp boiling with rioting, violence, and rape. What went wrong? This documentary seeks to answer this question, and unfortunately, it succeeds.

A documentary can commit two mortal sins. The first is to answer nothing. The average Bigfoot, Jack the Ripper, or DB Cooper documentary is a thirty minute recapping of facts, and two hours of randos in armchairs speculating, and then an open-ended question. “Decide for yourself: do these clues mean anything at all? Or does the mystery remain unsolved?” I watched this so you would tell me, sir. That is why I am here.

The other sin is to answer everything. Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage weaves a familiar and too-confident narrative about generational malaise. Basically, the kids were the problem. 50% of them, to be precise.

“To blame the artists, I think it’s too easy. We never ask the deeper existential question why are so many young men in America…Why are they so angry?”

Maureen Callahan

“It’s very convenient to say that this aggressive rock band, it’s their fault, but I think that if you look at what was going on in the culture and the rot that was setting in in a lot of places, it’s bigger than nu metal, and it’s certainly bigger than Limp Bizkit.”

Steven Hyden

“I’m still so baffled, like how [music] went from the sort of progressive enlightened values of Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe to misogyny and homophobia and the rape-frat boy culture that was at Woodstock 99.”

Moby (one month before bragging about fucking a barely-legal Natalie Portman)

In short (according to the movie), Woodstock ’99 was an explosion of white male anger. It was the Stanford Prison Experiment feat. Jamiroquai. Resentful teenage boys, used to being at the top of culture, were being displaced on MTV and TRL by boy bands marketed to their kid sister. Existential rage and resentment went nuclear in the heat, stoked further by violent “bro” nu metal like Limp Bizkit. Woodstock ’99 was more than just a badly run event. It was a Fight Club with 200,000 Tyler Durdens.

The film contains fascinating (and gut-wrenching) footage, as well as vivid little touches like the missed-connections board with hundreds of handwritten “where are you? look for me here” notes on it, because, oh right, nobody has a mobile phone. Woodstock ’99 was the kind of event where you could pick out any random person and get fifty fascinating stories. Like Rolling Stone journalist Rob Sheffield, who mentions that smart people (during the insane final night) slept on piles of pizza boxes. Why pizza boxes? Because they were white. And why was that important? So you could tell when someone had urinated on them.

Sadly the documentary contains many questionable claims. And “everybody wanted to see Kid Rock” is just the start of them.

It really wants to make hay out of the toxic masculinity issue. Early on, a concertgoer (recalling her memories) ominously identifies the movie’s villain. “There were a lot of white boys! Wearing backwards baseball caps!” Then we cut to B-roll footage of members of said demographic. The filmmakers heroically resist the urge to roll John Williams’ Jaws theme.

White teenage boys make easy villains. Nobody has any sympathy for fratties hooting “SHOW US YOUR TITS!” This also lets the filmmakers connect Woodstock ’99 with modern liberal anxieties that are white teenage boy affiliated (these loutish testosterone-fueled rapemonkeys are all grown up and are probably voting for Trump!!!)

But this argument is specious and unconvincing. Korn’s Family Values tours had lots of white boys and weren’t pulsating rape orgies. Neither was Ozzfest (though I did find one reported incident of sexual assault, in 2006). The Rodney King riots did more damage to people and property than a hundred Woodstock ’99s. “Woodstock ’99 was a disaster because of evil white male pissbabies” is the type of thinking Cosma Shalizi calls “explaining a variable with a constant.” You still haven’t explained why this festival went so badly off the rails, when so many others didn’t.

Various 90s shit like Columbine and Napster and Y2K are name-dropped, as if they had anything to do with what the movie’s about. Once we used to laugh at Joe Lieberman and Jack Thompson for saying mass media causes violence. But now it appears to be perfectly respectable mainstream thought.

Blaming the audience does have one nice side effect, it allows the film to exculpate Woodstock 99’s management. I wonder if this was intentional. Perhaps promoter John Scher only agreed to be interviewed on the conditions that he be asked softball questions, and treated sympathetically. They could have been far harsher to him than they were.

Charging concertgoers for water is an asshole move in winter. In a hundred-degree summer, it should be illegal. No water = dead people. Or angry, frustrated people; which also often leads to dead people. The irony of staging Woodstock—connected inextricably with ’60s the antiwar movement—at a military base is palpable. The concrete walls and barbed wire would have only increased the anger and frustration. Who wants to be treated like a criminal? What emerges from the footage we see is a chaotic, slapdash operation with no purpose beyond extracting as much money as possible from concertgoers’ wallets, under the fig leaf of it being a “cultural moment”. Nobody respected Woodstock ’99, or the people running it.

(And I’m not sure that passing the blame onto Fred Durst helps Scher’s case. Did Limp Bizkit just rock up at Woodstock ’99 and play unannounced? Or were they there, perhaps, because somebody put them on the bill? A mystery for the ages.)

Yes, all these things are mentioned, but only in passing. The film is far more interested in allowing talking heads to spin out a huge Decline of Western Society narrative, with Woodstock ’99 being the sack of Rome. I wasn’t joking about them blaming Trump on Woodstock ’99 attendees, BTW. Actual quotes from the movie:

“[…] there is a definite umbilical cord between the dark, sexual, cultural, political underbelly in the country at that time to where we are now.”

“A lot of that energy that was permeating that crowd that day, it just wound up in chat rooms and Reddit boards and it’s just fascinating to think about because I don’t know if it’s possible to get that collection of people together in 2021 without it being a cause for concern.”

I bet Woodstock 99 also caused coronavirus, Brexit, Hitler, and Genghis Khan. Sure, why not. We’ve already got the crack pipe out anyway. Sometimes the connections made are beyond tenuous and enter “Can only be detected by professional ghost hunters using EVP” territory. Are you surprised to learn that Kurt Cobain’s death helped inspire the Woodstock ’99 riots? Me too.

The film has many a pearl to clutch over misogyny, and women being treated like sex objects. It emphasizes this by showing footage of every naked woman it could find. I kept a careful count: the film contains exactly 6,351,967,356 sets of bare breasts. You might accuse me of exaggerating a bit here, as there were less than six billion people alive in the world at the time (half of which were men) and only 200,000 tickets to Woodstock were sold, but I was careful to count those breasts. I counted ’em all out and counted ’em all back in.

So I found it very frustrating to watch, overall. It’s one of those “everything explains everything” type of deals, where fact #1 is confidently attributed to fact #2. You can do this with anything. “Remember Beanie Babies? Sure you do! Well, those seemingly innocent toys had profoundly corrosive effects on society. Think about the winner-takes-all mindset they fostered: greed, entitlement, a desire to “own” and “possess”. The collector’s mindset is one of naked, unshackled lust for mammon. You are a player in a zero sum game: your ownership of a toy means someone else is denied one. These former Beanie Baby collectors naturally went on to take on subprime mortgages, because land-ownership scratched the same itch. I have this thing. You don’t. Inevitably, society as a whole was sucked into this hypercapitalist death-vortex. And that’s how Beanie Babies caused the 2007–2008 financial crisis.” I made that up. It took ten seconds, nine of which were spent thinking about how Katy Perry’s shirt would look when wet. Yet it sounds plausible and can’t be easily disproven—for all I know, Beanie Babies actually did cause 2007–2008 financial crisis!—so you might believe it, particularly if it jibes with your preconceptions about society. Trees always fall in the direction they’re already leaning, after all.

The film achieves one thing, though: it reminds me of how things were. Under the baking sledgehammer sun, we see the dregs of American monoculture evaporate.

Once, there was a sort of cultural unity in the US. Millions of little kids sat down at the set and watched Sesame Street at four and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at five and the Electric Company at five-thirty. Whatever their differences in social class, for an hour and a half each day children lived in the same world.

Their older peers watched the same cartoons. Grownups watched the same evening news. Then the internet and smartphones and social media washed over everything in a tidal wave, stranding us on little media islands that only putatively connect to each other. There’s no longer “the” news. There’s “your” news. The old sense of unity is gone: gaze out at the world through a screen, and it rearranges itself to suit your will (or that of Mark Zuckerberg).

This shift happened across all media: we have so much choice now that a thing like Woodstock (a singular music festival, uniting the country in peace and love) feels anachronistic. Media consumption is now defined by its isolation from any larger context.

Beavis and Butthead, the arch-90s cartoon for me, has aged really strangely. Its defining image—two teens sitting in front of a TV, scoffing at music videos—doesn’t work anymore. This is a thing that doesn’t happen. Kids never have to deal with media that baffles or confuses or alienates them. They never have to endure something that isn’t made for them. Algorithms filter it away like a bad small.

Zoomer Beavis and Butthead wouldn’t denigrate Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. They would barely even know those artists are alive. Forget letting an MTV veejay determine what you listen to: now you can fire up a Spotify playlist, aim it like a cat’s laser pointer at whatever micro-genre your peers socially approve of, and hear nothing except that genre until forever.

I’m still shocked at how the world works now. A few years ago, I heard about someone called “Jake Paul”. I guessed he was some flavor-of-the-month celebrity famous for shaving his balls on America’s Got Pubic Lice or something. I was shocked to learn that he’d been famous for many years, with millions of followers. How come I hadn’t heard of him? It was like being the target of a Kafkaesque conspiracy. Once, 73 million viewers watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and it was a cultural moment. Today, a Youtube video can have multiple billions of views, and it’ll be some kpop performer you’ve never heard of unless you’re “inside” that algorithmic bucket.

Whatever. I don’t feel deprived by not knowing about Jake Paul and kpop. And even though the Woodstockers’ contempt for boy bands is cited as evidence of their misogyny (the Offspring’s Dexter Holland sets up manniquins of the Backstreet Boys on stage, and the audience pelts them with water bottles. That’s gotta be the Woodstock ’99 equivalent of toilet-papering your neighbor’s house at the start of COVID), do you really need to listen to a corporate slop boy band (managed by a Ponzi schemer and alleged pedophile) to respect women? Mass culture is vapid and hollow. Maybe it’s better for it to die, and for all of us to find our own path. But we’re not finding it—for most of us, our path is chosen for us by some social media algorithm. It’s not our isolation that troubles me, but the fact that we’re being isolated against our will. When farmer splits a cow from the herd, he might be doing it for the animal’s wellbeing, but it’s more likely, there’s a bolt gun nearby.

Woodstock ’99 leaves you feeling a bit heavy, because it depicts something unthinkable: an American monoculture. It also shows kids being kids, instead of whatever the fuck they are now.

Here’s a quote from a review I saved. I wish I could find and credit the author:

A concert like Woodstock 99 was a moment in these people’s lives, that they could leave behind. The panopticon we live in has changed our lives away from this more than pop culture growing out of Nu-metal. You tore stuff up, you set shit on fire, you flashed, you saw Kid Rock, and you went home taking only memories and stories. Now everything we do lives on forever. Don’t you wish you could have a moment where you could have fun, see music, get drunk, do drugs, do whatever without the threat of it haunting you forever? Without it coming up when an employer googles your name? Cell phones would quickly start becoming common place after this, then camera phones, then smart phones. This was one of the last bastions of any sort of reckless freedom that anybody had.

Yeah, I noticed that too. The lack of fear.

We see people slumped over and shirtless and covered in dirt, looking their worst and not caring. We see women with bare faces, waving and smiling. Nobody’s running a “brand” and making stupid faces behind a selfie stick. Cameras exist in the world of 1999 (obviously, or I’d be looking at a blank screen), but it’s different somehow. There’s no Eye of Sauron upon these people. No omnipresent dread of having your soul captured and converted into content because you look or act weird. They’re just kids, surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire, paying $4 for a bottle of water, free in a way that we are not.

People today are addicted to filming themselves. It doesn’t matter if nobody’s watching. It doesn’t matter if they’re amassing evidence that sends them to prison (the 6/1 riots are mentioned, of course). Everyone impulsively creates content, like they’re scratching an itching scab. When I go to a concert these days, I’m never in the moment, I’m far outside it, trying to frame it inside a lambent rectangle. I worry that photos I’ll never look at will turn out like shit. When something cool happens, I frantically try to capture it, as though it’s not real unless I do. I, along with everyone else, am the show’s unpaid camera crew. The compulsion to record is overriding. People are now walking, talking cameras, with a vestigial human body attached.

There are signs of things to come. One guy says that he’s gonna get in the moshpit at Metallica’s show. Maybe they’ll film it, and he’ll see himself on MTV! We hear the first rumbles of an the earthquake in his words. People were starting to grasp the idea that, with affordable cameras rolling out from the bamboo curtain in the hundreds of thousands, they could fuse their anima with that of the show. That they were its curators, editors, and sometimes it’s performers. These days, we’re all that guy. The glass media calf has toppled and shattered into a million fractured mirrors, each of them reflecting one of our faces.

It’s somewhat sad watching all this bleary, scanlined footage of the past. Like seeing the final days of a remote jungle tribe, who don’t know their land has been cleared for logging. Five years ’till Myspace, ten years ’till Facebook, twenty years ’till Tiktok. Enjoy it while you can, guys. Baking on the tarmac, getting ripped off for water, immersed in predatory, exploitative anarchy, listening to fuck-awful band after fuck-awful band…they thought they were in hell. Now most of them would give anything to go back.

A movie based on a British comic book series (that... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath

A movie based on a British comic book series (that I haven’t read), starring Lori Petty (who I’m not familiar with), made in the year 1995 (which I was barely sentient for). In other words, I’m bringing what’s probably the right amount of baggage to Tank Girl: none. I’m not some comics fan whose childhood is ruined. This movie might as well have been made by aliens.

I had fun. Tank Girl is a weird and special movie. It’s either really good, or a profoundly fascinating failure that rises above pitiful conceits like “good” or “bad” like Gautama Siddhartha attaining enlightenment. The colors have a raucous Bava-esque pop. The script dangerously mixes Loony Toons gags with riot grrl punk energy. The visuals blow holes in your retinas. The set designers either spiked their morning cocaine with Viagra or their morning Viagra with cocaine. The actors are freaks (sometimes literally), and the lead plays her role like it’s a choice between this movie and porn, which it may have been.

It’s not perfect. The second half is far worse than the first, and a studio clearly fucked the whole project in the ass (if you’re going to imply a human-kangaroo sexual relationship, you don’t get brownie points for keeping it PG-rated), but that only adds to its delirious, warped quality. It’s like wandering through a cinematic junkyard; trash-strewn and ugly, littered with broken things that are barely recognizable as treasure.

It’s supposedly set in Australia. I say “supposedly” because the very first thing we hear is a chick saying “IT’S TWENNY FIRRY-FREE AND THE WORLD IS SCROO’D NOW!” in a foghorn of a Bronx accent. A comet has hit the earth, and it has not rained in eleven years. I hate it when that happens.

The narrator proves to be Tank Girl. We see her riding a cow through the desert (the first of many nods to Mad Max 3), though we never discover where she pastures it. She later upgrades to a tank that has spoilers, stickers, and even a BBQ grill. Her motives are to find (steal) a birthday present for her boyfriend, who lives with her at a kind of hippie commune, stealing water and avoiding the totalitarian Water & Power company (whose acronym, with a little imagination, is WAP). They live in riotous squalor. Everyone fucks and looks like they smell bad.

Everyone is Beautiful and No-One is Horny remains an insightful piece of writing on what’s wrong with modern superhero films. They are packed with ludicrously attractive people, but don’t allow them to do anything gross, ugly, or vulnerable. Ironically, this includes have sex: the purpose of attractiveness. What’s left is cold, inert marble: beauty for the sake of beauty (Captain America doesn’t look hot to attract a girl, but to attract an audience—it’s a classic Keynes Beauty Contest). Modern Hollywood is so irreversibly neutered that young people get angry and uncomfortable when there’s a nipple on screen. Did Oppenheimer really NEED a sex scene?? Was it really NECESSARY??? Everyone wants beauty, nobody wants bad smells and ruptured condoms. Tank Girl flips the script: everyone is horny and no-one is beautiful. It has an ugly, gross animal to desire to shock you with biology. Midway through the movie, Tank Girl is captured by W&P goons for stealing water, and straitjacketed with her arms behind her back. She throws out a line about how it’s hard for her to jerk off. There’s a lot of that kind of writing. It’s just an attempt at realness.

Tank Girl was made in an era that can be identified with a laser’s precision: the mid 90s. Post No Doubt, but pre Spice Girls (in a legendary piece of SG lore, Geri and Victoria met in the lineup at a Tank Girl casting call).

It’s definitely a movie of its time, stuffed with dreadlocks and neon and Kandi raver bracelets. The visual design is as pungent and earthy as the performances. It benefited from a brief period American interest in Australian culture, provoked by the likes Paul Hogan, Yahoo Serious, Steve Irwin, and Outback Steakhouse (not that the movie has anything to do with Australia—if it had come out in the age of New Labor and Cool Britannia, they probably would have played up its origins as a British comic strip instead). Lori Petty is heavily made up to look like Gwen Stefani. After she gets captured by the W&P, she gets a splat of paint (or blood) on her head. It looks kinda like Stefani’s bindi.

In the pre-Spice Girls clip above, Geri Halliwell introduces herself as “Geri, as in Tom and Jerry.” This is an outstanding segue from Ms Estelle Halliwell-Horner, because I am burning up inside to talk about Tom and Jerry.

Whatever emotions you feel for T&J, come on…can we admit it’s obviously a cartoon that was conceived in five minutes, tops? It’s the most generic and obvious idea there is. “One animal chases another animal!” And what animals, pray? “I dunno. A cat and a dog? Is that good?” Tank Girl has some of the same “character created in thirty seconds with a gun to the writer’s head” quality. She’s a girl. A girl with a tank. It’s a concept that writes itself. You can even imagine like five jokes that are actually in the movie (her tank makes men feel inadequate, etc). Tanks are impressive but not particularly conducive to stellar action scenes, and the movie struggles to integrate Tank Girl’s tank (an M5A1 Stuart) into the action believably. (Apparently, the Stuart’s reverse gear was broken, so if they needed to do another take, the tank had to drive around in a huge circle to get back to its starting mark.) So while I haven’t read the Tank Girl comic, I’m suspicious that the movie ruins too much. It may have been ruined to begin with.

I like that it has no reverence or respect. I watched some Zack Snyder thing once and had to stop, partly because of all the slow zooms on Superman’s somber face, dramatically lit, while stirring music swells in the background. Enough. Superman is a Depression-era funnybook character who wears his underwear on the outside and Schuster and Siegel were paid $130 to create him. Can we please have some fun with this character, for the first time in 50 years?

And that’s where Tank Girl wins me over: it’s just fun, particularly if you’re tired of sterile perfection. Movies like this do not get made now. It’s a relic from the before-days (pre Raimi Spider-Man), when there were no rules for making superhero movies, after all, they usually bombed and got 1 star out of 5. But that’s dangerous. When failure’s inevitable, you’re free. You can take risks. Things like Barb Wire and Spawn aren’t good, but I’d rather watch them than BLACK HOLE AT THE CENTER OF MY BRAIN THAT PROBABLY DENOTES THE LAST MARVEL MOVIE I SAW. But now that superhero movies are reliably the highest-grossing films of the year, they cannot take risks. They sag at the gunwales with investor cash, and they cannot be allowed to sink. They must be as safe as blue chip stocks.

Tank Girl has some really frustrating moments. Like its spirit animal Mad Max 3, it opens strong but then kind of falls over in the latter part. The kangaroo characters cleverly designed but just tiresome, sucking up precious airtime. The villain gets defeated something like three separate times, each time returning (cackling) from the grave. You roll your eyes. But even at its worst, it’s a thousand times more watchable than modern superhero fare.

Some people are campaigning for a Tank Girl remake. Be careful what you wish for. There is no chance that Tank Girl and “2024” could collide without the results being unmitigated shit. Tank Girl would be an aspirational girlboss who rolls her eyes when men say she can’t do stuff. The zoophilia and pedophilia jokes would be replaced with “So that happened.” All the rough edges would be gone. The animal lust and bonkers tone would be replaced with a neutered, PG-13 aspect, with every joke focus tested. The studio meddling that compromised the movie in 1995 would have ruined literally every single frame. The movie would pitifully crip-walk into theaters, watched by nobody, hated by all. At best, it would be a Moebius-esque joke. In six months, it would be gone. Instead, it was made in 1995 and made like this. Fucked up. Glorious. Kind of eternal.

(It stars one actor I recognize: Malcolm McDowell. I’d previously watched him in Caligula and A Clockwork Orange. It’s nice that he keeps his pants on in this one. I guess he finally reached the level of Hollywood fame where he no longer had to sordidly strip for money. To all you young actors and actresses, let that be an inspirational story. If Malcolm McDowell can escape the casting couch, so can you.)

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