The most salient trait of postmodernism is a clash between... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath

The most salient trait of postmodernism is a clash between form and content. Classicism and romanticism emphasize content (“what is this thing about?”), and modernism emphasizes form (“what is this thing?”), but postmodernism sets form and content as adversaries, letting them tear at each other like rabid dogs. Look at Warhol’s Shot Marilyns:

What’s interesting about this artwork? Well, Marilyn Monroe is a beautiful woman, and it’s jarring to see her depicted in harsh screen prints (the hallmark of cheap commercial advertising at the time). She’s garishly transformed. Her makeup looks like a clown’s, her hair is a neon-bright wave crashing on a radioactive shore, her skin is queasily puce, like a putrefying corpse. We are meant to notice the clash between Marilyn’s glamorous, immortal face and Warhol’s tawdry, cheap, disposable medium. This is the essence of postmodernism: a square peg and a round Warhol.

A Goofy Movie is a postmodern animated film. Maybe the postmodern animated film. It tries to tell an earnest story about a father and son on a road trip…but it’s about Goofy. This makes it incredibly funny, because Goofy’s a really inappropriate character for this sort of movie.

“It’s hard to be cool when your dad’s Goofy” went the film’s tagline. Yeah, and it’s hard to make a movie full of earnest road trip cliches when your star’s Goofy. Countless emotional moments either fall flat or ascend into a divine Dadaist empyrean because of those stupid goddamn white gloves. I could point to countless things:

  • Goofy has a son. Unless Max was conceived through parthenogensis, Goofy canonically fucks. How and when did he impregnate a woman? Did he say “a-hyuk-hyuk!” at any point in the procedure? Did he take the gloves off?
  • Goofy’s wife has apparently died (they could be divorced, but it’s unlikely Goofy would have sole custody of Max in that case), which caused a fissure into an unfathomable universe to open in my mind. Goofy shopping for coffins; Goofy picking out a suit; Goofy writing a eulogy for his dead wife, silently awed by how writing it down makes it finally seem real; Goofy pondering mortality.
  • Goofy gets out of his car, and locks it. As Roger Ebert noted, this is a deeply strange moment. Since when do cartoon characters take precautions like that?
  • When Goofy finally decides to lay down the law to his wayward son, he lectures Max in his ridiculous “gawwshh” Pinto Colvig voice.
  • Max gets in some minor trouble at school. The principal calls Goofy, warning that unless he steps up as a father, his son may someday be sent to the electric chair (!). Goofy freaks out at the prospect of Max strapped into Old Sparky.
  • Goofy realizes his relationship with his son is based on a lie, and he sits alone in his car, stewing with emotions, his eyes pools of hurt…but the hands still have white gloves.
  • Goofy as a curmudgeonly dad who hates rock music and loves fishing. Goofy singing a heartfelt duet with Max. You get the idea. The concept and the conception are matter and antimatter. The movie is such a swing-for-the-fences terrible idea that it works beautifully, like a clock so far wrong that it matches tomorrow‘s time.

The actual film is pretty good. It’s a sweet and touching story about fatherhood and generational differences. Many of the jokes unironically hit. The rockstar character was fun, and reminded me of Mok Swagger in Rock & Rule.

Can you imagine how shitty it would be if they remade this (correction: how shitty it will be when they remake this?) Max will glance up from Tiktok and say “OK boomer” when they’re driving. I’ll admit that it does have some dated “90s ‘tude” elements, like the Pauly Shore character, who sprays Cheez-Wiz into his hand and calls it the “leaning tower of Cheez-A.” If the whole movie had been like that, I doubt I’d remember it now. Thankfully, it’s about Goofy instead. I don’t think I’m laughing at the things the writers wanted me to laugh at, but at least I’m laughing.

(And maybe I’m touchy, but what’s with everyone getting pressed over the “is Goofy a dog or a man?” question like they’re catching the Zodiac killer? He’s a dog-man, that’s all. Don’t overthink it. He looks funny and cute, but he can also use appliances and drive a car. Best of both worlds. These are the same guys who make “cartoon logic” memes, like they’re onto something. Man, I can’t believe Spongebob can light a fire underwater, in defiance of the laws of physics. What a blunder. Someone should email the show’s writers and explain that this is impossible, so they don’t commit any other errors like that in future.)

I love how this asshole died eight films ago and... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath

I love how this asshole died eight films ago and here we are, looking at his “Eminem through an Instagram aging filter” face in yet another one. I love how Saw 3D was marketed as “the final chapter” and three new sequels have been made since then. Saw has devolved into a Weekend at Bernies farce where the creators have ended the series multiple times—and I mean publically murdered it, dynamited the corpse, and fired the ashes into the sun—only for the studio to carry on making more Saws anyway, like nothing happened. Kind of funny. I guess it’s our fault for seeing them.

I realize I’m watching a Saw movie in 2023 and the joke is on me, but can’t they try? A movie is an unexplored frontier: 60-180 minutes of blank space, and you can fill that space with anything. There are no rules. Tape doesn’t care what you put on it. With that in mind, why are we doing this again?

X is better than most movies in the Saw series, but that’s not hard (there will never be a Better Than Most Movies in the Saw Series award at the Oscars) and it still struggles with the fact that the franchise killed its one and only idea 620 minutes ago. Without John Kramer, there’s nothing, so they need to keep bringing him back, using increasingly contrived methods. Saw X is actually Saw 1.5: set between the events of Saw and Saw II. Kramer, you will recall, is dying of cancer (which I believe: Tobin Bell looks 20 years older than he did in the first film), so he undertakes an experimental new treatment procedure at a clinic in Mexico. The clinic turns out to be a fraudulent scam, preying on the desperate and gullible. Kramer decides to get revenge on them before he dies.

Setting the film in the past creates its own set of continuity problems (didn’t the Mexican Federales notice such gruesomely distinctive crimes, and draw parallels to the American Jigsaw killer?), but it doesn’t matter: the franchise long ago abandoned realism. In particular, Kramer is absurd. Once he was merely a super-genius, now he’s literally God, possessing perfect omniscience, knowing everything about everyone, and predicting the moves of others six steps ahead. While dying of cancer he designs and builds room-sized torture machines that would take a team of MIT undergrads six months and millions of dollars to construct. He’s such an unbelievable figure that it destroys what was interesting about the first movie: its sense of psychological realism.

The franchise has changed since the James Wan days. The first Saw had little gore, and was a “smart” horror/crime thriller in the mould of Se7en/Silence of the Lambs. Later entries dipped their toes into various horror fads such as splatterpunk, and found footage. Now we’re in the era of tedious “prestige horror”, so we get hokey scenes of Kramer fixing some Mexican kid’s bike, just to show he has a heart. I liked it more when he was a bad guy.

But that’s the problem with any horror franchise: the monster eventually becomes the hero. In the first Saw, your sympathies lay with the poor schmucks screwed into John Kramer’s machines. They were flawed, but redemption was possible. But now? Kramer is the star of the show, so they make his victims loathsome scum who basically deserve to die horribly. But if I no longer care if they live or die, what’s the point?

The Mexican setting is a waste—the film is as visually bland as ever—and aside from the expected “Hello Zepp” drop the music sounds like temp tracks. The plot makes little sense. Greutert directs like he’s assembling Ikea furniture. No inspiration exists. The Saw franchise is beyond dead and beyond a joke and they should either stop making them or be forced to stop. At least the title is accurate: this sawx.

Living dolls are an ancient obsession, storied wherever there are... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath

Living dolls are an ancient obsession, storied wherever there are stories and sung wherever there are songs. Pygmalion’s ivory bride; Hephaestus’s automata; Hidari Jingorō’s statues; the golems of Prague; Pinocchio; Sir Cliff. We are fascinated by the idea of sculpting a soul, of lacing gears together so finely that sparks of life glimmer between the teeth. The creation of life could be considered the final goal of art. Mona Lisa smiles because she has to. Imagine a painting that smiles because it wants to.

No artist has succeeded at this task, unless God is an artist. According to Genesis, he formed us out of dust from the ground, so in a way, we’re his toys. But why would you want to give life to a toy, assuming you could? Toys are defined by a relationship with their maker: in Aristotle’s classic schema, we are agents (actors), and toys are patients (acted-upon). A living toy is a paradox, inhabiting both and neither role. Children’s movies can bring toys to life, but they always raise existential implications that are never properly dealt with.

Long before Alan Menken brought Broadway to Disney, there was Richard Williams’ Raggedy Anne and Andy: A Musical Adventure, an animated film from 1977. Toys are preparing for their owner Marcella’s seventh birthday when a pirate captain breaks out of a snowglobe and kidnaps Marcella’s birthday present, a bisque doll called Babette. A loyal Raggedy Anne doll goes on an adventure to rescue Babette.

The film was a box office bomb that ended up as airtime space filler on CBS and the Disney Channel. It has a thin plot, and relies on Williams’ animation and Joe Raposo’s music to carry it. But again…toys are alive in the film, and conspire to make the life of children wonderful. Are they slaves? Do they have free will? Do they have the ability to judge? To hate? The point of toys is that they’re not alive: they’re a tabula rasa you fill with your personality and wishes. Researchers at the Kibale National Park have observed adolescent chimps using sticks as toys, but the males use them as weapons or tools, while female chimps cradle them like babies. That’s what a toy is: a shadow of the one who makes it. The idea of a living, talking, thinking toy, with a will insubordinate to your own, is a weird one that seems to naturally slide toward horror, like a stone rolling downhill.

The toys in Raggedy Anne and Andy exhibit Nietzsche’s slave morality. They are fully subservient to Marcella, not because she’s nice or worthy, but because she’s a girl and they’re her toys. They seem to possess awareness and introspection. Raggedy Andy is ashamed that he’s owned by a girl. The Twin Pennies are curious about what life is like outside the playroom. Most disturbingly, Raggedy Anne feels pain and discomfort at Marcella’s rough playing—the first thing she does is complain that she’s popped half her stitches. However, they seem to be at peace with their place in the universe. They can’t imagine freedom. The only characters who rebel are Babette and Captain Contagious, the villains.

The movie is charming, and beautifully animated by 1970s standards (until the production ran out of money—believe me, you’ll notice when this happens.) Of special note are Tissa David’s sensitive Raggedy Anne and Andy, Art Babbitt’s Grecian-tragic Camel With Wrinkly Knees (with each of his humps embodying a different personality!), Emery Watkins’ voracious sucrose ocean Greedy, and the typical brilliance displayed in Richard Williams’ “No Girl’s Toy” sequence.

It’s also shamelessly schmaltzy, and feels decades older than 1977. I’d always assumed Raggedy Anne dolls were based off Anne of Green Gables (red hair + freckles), but this is not true. This is a movie based on a doll patented in 1915, and then a children’s book written in 1918, and you really feel those years. Raposo’s music is straight out of Tin Pan Alley.

The film was (possibly) funded by the CIA. Did you know that?

It was distributed by the ITT Corporation, a shady manufacturing conglomerate with ties to the US executive branch: their involvement in Augusto Pinochet’s coup is now well-established. This was around the time the CIA was waging a so-called Cultural Cold War, which involved promoting “American” forms of art such as Broadway musicals. The source of funding was apparently an open secret among the film’s production team. Here’s a second or third hand story shared by Steve Stanchfield (by way of Garrett Gilchrist):

(Not speculation at all). Talked with Dick [Williams]. A friend had visited him and talked about how the CIA had funded the film. When I was talking with Dick about Emery [Hawkins] being fired, I asked if that was the CIA. Dick’s hands went in the air and he said loudly “those were the guys!!” and started to tell a story. His wife quickly came over and said “we’re not going to talk about that right now”. Later, while I was at the national archives searching for Private Snafu materials, I made a request to see material related to the CIA, ITT and Raggedy Ann and Andy. The freedom of information act is a wonderful thing. ITT was in trouble in GB and the states for being a front for the CIA. This led to the assassination of a candidate in South America, leaving egg on the face of ITT. They produced some childen’s programing to show they are a solid company with family values (and, of course, that idea is as ham-handed as it sounds). The programs were the Big Blue Marble and the animated feature Raggedy Ann and Andy. Raggedy Ann was to be released, at the latest, in the summer of 1976, in time for the big celebrations for the Bi-Centennial of the US. ITT bought Bobbs-Merrill for this purpose. Once the film was finished, they sold the Raggedy Ann film for $10 to Bobbs-Merrill and, somehow, allowed their assets to be sold back to itself. It is now owned by Random House. This is public record, and there’s many, many pages (thousands). I’ve just seen a handful.

If the ITT Corporation was indeed a spinnerette for taxpayer money, this could imply that part of the film belongs to the US public—ie, it’s public domain. As a pundit joked when obscenity charges were brought against a Robert Mapplethorpe photo of a flaccid penis, it probably won’t stand up in court, but I definitely feel less guilty than usual about giving this film the Captain Contagious treatment, if you know what I mean.

I’ve watched it once, and may watch it again. I maybe I won’t. Raggedy Anne and Andy is pleasant, but it’s not an unsung masterpiece.

The pacing is terrible. The film larded down by musical numbers—we get SEVEN songs before the first vestiges of plot emerge, and I’m not joking. It’s a “Musical Adventure” with MUSICAL in all caps and (adventure) in a tiny-sized font. What little story exists is episodic. Raggedy Anne and Andy make a new friend, get into trouble, escape somehow, then repeat as often as needed. 

But the movie’s flaws—the leisurely pace and incidental storytelling—curiously work. It perfectly captures what it’s like to be a child, cooped up indoors on a rainy day, playing with your toys and making up an adventure for your head. Or rather, what it once was like to be a child.

What would a kid born in a year starting with “201” think of this film? Would it provoke wonder? Or would it simply seem as an alien relic, undecodable and indecipherable? When I see children today, I am struck by how few of them still play with toys. Instead of Raggedy Anne, their hands are wrapped around a glowing shard of magic glass. It sings to them, enchants them, dreams for them, hurtles them algorithmically into an adulthood they’re not prepared for. Young girls are memorizing rules on how to diet and dress and say correct words and have correct thoughts. Their brothers watch aspirational lifestyle videos by a bald sex predator. The past depicted seems strange, but that’s not true: the world of 1977 is set in stone, remaining the same forever. We’re the ones mutating. The film thinks we’ll recognize ourselves in Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Andy, when actually we’re the Greedy.

In the future (if not the present), this movie will look like footage of a rare jungle tribe. Or maybe research notes of those chimps in Kibale National Park. It depicts a way of life, a piece of the past that’s coming unravelled in memory like Raggedy Anne’s stitches. For this reason alone, it’s worth watching—or at least, knowing about.