Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
My fiancé and I were recently watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which concludes with Jason Segel’s hilarious Dracula-themed puppet musical. My fiancé (who hates musicals) said that’s one play he’d be all over. There are some acts so beloved they make the leap to real life. (See It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s play The Nightman Cometh, which toured in five cities.) Although this sometimes falls into the “Be careful what you wish for” category, what fictional bands/movies/plays/miscellaneous acts do you wish you could experience in real life? —Karen James
This is a weird one, because generally, fictional films within films or TV shows within shows are meant to mock industry excesses, clichés, or general idiocy: See, for instance, any of the faux films previewed at the beginning of Tropic Thunder, or Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, or The Three in Adaptation (which more or less made it to the screen as Identity), or Home For Purim in For Your Consideration, or the Stab movies in the Scream movies, or Habeus Corpus in The Player (“What took you so long?” “Traffic was a bitch!”)… the list goes on and on and on. But I guess if you’re really into kitschy terrible movies, there’s a wealth of fictional films-within-films out there that look like a fun time. Personally, the only one I can think of that I’d actually want to see is The Old Mill from State And Main, largely to see whether all the compromise and behind-the-scenes fumbling and general freaking out among the filmmakers is reflected in the final product, and whether they’re really making the art that they’re trying so hard to make, or just cobbling together a big mess. For that matter, I’d like to see the film Kevin Bacon is trying to make without compromise in The Big Picture, for the same reason. Oh, and hey, while we’re at it, I’d really like to read the world-changing, paradigm-altering book The Cookbook, which M. Night Shyamalan’s character is writing in Lady In The Water. You know, the one so amazing, challenging, and revolutionary that it requires supernatural intervention to get it written, and it’s going to improve humanity immensely, and it’s going to get the author assassinated. I’d really like to read that book and have my world changed, and also have the opportunity to feel that it’s worth all the foofaraw, and isn’t just another piece of annoying Shyamalan self-aggrandizement.
I would like to provide a flippant answer, if I may. Someday I hope to own the entire series of Ow, My Balls!, the fictional TV show that lives inside Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Can you guess what the show is about? Yes, it’s about a guy who keeps getting hit in the balls with things. Frito loves it. On the other hand, I don’t think I want to see Idiocracy’s movie within a movie, the Oscar-winning Ass. Oh, here’s some love for Fear Of A Black Hat: Not only would I love to see N.W.H. perform, but I would kill to read Ice Froggy Frog’s autobiography, FYM, a.k.a. Fuck Y’all Motherfuckers. Oh, and to live to see the follow-up, ASMD…
While I’m incredibly tempted to go with sitting in on any of Kirk’s films from Gilmore Girls, I think I’m going to have to go with a good old-fashioned game of BASEketball from the film of the same name. I’m a sucker for sports and live sporting events in general, and what’s not to like about beer, convoluted rules, and crazy promotions? I could never say no to dozen-egg night or free-range-chicken night.
On a recent Nerdist podcast, the stars and director of Black Dynamite, the great cult blaxploitation homage from a few years back, discussed the elaborate back-stories they created for their characters. It got so involved that the director, Scott Sanders, created a fictional back-story for the fictional director of Black Dynamite, the idea being that Black Dynamite is an actual blaxploitation movie from the 1970s rather than an elaborate homage (for example the star is supposed to be a moonlighting athlete a la Jim Brown rather than Michael Jai White). Sanders envisioned the faux-director of Black Dynamite as a Jewish guy fresh out of film school who gets in over his head and starts smoking way too much pot as filming progressed. I would love to see the later works by the fictional director of Black Dynamite. If they’re half as much fun as Black Dynamite we’re all in for a treat.
I can’t say I have, or will ever have, any interest in sitting through high-school theater performances, even if I have kids who grow up to star in them. But I would pay a lot to sit front-and-center for Heaven And Hell, the Vietnam War production written by Rushmore’s Max Fischer. You know you’re in for something good when any live arts presentation begins with, “Also, you’ll find a pair of safety glasses and some earplugs under your seats. Please feel free to use them.” With elaborate jungle sets (complete with helicopter and bomber models flying around in the background), smoke and explosions and gunfire and flamethrower effects, authentic military costuming, realistic props and weaponry, characters being lowered to the stage on cables, and intense combat scenes, Heaven And Hell is clearly the product of a raw directoral genius whose vision will not be compromised. Mr. Littlejeans is the school’s groundskeeper, but he’s also the world’s most efficient theater critic with this spot-on review: “Best play ever, man.”
In Tom Green’s (still!) underappreciated Freddy Got Fingered, Green’s frustrated animator Gordon “Gord” Brody finds fame and fortune with Zebras In America, a show about a half-man, half-zebra family leaving Africa to find their place in America. Life isn’t always easy; they suffer from anti-centaur discrimination on the job market, and the father way ups the Itchy & Scratchy ante by ripping his son’s lower jaw off, then tying him to the back of a car and dragging him along the asphalt to get rid of the rest of his teeth. Still, as Green’s narrator centaur explains, “You’ll laugh at how simple misunderstandings seem to get us into a whole heap of trouble! Listen to my hoooooooves!” I miss The Tom Green Show, and Zebras In America is just that, only with animated zebras and ridiculous violence. It’d fit right into the Adult Swim lineup.
I think I would probably really enjoy the music of PoP!’s Alex Fletcher from the 2007 Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore film Music And Lyrics. I know we’ve moved on from the I Love the 80s years, but I still do kind of love the ’80s. There’s a lot of Duran Duran on my iPod (in addition to Wham!, who I also occasionally enjoy when they’re on the radio), which is clearly who the filmmakers are parodying with the song “Pop! Goes My Heart.” But here’s the thing: Oscar-nominated songwriter and Fountains Of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger wrote the music for the movie, and I happen to find Schlesinger’s music incredibly catchy, so Hugh Grant’s character has written not one, but two songs I like a lot (the other being “Way Back Into Love”), and if he’d written more, I’d probably like those too.
Had Spinal Tap not actually extended its concept into semi-ironic full-length albums, that would have been my choice. But then again, no band like Spinal Tap can exist with that level of comical self-unawareness, hence its singular perfection. So, left to alternatives that only ever existed in the wholly fictitious realm, I’d have to opt for the series of devilish sitcom parodies and Satanic challenges John Ritter and Pam Dawber endure as their gauntlet/gateway between Earthly domesticity and a hell overseen by Jeffrey Jones in 1992’s Stay Tuned. I watched this when I was 12 while sleeping over my cousin’s apartment, and it left an indelible impression. Strip away all its formulaic, Baby Boomer divorce-panic dramedy, and Stay Tuned is a cynically contemptuous string of parody gags (Three Men And Rosemary’s Baby, My Three Sons Of Bitches) that poked fun at our mean-spirited, latchkey attachment to pop culture before the reality explosion or F-list celebrity boxing. If you’re telling me you wouldn’t DVR a sitcom called Different Strokes about two elderly men with actual cardiac issues, or a game show in which a slither-tongued pervert host pits average suburban couples against each other in a Newlywed Game-style competition to the death, then I just don’t know you anymore.
One of the best running gags on The Simpsons was the expansive filmography of Troy McClure. While McClure’s character was “retired” after the death of Phil Hartman, who brought McClure to brilliant life, McClure’s legacy lives on in spite of his more eccentric attributes, like sham marriages and alleged friskiness with fish. While we were lucky enough to get glimpses into some of his films (The Erotic Adventures Of Hercules), musicals (Stop The Planet Of The Apes, I Want To Get Off) and educational films (Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide To You-Know-What), a slew of McClure’s filmography begs to see the light of day. From family fare like Gladys The Groovy Mule to dramas like Leper In The Backfield, McClure’s smug-yet-charming obliviousness could have provided bursts of campy comic genius for years to come on The Simpsons, even as the series has faded. For multiple reasons, it’s a damn shame we’ll never see McClure in McBain IV: Fatal Discharge, a film I would sit through just as I would Christmas Ape Goes To Summer Camp or The Revenge Of Abe Lincoln.
When I was walking out of the theater for Tropic Thunder, I had one wish: that the DVD release would have a featurette—or, ideally, a feature-length film version—of Simple Jack, the laughable Oscar-bait flop about a mentally disabled farmhand starring Ben Stiller’s character, who “went full retard.” It isn’t that I find such people hilarious, it’s that Simple Jack so perfectly captured how Hollywood routinely bungles portrayals of the disabled with ham-handed, condescending, and ultimately insulting performances. (Josh is doing a long-in-the-works Inventory of these films.) I mean, I guess there are plenty of real-world examples like The Other Sister and Riding The Bus With My Sister, so I don’t necessarily need Simple Jack, but I thought the Tropic Thunder sub-movie was pretty great. Actually, I’d also take just about any of the fake stuff from the beginning of Tropic Thunder, now that I think about it.
I would really love to hear an entire album by Venus In Furs, the fictional band fronted by David Bowie surrogate Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in Todd Haynes’ 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, an alternate-universe history of glam rock. The songs created for the movie, which appear alongside real-life glam-era hits by Brian Eno, Roxy Music, T. Rex, and others, are only there because Bowie refused Haynes permission to use his own music. But they’re all kind of great. Slade would have fit right into the times.
A particularly loosey-goosey strand of New Age thinking holds that “everyone’s an artist,” which I’d endorse only with the addition of Sturgeon’s Law: Maybe everyone’s an artist, but most of their art is crap. That’s why there’s a special place in my heart for movies about mediocre artists, or at least those whose genius is left in question. The hero of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Barton Fink is certainly convinced of his own brilliance, aided by the success of his play Bare Ruined Choirs, about the dreary life of a working-class family. (Any similarity to leftist playwright Clifford Odets is purely intentional, and mildly slanderous.) But his ill-starred move to Hollywood lays bare the limits of his talent, and his ability to blather on about the life of the “common man” while turning a deaf ear to the insurance salesman who attempts to befriend him reveals Barton as a fraud, more interested in pontificating about the masses than listening to them. But after discovering that his neighbor is more concerned with taking life than insuring it, Barton has an apparent breakthrough, cranking out a screenplay called The Burlyman in record time. The Coens never tip their hand as to whether Barton’s achievement is bona fide, although it’s clear the studios aren’t about to cast Wallace Beery in a picture about a man wrestling with his soul. The film’s final image, which mimics the cheap painting hung in Barton’s hotel room, leaves open the possibility that he’s simply disappeared into his own head. But I, for one, am curious to know what he came up with.
When I finally have kids, I hope Hamster Huey And The Gooey Kablooey from Calvin And Hobbes has become a thing. I’m not sure I’d terribly want this book, with its apparently supernatural ability to hold small children in its thrall, to actually exist, but I do need to know just what it entails. The title seems to suggest something simultaneously horrific, grotesque, and oddly festive. And if that doesn’t sound like the best children’s book ever written, I don’t know what does.