Sunday, December 09, 2007

Naked wheatbellied sin. Notes on ''Meet the Feebles''/ New Zealand

New Zealand calls itself ''the youngest country on earth.'' In a sense, this is true. The country was uninhabited by humans until the Polynesians discovered it and settled there sometime between 800 and 1300 AD. They became the ''indigenous'' people, the Maori, who the Dutch explorer Abel Jansoon Tasman encountered when he arrived in 1642, and who subsequently killed many of his crew. No Europeans returned until James Cook reached New Zealand in 1769. After that, Europeans traded with the Māori and missionaries and settlers soon followed. New Zealand thus follows one of the patterns of world history, having been first settled by Asiatic peoples and later by Europeans.

The missionaries converted the Māori to Christianity, but were troubled by the behavior of the settlers who were arriving as well as the New Zealand Company's plans to send more settlers. They got the British crown involved and, in 1840, the crown and the Māori signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The Māori got control over their lands and the rights of British citizens. The British supposedly gained sovereignty over NZ, although this is still debated. In 1841, New Zealand became a colony, settlement increased greatly, and in 1852, central and provincial government was established. In 1907, New Zealand became a "dominion", just like Canada. It is now considered a "realm".

If New Zealand is a young country, it's film industry is young as well, having really only taken off in the 70s. The first NZ film was the 1914 feature Hinemoa. The film industry was small throughout the 1920s-1960s and mostly made documentaries. The first feature-length 35 mm film produced entirely within New Zealand was the 1977 dystopic action film Sleeping Dogs, which launched the film career of Sam Neill. The 1981 film Goodbye Pork Pie,which became a New Zealand blockbuster, was considered a first sign that New Zealand films could be viable.

New Zealand film started to gain international notice in the early 90s with films like The Piano, Once Were Warriors, and Heavenly Creatures. The last film was made by director Peter Jackson, who has likely had a greater effect on NZ film making than anyone else. His Lord of the Rings trilogy jump started several film making houses in New Zealand and has greatly publicized the country.

Not all of his films were as family-friendly as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson's first feature film was the gory cult classic Bad Taste, filmed over weekends between 1983 and 1987. The film details the heroics of a group of four kiwis who defend earth from intergalactic fast food franchisers who hope to harvest human beings. The film is extremely gruesome and entertaining, containing perhaps the first scene of an exploding sheep in motion picture history. It plays like a splatter film made by Monty Python.

Meet the Feebles is more of the same really: it is the most offensive and disturbing puppet movie I've ever seen, which is why I own the DVD. The film details a vaudeville-style variety show consisting of singing and dancing animals; it's a wonder the Henson people never sued. Like the Muppet Show, Meet the Feebles also focuses on what happens backstage; in this case, however, what happens backstage is intensely upsetting. Let's see, we have: a manic-depressive Hippo who goes on a shooting rampage, a heroin-addicted knife-throwing frog who is plagued by Vietnam-flashbacks, an S&M cow star of porn films, a rabbit with a venereal disease, a shit-eating paparazzo fly, an incontinent elephant who is being sued for child-support by a chicken, a- well, you get the idea. There is a great deal of puppet couplings: walrus on cat, rabbit threesomes, a panty-sniffing anteater, an elaborate musical number entitled Sodomy; it's a regular ass menagerie.

Incredibly enough, Jackson and crew managed to shoot the entire film solely with puppets. There are no human-actors shown on screen. It also looks surprisingly slick, especially considering the film was shot for just $450,000, which came from the Bad Taste profits and a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission. If you're going to make a film like this, I think you really need to commit to the idea, and Meet the Feebles really does commit to its premise. God help us.

Of course, this is the sort of thing that you either find hilarious or very stupid. I personally admire the panache of Meet the Feebles; however, I've met more than a few people who really hated the film. I actually worked with a fellow who said the movie made him physically ill to watch. And then Jackson followed the film by making Braindead, or Dead Alive, probably the goriest zombie comedy ever made. Few could have expected the Lord of the Rings trilogy from this kiwi weirdo, although it should be noted that Sam Raimi made The Evil Dead before going on to make the Spiderman trilogy.

By now you know if you're the sort that would be amused by Meet the Feebles, and if you are, there's very little that can be done to help you. If it helps, I've owned the film on bootleg video (by the legendary Rick Sullivan) since I was 16 and recently upgraded to DVD. It was actually on a tape with The Anal Dwarf, a porn loop that, allegedly starred Herve Villachez from Fantasy Island (it did not, sadly). What can I say? When you're 16, a porno with Tattoo from Fantasy Island sounds brilliant.

Sometimes, I think it's a wonder that I wound up married and in grad school.


gregvw said...

CTRL+F "Forgotten Silver"

Not found


Rufus said...

Forgot it?

gregvw said...

Outside the LotR trilogy, Forgotten Silver is my favorite Jackson film, just because it is so clever.

Rufus said...

I think it's the only one I haven't seen. I've even seen The Frighteners, which was entertaining, but not that great.

Rufus said...

Forgotten Silver is actually another reason I need to get Netflix.

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Hey Rufus,
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