Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Waters Watch: Cecil B. Demented (2000)

Watched:  09/13/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2000's
Director:  John Waters

2000 was a year for us at our house.  So, I'm not surprised that we missed the release of Cecil B. Demented (2000).  

You could easily release this film today and it would mean as much or more as it would have in 2000, when at least you were coming off an era of people *pretending* to care about indie cinema, if not outlaw cinema.  But here in 2021, the movie - if you ignore the casual violence and how you'd need to reframe it a bit now - is perhaps more relevant than ever as the studios have been purchased by mega corporations and warped the face of the film industry.  

As with many Waters movies, this one is filmed on the streets of Baltimore and happens to star a gaggle of actors who would become a bigger deal in the near future with second-generation Hollywood star Melanie Griffith anchoring the cast.  And, of course, Waters stalwarts Mink Stole and Patty Hearst.  

Stephen Dorff plays the titular Cecil B. Demented - a visionary/ madman who is going to realize his outlaw vision of cinema that defies laws, life and limb and film school basics - seeing coverage as a waste of time and impure film (remind me to discuss Dogma 95 sometime).  

He's assisted by Alicia Witt playing Cherish, a Traci Lords inspired former porn star seeking a new future in indie cinema (Waters had worked with Lords on Cry Baby), as well as a then-unknown Maggie Gyllenhaal as a make-up artist/ satan worshipper.  Add in Michael Shannon as the driver, Adrien Grenier as a... I don't remember, Jack Noseworthy as a hair stylist, and more... 

Hollywood star Honey Whitlock (Griffith) is in Baltimore for the debut of her new film, and the mayor has declared it Honey Whitlock Day and everything.  However, turns out a ragtag group of guerilla outlaw cinema desperados have infiltrated the staff of the theater, as well as her limo service, etc...  and as Whitlock goes to take the stage for her new film, Cecil B Demented and crew whip out guns and very publicly kidnap Whitlock.

Each member of the gang (and the gang is large) has the name of a different outlaw of cinema tattooed on them, from Peckinpah to Fassbinder to Kenneth Anger.   

Led by Cecil, the group plans to make a film about indie-film-terrorists which will incorporate the leads terrorizing screenings of cineplex-friendly movies and theaters.  Whitlock is forced to participate (after an appropriate make-over).  

That's kind of it in a nutshell.  It's hard to know how much Waters is making fun of his extreme cinephiles (the militant-ness I recognize in certain folks I've been aware of or known over the years), but it's no question how much he enjoys scenes of terrorizing the audiences watching Patch Adams.  It's certainly a reaction to Forrest Gump winning Oscars.*  I can only imagine what Waters thinks of the huge tentpole movie sci-fi/ comic-book era that sucks all the air away from everything else.  

Griffith is as good as Griffith tends to get in the movie.  Her character has a little arc of resisting before getting caught up in the movement (making Patty Hearst's participation all the better), and you can tell Griffith is having a great time working on the film.  She was already doing some indie-ish stuff, and this is clearly a good fit for her. 

Favorite bits:
  • solidarity with action movie fans and porno theater audiences
  • celibacy until the film is done
  • making all the film execs eat oysters while they yell their manifesto
  • pretty much every bit of their shouted slogans as they charge into action
  • the bratty kid on the stage at the premier
If anything is an issue - it's that in 2021, the idea of people running into crowded spaces with guns plays way, way different than it would have in 2000.  That's more of a "failure of the nation" problem than a failure of the movie.

I don't want to spoil too much, including celebrity cameos and whatnot, so just watch it.  It's streaming on Prime.

It's a really quick 90 minutes, and I highly recommend it!

*I don't have the violent reaction to Forrest Gump that others entertain.  It's nowhere as good as people made it out to be - Academy Awards and whatnot.  But it's also not as horrendous as some like to say - it just feels like being mad at dad for going down memory lane.  I find the cultural conversation around the film maybe more fascinating than the film itself. 

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