Be of good cheer--"South Park Republicans" are here!September 1 2004 at 7:14 AM
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To those of us who are shamefully hooked on the series, and who had to be helped from the theater after viewing the feature film "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," this next film from the creators will come as a breath of pure oxygen, or one mixed up just a bit with some nitrous oxide. I can't wait!
The other antidotes to Moore-induced stupidity sound good, too. Can't say I'm exactly "looking forward to" Saddam's Mass Graves and Osama, but I want to see them. You know I love the snuff-films, Mushy!
Tired of Michael Moore's film-flam? There are alternatives.
BY BRIDGET JOHNSON
Wednesday, September 1, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT
Forget about pricey summer blockbusters. Forget the films vying for Oscar that are all crunched into December releases. This year, it's all about pre-election films. Not the incendiary "Fahrenheit 9/11," not the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" that mysteriously erased Red China as the villain, replacing it with an American corporation, but a film that promises to strike even more anger into the hearts of angry liberals everywhere.
When the buzz first started for "Team America: World Police," bloggers theorized what the Trey Parker/Matt Stone send-up of action movies would entail--these are, after all, the gents who gave the world Comedy Central's "South Park." Then juicy tidbits started dribbling into the Internet Movie Database, like the plot outline: "Marionette superheroes fight to end terrorism and put tired celebrities out of their misery." Who could oppose that?
Then came the trailer: "We live in a time of unparalleled danger," drones the narrator over a shot of Earth. "Weapons of mass destruction are being offered to terrorists all over the world. Global chaos is about to consume every country on earth, and there is only one hope for humanity." Earth self-destructs into a long roster of names beginning with Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, rounded out by both presidential nominees and Kim Jong Il, then followed by, "All are going to be really, really mad when they see 'Team America: World Police.' " Anyone who's seen the "South Park" episode that mocks Meathead-turned-activist Rob Reiner knows these guys are serious.
"They should really leave politics out of their work," balked one poster on the IMDb.com message board. "This seems like it's going to be a movie that makes fun of liberals in a very uncreative way throughout, so I'm staying out of this one."
There's an "uncreative way" to mock liberals? Oh well, give me a movie featuring a Michael Moore puppet grasping a hot dog in each hand with mustard stains pocking his shirt, and I'm there faster than you can wail "Palme d'Or." As a "South Park" fan from season one, I was sucked in by the trailer, laughed until I was in pain, and will be there on opening day. Messrs. Parker and Stone rushed to get the movie done for an Oct. 15 release date, and the clip shown at a recent comics convention featured the Kim Jong Il puppet casting Hans Blix into a shark tank. Imagine--a movie that shows the bad guys as bad and U.N. weapons inspectors as feckless. Who could miss this?
Considering the tagline--"Putting the F back in freedom"--some conservatives touchy at the language in Parker/Stone productions and those who have long crusaded against the dynamic duo will miss it. Messrs. Parker and Stone are not moralists but satirists. "The 'South Park' creators are way ahead of their time," Mark Ebner, co-author of "Hollywood Interrupted," told me. "Let's not forget that in their 'South Park' movie, long before we invade Iraq, they depicted Saddam fornicating with the devil." (And Saddam was the dominant one in the relationship.) In "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," America goes to war with Canada because parents in South Park place blame solely upon a north-of-the-border movie for their kids learning and spewing foul language. Personal responsibility--or the pitiful lack of it--is a persistent theme throughout their libertarian-minded material.
Particularly hailing this box office arrival is that abstract group sometimes referred to as the South Park Republicans. South Park Republicans not only chuckle uncontrollably at cartoon 8-year-olds violating every directive of political correctness but are more apt to worry about evil guys like Kim Jong Il or Osama bin Laden than fret about the dangers of popular culture. These Republicans are as likely to read Blender magazine as The Weekly Standard and would rather see Alice Cooper as the entertainment at the Republican National Convention (or even Ted Nugent or Gene Simmons--please!).
South Park Republicans hang onto a degree of that "who cares what people think?" collegiate spirit--embodied in the official movie of my campus Republican group back in school, the Quentin Tarantino classic "Reservoir Dogs." The South Park Republican generally agrees with the party line, but just prioritizes the elements within differently than his more staid fellow partisans. He has most likely done an upside-down margarita at some point in life--and may have even enjoyed it--and recognizes the artistic merit in the Ramones and Black Flag. The South Park Republican might have grown up watching the ultimate non-PC tutorial, "In Living Color."
Since its 1997 premiere, "South Park" has roasted Barbra Streisand as a giant robot hell-bent on world domination, portrayed Sally Struthers as hogging food from starving children in Africa, and shown Michael Jackson climbing trees and scaring the neighborhood children--and losing parts of his face throughout. We've seen Cartman's mother lobbying for the right to abort her 8-year-old child (after she sleeps with President Clinton, he agrees to legalize 40th-trimester abortions), disabled students forming a gang called the "Crips," and the sole black student in the school bearing the name Token.
Not all Republicans share this sensibility. Matt Drudge reported on Aug. 1 that Bush advisers were in a kerfuffle over the "Team America" trailer. "I really do not think terrorism is funny, and I would suggest Paramount give respect to those fighting and sacrificing to keep America safe," an anonymous senior Bush adviser said, according to Mr. Drudge. To which Mr. Parker responded that "Bush is not even in the film" and "I would ask that people wait and see it before passing a judgment."
Later, South Park Studios posted a response on its Web site: "For some strange reason, the Bush Administration doesn't want to be viewed as 'World Police' so close to the election year." Who knows why the term "world police" would even be construed as negative, considering this is supposed to the job of the United Nations, but they've dropped the ball more times than the Dream Team in Athens. Thou doth protest too much, O mysterious Bush adviser--unless, of course, your real intent is to drum up enough controversy to plant more butts in the theater seats.
It seems to be a deliberate mystery which boxes Messrs. Parker and Stone check on their voter registration card. "This isn't about whether or not the 'South Park' creators are on the right or the left," said Mr. Ebner. "It's about them holding their own in Hollywood as independent thinkers, hence hard-core satirists. They are probably delighted by the outrage from the right, and will no doubt profit from it by drawing both sides to the 'Team America' box office. The 'right' side will be the side that gets the joke."
And what about the short-lived "That's My Bush!" series on Comedy Central, in which Messrs. Parker and Stone took it to the president in a send-up of cheesy sitcoms? Well, the series was planned before the election, and if Al Gore had won it would have been him in the roasting pan--complete with a Gore robot that others in the White House would confuse with the real man. In fact, Mr. Gore's protestations of the vote meant a lot of nail-biting as every recount choked the production schedule.
Andrew Breitbart, who wrote "Hollywood Interrupted" with Mr. Ebner, put it this way: "Stone and Parker make a point not to state what they stand for. They are best at expressing what they are against, and nanny-state liberalism and her slavelike Hollywood acolytes are clearly at the top of their comedy attack list. It's so Barbra Streisand of Republicans to get out of sorts that they, too, are being mocked. Stone and Parker are the rare breed that skewers everyone in power, and young people are rightfully drawn to this irreverence. Republicans better stop worrying about them--and fast."
The online Ain't It Cool News toured the sets during production of the movie, and reported that in the film there is "an organization of Hollywood liberals who are determined to stop Team America from interfering in the affairs of international politics." So the celebs are the bad guys? "Actually, they're not bad," Mr. Parker was quoted as saying. "They're just really, really stupid and misguided." According to a recent New York Times article, the Sean Penn puppet, fighting alongside Kim Jong Il with Danny Glover, screams "Die, conservative!" as he blows away a Team America member.
Granted, an R-rated puppet sex scene may not be everyone's cup of tea. If your tastes are as conservative as your politics, you might want to skip "Team America" and take in a film festival instead. Not Cannes, not Sundance, but the first-ever Liberty Film Festival, showcasing conservative, libertarian and independent films this fall in Los Angeles.
Rising conservative filmmaking power couple Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, who are directing the event, will be premiering their black-and-white noir thriller "Terminal Island," shot at the Port of Los Angeles. Ms. Murty's character is stalked around the harbor by a Muslim terrorist, who is being pursued by a bounty hunter. "Because no Hollywood studio would touch a film that had a Muslim terrorist as the villain--or that was sympathetic to the war on terror--we produced the film ourselves," Mr. Apuzzo said, noting they shot the film digitally for only $7,000. "Our goal is to make edgy, provocative narrative films that challenge Hollywood's liberal orthodoxy," added Ms. Murty. "Documentaries are fine, but narrative films are what have the greatest impact on our culture."
One promising documentary you'll find at the festival is "Michael Moore Hates America," scheduled for release this October. What could be more fitting than a young filmmaker doing exactly what the disingenuous Mr. Moore does to others--chase him around with a microphone to pen him into answering questions and torturing him in the process? "The movie's title . . . sounds like a trash piece on Moore, but the film itself is a thoughtful, heartfelt and fun journey into the Big American Conversation," according to director Michael Wilson's description of the film. "It searches for the shrillness that surrounds that conversation and gives it a big kick in the ass."
In the trailer, Mr. Moore tells a newsman that he refuses to be interviewed by Mr. Wilson because Mr. Moore doesn't appear in anything but his own films--and as he explains this, we see a scrolling list of films Mr. Moore has appeared in but not directed. Mr. Moore is also confronted by Mr. Wilson in front of his audience at a speaking engagement. Sounds like enough to make Mr. Moore want to stow away in the baggage compartment on one of those secret flights to Saudi Arabia.
Another film to be shown at the festival and attempting to find a distributor for U.S. release is "Saddam's Mass Graves," from Iraqi filmmaker Jano Rosebiani. This film is all about the sheer grief inflicted by the dictator, as Mr. Rosebiani talks to Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds who survived or lost their families, and even some who were shot and pushed into mass graves only to live and climb out of the deadly pits. Particularly if you were in the theater for the Happy Hussein Days portrayed in "Fahrenheit 9/11," you should see Mr. Rosebiani's cameras as traumatized Iraqis began the arduous task of identifying victims in "Saddam's Mass Graves"--or, as I like to call it, Exhibit A.
"I made this film to have the voice of the Iraqis heard and their stories be told," Mr. Rosebiani told me. "My intention was that by documenting the scope of Saddam's tyranny through first-hand testimonies by the survivors of the Anfal genocide on the Kurds and mass-grave victims' families across Iraq, [it] will make clear the need to remove Saddam and his regime."
Another must-see pre-election flick, "Osama," is out on DVD. This year's Golden Globe winner for best foreign film--and rudely snubbed for even a nomination by the Academy--was the first film (and hopefully not the last) released by Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. No, it's not about the grand Qaeda pooh-bah, but about a girl who disguises as a boy to work and feed her mother and grandmother under Taliban rule.
Director and writer Siddiq Barmak plucked lead actress Marina Golbahari from the streets as she begged for change; some actors were discovered in refuge camps; and even reformed Taliban play the regime's foot soldiers. Afghans tell their own story, and they're screaming it for the hard-headed herd who still insist on screaming in protests and on bumper stickers that war is never, ever the answer.
So if recent films have left you feeling like you just left a leftist indoctrination rally, cinematic hope is on the way. Let's hope Messrs. Parker and Stone remember to send a screener of "Team America" to their keynote villain, the renowned movie buff Kim Jong Il. Then again, he'd probably pirate the DVD anyway.
Ms. Johnson is a journalist and screenwriter in Southern California.