Sunday, February 18, 2007

Freddy Got Fingered, or: Daddy, Would You Like Some Dada?

(Written for the Contrarian Blogathon.)

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and called it art. In 2001, Tom Green waggled a horse's penis and called it a movie. The line of separation between the two actions is a lot thinner than would seem apparent.

Here's the thing: If Dada was, as its proponents claimed, deliberately anti-art in that it opposed everything for which the art of the day stood, then Green's Freddy Got Fingered, as terrifically weird and terrifically funny as anything released this decade, is Dada to its very bones. It inhabits the skin of a popular genre -- the Hollywood teen-oriented comedy -- much like Green's character Gord climbs into the carcass of a skinned deer during the course of the film, and like Gord, it wears this skin only to flout its distaste for convention. It is, in short, an anti-film and should be respected as such.

Because of this, it's an easy film to hate, as it does everything it can to frustrate the usual responses to juvenile-minded comedy. Chief among these short-circuit strategies is Gord. Green takes the gauntlet tossed down by Adam Sandler and David Spade and David Arquette and a host of others and runs away with it -- aspiring animator Gord is emotionally undeveloped, maladroit, hostile, self-involved and literal-minded to the point of idiocy. The difference is that Sandler et al. want you to sympathize with their man-children despite their off-putting natures, while Green clearly couldn't give a fuck. He knows and is willing to acknowledge that the infantilized hero of these stereotypical scatcoms is a deeply weird individual. So he pushes that to the edge, thereby flummoxing any sort of identification.

This isn't to say that Gord isn't a fully realized character. Quite to the contrary, his actions are understandable given the perspective with which Green imbues him. Gord (much like his creator) uses anarchic public displays as his preferred mode of expression, with his animations serving as an offshoot of this notice-me tendency. What he's expressing with that is what's important. Gord uses his art to work through reams of rage and loathing, aimed both inward and outward; his drawings, mutterings and psycho-freakouts provide a buffer for/relief from his overwhelming self-inadequecy while also serving as a vent for his towering issues with Daddy (note the possible Oedipal complex in the scene where he tells his mother that, as revenge on her husband, she needs to go out and "satisfy her sexual urges"), McJobs and authority and propriety in general.

In his attempts to articulate his frustration with the modern world, Gord wears a cheese helmet, puts on a suit backwards and chants into the mirror, howls and screams at the slightest provocation, wears a severed umbilical cord and, in the film's most memorable scene, rigs up a bunch of raw meat on a pulley system so he can eat, draw and play music all at once. (If Damien Hirst had done that last bit rather than Green, a good portion of the art world would have creamed themselves.) Gord's creations are undeniably repulsive -- part of Green's modus operandi in undermining the scatcom template is intentionally going too far with his sick setpieces, especially in the infamous bit where Gord delivers a baby -- but they also have a mad invention about them; however, it's an insular kind of invention (the opening scene shows him cracking up alone in his room while playing with his drawings in the manner of a child). Animation exec Dave Davidson (Anthony Michael Hall) says during the film, "[This art] doesn't make sense, Gord," and what he means is that it doesn't make sense to anyone who isn't Gord. It's a rebellion of the personal kind.

Gord's small subversions are mirrored by Green's one massive subversion, and therein is where the poison-pen meta-prank at the core of Freddy Got Fingered exists. If Gord is venting spleen at a culture that stymies him, Green is blowing toxic raspberries at a culture that erroneously thought it could assimilate him. (This gets expressed in a big way in the third act, which I'll come back to in a minute.) The film has the shape and structure of a typical coming-of-age narrative, in which the protagonist overcomes the obstacles in his way to become older, wiser and hopefully a success; the words, however, bang uncomfortably against the music. The whole point of Freddy is that Gord succeeds not by coming to grips with the prevailing culture but by making the prevailing culture come to terms with him -- by the end of the film, he's a raging success without changing or compromising one bit. He's the same wigged-out freak he was at the film's beginning, but somewhere along the line everyone becomes okay with that.

Paradoxically, I think it's this frustration of convention that makes Freddy funny to me. One of my rules for comedy is that comedy is always funnier when it seems to come from within a character rather than happening to a character; Green, to his credit, stays true to the obnoxious oddball that is Gord from frame one to fade out. Actions that would seem inexplicable out of context (i.e. the "sausage" scene) make a little more sense once you understand Gord's mindset, yet they still retain the shock of the bizarre. Green also, to his credit, has a peculiar yet sharp sense of comedic timing -- study in particular the scene at the restaurant and watch how the chaos builds. The first time I saw Freddy, I laughed in disbelief and astonishment; the second time through, I laughed simply because I thought it was hilarious.

The biggest and darkest joke, and the closest the film gets to the nihilistic leveling spirit of Dada, comes at the point I alluded to earlier. It's what earns Gord his success that pulls back the curtain on Green's ultimate target. Gord's cartoon show "Zebras in America" becomes a monster hit after Davidson agrees to bankroll it. It's also, as we see from a clip of the show, breathtakingly inane. At this point, the joke turns around and eats itself -- Green, in essence, offers his career up for sacrifice so that he can ridicule on a massive scale both the studio heads who would blithely agree to bankroll his idiocy and the audiences who would eat it up.

And sacrifice his career he did -- the reviews were hateful and the box-office was nonexistent. Green hasn't been allowed to work with the same kind of autonomy since. But that's okay -- he got to say what he wanted to say. Duchamp's "Fountain" was roundly rejected when it came out, and I believe the time will come when the value of Green's film becomes apparent as well. Freddy Got Fingered is a doodled mustache on the face of gross-out comedy. Tom Green once humped a dead moose on TV, and with his phoenix-in-flames magnum opus, he humped the hot ass of Hollywood. It's all pretty goddamn funny, really.


Blogger ThePamplemousse said...

Loved this article. I just started up a blogspot in honor of this film. My friends and I loved the movie for a lot of the same reasons you list. I'd like to post a link to this page, with your permission, so that people can be eddified as well as entertained.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Cool by me. Go for it, man. You got my full permission.

12:57 PM  

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