Friday, August 20, 2010

Teenage Wasteland

O.C. And Stiggs(1985)
Directed By Robert Altman

Robert Altman takes on the raunchy teen comedy, and National Lampoon character's and smears it in its inverted excesses as he did for the disaster sci-fi in "Quintet", noir in "The Long Goodbye", and the western in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" ETC.(to make a short list). "O.C. and Stiggs" despite outward appearances is more steeped in awkward black comedy, satire, and absurdity than the usual adolescent wish fulfilment or attempts at pathos that categorized John Hughes output in the same era.

This is very much anti-Hughes film. Ray Walston's ailing grandfather who continuously tells grisly homicide stories, is far from any of the warm Hughes parents. Stigg's family isn't much better, the parents seem largely oblivious to anything Stiggs says when he refers to picking up sluts, commits crimes, procuring dynamite, but snap to attention when he accuses them of not listening.

The film opens with the boys in various costumes, as if were watching the opening credits of a tv show and seeing a montage of their global adventures, as a central image of them surfing repeats, until the camera pulls back (a few moments after Altman's name comes on the credits), and we see the boys are at a Great America Water Park (the opening shot is also of an American flag). A flixter writer named Theodore Fogelsanger eloquently writes, "the Altmanesque telephoto perspective dilutes film language, reduces the view to that of a Brechtian theater."

A shot like that doesn't change the nature of the film, or draw our attention away from the episodic pranks which make up it's plot, but it does communicate surplus information for careful viewers, as all Altman films do.

The style in an Altman film is shot can often by oppositional the content (see McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Quintet), and "OC And Stiggs" would seem to be no exception as it is easily, from a purely cinematic and technical standpoint, the best teen film of the 80's.

The story is of two genuinely obnoxious teenage boys, obsessed with annoying the family of a prominent Insurance salesman (who canceled one of their grandfather's policies, necessitating the grandfather be put in a home and the eponymous pair broken up). No room for bromance or sentimentality here though, as O.C. (Oliver Cromwell) and Stiggs (Mark but "Stiggs sounder stranger") magically make sluts appear from nowhere, who seem to have no problem being referred to as such (they speak in silence and giggles), manipulate their dim-witted well to do classmates into doing their bidding, or singing the praises of all things African (from the sounds of the name's of their leaders like "Bongo" to afrobeat?). True to anti-social form the pair do not think of themselves as odd or in relation to other people in anyway, they are a stone's throw away from the murderous girls in "Heavenly Creatures".

They live in a cartoon bubble of reckless action, but still aware enough to tell an auto dealer they prefer a car with "the crushing ugliness of poverty" and remark after discovering ::SPOILERALERT::their friend Wino Bob is dead, that they wonder if "liquor companies have any programs to assist with burying dead wino's", in any event they have no time to deal with the corpse, and are off to another skirmish with "the Shwab".

Members of the Shwab family include John Hughes favorite John Cryer as the hapless son who spends his evening breathing heavy and muttering to himself as he reads porn magazines until his "Leaving Las Vegas" level alcoholic mother shoes him out of the living room.::SPOILEROVER::

I laughed allot, and wasn't sure how to react at times. I still haven't seen Jody Hill's "Observe And Report" but from most accounts "O.C. And Stiggs" seems in similar company. This is considered "Altamn's least successful film" which if it is true, is a pretty impressive testament to his talent.

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