Unsafe on Any Screen by Scott Phillips

I’m really trying here to come up with a Walter Benjamin quote about media studies and engagement with popular culture, and I’m totally failing, which is about right. Obviously, I spend waaaay too much time reading all of y’alls lovely, personal reviews of all kinds of books. Books I would never read; books I have been warned away from; books I’ve been ordered to read; books I have on the long and growing list that I will never complete because some day I’m going to die.
Even though I have less engagement with movies, as an art form, I compulsively read movie reviews as well. I have the reviewers I trust, and the reviewers I know that I can take anything they say and turn it inside out, so that a bad review becomes a recommendation. I have a passing interest in trash movies, but not a full-blown love affair. Mostly my affection for bad movies leads back to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the times I spent with my family watching MST3K. My immediate family, growing up, was all-female, and I still have the warmest of memories of watching bad movies on Thanksgiving, with my mother & sister, in lieu of the football that was de rigueur in most co-ed households.

Scott Phillips doesn’t just have nostalgia to warm him when he watches grindhouse trash, he has a full-blown and well articulated love. This is awesome, and makes for a fine collection of movie reviews. Leonard Maltin, you may fu*k yourself. Many of the movies reviewed in this slender volume cannot be found on Netflix or even in your local video store, should you have such antiquated things in your location. You have to seek these movies out. They are made by people on no budget, with a group of friends, and a maniacal laugh. Or they were made on a budget and then disappeared. Phillips has an encyclopedic knowledge of the pedigree and taxonomy of trash cinema, so that he can draw lines between this director and that, this actor, this imprint, etc. Awesome.

I get the impression that Unsafe on Any Screen started life as a blog, so some of the reviews are annoyingly short. Kind of like my – and many people’s – early reviews. But once he starts cooking, man, what a joy to behold. He has really weird grading scales: one about how many greased gorillas he’d fight to watch the film in question, and one about how many scotches, or whiskeys? it takes to get through the film. I endorse this. The scotch metric in particular, not because I especially love scotch, but because it can be either a bad or a good thing that a particular film is awarded the high scotch metric. I feel this way about a thousand things: that they are awesome, but they make me drink, or that they are terrible, and they make me drink. Or they are nothing at all and I remain sober. It gets at the whole deep ambivalence I feel towards so much stuff, even the stuff I love, in an intensely satisfying way. My only real complaint is that there is no index. At least the reviews are alphabetical.

What it comes down to is that I’m as fascinated by the critical process as I am with the art/trash in question, and this book is as much a love letter to the silly fun we have while watching bad movies as it is to the movies themselves. His exuberance is infectious, like an alien pathogen beamed down to a small Italian village that infects a scantily clad babe. It’s going to eat someone’s brains, but it might just take its top off before it does so.

Keep circulating the tapes.

Also, P.S., Scott is a friend of mine, which is how come I read this, in interests of full disclosure. I never know where to put these disclosures: at the front, like I’m defensive, or at the close, like I’m sneaking? I guess I’m going with sneaking this time. The thing is, there’s no such thing as objectivity, so I’m not even going to pretend that the fact I think Scott, personally, is awesome didn’t have an effect on my read. It did. But in this case, his balls-out love of his subject, his total commitment to  the barrel-bottom of sleaze and cheese movies resonated for me. I know love when I see it, and he loves this shit. Amen.

Building and Cussing for the New Year!

Musical accompaniment for this review.

I got a call from my dad about a week before Christmas. He’d ordered my son, who is nine, a nerf flack jacket because that’s what the boy super wanted, but in the time it took for the paramilitary kiddie gear to get to the house, some fucking lunatic had shot up a school, killing kids my son’s age. While I don’t really think the nerf stuff correlates to violence or whatever, I can entirely respect Dad sending that stuff back and casting about for other options. What about the buildy craft stuff they tend to stock in the vestibule of the book store? Perfect; go for it.

So this is that! And, I can tell you, friends, that Build 3-D Wonders of the World is not aimed at 9-years olds at all. The writing is super bossy, telling you to read everything so you know what’s going to happen and can plan ahead. Shhhhriiiiiight. I realized there must be a whole nerd sub-stratum of people who cut and build paper buildings, like the train nerds or the people who paint D&D figurines all anal-like. In fact, Mr. Sock Puppet went off about how he once built this whole castle out of paper, with a little 3-D crest and everything, and that even though it wasn’t to scale with his little nerd D&D dolls, but he staged them around it anyway. Aww. 

Imma let Mr Puppet take over here:

And lemme tell you, those nerd skills came in handy, because there were two parts I had to cut out with my pocket knife (we’re not at home, you see, or I’d pull out my nerdxacto knife) because the die had just scored the pieces rather than punching them for us. There was swearing. This book should use a scale to tell you how difficult the model will be: one swear through ten swears. The Arc de Triomphe was easily a six-swear model, as at one point I recall saying that we should just spread glue over the whole model and let Satan sort it out. 

The book does tell you if a model is for beginners, intermediate (what? Punchers and folders?), and expert. What the book does not say is that these levels don’t reference any version of those words except in relative difficulty to each other. Beginner puncher/folders will have at least three or four swears on the Egypt scene, which is mostly already built for you once you punch it out anyway. I mean, how hard is it to make a triangle? But the Sphinx is not a toy.

What’s up, Mrs. Puppet?

paper Sphinx

This was just a few swears, really none at all. The trouble started when I decided to build the Great Wall of China. At one point, Mr. Puppet asked me how many towers were on the Great Wall, and I was like, fuck if I know. I’m not a godamn historian. He was like, no, in the model. Oh. There are three. 

me flipping off the paper Great Wall

All I can say about the Great Wall at this point is that crenelations can fuck themselves. 

Then we considered building the Colosseum, but hell naw. 

Obama meme saying Aw Hell Naw

So we ended up with the “intermediate” L’Arc de Triomphe. This is a multi-swear prospect, even though it’s as boxy as a Saab, because of the so-called cock rings that slip around the columns. So called by Mr. Puppet, of course. Observe: 

flipping the Le'Arc Le'bird

Mr. Puppet again: It did turn out pretty well, easily the best-looking of the models so far, cock rings and all. You can almost see the French pigeon shit on the roof. All it needs is a snarky French tour guide in a beret and a mime (not included). I learned that Napoleon put that thing up during his world tour. Two birds up!

Great Wall, Sphinx, and L'Arc all hanging together all papery.

So, this was super fun in a way, but it way that makes you swear. 

Happy New Year! 

me and Mr. Puppet