December 13th, 2010
What do these three movies have in common? No story, no plot, no character development, and no problem being hugely popular. FROM LEFT: The Serial Queen Melodramas of the 1920’s, Johnny Knoxville gets his but chomped in “Jackass 3,” and a random character gets his balls bashed on the futuristic show, “Ow, My Balls!” in the movie “Idiocracy,” from Mike Judge.
JACKASS = OW, MY BALLS
Shortly after leaving the movie theater, having laughed our asses off at “Jackass 3 in 3D,” my younger brother made a realization that I haven’t seen any of the movie reviewers make, though plenty of bloggers have. The distance separating this movie and the television show, “Ow, My Balls!” featured in Mike Judge’s masterpiece, “Idiocracy,” is zilch. It’s the same basic theme. In Jackass, whenever the action lags even for a moment, someone throws something at the testicles of someone else and the recipient doubles over in pain.
Same, same. The Idiocracy is here, and it’s awesome.
YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO TELL A GOOD STORY
And now, time to put on the film professor hat for the real point here. In the first semester of film school at U.S.C. we all had to take the course, “History of Silent Cinema,” taught by one of the great authorities on the restoration of silent movies, David Shepherd. It was one of those courses that blew by quickly with all of us spending too much time making fun of the odd and sometimes boring movies we had to watch and analyze. But a decade later it ends up being one of those experiences that keeps on giving, as I reflect back on the enormous diversity of what we saw.
One of the lessons we learned was about what were called, “The Serial Queen Melodramas.” When film was first invented by Edison and others, the first filmmakers like D.W. Griffith began espousing the same principle I talk about today — that you need to tell a good story to hold the interest of the audience. And that is certainly true for most of the audience, most of the time.
But there are significant exceptions, as filmmakers figured out pretty quickly when someone realized that sometimes all you had to do was tie a beautiful woman to the railroad tracks and show a train approaching. Bingo. EVERYONE is instantly engaged. No need for backstory, plot structure, exposition, character development … nuttin’.
The storytellers were baffled by it. And they still are to this day. And that, of course, is the problem with zombie development executives in Hollywood who are programmed to recite a certain set of rules. They listen to your pitch for a scene that opens with a woman tied to the railroad tracks, then reply, “Well, we need to know who she is and why we should care — basically what’s at stake, where is she from, how did she get into this predicament,” and a whole lot of other things that reveal the lack of a functional brian.
SOMETIMES YOU DON’T EVEN NEED A STORY AT ALL
Anyhow, that’s the brilliance of “Jackass.” Similar to some of the classic Monty Python movies, there’s no story. No plot. No character development. No idea of why the guy is about to have his tooth pulled out by the string around his tooth tied to the rear bumper of a sports car. No back story on the doofus trying to catch the footballs shot out of the exhaust of a private jet on the runway, no character development in the trumpet player being rammed by the ram, etc.
Thank goodness Johnny Knoxville got himself to a place in Hollywood where he’s able to make his one dimensional insanity with nobody diluting it. And with absolutely no interest, respect or care for storytelling. After the first scene of the movie you have absolutely no clue of where you are in the movie, not hints that you’re at the end.
But if you want to know how the movie actually does work, you can see at the core of every single scene is the basic “arouse and fulfill” couplet. Each scene begins with, “Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is …” And when you hear him say, “Pin the tail on the donkey,” and you see a blind folded guy and a REAL donkey, you are instantly aroused and ready to be fulfilled as the ass kicks the dumb ass.