Now you’re a myyayun
Orgazmo is about an ordinary guy with hidden depth, stuck into in hero costume without being a hero, being thought a hero without being one, then becoming a hero out of costume, and finally adopting the costume as a hero. “Just” a spoof! “Just” a parody! Yeah! … except, no, it isn’t.
This comes right out of Medium and idiom: they fight crime! and helps to illuminate various options I talked about in there. Start with my definition of genre, which is probably not whatever it is they made you say in school. You can do a genre straight, maintaining its point or message or schtick, despite using unfamiliar tropes, even those (mistakenly) thought to be incompatible. Conversely, you can defy or subvert the genre’s point et cetera via satire, which works best by messing with one or a few tropes.
Then there’s the whole parody option, which I think breaks easily into two forms, the contemptuous or destructive one, which can rattle you about the whole source or “straight” genre (Wonder Warthog comes to mind), or the loving parody, which makes you want to watch even more of it.
Orgazmo does the superhero weird but against all expectation, absolutely right. You can even slip in a little loving parody along the way and it’ll still work as not-parody if the story-spine is solid. In this, Orgazmo is even better than Mystery Men (which is similar, see Pinky fingernail o’doom).
That’s right. I’m telling you to take Chodaboy seriously. Which does not mean ignoring the funny.
Thematically, it’s surprisingly close to Marshal Law. That’s a big pill to swallow, I know, so stay with me. You can begin with the point that neither protagonist begins with anything but negative notions about “costumed heroes,” and that each insists with some heat that he is just a normal person. My points about manhood in Looking for a hero are relevant here as well: when you strip out posturing and anxiety about status from “being a man,” what are we looking at? Especially in terms of positive action?
Now lookit this diagram:
The inner two circles include direct consequences for personal genetic proliferation, and the outer two include indirect consequences. It’s all social because that’s the kind of critter we are, but the outer circles are “social” and the inner are “personal” in a crude/non-technical sense. I’m talking now about stories which impose a clash at that boundary.
And give this a listen:
What makes a man / Is it the power in his hands? / Is it his quest for glory
Give it all you’ve got / To fight to the top / So we c’n know your story
That’s the outer circles: battling with foes out there in and against society, establishing reputation and legacy, but with all the risk. And the song knows that’s only part of the diagram:
What makes a man / Is it the woman in his arms? / Just ’cause she has big titties
Or is it the way / He fights every day? / No, it’s prob’ly the titties
You think I’m kidding, right? I’m not. Spider-Man (2003) is built from precisely these components of conflicts and ideals, with the particular outcome sacrificing the middle for the outer (see also Mask of the Phantasm and the original Robocop). Any outcome works, relative to certain circumstances. I’ll write about the reverse, sacrificing outer for inner, another time. It works too, because the outer society is full of wicked bad establishment stuff too. None of this is about “selfishness” either so don’t bug me about that. Orgazmo features the most positive version – reconciling outward-directed heroism and romantic success – because his romantic partner loves him as a hero, just as in Mystery Men.
You can probably see how Jesus works into this structure too, as pretty much the ur-superhero for the outermost zone, if not obscured by the maunderings and social pitfalls of institutions (or this is a widespread view anyway, which the film invokes). He ultimately is not played as some delusion that Joe must get over in order to grow up, but as a source of inspiration actually to do good things. It’s also tied into how Joe has to reconcile living in the “real world” (well, Los Angeles) with his guiding or most deeply-felt community, without childishly accepting that either one simply dictates what he must do.
The other films named above feature some stutter-start and focus and pacing problems, only barely managing to achieve the clarity of Orgazmo. At each viewing, I’m struck by its strong structure, with perfectly ordered rising action in each scene, neatly choosing between what is explained and what isn’t, and not wasting time. Every event hits these very points of manhood, social expectations, authenticity to one’s love-interest, the confluence of altruism and rage, and heroism that appears without warning even to oneself. Being funny as shit changes nothing about that.
I give maximum credit to the way Chodaboy (Dian Bachar) and A-Cup (David Dunn) contribute to this effect. On paper, they’re raw comedy characters, parody from hell … until you look at what they actually say and do, and how each relates personally and exactly to the real villain, Maxxx Orbison – also brilliantly acted by Michael Dean Jacobs.
Orbison is the perfect evolving supervillain, even better that he doesn’t take a gas-blast to the face or otherwise cop some techno-excuse for being nuts. No, he begins as an asshole who happens to be occasionally charming and who can do one thing well, but whose ego and greed won’t be satisfied, ever.
Orbison’s only saving grace (all great villains have one) is his evident and hilarious skill as a pornographer … which despite a good look at its peccadilloes, is never itself thrown into villainy. If he’d done that without trying to screw Joe out of his money, or to bully hapless restauranteurs out of their places of business, then not a thing is wrong with him. His crime is thinking “he runs the world,” as Chodaboy says, and which he confirms in his “I’m the police and the crime!” rant.
His march to his eventual situation – I shall call it “fate” or “destiny” with a straight face – is rooted right in this asshole personality, but it also develops and builds with each scene such that in retrospect, it is completely traceable to events of the story and to his responses to each one.
He has the Pie of all Pies, socked straight into his every detail as a person. I am torn between wishing for Orgazmo 2 to see him shine, or to cherish my knowledge that given this setup, the future wonderfulness is assured in my mind and best not to screw it up by having someone try to do it.
Most marvelously, even as I was finalizing this post, James Nostack wrote this comment to a previous one, providing the perfect quote for my present purpose:
(quoting me in orange)
The unconsidered, no-longer-quite valid context for doing superhero things: “I have powers, think I’ll put on a costume and fight crime”
Villains seem to come out of nowhere and to have no particular sense in what they do, and they are curiously socio-politically neutered
It really comes down to this, and more on it soon: being a superhero comic vs. being about superhero comics
Those are, if not three ways of saying the same thing, three manifestations of something deeper, which is: not understanding villainy, which is another way of saying, not really looking at how your society is screwed up.
‘Twas a time when the masked vigilante HAD to wear a mask, because you couldn’t trust the cops, or the judge, or the reporters, or whoever. And also, because when you were in costume–your true self–you were free to be your true self, the self you’re normally afraid to be–which involves doing inspiring stuff if you’re a hero, and dastardly stuff if you’re a villain.
But the reason Frank Miller’s Kingpin (and John Byrne’s Lex Luthor) are epic villains and, say, Roger Stern’s Hobgoblin is not, is that the Kingpin is less of a man and more of a cancer localized in a particular tumorous body.
And if you look at the early Superman comics, or Batman comics, or any of the Golden Age stuff, … the genuine super hero stuff is against social dysfunction that just happens to have a face you can punch.
If, as a publisher or a creator or whatever, you’re unable or unwilling to issue a critique of your society, NO WONDER your heroes have nothing to do, and NO WONDER your villains are just dweebs in stupid costumes.
Exactly. Orbison isn’t the “cancer” because he’s a pornographer. He could back off from his badness and stay with his world-class success as the breakout creator of the Orgazmo franchise. He could pay his employees and generally run a good ship. But instead, it’s about “running the world,” wider and more nastily with each step, and to do it, he converts the one good thing about himself to pure evil, which is to say, rape.
I don’t think it’s played for laughs in this story. There’s a funny bit of dialogue about porn and exploitation, but the on-screen threat, compounded by A-Cup’s evident glee at his master’s order, isn’t funny at all. I think it has more in common with my topic in Unpleasantries: when Lynn is raped and killed, Joe must take his role as Marshal Law more seriously and decide what that really means. When Lisa is threatened with rape, and who would doubt that Orbison will dispose of her too, just as he says, Joe – hey! same name! – does the same.
Exercise: retaining every single plot event in Orgazmo, shift it out of the porn industry into any ordinary job (say, acting in movies to keep it close), convert all the comedy bits into equivalent drama (much easier than you might think), change the superpower into anything you can get out of a superhero RPG, and tweak any particular details to suit, like why Lisa wouldn’t initially want him to do this. In other words, clean it up – and you’ll see the one superhero movie to outdo them all, because the story is just that strong.
Special request: please do not start in with quoting the film and repeating memes. The internet is covered with Orgazmo references and stills and funny inversions and whatnot. I avoided doing that in the post for a reason. Help me out and comment on topic.
Next: Go to hell and burn
Posted on November 12, 2015, in Filmtalk, Heroics, The great ultravillains and tagged Chodaboy, Dian Bachar, genre, Jesus Christ, Maxxx Orbison, Neutered-Man, Orgazmo 1997 film, Pie, rape, Trey Parker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.