Some people are just plain NUTS. We've all heard about them, examples of lives so unbalanced that we wonder what the exact mechanism is that drives their mental dump truck. The obvious illustrations are far too easy: Jeffery Dahmer, a man who never met a 'member' of the male species that he couldn't consume, tar-tar style; Steve-O, the daredevil demon who thought Jackass was way too wussy for his own demented pro-pain death wish and, instead, struck out on his own to initiate such memorable stunts as "The Human Urinal" and "Nutsack Stapling" (OUCH!). Most of the members of today's teen pop movement seem relatively unsane, unable to differentiate between corporate crap rock and a career in music. Or what about that ultimate example of craziness in the cranium, Crispin Glover; perhaps the only actor in the history of the cinema that decided to practice method living, along with his thespian tendencies.
Add to this list of certifiable celebrities one Nathan Smithe, resident of the great state of Oregon and all around Internet nutcase (or is that Internut netcase?). Over the course of a few frantic years, Smithe has developed, designed and deployed his own personal animation empire onto the World Wide Web, featuring such beloved befuddlements as Ermo, killer Fruits and of course, talk show host Meaty McMeat. Now, after years of struggling in relative anonymity, Master Smithe has decided to unleash a full-length feature based on the exploits of his little cornball cutlet. Set within a surreal world of dog-headed food vendors, vampiric product pitchmen and a prophetic pastry from the past, the just-released DVD of The Meaty McMeat Show is some screwed up s.... stuff. This offal on acid continuously pushes the boundaries of cartoon cavalcades to add Smithe's own outlandish interpretation of the art form. The front cover says it all: "Warning: Do Not Watch Sober". But this is not just a suggestion. It's a true safety measure. Getting good and fudged up may help alleviate some of the night terrors you'll experience after watching this truly sick showcase. Oh, and it may help you laugh a little, too.
Describing the near two hours of unhinged horrors and humor that calls itself The Meaty McMeat Show will take some doing, but here goes: Meaty McMeat is a talking diseased heart that has his own show (either on TV or the Internet, it is never very clear). Meaty discusses his theories on life, interviews friends, and basically plays social commentator to the bizarro world around him. His best friend(s) are (Meaty is very fickle when it comes to who he hangs with) Spleeny McSpleen, another ailing organ who leads a double life as some manner of covert agent (or maybe it's just a deluded pile of tissue) Lungy McButter a gassy piece of cancerous airsack and Sticky McStick, a basic twig. But all is not sunshine and sinew for our flesh-based buddies (the branch man excluded). Seems that Meaty has enemies, subversive elements bent on undermining his career. In the park where he shoots his segments, the French fiend Ralph McMutt pushes a hot dog cart and tries to pawn off drug-laced wieners on the poor unsuspecting biopsy. And deep within the woods, ex-cereal mascot and all around bloodsucker Count Chocolatte has his eye on turning the entire town, the carne-based celebrity included, into the living dead. He lures Meaty's nerd nemesis Vinny McVentricle (a slightly slow heart value) into the forest, where he bites him on the...um...neck? Then he sends the zombie vein out to gather up his pals and bring them to the woodlands. Oh yeah, and hi-jinx ensue, some of which include a time-traveling Port-o-Potty, a mantis who practices martial arts and an omnipotent talking pie named Karl.
Look, let's face facts – someone needs to get Nathan Smithe (the "e" is silent, as he is want to say) a date, pronto. This dude is in desperate need of the touch of a woman (or a guy - after all, this is an open minded review) to distract him from his continuing desire to make some of the most borderline Satanic cartoons in the history of the medium. Smithe's strange creation, The Meaty McMeat Show is evil on a level so subtle that when you finally experience the vileness and vice, it's like getting a Brioski colonic. There is genius here. There is also great danger. Like Jeff Goldblum mumbled in The Fly, individuals interested in this title should "be afraid. VERY afraid." Reminiscent of what it would be like to open up the skull of a serial killer, scoop out the brains, and tiptoe through the gangrenous gray matter for a while, The Meaty McMeat Show is a trip through the psyche elastic of its inventor, and the journey is fraught with peril, perplexities and lots of incoherent humor. This is easily the most outsider element ever to be released on the digital versatile disc format, and in many ways it represents both the rebirth of the medium, and its simultaneous death knell. Individuals in love with web-based animation and faux-Photoshop antics will dig this new breed. Other will discover they've become instantly sterilized in the sensibilities after sitting through 99 minutes of distressingly diseased meatmania.
Perhaps a little explanation is in order. In the grand scheme of all things computerized, the rise of homemade movies and cartoons is nothing really new. And when compared to more mainstream entries like Undercover Brother or Stain Boy, The Meaty McMeat Show is essentially the same old song and St. Vitus dance. But the difference between Smithe's showcase to the surreal and other Pentium products is the overall atmosphere of baneful banality. Like the moments of menace before an atomic bomb explodes or the music of Fred Lane, The Meaty McMeat Show is consistently on the verge of erupting into unholy corruption. As the characters discuss their petty passions and crack wise, you get the feeling of being watched – not so much over your shoulder or from the outside looking in - no, this is more like a peeping of the soul. As it transmits its sophomoric skits across the co-axial avenues of the average home theater, a sinister signal starts shooting horrifying ideas into your midbrain. The notion of contaminated variety meats starts stimulating your gag reflex. You believe you are hallucinating and yet the images still appear to be talking directly to you. After a while, you are numb with a combination of nausea and nonchalance. And it is at this point where The Meaty McMeat Show does its most deadly damage. The cursing begins, a sudden, awkward reliance on four-letter words. Then we learn that Meaty has a penis, and his attempted tryst with a talking vulva (as well as his early consummated act with a basketball) destroys our sexuality. Toward the end, the plot spins wildly out of control and Meaty is battling zombies in a cabin, dealing with the kidnapping of his branch-based best friend and humming boy band songs. Suddenly, the shout utters from a fractured foundation:
DAMN! THIS IS F*CKED UP!
And conceivably, creator/writer/director/animator/ voice talent/ overall chief cook and bottle washer Smithe would have it no other way! As accurate an illustration of the human Id as ever presented in pictograph form, Smithe is very, very sly in his subversion. One of the reasons why The Meaty McMeat Show is so hard to dismiss is that, in between all the puke, dick and death jokes, the artist inserts some clever and satirical content. The various commercial breaks in Meaty's "show" are a chance for the filmmaker to add material that, while not more mainstream, at least has a connection to classic comedy conventions. There are the advertising lampoons (one for a Fried Chicken and Gun Emporium is borderline genius, as is a Monster Modern Art Rally ad) as well as a few mystifying musical numbers (a song about killer poultry is well done, as is Meaty's pro-pot free-stylin'). But what Smithe is really trying to achieve is a kind of cult legend. He hopes that a combination of originality pooled with a few non-linear laughs will endure his dark, demented vision to those looking for an alternative to the standard coloring book bedlam of the average one-man animation. And for most of Meaty's meandering running time, the slow, sullen crawl towards mythology does occur.
In several significant ways, The Meaty McMeat Show resembles the minimalist mind-warp of David Lynch's self-created cartoon, Dumbland. Trading on a similar situation (entities interacting with no particular plot purpose) with both relying on minimalist animation to suggest more than the words ever do. Meaty McMeat is as much about anti-animation as it is the colored cell process. Indeed, The Meaty McMeat Show is deadpan humor devoid of any real attempt at jokes. It is true situational comedy, where the circumstances and setting mean more to the wit than anything the characters say or do. Call it surgical theater of the absurd or a stark raving example of avant-garde goofiness, but once you click into its stream of subconsciousness and settle back for the full tilt float, the arcane antics of Meaty and his protein-based pals will work their wounded magic on you. But you have to give into the deliriousness. If the idea of a helium voiced heart spewing up his guts in a near three minute sequence of barfing (all to prove whether or not he ate a cowboy during a drunken night of debauchery) has you double over in your computer chair as you read this, then you will giggle yourself soiled watching The Meaty McMeat Show. But be prepared for a gargantuan case of self-satisfied stupidity. Smithe is obviously crafting this crude craziness for his friends. And for the price of a DVD – or a trip to his website (http://www.delawarebased.com) - you can be part of that particular pack of groupies.
Yet there is still an unrelenting and unsettling nature to this offering that keeps the hairs on the back of your neck erect for hours afterward. Since he provides almost all the voices here (and is not, by any far stretch of the imagination, Mel Blanc or Hank Azaria) and they all sound basically the same, listening to The Meaty McMeat Show is a lot like overhearing the inner monologue of someone suffering with multiple personality disorder. Though it goes on for far too long (at 99 minutes, it is at least padded by a half hour) and the gross out grandeur degenerates into dissonance after a while, The Meaty McMeat Show is still a sensational several car pile-up of a film. Like watching an insane clown perform exploratory surgery, or finding some still-living roadkill telling dirty jokes alongside the highway, this is a dare-to-watch-it experiment in expressionistic comics. While you will occasionally find reasons to avert your vision and won't always find the exploits entertaining or interesting, something about Meaty McMeat screams "genius" and "junk" - usually at the same time. This never dull diversion announces a new, nerd-like voice to the world of independent artistry. Nathan Smithe is a very disturbed young man, and the outlet for all his troubled thoughts, otherwise known as The Meaty McMeat Show, is a space-out masterpiece. Or maybe it's just an inventive wake-up call for other mouse-based makers to take to the digital disc and get themselves known. Either way, the proper precautions – bomb shelters, food hording, etc. – should be taken now. Once this thing hits, it will be World War II all over again, except with rotten meat in the Third Reich role. Not that there's that big of different.
Since this is a direct from digital transfer, created on a computer and burned directly onto disc, the 1.33:1 full screen image of The Meaty McMeat Show is perfect. There are no defects or video issues (such as flaring or pixelization) and everything is color correct and filled with detailed contrasts. Though several other shorts on this set defy their 16mm filmed formats, the actual movie of The Meaty McMeat Show is a stellar example of the presentation of online animation.
Oh my...the sonic situations of The Meaty McMeat Show are downright disastrous. Recorded with what sounds like a handheld, low quality microphone, the dialogue has none of the "presence" one expects from a professional DVD. Conversations get lost, the volume levels require constant manipulation and the overall quality of the sound could best be described as mainly mid-range. The bass occasionally thumps away, and there is very little treble, but the overall effect is like listening to a far off broadcast through a veil of red Georgia clay. This is the situation for ALL the aural attributes on the disc – the movie and the extras. Nathan Smithe should spend the money and have his baby remastered as soon as possible. This lo-fi feel does not add any ambiance to the disc specifics.
As if making a 100-minute movie about talking meat wasn't innovation enough, creator Smithe decided to doll up his DVD presentation of the film with more bizarre bonus features than most Criterion Collection titles could ever contain. Indeed, when placed along side the actual motion picture experience, the digital dynamics of The Meaty McMeat Show become unusually disturbed. There are three separate audio tracks here and each one is wildly entertaining. Along with the normal English dub, there is a hilarious Spanish translation that uses basic bi-lingual elements ("Me llama Carne McCarne") along with an overtone of misplaced passion to really eccentric up the circumstances. Matched with an equally incoherent set of subtitles (it appears that the script was channeled through a language conversion program and then re-deciphered back into English), The Meaty McMeat Show becomes a piece of performance art. But that's not all. Director Smithe is around for a full-length feature commentary that is just as odd as the movie he created. Sounding like a overly mature seven year old (when he's probably more like in his mid-30s) and shifting wildly between insight (who does the voices, where the images come from) to incoherence (some of the situations he finds "funny" will leave you scratching your terrified temples) this is a terrific, and equally terrifying view into the universe this auteur dwells in. And the landscape is farcical.
But the bonus hits just keep on coming. We are treated to some additional outtakes in the tradition of Toy Story or Shrek. Obviously created by Smithe using flubs and a couple of vocal retakes, the premise far outweighs the presentation. The still gallery is equally peculiar. Featuring random offerings from the film, without any real rhyme or reason, it's like a Rorschach test for Adobe addicts. Last and certainly not least, we are treated to eight short films by Smithe, an amazing look into his stop-motion and pen and ink experiments. Several of the shorts feature Ermo, a scary sock-puppet doll whose main claim to fame is barfing up ties and scarves, and taking fabric "dumps" in all manner of hats. If you're having a hard time with the previous sentence, just re-read it. Everything you need to know about the mind-bending brilliance of Ermo's antics is contained therein (including the concept of using fedoras as commodes). There is also an odd animated entry featuring razorblade-wielding fruit and a standard 2-D comment on cartoon violence. Together with Meaty's first outing as a character and a send-up of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Smithe confirms he is more than a one-organ offender. He has an entire arsenal of anarchy at his disposal, and the DVD of The Meaty McMeat Show is substantially better for it.
There is no middle ground with Meaty McMeat. You will either love this likeable lump of human innards or find everything about it – from the animation to the sense of humor – as repugnant as Carrot Top's career. Like the gross-out greatness of The Ren and Stimpy Show when it first hit the airwaves or the DIY devilishness of very early South Park, The Meaty McMeat Show is something with so much potential that you can't help but give it a hand over some of the more amateurish shortcomings. Given a chance to germinate properly and grow exponentially, this could be the start of the "next big thing' in crackpot cartooning. It could also be one of the portents of the Apocalypse. Instead of the skeletal riders on the famed four horses, each of our equestrian entities could be saddled with a sour piece of flesh, animated mouths garbling goofy bon mots about narcotics and nookie. Nathan Smithe should be given some credit for turning his tainted concept of comedy into a psychologically unsound set of characters, as well as putting them through a prurient playlet for all the world to see. So when, sometime in the future, the culture embraces the borderline brain dead dimension of Meaty and his pals and you can't escape the endless merchandising of 'Spackle Me' Ermo dolls, don't say you weren't warned. DVD Talk was prescient enough to see the impending doom. And it laughed all the way to the cellar to wait it out. Be prepared – and like Seth Brundle suggested, be afraid.
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