There is no more miserable time for a youngster than adolescence. Sure, there are elements of fun and the occasional glimpse into that mythical world of wonder, but more times than not, the cosmos conspires against you, making each and every one of those so-called growing pains feel like a dagger. From isolation and peer pressure, to the frightening factor known as family, there are so many pitfalls, both natural and manmade, that it's impossible to anticipate them all. Some call this process of divide, depression and eventually (hopefully) conquer "building character". But others refer to it as the torture that childhood impresses upon all of us, a trial by foible fire we must endure if we are to ever become that most dreaded of labels – adults.
So picture being trapped in a consistent state of arrested adolescence, forced by situations outside of your control to stay stunted. Instead of playing with friends and learning the ropes of reality, all you experience are four foul walls and the incessant (s)mothering of an obsessive guardian. Imagine if religion, abuse and loathing were your playmates, cruelty and corruption your sickening surroundings. Drag it out for over three decades, and you'd begin to understand the world of Bubby. Relegated to a psychological and sexual slave by his horrible shrew of a parent, Bubby is trapped in a loveless, lonely place. To call it a 'home' would be to impart an implication of affection that is nowhere to be found. Bubby is his mother's unfortunate foil. To her, he is her Bad Boy Bubby. And the rest of the real world is about to find out why.
Bubby is 35 years old. He has lived in a dingy, dank bunker like apartment all his life. His only companions are a feral cat that he torments, and his obsessive mother. Dictatorial and overbearing, Bubby's mum treats him horribly, making outrageous demands and ridiculous rules. Of course, with her boy now a man, she also takes advantage of his "matured" sexuality. Bubby cannot escape his claustrophobic world. Mother has told him that the air outside is fouled and if the poison doesn't get him, Jesus will. So Bubby stays inside, tormenting his pet, waiting for the next round of reprobate behavior.
One day, a stranger comes knocking at the door. It turns out to be Bubby's long lost father. The arrival of another person in the home perplexes this manchild. IF the air outside is poisoned, how did he survive? And if Bubby was MUM'S boy, why does she now take this man to bed? Confused and scared, Bubby's behavior turns even more twisted, and it's not long before he has dealt with his family issues, and is off on his own.
The world turns out to be a strange place for our stifled simpleton. There are lots of helpful people (the Salvation Army, various strangers) as well as those who remind him, uncomfortably, of his parents. As he wanders and experiences reality for the first time, Bubby is drawn in two totally different directions. On one hand, there's a school for the handicapped, where Bubby seems to understand what the patients are saying. And then there's a rock band, who wants this angry, unhinged entity as their lead singer.
You have never seen a movie quite like Bad Boy Bubby. No David Lynchian surrealscape or David Cronenberg psychosexual gross out can compare to the stellar, sinister magic director Rolf De Heer (maker of the critically acclaimed 1996 film The Quiet Room) makes in this amazing masterpiece. Certainly he borrows from his demented brothers in arms, but De Heer has a unique style and vision all his own. Employing experimental elements with a strong focus on character and narrative, the filmmaker fashions a fable that takes us on a literal journey from Hell to Heaven.
As much a coming of age as it is a mediation on the pitfalls of maturity, this is a Thomas Pynchon novel of a film where every scene has several meanings, and differing layers diverge and reform to create something wholly original and inspired with each configuration. It may be difficult to watch at first, and does deal with subjects and people that we'd never imagine tolerating, let alone taking an interest in. But somehow, with all the vileness and the vitality flowing through the celluloid, De Heer and his stellar cast manage to concoct a modern classic.
Part of the reason why Bad Boy Bubby works so well is its bravery. Obviously a product of its time – 1993 – and its place – Australia (Hollywood wouldn't have touched this script with a 50 foot pole soaked in antibiotics) De Heer pushes the limits of acceptable cinematic behavior from the very first series of shots. Using nudity as a symbol for both vulnerability and perversion, and playing simultaneously with the notions of abuse and incest, it's hard to get a handle on what the film is initially trying to say. It's almost like a sideshow, where freaks are paraded out for our amusement and morbid curiosity. Then slowly, as the unreal situations and circumstances become more and more unbearable, De Heer sets up his first stroke of storytelling genius.
Indeed, he now has us hooked. We know Bubby is a prisoner in his hovel of a home, brainwashed into believing the world beyond the front door is filled with poisoned air, and that his mother is the only solace, physical or otherwise, he will ever require. Her overbearing browbeating has lead Bubby to become a kind of human Rosetta Stone, recording and reinterpreting everything around him as it passes through his orphaned, underdeveloped mind. Bubby not only responds to the situations around him, he shapes them, giving them amplified meaning with his moronic gaze.
So by the time the long lost – but equally bullying – father reappears, we are just as desperate as Bubby. We want to see what lies beyond that massive, ironclad apartment door. We too want to escape the stifling, stench-ridden residence with its violent, vicious behaviors and patterns of abuse. We want to understand where such a Hellhole would be located, and how it could exist, undiscovered, for 35 years. Hoping that the outside world will provide the relief we, and the still-innocent Bubby character require, we sit on the edge of our seat, waiting for our messed up manchild to venture outside. And when he does, Bad Boy Bubby becomes yet another experience all together.
Bad Boy Bubby's second "movement" if you will, is a kind of aimless wandering, a series of vignettes and experiences as seen through the eyes – and most importantly, heard through the ears – of our lead character. The symphonic analogy is quite fitting here, as De Heer relies on music so frequently, it becomes a character in the film. Gorgeous organ solos, brash, yet equally ambient bagpipes or the standard sonic boom of rock and roll all chime in, like harmonic Greek Choruses, to remind us of the naiveté and innocence of our protagonist. Sound literally colors the world around Bubby. He is also filled with a lot of foul ideas, facets that have to be purged and tamed like the ferocity of a feral animal. Music, in the film, does have the proverbial charms to soothe this savage, and little by little, note by note, the melodiousness sinks down inside, and starts the process of reviving Bubby's soul.
By the time Bubby has found the rock band who "adopts" him, we as an audience are, again, seeking change. But instead of a new locale, or new set of experiences, we just want things to settle down. Just as his home life was oppressive, the real world is too open, too filled with unprocessed possibilities. Bubby is directionless, lost in a universe of over stimulation and sensory bombardment. The filmmaking and the narrative have wound us up, filling us with the anxiety inherent in our main character's reality. We demand relief for both. However, nothing could prepare us for what comes next.
In what has to be one of the most amazing third acts ever created, Bubby's torment and temperament finally come full circle, able to be used and employed for both good, and goofy means. That our lead character becomes a rock star, and a kind of spiritual medium for the physically handicapped may seem a bit pat - both situations seem fanciful and outside Bubby's realm of existence. But De Heer makes them work because of the fantastic foundation he's laid before. Throughout the course of the film, we've wondered how Bubby will fend for himself, as well as why destiny allowed him to suffer so. The answer comes in his opposing abilities. He can use his incredible anger and rage to vent in a kind of industrial, cathartic rock and roll. And he can use his naive sweetness and his non-jaded nature to speak with those whose voices are lost to "normal" people.
The reasons for Bad Boy Bubby's majesty are many. First and foremost, the performance by Nicholas Hope is flat out remarkable. Looking like a more mannered Hugo Weaving (or a more insane Douglas Bradley), and mimicking many of the people he meets in the movie, Bubby is a wholly original creation, a complex and corrupted innocent who may be smarter, or a lot dumber, than he appears. Using his skill at imbecilic imitation, and his frankness as an actor, Hope allows us into Bubby's secret life, and we literally watch the character grow and learn, maturing right before our eyes. There are moments of high comedy in Hope's interpretation, as well as deep, deep sadness. That we can get behind and support someone like Bubby, who seems simultaneously antisocial and empathetic is as much a commendation of De Heer's script as Hope's performance. This is the very definition of a tour de force.
So is De Heer's direction and vision. From the ideas floating around inside of it, to the way in which he chooses to illustrate them, Bad Boy Bubby brims with untold imagination. This is not just a narrative centering on mental/physical/ sexual abuse and bad parenting – it is also a discussion of God, a look at celebrity, a critique on aging and a swipe at social standards. This is a dense, dissertation of a film, a multifaceted test that offers something new each and every scene, something surprising with each and every viewing. This is the kind of movie one gets lost in, mesmerized by what they see and enraptured by what they hear. From its dire beginnings to its hopeful end, Bad Boy Bubby retains its integrity and its power. This is one of the lost gems of world cinema, and one of the best DVD releases this year.
There are two amazing technical feats that De Heer accomplished while conceiving this film that proves how much kismet was involved in making Bad Boy Bubby. First, when he originally conceived the project, the director thought it would take him two years of weekends to complete it. Realizing he could never keep a crew together for that long, he hit upon a radical idea – why not employ a new cinematographer/director of photography each time out? Of course, when the film eventually became fully financed, and he was able to shoot over weeks, not years, he was reluctant to abandon the idea of multiple collaborators. So he used a different DP for each location. If you watch the credits carefully, you will see the 32 names scroll down the screen. De Heer actually pulled it off, and this visual variable certainly adds to Bad Boy Bubby's ferocious flavor.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image is a mindbender as a result. The clarity and flawlessness with which Blue Underground delivers the image is nothing compared to the amazing display of lighting, framing and filming styles involved. Some scenes have a fanciful, lyrical quality. Others appear straight out of a documentary. Composition also plays an important part in the film, and we get everything from merriment to mania here. The best way to describe Bad Boy Bubby from a visual stance is to call it a sci-fi film without a single futuristic element or prop. Indeed, De Heer uses his radical invention to make the mundane reality of Australia seem like a phantasmagorical way station along an interstellar highway.
The other amazing facet here is the bizarre, baffling binaural sound design created by De Heer for the film. Utilizing tiny transistorized microphones attached to either side of actor Nicolas Hope's head (which were then hidden under his fright wig hair) the movie's soundtrack was recorded in a manner to approximate how the world "sounds" to Bubby. Indeed, Bad Boy Bubby may be the art form's first – and to this date, only – headphone film. In either the stellar Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, or the equally effective 2.0 Stereo, the results are astounding, and quite disorienting. Voices swirl and envelop us. Noise darts in several directions at once, settling in a corner before suddenly switching locales. We sense actual levels of sound, talking topped by music topped by the shallowness of space. It is truly remarkable, best experienced on a tricked out home theater system, or if you have the ability, with a quality headset.
In lieu of a commentary (the only bonus attribute missing here), Blue Underground delivers a one-two punch of interviews that equal to almost 45 minutes of Bad Boy Bubby goodness. First up is director De Heer, and he provides an outstanding conversation on the creation of the film. Aside from all the technical tenets, De Heer describes how writing the script over YEARS, not months, helped heighten the unreal qualities, the minor set design elements he employed for visual significance, and the benefits of shooting in sequential order. Personable, and filled with pointed examples (like how the film was misunderstood by Italian animal lovers) the filmmaker does a terrific job of outlining the method inside his apparent madness.
Actor Nicolas Hope also sits for a little Q&A, and his insights into creating the character of Bubby, and the lasting impact it has had on people, are astounding. Realizing he made a great film, but unsure as to why it has become so revered, Hope explains how he approached the role, his initial reluctance to work with De Heer, and a particularly odd description of the movie by his fellow Australians. Detailed and very eloquent, Hope's featurette continues to flesh out the Bad Boy Bubby mythos.
Along with a gallery of stills, and a theatrical trailer, the last bonus feature is a short film starring Hope entitled Confessor Caressor. In that now familiar mockumentary style, a film crew follows a supposed serial killer as he describes his crimes, and details his depravity. Only problem is, he may be lying. Indeed, part of the ingenuity of this piece is the question of guilt. Hope plays it both ways, hurt and horrifying, so we are left to wonder. As remarkable as his performance as Bubby is, Hope is just as compelling here. Blue Underground needs to be congratulated for giving us a chance to witness this artful, intriguing little film.
Like a version of Brazil carved out of human pain, or the sequel to Eraserhead, where the mutant baby actually lives, and grows up, Bad Boy Bubby is an experience both profound and confounding. It offers up a controversial central character, an individual given to both acts of unbridled aggression and moving sentiment, and demands that we find a way to like him. It takes a strong stance against parents and parenting, proving that most of the misery in the world comes from a biological basis. And when genetics aren't grinding you down, God and his ritualistic requirements are out to upend you. Indeed, what Bubby learns is that, even with all the support and love you can gather around you, the removal of hurt is a personal process. Until you understand and forgive yourself, you will never be one of reality's residents. You will always be lost in a realm of irregularities, a place where the past and all its suffering shortchanges your being. There, you will always be a child. There, you will always be someone's Bad Boy Bubby.
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