In 2004, Troma released one of the most startling and original films that it has ever had the perplexing pleasure to be associated with. Up and coming actor Giuseppe Andrews, best known for his roles in Independence Day and Cabin Fever, had been secretly making movies since he was 19. Using the local residents of the trailer park where he lived, Andrews would create outrageous experiments in cinema filled with politically incorrect concepts, slangy sex speak and more cursing than an entire collection of rap CDs. His mostly elderly - and drunken - 'actors' would recite his dialogue verbatim, given line readings to repeat before Andrews trained his leering lens on them.
The results have been nothing short of phenomenal. Trailer Town marked his arrival to the digital domain, a fabulously filthy look at life on the outskirts of the outskirts. His sensational short subject, Dribble, was released as part of The Best of Tromadance Volume 3. Now, in preparation for a major boxset release come this spring, Troma is giving us his first film, the absolutely fantastic Touch Me in the Morning. Loaded with an additional hour of Andrews mania, plus some insights into this filmmaker's freak show process, this DVD instantly takes it place as the first must-own masterpiece of 2006.
Ed Guardo, otherwise known as Coney Island to his friends and family, is having a hard time adjusting to young adulthood. His elderly mother is a crack-smoking whore who prefers the company of black men. His father is a crazy old coot who used to make his living as a gigolo before he ended up in jail on a trumped up murder charge. Now free from the pokey, Pops wants to rekindle his parent/child relationship with Coney, and sew a few more wild oats while he's at it. All Coney wants is to play his songs of hope for the elderly, get some advice on how to sexually please his hippy girlfriend, and gain a clearer understanding of the circumstances surrounding his birth. In the meantime, Mom is going loopy with advancing Alzheimer's while Dad is throwing filthy stag parties in local hotel rooms. It's enough to make a young man long for escape. Instead, Coney tries to face his fractured family and deal with the insane issues they present. Yet it will take a tragedy, and a strange swapping of gender, before Coney's guardians will greet him with a sentiment like Touch Me in the Morning.
There may have been doubts before, but this DVD confirms it - Giuseppe Andrews is a stark raving mofo-ing genius, a twisted and talented man of vision who completely rewrites the rulebook about what makes compelling cinema. His films are filled with the strange and the sickening, walking a finer than filament line between exploitation and excrement. His is truly a found filmic voice, one gleaned exclusively from his surroundings and his inner aesthetic. There is no other moviemaker, past or present, doing what he is doing today. It is a technique born out of available technology and a neo-realism so ripe it actually feels authentic (versus all those attempts by so-called auteurs to capture life on film). There is no pretense in his work, no attempt to tweak the world into a weird, wacky package. Instead, Andrews is out to give a voice to the farthest reaches of the fringe, to make the people that society shat upon stand up and state their case for greatness.
And what an amazing argument it is. Far more plot driven than Trailer Town, Touch Me in the Morning is like a series of sharp stabs in the solar plexus, a ennui-reducing wake-up call for anyone who thinks Miramax is the cutting edge of Indie art. Uproariously funny, occasionally cruel, and inventive to a fetid fault, this initial volley in the Andrews career vault is a keeper and a half. In an unusual move for those of us not used to seeing the actor in his own films, Andrews stars as Coney Island, sounding board and instigator for most of the people who populate his peculiar little part of the globe. In the world of a Giuseppe Andrews movie, the homeless are sexual dynamos, the drunken are equally aggressive, and the toothless and downtrodden are more insightful and wise than the idiots encased in their Ivory Towers. Much is made of the fact that this director relies on real trailer park residents in casting his pictures - no matter the age, infirmary or overall oddness of their persona. To many, his films feel like Bum Fights without the fisticuffs.
But the truth is that certified characters like Bill Nowlin, Walt Dongo and Ruth Estes bring an uncompromising honesty to their efforts here, a genuineness that just radiates off the screen. Sure, they can be talking about anal sex, strutting around naked as the day they were born (oh so long ago), and yet we can't help but feel a freshness and a legitimacy to their entire existence. They are not the phony baloney buttheads that pass for people in a standard Hollywood hack job. There is no mannered Method here. Instead, Andrews feeds them lines and together, they capture spontaneity and naturalness in both performance and personality. Some can argue that Andrews is exploiting these people to achieve his own arcane artistic ends. He forces them into tasteless circumstances and takes advantage of their good (and/or inebriated) nature. Sadly, such cynics are missing the point. You can tell by looking in their eyes how much these forgotten folks are enjoying their limited time in the limelight. They never "act" put upon or used. There is joy in their faces - a bliss that comes from being appreciated and engaged.
As an example of the Andrews's ideal, Touch Me in the Morning is terrific. Along with movies, music is also in Andrews's blood and he plays several sensationally silly songs as part of his "job" making the elderly happy. These sequences are setpiece highlights, giving instant grateful grins from ear to ear as the Casio soundscapes sprinkle their pure pop love on the audience. There are also some amazing musical interludes as part of the production, as when Coney finally decides to run away and hitches a ride to Galveston. The plaintive acoustic ballad that accompanies this scene is heartbreaking and proves that Andrews has a real cinematic knack. He's not just some one trick pony who is putting his neighbors on film for a lark. All throughout Touch Me in the Morning, there are flashes of such filmmaking brilliance: the entire stripper sex scene with its merry combination of tacky and toilet humor; Andrews and Nowlin in nothing but underwear, discussing sexual technique; the clockwork comic timing in the interchanges between Coney and his mother; and the opening handheld fight scene, were two liquored up louts prepare to pummel each other. All attest to Andrews's skill and ability.
All throughout this masterpiece of a movie, Andrews finds ways to top himself both creatively and comically. There are dozens of laugh out loud moments - some frightfully filthy, others derived from genuine humor and heart - and several instances where jaws will definitely go agape in human oddity wonder. Andrews himself is excellent, never winking at the camera to show us that he's in on the joke. Instead, he plays it painfully serious - so much so that you sympathize with Coney's plight and want him to win. In conjunction with his crazy, iconic company, Andrews aspires to greater and greater levels of lunacy, and achieves them each and every time. Faultlessly realized and completely original, Touch Me in the Morning proves that, even at the beginning of his foray into film, Giuseppe Andrews was a wholly unique voice in outsider art. His oeuvre will be studied and worshipped for decades to come.
Touch Me in the Morning is offered in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation that, sadly, is not anamorphic. Not that 16x9 film fans should fret much, really - the movie was shot on black and white video and looks murky, muddy and incredibly fuzzy. So there are other visual issues to lament other than the lack of a true cinema style transfer. The film doesn't look cropped, so it's probably just an issue of compatibility with the original elements or lax remastering. Otherwise, the movie's addled appearance is quite complimentary to the film it features. Nothing reflects the foul, festering universe where his unique anarchy reigns better than the grandiose grayness of this image.
Welcome to Camcorder Recording 101. The sonic situation here is well known to aficionados of homemade movies - the tinny presentation, the lack of definition in the conversations, the flat and lifeless ambience. They are all the irritating result of using the internal mic of your equipment to capture and create your soundtrack. Unlike Trailer Town, Andrews does not employ subtitles here, so we do miss the occasional line of dialogue, and on occasion, the incidental music is overmodulated. But for the most part, this Dolby Digital Stereo mix is a passable, presentable aural offering.
Thanks to Troma, we are treated to three more examples of Andrews's amazing work with the inclusion of three of his short films, which he calls After School Specials. They are entitled Wiggly, Ants and The Laundry Room and each deserves their own individual right up:
Wiggly - a young man faces a horrible dilemma: help his dad with the daily yard sale, or help his mom secure her trailer home. The catch? In order to satisfy his mother, he has to kill his father!
Using the theme of difficult decisions, Wiggly is wonderfully weird. The homeless hobo who plays Andrews's dad is an amazing actor - a creepy combination of Charles Manson and scarred skeleton - and he shouts his lines with a demented glee that is marvelously manic. The usual suspects turn up throughout the film, and when we get to the fated finale, Andrews handles the meaningful moment perfectly. A great little diversion.
Ants - while his dad films a documentary on ants, a young man enjoys his hobby of rollerblading. Filmmaking pushes his father over the edge. Though it's fun, streetskating is not all that fulfilling.
Our friendly freaked out bum is back again, essaying the role of a mentally unstable filmmaker melting down at the merest suggestion that something he's done doesn't fit his ant movie's mandates. The standout scene, however, has Andrews randomly rollerblading while an original song about the sport plays in the background. It is both ethereal and engaging, as is this entire short.
The Laundry Room - a serial killer is stalking local laundromats, murdering customers for their shoes. It is up to a young man and his girlfriend to protect themselves from the feet-fleecing fiend.
Perhaps the most "mundane" of Andrews's films, this feels like two ideas crammed together. The mass-murdering marauder (our Wiggly and Ants star again) is faultlessly frightening, but there is a strange interlude where an ancillary character goes into a patented Andrews's X-rated rap that feels out of place. While very entertaining, it's not a true testament to this auteur's abilities.
In addition to the short films, Andrews also sits down with Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman to discuss the making of this movie. It is part of a much longer documentary that will be featured in the upcoming boxset. Here we learn how a lot of Andrews' aesthetic derives from Fassbinder, as well as Rudy Ray Moore and the Dolemite films (?!?!). He talks openly about his actors and argues for their skill at improv and adlibbing. Like any added feature, it helps us understand the individual behind the lens and leaves us aching for more. Andrews then offers up an interview with chief player Bill Nowlin. Looking much older and enfeebled than he does in the films, Bill is still a pistol, pontificating on his theory of extrapolation and why he has no problem reciting reams of scandalous sex-laced dialogue. It is a fascinating featurette. Along with trailers for a few of his films and the standard Troma merchandising, this is a great disc with a lot of contextual clarification into Andrews' unique art.
While this critic is tempted to hand out his first DVD Talk Collector's Series of the year, he admits that this is a completely fringe filmmaker with a quasi-cult following and an entire wealth of underground baggage bearing down on his movies. As a result of these acquired taste tenets, and the less than spectacular audio and video tech specs, Touch Me in the Morning will have to settle for an upper echelon rating of Highly Recommended. This is truly the cutting edge of cinema, a new form being developed and explored right before our non-believing, befuddled eyes. Better get in on it now before Criterion sweeps up the entire canon and places it alongside Godard and Buñuel where it belongs. Giuseppe Andrews is a genius and Touch Me in the Morning is a perfect example of this cinematic savant's handiwork. That bandied about box set can't come quickly enough for this Andrews addict. One viewing, and you will feel the same.
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