Troma keeps teasing us. For months now, we've heard about how a collection of Giuseppe Andrews' films is in the works. Possible titles have been tossed around (The Bathrobe Home School Box Set, for one), and rumors have surrounded the potential content. A few online interviews suggested we'd get a feature length documentary showing how his films were made as part of the set, while current information suggests that there will be many more single DVD releases before we see the multi-disc presentation. One such release is Period Piece. A recent effort by Andrews, this 2004 film is actually a combination of several movies he's made over the years. There is material here from Tater Tots, as well as sequences shot but never used in other films. The result is Andrews most inventive and insular narrative to date. As a filmmaker, Giuseppe still keeps his camera focused on the downtrodden and the destitute. And while the subject area addressed here may seem the same, the approach is apocalyptic, angry, and unapologetic.
A French midget arrives in LA to write a screenplay. The story revolves around a man who has sex with stuffed animals and makes porn movies centering on drunken fratboys partying in hotel rooms. Our Parisian scribe takes up residence in a rundown hotel, where he meets a kind hearted prostitute. Our streetwalker has recently broken up with her ex-cop boyfriend, and has found a guitar playing goofball who is willing to marry her. Still despondent over the break-up, the policeman convinces his son to leave their house and camp out in the woods. They spend their days looking at girlie magazines, smoking and drinking. In flashbacks, we see where the liquored up lawman went wrong. Instead of arresting a couple of heroin shooting gasoline thieves, he merely lets them off with a warning. They later confront him and beat him up for his autographed picture of Jesus. Their crime spree causes the department undue embarrassment, and along with the bottle and the failed fling with the whore, our peace officer is a broken man. In the meantime, the prostitute's father fantasies that he is having sex with an adult star named Serenity. When that proves unsatisfying, he gets a dead pig to cuddle, before he chops it up with an axe. It's just a typical day in LaLa Land, and this perverted Period Piece proves that it is a city that often wallows in its own offal.
If Giuseppe Andrews is indeed a cinematic genius, than Period Piece is his Short Cuts. Maybe a better way to put it is that this segmented, vignette oriented movie is a lot like watching Paul Thomas Anderson on peyote. Proving that his previous efforts – Trailer Town, Who Flung Poo?, Dribble, and Touch Me in the Morning – were no accident, this amazing moviemaker tackles his favorite subject (sex) in a new and novel manner. Instead of using vulgarity and comedy to color his ideas, Andrews grabs naughtiness by the neck and chokes the ever-lovin' sh*t out of it. This is a raw, rude indictment of the physicality of fornication - a film that attempts to address the need for genital stimulation meshed with a cold, callous commentary on aging and arousal. Using his standard corps of actors (and a few new faces here and there) Andrews employs an epic scope in his exploration of Eros, and tries to get to the heart of horniness. There are many interlocking stories here, almost too much for a first viewing. But once you get past the scattered, stream of consciousness style, you will see how this amazing auteur finds room to rag on phone sex, prostitution, pornography, bestiality, implied pedophilia (the constant raping of teddy bears) and the delusion of fantasy. Almost everyone in this film is functioning under the spell of sex. But we see the truth behind the 'characters' and it occasionally makes us sick.
Though he's listed on the cover as the "star" of this film, Andrews' staple Tyree is really secondary to the storyline. This is an ensemble effort, with many standout moments and performances. But Tyree is certainly an important shock value part of Andrews' ideal. Filming almost all his scenes nude, showing complete full frontal nudity, this 90 year old novelty has a peculiar onscreen presence. We can tell he is merely mimicking the words Andrews offers him. It is part of this director's moviemaking mystique. But there is a genuine undercurrent of performance to what this homeless man does in front of the camera. He plays pathetic so well, and wraps his labored line readings in enough emotional truth that we can't help but feel for this frail freak. Sure, we will giggle as he crumbles pork rinds on his privates in some silly statement against the social order, but when he suddenly stops stuttering and places a gun to his chest, the lost look on his face is like a treatise on how the elderly are treated today. While another Andrews' regular Bill Nowlin (who has a brief cameo role here) is a stand-up psychopath with a motor mouth filled with filth, Tyree's tawdry tirades have an odd poetry to them. Even when he talking about penis and vagina, his cadence recalls a sonnet, albeit one drenched in the foul and the fetid.
The rest of the cast is equally compelling. Walt Dongo, who usually essays the loverboy or leading man roles in Andrews' opuses, here plays a part a lot closer to his own truth. Obviously inebriated most of the time, his drunken cop is a true disgrace. There are many uncomfortable moments in the film where Dongo drones on about oral sex or orgasms, and his slurs and stumbles clearly illustrate Andrews' main thesis. While cinema paints sex as a kind of glorified bump and grind, the far greater truth is that it is a messy, complicated endeavor, an instinctual part of the human condition that's not at all nice. Like gonzo gone grotesque, Andrews uses Dongo, Tyree and another amazing actor – Vietnam Ron – as icons to this notion of real world naughtiness. All three men crave physical love, but each one has issues that would render them repugnant to others. By peeling back this sickening social scab and exposing it to the regular, routine of reality, Period Piece attempts to humanize their need, to make it less lewd and more nauseatingly natural. Instead of prettying up their passions, Andrews gives us the warts and all approach. Watching Dongo diddle a doll, or Ron talk dirty to a phone sex skank demystifies the deed, and paints perversion in a manner that we can understand and, yes, even sort of somehow sympathize with.
But Andrews goes another step further. By making his prostitute an asexual being (we never see her naked) and introducing the French dwarf and drug addict thieves into the mix, he juxtaposes need against nookie. While the rest of the cast are crowing about cunnilingus and butt sex, we hear the deadened dimensions of men who would rather shoot up than off. These sequences, with their creative camera tricks and Barbie doll banality (the guys get off staging their dolls in X-rated routines) are like the laughs in a human horror film. They are necessary to give the more meaningful moments bite and gravitas. Similarly, the material involving the Teddy Bears is an outrageous illustration of how sex destroys the innocent. The violation of a children's toy has very clear connections to the loss of virginity and the notion of adolescent maturity. Indeed, almost everything about Period Piece is a philosophical missive about misinterpreting libido for love, pain for personal connection and desire for dreams. There is much more here than a gross out comedy about old people talking filthy, or snuggling with dead baby pigs (Tyree gets his swerve on – implied only – with a small swine). As its title suggests, Period Piece is a statement about the world, today. In our era of mass marketed sex, the influence of XXX material is like an infection. Some people are drowning in the disease, and these are the men that Andrews wants to champion. After all, their needs are as valid as anyone else's, they're just not as pretty…or profound…or proper.
Looking a little better than previous efforts, the transfer of Period Piece is actually pretty good. The 1.33:1 full screen image is colorful and clean, with only minimal video defects like bleeding and flaring to be found. Unlike Touch Me in the Morning, which had a dreamlike monochrome vibe, the hues here are upfront and obvious here, making for some very memorable scenes. This is still a straight camcorder production though, and all the no budget facets – limited lighting, low production value - are frequently visible. Still, Troma treats these titles better than some of their big name offerings.
Something of significance that usually doesn't get addressed in other reviews is Andrews' songwriting skill. In Touch Me in the Morning, there are a couple of classics scenes where the actor plays keyboards and sings touchingly twisted songs as entertainment for the elderly. In Period Piece, more of these amazing works show up to add real emotional underpinning and depth to the sequences and the performances within. The Dolby Digital Stereo setup on the DVD really does these compositions proud. The speakers spit out the tunes in musically masterful ways. The dialogue is easily discernible and the lo-fi aspects of the production provide little or no problem from an aural perspective.
Troma now treats Andrews' efforts as real works of art, and adds an embarrassing amount of extra material to each new DVD. This time around, we get an interview with Giuseppe (insightful and intense), a collection of trailers, a look at Tyree spewing sex poetry from Touch Me in the Morning and a text biography of this naughty nonagenarian. The best bonus feature though is the full length cinematic experiment entitled Jacuzzi Rooms. Nothing more than a simple set up – four of Andrews' company getting smashed in a seedy hotel room – this improvised look at men out to party is strangely spellbinding. There are the typical taunts about penis size and sexual prowess, and with liquor involved, things soon turn violent. You can tell that Andrews stopped the drunken antics about halfway through and delivered typed pages filled with poems and elegies to keep the cast coherent. Such a scripted strategy really doesn't help. If Period Piece is a representation and rejection of sex, then Jacuzzi Rooms is a debauched denunciation of booze. Both features show Andrews moving into far more disturbing territory, with effectiveness equal to that in his comedies.
When placed up against the rest of his amazing canon, Period Piece proves difficult and obtuse. In trying to tie together several storylines and multiple characters, the gifted Giuseppe Andrews really ran the risk of losing the homemade feel of his films. While it is far more arcane in its creation than Trailer Town or Touch Me in the Morning, this is still a fantastic, if fatalistic, looks at humanity and its outer reaches. Along with Jacuzzi Rooms, we have a pair of perturbing and disturbing movies. On the DVD Talk ratings scale, this title easily earns a Highly Recommended. It misses the Collector's Edition score by arguments purely artistic. For first timers coming to Andrews to see what all the filmmaking fuss is about, Period Piece is not the place to start. This is for true connoisseurs of the Andrews aesthetic. It tears apart the previous petty elements that made his movies so amazing and actually offers up something nasty and novel. Once you've had your brain baked by his other works, you'll be ready to take on this notable, non-linear delight. Andrews continues to push the limits of cinema and the new availability of technology. That long-rumored box set can't come soon enough.