Kingpin [1996)

The concept of the “family” movie has changed since The Sound of Music in 1965.

Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.

They opt for “children’s film”.

Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.

In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.

1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.

By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s:

-Aleister Crowley

-Lenny Bruce

-William S. Burroughs

-Karl Marx

-and many others.

Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.

But maketh thou no mistake:  The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!

1971.

By then, The Beatles were no more.

1968 had come and gone (violently).  And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).

There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.

Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album

But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.

It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).

Aliens!

It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.

Time machines.

The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.

But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.

There was no auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.

Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).

1988:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  [ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]

-1989:  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]

Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.

Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.

By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.

It is hard to chart how we went from The Sound of Music to Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.

If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.

-1970:  Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on The Madcap Laughs [especially the song “No Good Trying”]

-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]

-and international artists like Amon Düül II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode

-1971:  The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s Tago Mago

-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance

-1972:  Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido

-1973:  Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)

-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)

But we missed something significant:

Led Zeppelin.

If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.

-their first two albums were released in 1969

-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]

Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971

Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973

Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975

But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music.  Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.

AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.

But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.

Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977.  One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).

But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.

And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.

Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).

Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.

But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.

I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.

As to whether it is fit for families to view together.

But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.

It’s damned funny!

I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso.  Long ago.

I thought I had a chance.  But I was Amish.  I just didn’t know it yet.

But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.

#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).

Woody has had an interesting life.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers.  This gave us great comfort.  Great laughs.  And Woody played the character Woody Boyd.  One of the bright spots of a great television cast.

But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life).  And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown:  San Antonio.

It was a drug hit.  Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home.  The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years.  Harrelson got life in jail.

Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood.  He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.

Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.

#2 is Bill Murray.  Bill is an old hand (no pun intended).  Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film.  Of course, this is a comedy.  So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.

At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.

Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.

You might know them from their work such as Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked There’s Something About Mary.

[N.B.  Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin.  We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]

The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]

Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.

Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.

I got great joy out of seeing this.

Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.

I’ve done it.

Now I have an advanced degree in management.

And still, I know…it’s hard!

But back to family films.

This IS a family film.

But it is also an example of what the family film has become.

In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.

That’s just my opinion.

But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.

It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.

But I leave that discretion up to the parents.

Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!

It’s funny.  They’re good at it.  It has a point.  But it might be too lewd for some families.

Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film:  the Amish.

It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.

In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.

From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.

But this is also a road movie.

And we know strange things happen on the road.

I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting.  It’s effortless.  Flawless.

And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s naïveté.  Truly an acting coup!

But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!

Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?

Yeah, that’s her.

And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!

Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!

At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.

To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.

We are all sinners.

But music saves us.

“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.

And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.

“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat!  The Strangeloves!!!

“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.

“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.

But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

Such a magical song!

Great movie.  Great acting.  Comes from a place of reality.

-PD

Per un pugno di dollari [1964)

They say the pen is mightier than the sword.

And so we place into a single room

the greatest writer of all time

and a schmuck with a sword.

The writer has his pen…for self-defense.

But we feel the Yojimbo trappings are too antiquated (1961)

so we give the bard a typewriter…no, a laptop

and the schmuck…a gun.

Who will draw first?

For speed, it is the gun which wins (assuming the schmuck knows how to fire it).

It is a big assumption.

So, let us add some lag time…

as the schmuck experiments with the mechanics of his weapon.

And then we stop the test and replace the schmuck with a professional assassin.

By now the poet is sweating blood.

Will he hit “send” in time?

Ah, but now we have overshot the mark with our rhetoric.

So let us back up to the computing of the 1960s.

Computation #1:  Westerns are no longer in vogue.  American Westerns are the subject of ridicule in Italy.  Laughable.

Enter Sergio Leone into the equation.

A smart guy.  Sees a gap in the market.  How would Rossellini direct a Western?  Or Fellini?

Do they make revolvers that hold 8 1/2 bullets?

And who gets the half-a-bullet?

I had intended to talk about Guantanamo Bay.  Moral disgust.

But the sands of time in the Tabernas Desert are pouring away…a steady stream of grains.

And so the faceoff makes imperative that I get the most bang for my click.

Eastwood.  Leone.  Savio.  Savio?  Morricone.  Ah, that’s better.

Gian Maria Volonté (the bad guy) would go on to play in the first (and one would assume only) Marxist Western.  A subgenre which never really caught on.  The film Vent d’est (1970)–director Godard–filming location Mozambique.

Sounds too weird to be true, right?  Just don’t be fooled by Robert Enrico’s Vent d’est from 1993.

Just because a film is Franco-Swiss (like Godard, Franco-Swiss)…uh-uh, not the same thing.

But the assassin schmuck is getting the lay of the land.  I digress, I die.

I am not the worst writer to ever live.  Give me time.  I may yet claim that title.

We cannot, however, forget Marianne Koch.  So long…

Never forget a woman from Munich.  The beautiful Renate Knaup, for instance.

A double umlaut for your trouble.  Amon Düül II.  Zwei.

But time is unkind to me…merciless.

Will we reach José Calvo in time?  With our heart of iron?

Well hello Joe, what do you know?  The “Man with No Name” and Une Femme est une femme.

I’ve hardly talked about the film.  That’s what some call “no spoilers”…

But I can make no such guarantee.

Only brilliance.  Leone.  Eastwood.  As good a Western as could possibly be made.

A triumph.

If you feel your heart in your throat…your tears well up

then maybe you think of Guantanamo Bay.

Inmates list.

One by one.

No charges.

No charges.

Suicide.

No charges.

Certainly it would help to know that Abdul so-and-so knocked off an Army Ranger medic.

The medic part is no superfluous detail.

But the rest?

No charges.

No charges.

Held for three years.

No charges.

It seems, from the outside, that the war has been run by the CIA.

There are no armies to battle.

No high-value targets.  I’m not the first to comment on the ludicrous situation of a $200,000 bomb being dropped on a mud hut.

Bad guys torture.

Idiots torture.

And so Clint Eastwood does not torture.  Here.  In 1964.

If you jump down the rabbit hole you will be disgusted.

How does this in any way have to do with a Spaghetti Western?

It is the message.

We might not have a hell of a lot of time.

Find the quote by the general…about the detainees at Guantanamo who arrived with mental problems and left with “none.”

That’s rich.

I also have a bridge to sell you in Arizona.  And I’ll throw in the Seven Dwarfs as maintenance crew.

You see, it’s a hell of a lot easier to just write a film review and not worry about all this stuff.

That’s what happens in totalitarian countries.

Hang on, someone’s knocking at my door…

-PD

to end the author

imageÀ bout the Au T EU Rrrrrr…

Age:  42

Residence:  San Antonio, TX

Former occupation:  musician

Education:  BM music theory/composition, MBA management

Dream:  direct films

Life soundtrack:  Mercury Rev, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, The Delgados, Suicide, The Band, The Velvet Underground, Amon Düül II, The Homosexuals, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Rollerskate Skinny, Silver Apples, Kevin Ayers, My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, Stereolab, …and you will know us by the Trail of Dead, Hawkwind, The Magic Numbers, Comus, Magma, Roland Kirk, Grinderman/Nick Cave, Teenage Filmstars, The Flaming Lips…

Favorite author:  Nick Tosches

Favorite musician:  Bob Dylan

Favorite director/intellectual hero:

Jean-Luc Godard