Ted Bundy [2002)

I have long noticed the phenomenon of people being obsessed with serial killers.

In my experience, those who obsess over these troubled murderers are (perhaps surprisingly) women.

And so I am bucking that trend and delving into the serial killer biopic genre with 2002’s Ted Bundy.

I must say up front, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this film.

Everything about it was more-or-less half-assed.

I did, however, make it through the entire thing.

And there’s something to be said for that.

What I am interested in is a question which Godard has applied to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.  More or less.

Did the film under consideration do justice to the memory of the slain by way of depiction?

A key point should be, “Did this film faithfully evoke the horror of its subject?”

I would have to answer with a resounding “No!”.

Michael Reilly Burke (as Bundy) doesn’t even get the charm right.

Yes, remember ladies:  serial killers can be quite charming.

We might think of serial killers as “shady looking”.

So a real (successful) serial killer might attempt to appear blameless.

Nice clothes, nice hair, a clean shave…

Burke gets close to this charm.  But it’s too subtle.

Boti Bliss (as Bundy’s girlfriend) is probably the best thing about this film.

It’s hard to have scenario and mise-en-scène work together to dramatically show the psychological break which must have happened when Bundy was about 27 years old.

What is most problematic is that Ted Bundy isn’t really a horror movie.  It’s a drama.  Perhaps in order to reach a wider audience, the blood was toned down.

There’s even a camp aspect to this film which really undercuts its aspiration for greatness.

Literally, the film delves into a sort of dark humor.  It is an odd, out-of-place element every time it pops up.

Ted Bundy is a low-budget film.  Ted Bundy the personage was of such complex psychic energy that he (and his victims) deserved a more dedicated production.

I would therefore have to describe Matthew Bright’s directorial effort as uninspired.

At least they could have gotten the color of Bundy’s VW Beetle right.

The call center was brilliant (yes, Ted Bundy was an operator for a suicide hotline), but even more artful (if one is looking for such cinematic threads) is that he worked for a government agency in the state of Washington while said agency was looking for girls that (unbeknownst to them) HE had kidnapped.

In an interesting twist of fate, Bundy appears to have murdered a girl with the last name of Manson (although her remains were never recovered).  Donna Gail Manson was a 19-year-old student at The Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington.  She left her dorm to attend a jazz concert on campus and was never seen again.

Bundy was an extremely-failed law school student.  This was very troubling for him.

Bundy worked his way from Washington and Oregon down through Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.

Ted Bundy is not clear in delineating that Bundy was stringing along two women (in relationships) at once [all while killing and raping other young women].

The scenario or metteur en scène failed to exploit this subplot.  It was, rather, inserted hesitatingly as a sort of afterthought.

The film misses another crucial detail.  While Bundy was in Utah, he was baptized as a Mormon.  [The church later excommunicated him.]

I must credit the filmmakers for getting the “rape kit” right (in comparison to a photo of Bundy’s own such collection of items).

But I must protest again.  Bundy was a photographer.  Sure, they were Polaroids…of people he’d killed.  But how does that detail escape a creation in a field bound up with the ontology of the image for so long?

The failure, then, was that our director could not imagine himself as Ted Bundy.  In all other areas of life (perhaps besides criminology), that would be a blessing.  But as a filmmaker framing history, it’s a curse.

Plaster of Paris.  Monmartre.  Bundy’s fake casts.

Arm in a sling.  Crutches.

“All warfare is based on deception.”

 

-PD

 

 

#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

It’s the big, goofy, mesh-backed baseball cap.  The ones with the plastic snaps and infinitesimally small corresponding holes.  And then the squishy, peaked frontispiece:  “Make America great again” –or– (alternately) “Wal-Mart”.

That is the Donald’s costume…out on the campaign trail.  It’s bold.  Comedic.  A bit like George H.W. Bush “shopping” for groceries out among the common folk and being dumbfounded by this whole newfangled barcode scanner.

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

And so who did Rowan Atkinson think he was with Mr. Bean?

Well, that one’s a whole lot harder to pinpoint.

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

But then there’s all these other institutions which don’t quite translate outside of Britain…The Goon Show, Dudley Moore, The Goodies…

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

We want to think it’s all original.  And perhaps it is.

But influence is unavoidable.

And so with the third and final episode of 1990, Atkinson gave us The Curse of Mr. Bean.  [1991 would yield only one episode of the show.]

The curse…hmmm…certainly sounds like an allusion to Sellers’ Clouseau.

Whatever the case may be, Atkinson’s material is all tied together with a very cohesive theme this time:  fear.

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

Fear of public nudity or embarrassment (lost his trunks in the pool).

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

For instance, the Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear of Music (1979).

But for Bean, the horror was more of the Freddy Krueger type.

Indeed, by December 30, 1990 (this show’s airdate), there had already been five (yes, 5ive) A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Churned out of the dream factory like diabolical cotton candy, they appeared in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.  The series then would recommence in 1991.  Which begs the question, just what was Freddy Krueger up to in 1986?  Laying low?  Vacationing?  The Caribbean?

To wit, Bean is scared witless while on a date (yes, those things where aspiring romantics “go out”) with the absolutely adorable Matilda Ziegler.

For those of you (like me) who can’t live without pithy character names, Ziegler’s role (like my beloved Enid Coleslaw) is that of Irma Gobb.

And Bean, therefore, is the man-child…the everlasting Gobbstopper [sic].

[Which is to say, Ziegler’s character is a reoccurring one.]

Perhaps we need to look further back to find a precedent for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean…perhaps out of the world of comedy proper.  Perhaps to the Dadaists?  I can certainly imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a sort of human tampon à la Hugo Ball…with lobster claw hands.  Or maybe Bean with a lobster telephone courtesy of Dalí.  Certainly Bean would have a pet lobster to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with a ribbon for a leash like Gérard de Nerval.

But we perhaps perhaps perhaps need to look further.  To the wry humor of Marcel Duchamp.  To the childlike fancy and brilliance of a René Magritte or an Erik Satie.  Even, god forbid, the humor of a Mauricio Kagel.

Conductors don’t have heart attacks mid-concert?  Not according to Kagel’s Ludwig Van.

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

He’s never Anthony Braxton’s Quartet for Amplified Shovels.

No, Bean always remains funny.

And so, perhaps, nothing is more revolutionary than comedy.

This kind of comedy.

Absolutely scripted, miniaturist-perfect comedy worthy of Jacques Tati.

In that sense, we might say that Mr. Bean is like Peter Sellers having Charlie-Chaplin-like total control over a production.  At least that’s the way it seems.

Perhaps we would be criminally neglecting the director of these first three Bean episodes:  John Howard Davies.

But in such comedies, the thing really does speak for itself.

Rowan Atkinson fills every moment of screen time in these gems with his thoroughly inimitable charm.

 

-PD