Tuesday, 7 February 2012

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

Dir. Trey Parker
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes

While I have been trying to deliberately watch films that I have never seen before on my little American movie marathon, when I reached Colorado I felt I had to watch South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut despite having seen it before. I remember watching it at university with friends and even today, over eleven years later, I can still recite from heart most of the lyrics to the songs “Uncle Fucka” and “It’s Easy, MMMKay”. The strange thing is that I was never a particularly big fan of the original South Park animated television series. It is probably eight years since I even watched an episode. But I loved the movie. In the same vein I liked the film Beavis and Butthead Do America though the attraction of the TV series paled rapidly for me (even before I had to sit through a three-hour Beavis and Butthead marathon one night). The Simpsons Movie didn’t impress me overly however, despite loving the show.

The film (and TV series) of South Park revolve around a group of four schoolfriends in the fictional town of South park, Colorado: Stan, Cartman (both voiced by Trey Parker), Kyle and Kenny (both voiced by Matt Stone). Here they are excited because the stars of their favourite television show, the potty-mouthed and infantile Canadian comedians Terrance and Phillip, have released their own movie Asses of Fire. Despite its “R” rating the children sneak in to watch it. They are awed by the freedom their heroes have to use bad language and come out singing the catchy “Shut your fucking face, Uncle Fucker”. Soon all their classmates have seen the film, and an epidemic of swearing his swept the town. Cartman passes on responsibility for his language by claiming “that movie has warped my fragile little mind”. Their parents form a pressure group to ‘protect’ their children from the film, exposure to profanity, and Canada itself. Terrance and Phillip are arrested. A diplomatic spat between the U.S. and Canada escalates towards war. Meanwhile in Hell Satan rejoices that should Terrance and Phillip be executed their blood on American soil would bring true a prophecy, and he would be freed to take over the world… with his domineering gay lover Saddam Hussein at his side (Hussein had, according to the film, been killed six weeks earlier by a pack of wild boars). The boys must lead ‘La Resistance’ in rescuing the two Canadians and preventing not just war but also the rising of Hell itself.

I have to say that, by and large, the film did stand up to a repeat viewing after all this time. The entertainment factor is skewed pretty heavily towards the first half of the movie – within the first 15 minutes viewers are treated to no less than three songs: “Mountain Town”, “Uncle Fucka” and “It’s Easy, MMMKay”. Yes, I said songs. As an animated movie it contains a number of songs in a variety of Disney-esque or musical theatre styles. “La Resistance” is a rather good medley in the style of Les Miserables. The number “Blame Canada” was even nominated for an Oscar! After the start the entertainment started to drag a little bit. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Satan and Saddam scenes either, as amusing as the idea of the Archprince of Darkness being a clingy lover might seem to be on paper. It was perhaps a little overlong for the one idea the writers (Parker and Stone once again) had.

The idea concerned censorship. Terrance and Phillip are liberated by the move to the big screen, because there they can say words like “fuck”, “bitch” and “donkey-raping shit eater”. Likewise the writers of South Park can make their big-screen version more explicit. This provokes outrage. But in what way is use of ‘the f-word’ worse than an America where the film industry glorifies violence and the news media is presented by a midget in a bikini (okay, that last one might not be indicative of the US media, I don’t know). As Kyle’s mother says: “Remember what the MPAA says; horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don’t say any naughty words. That’s what this war is all about!” (The MPAA is the Motion Picture Association of America that certifies films for release). South Park  attacks the double standards whereby it is more acceptable for movies to feature live-action killings and violence than for them to have a little bit of profanity.

Blame Canada!
(and who knew the Canadians were so potty-mouthed?)

Having said that, despite having such an ambitious aim the film is guilty of attacking the easy targets. Who is the main villain? Saddam Hussein. In reality Saddam was never the arch-villain the US tried to build him into. He was a local thug who, post 1991, was only a threat to his own people. If even people like Parker and Stone were prepared to give him such prominence is it any wonder that the entire nation got swung off course just a few years later into invading Iraq when they should have been tracking down Osama Bin Laden and finishing off the Taliban? Of course, alongside brickbats directed at Saddam they also have some to spare for the agents of moral panic and ill-informed rednecks (“We’re gonna kill us some goddam Australians!” “I think we’re fighting Canadians” “Canadians, Australians, what’s the difference?”). So, something for the left and right to cheer at there. Really it took them another couple of years, until they brought out Team America: World Police to perfect the art of offending everybody…

What have I learnt about Colorado?
That it is entirely two-dimensional and the kids have very large heads. Or, in cartoons it does anyway. It is hard to draw any firm conclusions from such a skewed portrait. However, the fictional town of South Park, with its snowy mountains and main street, is supposedly based upon the town of Fairplay, in Colorado’s South Park Basin. I cannot say whether this town really is a “quiet, little, pissant, redneck, podunk, jerkwater, greenhorn, one-horse, mudhole, peckerwood, right-wing, whistle-stop, hobnail, truck-driving, old-fashioned, hayseed, inbred, unkempt, out-of-date, white trash, kick-ass mountain town”.

Can we go there?
It’s a cartoon, idiot.

But, as was said above, it is supposedly based on or around the town of Fairplay (or four miles away from Fairplay according to one reference in the TV series). The school in Fairplay is called ‘South Park High School’ and Fairplay’s annual ‘Burro Days’ are reinvented as ‘Cow Days’ in the series. Renants from its late nineteenth century mining boom are collected as an open air museum called 'South Park City'. Expecting to see any trace of Stan, Kyle, Cartman or Kenny there would be a vain hope however.

Overall Rating: 3/5

1 comment:

  1. "even before I had to sit through a three-hour Beavis and Butthead marathon one night" - I think Channel 4 billed this as a 'moronathon' once.