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CECIL B. DEMENTED

2000, dir. John Waters-Buscemi
87 min. Rated R.
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Melanie Griffith, Alicia Witt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kevin Nealon (?!)

Review by Justin Patterson

"HEY, HEY, MPAA! HOW MANY MOVIES HAVE YOU CENSORED TODAY?"

Okay, you cotton-headed ninnymuggins. I realize that you may never have heard of this film, or may have heard of it and never bothered to check it out. Some of you may even actively avoid catching reference to this movie. Screw you guys! This movie is one of my top 5 of all time and I'm gonna freaking talk about it. Don't be afraid: they don't eat dogshit in all of John Waters' movies.

For years, I've developed a real loathing for a certain breed of actress. I'll drop some names, and I think you'll notice a trend: Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith. . . . you get the picture. These are women who are somewhat attractive, can be relied on by studios to pull in big money, and never ever make a film that would be fun but potentially damaging to their images. Their lives are thrust upon us in every supermarket checkout line and the dumb chicks in the office are always talking about whom they're dating this month.

Begging your pardon, but I can't stand these people. I don't want to hear about their lives. I don't care how many children they've downloaded by however many different daddies. I don't care what they're wearing, Joan. I don't even care if they can act, anymore, because watching them sucks life from me.

In 2001, I spotted CECIL B. DEMENTED on the shelf and bought it. Hell, it looked interesting. As soon as I began watching it, I was blown away! Not only was it a genuinely fun movie that pokes at everything pathetic about Hollywood, but it featured something I never thought I would see: Melanie Griffith doing a pretty thorough job of making fun of her own career! She plays herself, Julia and Meg all rolled into one, destroys herself and seems to have a damned good time doing it.

My shock was tempered a bit when I remembered something that Ms. Griffith had done. When she did SOMETHING WILD back in 1986, that was something bold. Honestly, I'd thought that she was just slumming at the time. Who'd have thought that she still had it in her?

Anyway, this movie is about destroying everything that we currently accept as the Hollywood Standard. Cecil B. Demented (Dorff) is the leader of a group of underground filmmakers (the Sprocket Holes) who decide to cast Honey Whitlock (Griffith) in their new movie. Since they kidnap her at a movie premiere at gunpoint, she doesn't have much of a choice. They bleach out her hair, dress her like a skank, slap her in front of a camera and start shooting.

In the following days, Honey finds herself having to act out the worst dialogue she's ever seen, commit felonies, bust up a movie theater, assault movie and civic executives and generally drift far from the norm that she had known. Aiding her along the way are the Sprocket Holes, a group of young filmmakers who are highly motivated: they can't have any form of sexual release until shooting is wrapped up. "Celibacy for celluloid," as Cecil calls it. This little twist alone leads viewers down some strange byroads, ending ultimately in a particularly well-chosen sound effect near the end. The Sprocket Holes are an interesting bunch: a Satanist who does makeup (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an unfortunately straight hairdresser who hates his hetersexuality (Adrian Grenier), and a former porn star (Alicia Witt) with some bizarre childhood memories are just a few.

The movie lacks some substance, but makes up for it with fun and some gags that are truly out of the weirder recesses of Waters' brain. The kipnap scene would be great even without the little kid in the wheelchair who is cheering for the kidnappers. Honey winds up, at one point, defending her current project against a bunch of morally outrages soccer moms. The film crew shoots live while busting up a meeting of the Baltimore Film Commission, forcing all members to eat oysters nonstop until they puke. There's one scene when, needing to escape an angry mob, the film crew ducks into a porno theater. Former porn star Cherish rallies the reinforcements with a cry of, "Porno fans! It's me, Cherish! And I need your hardcore help!" Imagine the condition that the average male porn viewer would normally have been in at that point, and you can imagine the reception that the morality mob was greeted with.

Perhaps the most incongruous scene is the ending. Surrounded by police and stuck on the roof of a concession stand at the local drive-in, Cecil convinces Honey to light her hair on fire for the camera. Bullhorns are blaring as Honey's hair burns and Cecil films it all. Suddenly, Cecil calls out, "Okay, people! Cut! That's a wrap!" The Sprocket Holes grow quiet until one of them timidly asks, "You mean we can finally have SEX?!" What follows ain't what you normally think of when surrounded by police.

See the movie. It's chock full of catchy dialogue, comic book-type rants and shouted platitudes. It's fun to watch. Seeing Dorff so completely over the top and watching Griffith mock her own career is just the kind of medicine that is needed after being forced to watch PATCH ADAMS: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT. If you don't go for it the first time, watch it again when your mood is a little different (or altered). It's like a fungus. It will grow on you.

In the immortal words of Cecil B. Demented, "Let's make a motherfuckin' movie!!!"

Demented Forever. . . .

Digg!



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