Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Strange Brew (1983)

by Jimmy "Radiation has made me an enemy of civilization" Callaway

Strange Brew is the very definition of a classic, a movie that defined a generation. It is wholly of its time and yet timeless. A very difficult film to approach for a project such as this, but I feel in following the sketchy model I have laid out for the Let's Exploit Everybody! quartet, Strange Brew will herein be examined for its constant breaking of the fourth wall and what that means to me. It certainly was not the first or last film to do so, nor the first or last that would bring these ideas to the fore for me, but it certainly was/is as far as I was/am concerned.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mind being blown. Naturally, it's pretty easy to blow a seven-year-old's mind, but tell that to the seven-year-old. By 1983, '84, I was well familiar with the roaring-lion MGM logo, but it most often was followed by either a Tom and Jerry cartoon or The Wizard of Oz. Anything else would be, well, mind-blowing.

I here refer to, of course, the opening scene of Strange Brew (technically, this is the subtitle to The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie, but seeing as how [sadly] there have yet to be any follow-ups, the subtitle has taken its place in the annals of history). After the lion roars (read: belches), the camera pans around to find the rest of the lion laying on a platform and two goofy drunken Canadians egging each other on to "crank his tail, eh?"

I don't think I am a capable enough writer to convey how my tiny mind snapped at that moment. This sort of thing may happen in the cartoons I so dearly loved at that age, or on The Muppet Show perhaps. But in a live-action movie? Yeah, that's a greenstick fracture on my brain.

There is much more of this throughout the flick, played up for laughs. By 1983, movie-going was well established as a past-time, and all the attendant clich├ęs and modes of story-telling held fast in the minds of millions. Also by this time, the boomers had grown up and were beginning to make their mark on the popular arts, celebrating the commonality of their suburban, post-modernist upbringing. Everybody had been raised by movies, everybody had been taught by movies. Everybody knows where movies went wrong.

So I like to think that when my parents watched this movie for the first time, they smiled wryly as Bob and Doug discussed how people in movies never seem to pay attention to the road while they're driving, while simultaneously not paying attention to the road while they're driving. Or when Doug points out the plot convenience of a secret tunnel to the brewery just when escape is of the utmost. It was cute, y'know. A sorta "Oh, yeah, that's true, huh?" reaction.

Yeah, well, for me and (I'd imagine) many others, this was a revelation along the level of fuckin' Plato, bringing us all out of that cave and into the light of those philosopher-kings and their baby mice in beer bottles. Believe me, I know how nutty that sounds. But howzabout this: the real revelation to me then was that maybe--just maybe--every grown-up in the world isn't such a no-fun shithead.

See, cartoons and puppets and things like that always made me more comfortable when I was a kid (and still do, really) because it seemed unlikely that they'd flip out on me for getting Bubble Yum in the upholstery of their new pick-up, say. It's a childish conceit, I guess, to think that you can just dance your cares away down at Fraggle Rock. But the grown-up world that I was exposed to almost exclusively as a boy was loud and violent and generally just a fucking bummer. The opposite side of that coin was animated and lively and constantly pumped into my living room via the cathode-ray machine.

So when guys like Steve Martin and Bill Murray and (obviously) Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas would show up and start acting like insane lunatics, they weren't just breaking the fourth wall of drama; they were breaking the fourth wall of my nascent consciousness. Trust me, some days, this development does not feel that it has been for my betterment. It's exceedingly difficult to wedge yourself into a world that is still loud and violent and bummer-y when you've been shown early on that it really doesn't have to be, and that wedging really only seems to be getting more difficult as I get older here.

Which leads us to the next question: who's the insane lunatic around here anyways?

I was talking to my friend and cohort Alexander Kraft a few months back about Deadpool. For those of you not in the loop, Deadpool is Marvel Comics' merry mutant merc-with-a-mouth, an insane idiot of a superhero. He constantly breaks the fourth wall, addressing not only the reader directly, but also the fact that he is a character in a comic book. And although I guess I must have realized this in some way, it was Kraft who actually articulated that it was pretty neat, having an insane idiot character who actually knows more about the reality of things than any of the other characters.

Imagine that. Two drunken dingbats that no one really takes seriously, yet it turns out they're technically smarter than anybody else in the movie. They know their place in the scheme of things, and even though they act out their parts (like Bob crying when separated from his brother), they know it's all gonna turn out okay, eh? So, like, don't worry about it, eh?

All right, let's just make sure we're all caught up (actually, I just want to make sure I'm all caught up, but it makes me feel better about myself if I include all of you in that): a boy is thrust, screaming and naked, into this world. Early on, he grasps that this group of befleshed, red-faced humans over here often bring shrillness and cacophony into his life, while this group of colorful, "make-believe" characters over here mostly just want to sing songs at him. Okay, good. But then a group of befleshed and red-faced yet colorful and "make-believe" characters make themselves known to him, which kinda puts a monkey wrench in things for our boy, but eventually he gets them somewhat sorted into this beatific, goofy ├ťbermenschen who look like they could bring harm if they wanted, but don't. Okay, kinda weird, but still doable.

Then it turns out they're smarter than everybody, that the fools on the hill see the sun going down. Man. I mean, I still can't get the rest of my mind around that concept, y'know? But on a gut level, I really feel that this is the right path, the logical path, and that I have to keep following it. It's the hero's journey here, but the hero is not the dead brewery owner's daughter or the emotionally scrambled ex-hockey player. It's a couple of lovable morons who only want to hang out and drink beer.

That's fine by me, eh?


  1. Take off, you hoser.

    (Classic movie. Well done!)

  2. Wrapping it up with a Beatles reference?! Of course you did. Love it, all of it, the whole idea. Way to get into the mind of a generation of nerds.

  3. I dig this. I dig the way you use a review as a jumping off point to talk about the cruelties of growing up and trying to find a place in the adult world, a place with all the same bullies but now they get to vote and buy guns.

    Let me throw something else out about Strange Brew. Bob & Doug maintained their own Quixotic reality at the peril of everyone else around them. They exist not only beyond the fourth wall but in a beer fueled magical reality where they understand the universe better than everyone else but also control it and call the shots. From drinking air from beer bottles to a flying, skunk striped dog, B&D force reality to turn on their own lathe.

    Watching SCTV and later Strange Brew I realized that not only was this a type of comedy that I bought, but somewhere out there there was a group of adults who didn't suck. Who seemed to spend a lot of time trying to make each other laugh by acting like goofs. That's where I wanted to hang out and where I still do.

    And if it takes a few beers to soften the edges of drab reality than so be it. Make mine Elsinore.

  4. What about the "movie within the movie?" I'm talking about the McKenzie brothers' opening post-holocaust opus. What kind of solipsismistic ponderings did that inspire?

  5. Wait a second . . . is Roebeast suggesting that the real world isn't a beer fueled magical reality?!

    I'm gonna need to sit down a minute. . . .

  6. Great job writing a nostalgic ballad for a simpler time behind the smithereens of the Fourth Wall - a kind of 'American Pie' about Canuck Beer - and the consequences of its passing. The key to life really is getting the joke.