Artisan // 1993 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // August 11th, 2003
The world was created in six days. It was beautiful. But it was way over budget!
A "mockumentary" in the mode of This is Spinal Tap, ...And God Spoke presents a tongue-in-cheek inside look at the filming of a Biblical epic (titled, not coincidentally, ...And God Spoke).
Imagine a backstage pass to the sets of The Ten Commandments, The Bible, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Now imagine those classic pictures had been directed by Ed Wood.
Director Clive Walton (Michael Riley) and his producer partner Marvin Handleman (Stephen Rappaport) have invited a documentary crew to record the genesis of their eleventh film: the $15 million ...And God Spoke. Clive, the earnest auteur in a beatnik goatee and an endless supply of baseball caps, and Marvin, the glad-handing business operator, always in sportcoat and tie even on the set, are 16-year veterans of the B-movie industry. Together they are responsible for (or guilty of, depending on one's point of view) such video-store staples as Dial "S" for Sex (in which a masked killer impales a phone-sex practitioner with the antenna on a cordless receiver), Alpha Deatha De-Kappa (a not-so-worthy entry in the hallowed sorority slasher genre), and the ever-popular Nude Ninjas (the ninjas were merely topless, but who's picky?).
Clive and Marvin are excited about their Biblical project, despite the fact that neither of them seems to know even the barest minimum about the subject matter (such as the accurate number of Jesus' disciples). But things go screwy with the production from the very first day: the ingénue cast as Eve turns out to possess a neck-to-knee tattoo of a snake, which makes her nude scenes problematic in this pre-CGI era. And that's only the beginning. A production assistant forgets to take the negatives to the processing lab. The cinematographer, who fancies himself the cinematic heir of Sven Nykvist, uses "special filters" so dark that the dailies look like they were shot at the bottom of a cavern. The production designer builds Noah's Ark too large to fit inside the soundstage. Cost overruns result in the studio brass nixing several expensive sequences -- Sodom and Gomorrah, a location shoot at Mount Ararat, and everything including Jesus ("That's like Fitzcarraldo without the bull!" Clive whines).
Even a smattering of celebrity cameos -- Soupy Sales as Moses, Eve Plumb (Jan from The Brady Bunch) as Noah's wife, and Lou Ferrigno and Andy Dick as Cain and Abel (easily in the most bizarre casting of brothers this side of Schwarzenegger and DeVito in Twins) -- can't save our heroes from the ultimate indignity: following a disastrous rough-cut screening for the beancounters, the studio terminates the film's financing, forcing Marvin and Clive to mortgage their homes and panhandle from affluent relatives to complete the shoot.
Although ...And God Spoke finds obvious kinship with This is Spinal Tap and the faux docu-comedies of Spinal Tap co-perpetrator Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), its closest spiritual antecedent is another Guest film, The Big Picture, a scathing look at Hollywood from the insider perspective. ...And God Spoke isn't as consistently hilarious as anything in the Guest oeuvre, and sometimes it stretches a little too far for the humor, but it's witty, sharp, and brilliantly observed in its own right. It contains some inspired comedic moments -- Soupy Sales descending Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and a six-pack of strategically placed Coca-Cola may be the one of the funniest movie scenes I've ever witnessed. And at a snappy 82 minutes, ...And God Spoke gets in its jabs without overstaying its welcome.
Director and co-scripter Arthur Borman salts his droll film with an abundance of oblique references and subtle jibes that are best appreciated in repeat viewings. Some examples: One of the disciples in the discarded Christ-walking-on-water scene forgets to remove his spectacles for his close-up. Posters for the movie-within-a-movie are plastered on a wall adjacent to placards advertising the new CD by the alt-punk band Bad Religion. The megaphone van hawking the film cruises past the Las Vegas Church of Scientology, where the electronic marquee reads, "Tired of Losing?" Good stuff all, and it's only the tip of a pretty cool iceberg.
The performances, most of them by complete unknowns, are sublimely on-target. Stars Michael Riley and Stephen Rappaport perfectly convey the fine line between eagerness and desperation in these two men who, like true offspring of Ed Wood and the Mitchell Brothers, fancy themselves as creative geniuses when they are, in fact, no-talent schlockmeisters. (As common as this naïve perspective is among filmmakers, it never occurs among film critics. Ahem.) Memorably funny moments are turned in by Michael Hitchcock (now, interestingly enough, a regular in the Christopher Guest repertory company) as a power-grabbing assistant director with delusions of grandeur, R.C. Bates as a biker-bearded acid rock fanatic cast as The Almighty -- complete with 1950s pinup girl Betty Page tattooed on his forearm, and Fred Kaz as the washed-up actor who plays the animal-hating husband to Jan Brady's Mrs. Noah ("I never knew much about Noah's Ark. I was more acquainted with Cutty Sark."). Soupy Sales sprinkles a few nifty bits as himself. Andy Dick is on just long enough not to drive the audience to throw leftovers at the screen.
In typical Artisan fashion, ...And God Spoke receives cursory, half-hearted treatment on DVD. The full-frame transfer -- now there's a mark of crass commercialism from a film distributor -- is weak, but this is a rare instance where such shortcomings actually fit the product. ...And God Spoke is supposed to look like a cheap, made-on-the-fly documentary, and the fact that it looks shoddy is part of its charm. The center-driven stereo soundtrack delivers clean, well-articulated dialogue, which is really all this movie requires. The absence of supplemental content can be shrugged off with the recognition that this is a low-budget, special-interest title, but it sure would have been fun to track down director Borman (last seen as a story editor on such tabloid-style fare as Celebrity Mole: Hawaii and The Real Cancun) and stars Riley and Rappaport (who haven't gone on to anything worth mentioning) for an audio commentary. I'm sure there must be a few choice tales in the inspiration for this little gem.
Watch for a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo by a pre-Saturday Night Live Chris Kattan, as a movie patron with the misfortune of buying a ticket to the fictional ...And God Spoke.
As shrewdly conceived, if not quite as flawlessly executed, as This is Spinal Tap or its successors, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. All in all, ...And God Spoke makes a mirthful diversion for anyone with interest in, or insight into, the business of moviemaking. Anyone with actual experience in the entertainment industry will find this film all too real, and wickedly funny. It would make a great rental appetizer for an Oscar-night party, or in combination with other films on a similar wavelength, such as The Kid Stays in the Picture, The Player, or the aforementioned The Big Picture.
...And the Judge says, "Not guilty." Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R