God must love Gionata Zarantonello. Divine intervention must have been at work on behalf of this first-time Italian filmmaker, because I can think of no other way that a film this inept could have been picked up for international distribution.
Just how bad is Medley? Imagine if Herschell Gordon Lewis had teamed up with Ed Wood to make The Breakfast Club. Now imagine if Herschell and Ed had gotten baked out of their skulls for the duration of the shoot.
"Wow, Bryan," you're probably saying. "That would have to be just about the worst movie ever made, huh?"
No. That movie would be awful, to be sure, but it would be a towering cinematic achievement in comparison to Medley.
That's right, it's that bad. But it's not bad in the way you might be thinking. There are different modes of bad. As Tolstoy once said, "All happy families resemble each other, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and their children make films that are awful in their own ways." I'm paraphrasing. My point is, there are films that are bad because they're crass, cynical, joyless exercises in commercial emptiness, made by talentless hacks whose only love is for the quick buck.
But every once in a while, there comes a film that is crafted with love, born out of the creative fire of one filmmaker's grand vision, every ounce of the artist's passion shimmering on the screen. You watch this film and you want to cry, both out of admiration for the indomitable artistic spirit…and out of pity that so much effort has been wasted in the service of something so utterly unwatchable.
Medley is one of these films.
Unleashed upon the DVD world by the Troma team (but not itself a Troma production), Medley is a surreal day-in-the-life of a typical Italian high school. The episodic plot consists of brief vignettes depicting routine school events, such as shooting sprees, stabbings, the torture and murder of teachers, and classroom suicides—the kind of thing we all remember fondly from our own high school days. Watching this movie, I was filled with nostalgia for my years at Sunny Hills High, when kids would abruptly stab teachers in the neck with broken rulers and then smear the expanding pool of blood around the desktop with their fingers. Oh, the laughs we shared!
Watching Medley, one might get the impression that the film was little more than a string of disconnected scenes of random violence. But no, there's also a theme at work here. And that theme, as expressed by Zarantonello on the director's commentary track, is "school sucks." In the event that less astute viewers don't grasp that theme right away, Zarantonello makes sure to present his point with as little subtlety or restraint as possible. Having grotesque caricatures of teachers spout lines like "You're worthless excrement!" and "You are lazy and weak!" over and over…and over…leaves little doubt as to this director's position vis a vis the Italian educational system.
Zarantonello is also quite anxious that we don't get the wrong idea about his intentions in making Medley. Because the sight of students bringing briefcases filled with machine guns to school might lead us to believe this is a docudrama, the director includes helpful framing shots in which a mime presents and closes the story, so we know it's a fantasy. (Yes, I said "mime." And it is the worst possible kind of mime: an unironic mime.)
The danger inherent in panning a lousy movie is that it might tempt some contrarian readers to actually seek it out, in hopes of a kitschy wallow in "so bad it's" good-ness. While there is certainly ample kitsch to be found here, viewers looking for a typical Troma cheesefest on the order of The Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke 'Em High will find the laughs melting all too quickly into silent tedium. It's not entertainingly awful. It's simply inept and boring.
Zarantonello, in the fine tradition of Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez, made Medley on a miniscule budget with a bunch of friends from school, shortly after his own graduation. So the film is a kind of senior yearbook, which is sweet, but it also has all the mawkish excess of senior yearbook poetry. The teens Zarantonello uses as his cast, himself included, exude far more spirit than talent, and as a result the film, which aspires to the horror/comedy genre, comes off as neither horrific nor comic. At least, not intentionally so. What it really looks like is a home video of some kids playing with guns. That's the extent of this movie's impact.
As one would expect from a microbudget guerilla film (according to the director's production notes on his website—at least from what I could glean, since the site is in Italian—Medley was shot on Hi8 video and transferred to 35mm film), Medley's production values are atrocious. The effects are cheap and amateurish, about what you'd get from raiding your local Halloween costume shop, and aren't served well by the blurry, washed-out video. One could make a case that the look of the film is a plus, since it does add some verité grit to the proceedings, but it's not enough to elevate this abysmal effort. Audio is…present. And presented in its full tinny, badly-dubbed glory in Dolby Digital 2.0, much to Dolby Laboratories' chagrin, I'm sure.
As with most Troma releases, there are plenty of extras to be found on this disc. First up is a filmed introduction by Troma czar Lloyd Kaufman which, annoyingly, plays automatically when you start the film and cannot be skipped past or fast-forwarded through. Also on the disc are a brief interview with Zarantonello, an amiable and articulate young man; a "Toxie in Italy" docu-short that covers Kaufman's trip to Italy—where he was apparently decked by director Pupi Avati not long after presenting him with a DVD copy of Maniac Nurses ("Lloyd quickly took back his copy of Maniac Nurses," we're told); and a short film entitled "Radiation March" that features leotard-clad ladies expressing their positions on air pollution via an interpretive dance. There's also a screen-specific commentary track by Zarantonello, whose passion for his intensely personal project is only slightly dimmed by the mediocrity unfolding onscreen.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for Citizen Toxie, The Hall Monitor, Angel Negro, and Jefftowne. Easter eggs (plural) are advertised, but I found only one, which can be accessed by navigating to the trailers page and clicking on the photo.
As much as I hated Medley—it's easily the worst film or DVD I've seen in recent memory—I can't extend that dislike to the film's eager young director. Zarantonello has made an atrocious film, but he's also made an earnest and, in its own unique way, artistically ambitious film. It at least has something to say, which is more than can be said for many entries in this genre. And though this first effort may be an abject failure, there are a few sporadic moments that offer reason to hope. Given a reasonable budget, a competent crew, and a cast with a shred of ability, Zarantonello might just have a decent film career in him. If nothing else, he has a promising future as Italy's answer to Ed Wood.
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Scales of Justice
• Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman
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