He's back! The Godard of the Grotesque has a new full-length feature loaded with sex, drugs, and scatological senior citizens—and Judge Bill Gibron is mesmerized.
Sex as a Sickness
A French midget arrives in Los Angeles to write a screenplay. His narrative will revolve around an oddball who has sex with stuffed animals and makes porn movies featuring drunken frat boys partying in hotel rooms. Our small scribe takes up residence in a rundown hotel, where he meets a kind-hearted prostitute. Our streetwalker has recently broken up with her ex-cop boyfriend and has found a gullible guitar player who is willing to marry her. Still despondent over the break-up, the policeman convinces his son to leave their house and camp out in the woods. They spend their days looking at girlie magazines, smoking, and drinking. In flashbacks, we see just where the liquored-up lawman went wrong. Instead of arresting a couple of heroin-shooting gasoline thieves, he merely let them off with a warning. They later confront him and beat him up for his autographed picture of Jesus. Their crime spree causes the department undue embarrassment and, along with the bottle and the failed fling with the whore, our peace officer is a badly broken man. In the meantime, the prostitute's father fantasizes that he is having sex with an adult star named Serenity. When that proves unsatisfying, he gets a dead pig to cuddle. Eventually, he chops it up with an axe. It's just a typical day in LaLa Land and this perverted Period Piece proves that it is a city that often wallows in its own oppressive offal.
If Giuseppe Andrews is indeed a cinematic genius, Period Piece is his Short Cuts. Maybe a better way to put it is that this segmented, vignette-oriented movie is a lot like watching Paul Thomas Anderson on peyote. Proving that his previous efforts—Trailer Town, Who Flung Poo?, Dribble, and Touch Me in the Morning—were no accident, this amazing moviemaker tackles his favorite subject (sex) in a new and novel manner. Instead of using vulgarity and comedy to color his ideas, Andrews grabs naughtiness by the neck and chokes the ever-lovin' spit out of it. This is a raw, rude indictment of the physicality of fornication—a film that attempts to address the need for genital stimulation meshed with a cold, callous commentary on aging and arousal. Using his standard corps of actors (and a few new faces here and there), Andrews employs an epic scope in his exploration of Eros. Like an anarchic Altman, there are many interlocking stories here, almost too much to take upon a first viewing. But once you get past the scattered, stream-of-consciousness style, you will see how this amazing auteur finds room to deconstruct carnal concepts like phone sex, prostitution, pornography, bestiality, implied pedophilia (the constant raping of teddy bears), and the delusion of fantasy. Almost everyone in this film is functioning under the spell of sex. We see the truth behind the "characters" and it occasionally makes us sick.
Though he's listed on the cover as the "star" of this film, Andrews' staple Tyree is really secondary to the storyline. This is an ensemble effort, with many standout moments and performances. Still, Tyree is certainly an important shock value part of Andrews' ideal. Filming almost all his scenes nude, showing complete full frontal nudity, this 90-year-old novelty has a peculiar onscreen presence. We can tell he is merely mimicking the words Andrews offers him. It is part of this director's moviemaking mystique. Still, there is a genuine undercurrent of performance to what this homeless man does. He plays pathetic so well and wraps his labored line readings in enough emotional truth that we can't help but feel for this frail freak. Sure we will giggle as he crumbles pork rinds on his privates, but when he suddenly stops stuttering and places a gun to his chest, the lost look on his face is a telling treatise on how the elderly are treated. The rest of the cast is equally compelling. Like gonzo gone grotesque, Andrews uses regulars Walt Dongo and the amazing Vietnam Ron as icons to this notion of real world naughtiness. These men crave physical love, but each one has issues that would render them repugnant to others. By peeling back this sickening social scab and exposing it to the routine of reality, Period Piece attempts to humanize their need, to make it less lewd and more nauseatingly natural. Instead of prettying up their passions, Andrews gives us the warts-and-all approach.
Andrews goes another step further. By making his only female character, a prostitute, an asexual being (we never see her naked) and introducing the drug addict thieves into the mix, he juxtaposes need against nookie. While the rest of the actors are crowing about various prurient positions, we hear the deadened dimensions of jaded junkies who would rather shoot up than off. These middle-act moments, with their creative camera tricks and Barbie-doll banality (the guys get off staging their dolls in X-rated routines) are like the laughs in a human horror film. They are necessary to give the more meaningful moments bite and gravitas. Similarly, the material involving the molesting of teddy bears is an outrageous illustration of how sex destroys the innocent. The violation of a children's toy has very clear connections to the loss of virginity and the notion of adolescent maturity. Indeed, almost everything about Period Piece is a philosophical missive about misinterpreting libido for love, pain for personal connection, and desire for dreams. There is much more here than a gross-out comedy. As its title suggests, Period Piece is a specific statement about the world today. In our era of mass-marketed sex, the influence of XXX material is like an infection. Some people are drowning in the disease and these are the men that Andrews wants to champion. After all, their needs are as valid as anyone else's, they're just not as pretty, or profound, or proper.
Looking a little better than previous efforts, the transfer of Period Piece is actually pretty good. The 1.33:1 full-screen image is colorful and clean, with only minimal video defects like bleeding and flaring to be found. Unlike Touch Me in the Morning, which had a dreamlike monochrome vibe, the hues here are upfront and obvious here, making for some very memorable scenes. This is still a straight camcorder production though, and all the no-budget aspects - like limited lighting and low production value—are frequently visible. Still, Troma treats these titles better than some of their big-name offerings. Another issue of significance that usually doesn't get addressed in other reviews is Andrews's songwriting skill. In Touch Me in the Morning, there are a couple of classic scenes where the actor plays keyboards and sings touchingly twisted songs as entertainment for the elderly. In Period Piece, more of these amazing works show up to add real emotional underpinning and depth to the sequences and the performances within. The Dolby Digital Stereo setup on the DVD really does these compositions proud. The speakers spit out the tunes in musically masterful ways. The dialogue is easily discernible and the lo-fi aspects of the production provide little or no problem from an aural perspective.
Troma also packages Andrews's efforts like real works of art and adds an embarrassing amount of extra material to each new DVD. This time around, we get an interview with Giuseppe (insightful and intense), a collection of trailers, a look at Tyree spewing sex poetry from Touch Me in the Morning, and a text biography of this naughty nonagenarian. The best bonus feature though is the full-length cinematic experiment entitled Jacuzzi Rooms. Nothing more than a simple setup—four of Andrews's company getting smashed in a seedy hotel room—this improvised look at men out to party is strangely spellbinding. There are the typical taunts about penis size and sexual prowess and, with liquor involved, things soon turn violent. You can tell that Andrews stopped the drunken antics about halfway through and delivered typed pages filled with poems and elegies to keep the cast coherent. Such a scripted strategy really doesn't help. If Period Piece is a representation and rejection of sex, then Jacuzzi Rooms is a debauched denunciation of booze. Both features show Andrews moving into far more disturbing territory, with effectiveness equal to that in his comedies.
When placed up against the rest of his amazing canon, Period Piece proves difficult and obtuse. In trying to tie together several storylines and multiple characters, the gifted Giuseppe Andrews really ran the risk of losing the homemade feel of his films. While it is far more arcane in its creation than Trailer Town or Touch Me in the Morning, this is still a fantastic, if fatalistic, looks at humanity and its outer reaches. Along with Jacuzzi Rooms, we have a pair of perturbing and disturbing movies.
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