Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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I hope I can do this film justice.
To tell the story of <i>The Party Crashers</i>, I think it's necessary to explain a little bit about director Phil Leirness first. I accidentally stumbled upon Leirness when I watched a movie called <i>The Story of O</i>, which he re-made and which I accidentally clicked on when I went to read about the earlier movie on IMDB. The message-boards for Phil's movies are all nearly empty, save for the comments that he himself has made on them. Despite the fact that he has directed only a handful of movies made on the cheap, several of which aren't even available in the United States, he speaks as though he is a very famous and talented filmmaker. When somebody points out that the music on his version of <i>The Story of O</i> is bad, Phil responds...
"I directed the film and I can't stand the use of music. Ordinarily, as a filmmaker, you use music to support the story. Here it seems like we used the story to support the music! Although there are times when it enhances the "fever dream" quality I wished to bring to the film, overall I was disappointed by the decisions that were made to use such repetitive music in such a wall-to-wall fashion...In my subsequent film, <i>Spectres</i>, my ideas were at least listened to, even if the choice of composer was made without my consent or consultation. If you ever see my film <i>The Party Crashers</i>, you'll see/hear quite a unique use of music."
It's adorable, the way he references his own movies and pretends to be a serious director. After laughing my way through all of Leirness' comments on IMDB, I googled his name to find out more about him. As it turns out, he has a personal website. The front page has a picture of himself as a child and a poem about the meaning of life. Within the website, he's got a list of his turn-ons and turn-offs, a blog which he has named the PL-Gazette, and there's even a place where he responds to reviews his movies have received. I'm not joking. All of this led me to cite Phil Leirness as "the holy grail of weird." I couldn't wait to watch one of his movies, immediately moving <i>The Party Crashers</i> to the top of my Netflix queue. And sure enough, it did not disappoint.
The movie is kind of an ensemble drama/comedy (Leirness is a huge fan of Robert Altman). It opens in Beverly Hills with a title card that reads: "The events in this film did not happen... Nevertheless, this is a true story."
A group of people are introduced, each one in their own scene. There's the ex-athlete with a gambling problem - he is shown wearing a windbreaker, missing a golf putt, and.. er.. gambling. There's not a lot of subtlety here. There's the actor who can't get a gig. There's the failed screenwriter (played by Leirness himself!). There's the ice skater. There's the businessman. A lot of these characters aren't really explored beyond their titles. Everybody seems to have failed at their life in some way and in order to come out on top, a plan is hatched to take an entire Hollywood party hostage. When this plan is put into action, there's an initial brief struggle. One party-goer approaches the men holding guns and bellows, "This is bullshit!" Another guest, after being told of his captors' plan to execute five people if anybody tries to call the cops, remarks: "This is the worst fucking party I ever been to."
Did I mention that everybody in the movie is gay? In the commentary for this film, Leirness makes repeated claims of heterosexuality, but always in the most peculiar ways. He looks at two of his actors and muses, "If only I weren't a heterosexual." His myspace page has his sexual orientation listed as straight. But the mannerisms that he has throughout the film are disturbingly effeminate, and the major players are always referring to each other as "lover", "sweetheart", or "cocoa-boy". In the commentary, Leirness is always calling his actors a <i>delight</i> to work with, going to great lengths to explain why he was uncomfortable filming a scene where an actress is partially nude, and repeatedly pointing out how attractive the actors are. In the movie, almost all of the actors seem clearly homosexual. The failed actor, played by Burt Bulos (who is allegedly married), holds his coffee cup in a way that is unmistakably gay. There are numerous phallic symbols (cigars, bananas, etc.) that appear throughout the movie for no good reason. This feeling that all of the characters are gay has actually led to most online synopses of the film referring to Leirness and Bulos' characters as "a gay screenwriter and his bisexual lover", in spite of the fact that the characters are not meant to be seen as homosexual. In the commentary, Leirness comments on this phenomenon. Confused as to the reason why viewers come to this conclusion, Leirness proposes this answer: "I guess because we act gay?"
At the party, the screenwriter (played by Phil Leirness) asks who the band was. A lanky man named Sid Hillman steps out from the crowd and introduces himself. "Never heard of ya," Leirness jokes, a clear dig at the singer/songwriter Sid Hillman himself. When they get the stage set up and Hillman is ready to play, Leirness is still joshing with him in a way that seems ill-fitting for a man holding another man hostage. "If this thing you're doing doesn't work out, maybe you should try comedy," Hillman shoots at Leirness (it's pretty obvious that it's not part of the plot, but rather directed toward Leirness himself). Leirness then shoves Hillman's chest in a playful, TOTALLY GAY manner and the movie proceeds to turn into a Sid Hillman music video. Here's a quote from the movie, slightly paraphrased:
MAN 1, listening to Sid Hillman: He's really good! Does he have a record contract?
MAN 2: No. Record producers don't like music with lyrics.
MAN 1: That sucks.
MAN 2: There's actually a record producer here tonight.
MAN 1: Where is he? He should hear this!
MAN 2: I know!
It is at this point in the movie's commentary that director Phil Leirness actually steps out of the booth to "take a leak". He literally leaves the room.
It just gets worse. I've seen the movie three times now, and I still can't explain to you exactly what is supposed to have happened. The movie tries to twist and double-twist on its viewers, in order to seem like a clever tale of deceit and betrayal. But it's done so poorly, with random people turning out to have been working together the entire time, even though it may make absolutely no sense with regard to anything that came before. One actor slurs through a scene, one actor is obviously reading from the script, and in one extraordinary scene, a lawyer tells the police that he can't help them because of attorney-client privilege. "What is this, some kind of lawyer bullshit?" one of the detectives asks in disbelief. With a huge goofy grin on his face and half a banana down his throat, the lawyer retorts: "S'not bullshit!"
I've run through this all too quickly. Even though they are taking an entire party hostage, one of the group of criminals gets upset when somebody radios him on a walkie-talkie: "I thought I told you never to call me here." When or where was he expecting to be called? After the screenwriter questions the quality of the party, Hillman responds (in what can ONLY be improvisation): "Well... I guess... maybe... this isn't the right party... for you." In the commentary, Leirness explains how they digitally inserted a red cup in an actor's hand to stand in for a stick of beef jerky, which they had problems with due to copyright issues. So instead of re-shooting the scene, they had to digitally insert a red cup. Of course, to be fair, they probably did not have access to the set for re-shoots, since the movie was filmed in nine days with four different locations standing in as the apartment where the bulk of the movie takes place. Leirness says in the commentary that the idea for the movie was to create a film quickly in order to get it on video and show people what he and his buddies could do. Unfortunately, as they were working on the movie, Leirness got lost in a fit of hubris and decided that the movie ought to get a wide release in theaters. Unfortunately, that didn't work out.
Oh god, and how could I forget to mention that nearly every single scene ends with a stupid quip? And how about the (again, improvised) speech that Leirness gives near the end of the film declaring himself an agent working against corporate America and its values on financial gain, because, you know, he's in it for the art man and he's making a real piece of brilliant cinema that will really <i>mean</i> something. Leirness is thankfully able to laugh at himself, though. In the commentary, he receives a phone call (real or fake?) and tells the person who called him that he is doing a commentary for <i>The Party Crashers</i>. "No, I know you've never heard of it," he says. What a depressing guy.
In response to a call for a spin-off of his movie <i>Spectres</i>, Leirness bemoans the state of the industry today: "Sadly, these films have to be financially successful (i.e. easily marketed) in order to warrant sequels!"
To make a long story short, <i>The Party Crashers</i> is a hilariously inept attempt at making a serious film. And Phil Leirness is, indeed, the gold standard for weirdness. I don't know how I did it, but I swear... I have stumbled upon greatness.