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Monday, August 13, 2012

What I gained from The Movie Orgy

Posted By on 08.13.12 at 04:54 PM

War babies versus the locust
  • War babies versus the locust
If I had to pick a defining segment of Joe Dante's The Movie Orgy—which played to an elated full house at the Nightingale on Saturday—it would be the part that uses images of U.S. soldiers hunting giant locusts to illustrate a 60s pop song called "War Baby." Occurring somewhere in the third or fourth hour (it's hard to keep track), the sequence brings together two of Orgy's major subjects, 50s sci-fi and U.S. jingoism, in such a way that each one seems a reflection on the other. The song is a cheesy rock ballad that describes American intervention in Vietnam as a continuation of our nation's duty in World War II—a bastardization of youth culture that likely fooled no one but has a decent chorus all the same. The images come from a 1957 schlockfest called Beginning of the End (which, like much of Orgy's source material, later wound up on Mystery Science Theater 3000).

Both present the U.S. military in thoroughly unrealistic terms, conjuring a fantasy of invincible might trouncing unworldly evil. Yet the conflation feels less campy than the two elements might feel on their own: though the audience laughed throughout Saturday's screening, they were dead silent for this segment. This has to do, I think, with the totality of the sequence—the music and pictures reinforce a single misguided sensibility—and with its place within Orgy's epic collage. Before this juncture, the movie had presented clips of military propaganda as well as snatches of Beginning of the End; bringing them together suggests, deviously, that the latter may be an agent of the former. In this context, the difference between a pro-military fantasy of soldiers gunning down giant bugs and the pro-military fantasy of Vietnam War recruitment ads is only a difference in kind.

Dante would make similar arguments in his later Matinee (1993) and Small Soldiers (1998), but he wouldn't again make such a blatant antiwar statement until his 2005 TV movie Homecoming. On second thought, maybe The Movie Orgy isn't "antiwar" so much as "pro-peace," turning film exhibition into a party where strangers come together in good cheer and laugh at old images together. Everyone seemed to be having a great time at Saturday's screening—including Dante himself, who stood modestly at the back of the room for the first few hours, possibly recalling the days of showing the work at college campuses. True to the work's come-as-you-are message, different viewers laughed at different details throughout the night: the consistent bursts of sound evoked a fireworks display.

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