Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Vicar Visits the Duchy: or, FAQ You, Buddy!

Wherein the Vicar and the Duke discuss the reasons behind this blog, amongst other topics of great import and interest to the common movie-going rabble.

The Vicar of VHS arrived fashionably late for his appointment with the Duke of DVD, the iron-banded wheels of his carriage ringing like bells as the coach crossed the drawbridge and shuddered to a halt in front of a studded oaken door that was old when the Inquisitors knocked politely centuries ago. The Vicar, resplendent in his mantle of office and his peaked pontifical cap, pulled his fur-lined cloak about his shoulders as he edged through the laboriously opening panel. The Duke, dressed in purple velvet knee-breeches and a jaunty waistcoat over a ruffled silken blouse, his fingers glittering with sapphires and emeralds, held out his hands to his old friend as the door slammed ominously behind them.

"Good evening, Duke!" said the Vicar. "What a pleasure to come in from the cold to the warmth of your ancestral home once again. And may I complement you on the new portcullis! I bet that cost you more than a few ducats, no?"

“A mere pittance my good man," the Duke tut-tutted. "Please, come in! Have a seat! It has been too long.”

As the Vicar fell back into an overstuffed leather-bound chair, an albino raven perched on top of its high back ruffled its feathers and uttered a single word: “Life.” A hooded servant entered silently through a hidden door; he prostrated himself next to each chair, offering a tray laden with goblets of an 1807 port. The Vicar and the Duke shared a silent swirl and a nose followed by a sip. Finally the Duke turned to the Vicar and says:

“Vicar, there is a question I have been mulling of late when the moon is full and unnameable creatures wander the battlements. Why is it that we love movies which some mere mortals would refer to as 'bad'?”

“A fascinating question, Duke, and one which I have had occasion to consider recently. You remember young Stellan Skwingelflinglockenspiel, son of the late Deacon? Well, after Mass last week he approached the altar, a query of great import furrowing his young brow, instilling his features with a care beyond his years. I put him at ease and finally he came out with it. ‘Vicar,’ he said, ‘I don’t see why the congregation should waste its time with crap like Paul Naschy and obscure Italian giallo and shot-on-video relics from the previous century. After all, we could be edifying our movie-going souls with stuff like Scorcese, Spielberg, Kubrick, Michael Bay! Wouldn’t that be better than this…this trash?’ “ The Vicar laughed. “He's a saucy young rogue, just like his departed father! Hah!”

The holy man sipped his palm-warmed port. “Of course I immediately had him excommunicated and thrown into the Crypt of Horror.”

“A just punishment for such heresy, no doubt,” opined the Duke, turning to place his goblet upon the back of a kneeling servant. “I recall some five years ago, when as you’ll remember I journeyed into the south of Romania, to a small village called Ravenholm, in search of a rare Naschy film entitled Una Libélula para cada Muerto, which I had reason to believe was in the possession of a rather rotund bandit leader in those parts. After overseeing the, um, pacifying of the town’s populace, and after selecting a few juicy morsels from the parade of young virgins that had been arranged for me by my men, I began to ponder what makes us, nay drives us to go to such lengths for movies considered lesser by others.”

The Duke paused here, not for dramatic weight but because a female servant, wearing only the sheerest gauze gown, the backlighting exposing her naked silhoutte in the style of a black and white Bava film, had silently entered the room. She turned on her heels in front of The Duke and bent at the waist fully, her hands clasping her ankles. The Duke leaned forward and, without touching her, used the back of his hand to test the warmth wafting from her loins. Cupping his hand, he scooped the air toward his nose, inhaling her base scent. “You will do well, return to the others,” said the Duke to her. “Anyway, I believe it must have something to do with the art, as it were, of creating something from nothing. A comparative nothing to be sure, for how can a budget of mere hundreds of thousands stack up to one of hundreds of millions?”

“You strike deep into the bowels of the problem, as always, my dear Duke, but also probe and prod about the sphincter of the solution. I refer you to the doctrine of the Glorious Failure, which I elucidated at length in my last revision of the Holy Texts. To wit, ‘It is better to reach for the stars and miss, than to strive for a pile of crap and attain it.’ What so many fail to appreciate in the so-called trash films we love is the artistic drive behind them, the sheer power of will and effort that got them made and distributed in the first place.

"These filmmakers are men and women who had a vision, a dream, and did not let anything deter them. They may have lacked the equipment, the funds, or yes, even the basic talent needed to realize their perfect visions fully, but still they let no obstacle stand in their way. There’s something nakedly admirable in that, if properly appreciated."

“Indeed!" laughed the Duke, leaning forward in his chair like a schoolboy offered a candied plum. "To coin another maxim, I always prefer a fascinating failure to a boring success."

“And the ideas these filmmakers pursued!" enthused the Vicar. "Some were no doubt ordinary folks, but now and then we discover primitive geniuses, even madmen! Filmmakers whose passion and determination suddenly arrests you with one successful image or scene, one idea that tears at the very fabric of your mind! I find such discoveries so much more rewarding than basking in the expected excellence of a multi-million dollar blockbuster. I’m sure you can think of corroborating examples. The cinema of the esteemed Mr. Marins, for instance.”

The Duke steepled his fingers and pursed his lips slightly while nodding sagely at the wizened Vicar. “Yes, you bring up many valid points. I am drawn back again to the wisdom expressed in your series of lectures for the University of Dunny On The Wode entitled “A Pelican Shat In My Hand: Observations On The Decline of Western Civilization” in which you regarded societies love for all things hollow as nothing more than an attempt to reconcile their already hollow existences. This can be applied to film as well, in which the Michael Bays of the world throw in heaps of masturbatory CGI effects to distract us from the fact that their films have no soul, no substance. The films of Herr Marins, for instance, and despite their low budgets, are infused with so much blackened soul that one can scarcely stand the awesome drifting about the theater in waves.”

“Indeed. And furthermore I—
Here the Vicar paused, noticing that the servant serving as his footstool had dared to lift his eyes from the stone block on which his nose should rest. He brought a polished hard leather heel down on the base of the rogue’s skull, and all was again as it should be. “As I was saying, I don’t mean to imply that one shouldn’t watch the films of Stanley Kubrick, Larry Clark, and the esteemed and venerable Herr Herzog. These men, and other men and women like them, are true artists and give the intelligent filmgoer something to challenge the mind and infuse the soul. I only mean to say that enjoyment of their artistry should not be so damnably exclusive! Because I love Aguirre: Wrath of God, does that mean I should denigrate the imaginative buffet of entertainment that is Scream Bloody Murder? I think not. There is no virtue, in my view, in refusing to allow oneself to be entertained.”

The Duke nodded. “Truer words have never been spoken. I believe the crux of the issue at hand is the fact that the typical, um, cattle don’t allow themselves to be entertained except by that which has already been defined as acceptable fare. Anything deemed deviant by the so-called glitterati instantly becomes a focus for inhibition of enjoyment. I’m sure that you would agree that films by such gods as Marins, Naschy and Lloyd Kaufman evoke enjoyment and enlightenment on many different planes, be they intentionally 'bad' cinematic techniques or through simple mistake on the part of an earnest filmmaker.”

The Duke let his hand trail downward, sweeping through a low-rise basin filled with gypsy tears, the soothing touch brought a slight smile to his face. Neither man so much as flinched as a sudden bestial roar from outside a nearby window reverberated throughout the chamber, causing a priceless vase to fall from its perch, only to be caught before it hit the floor by a mute servant, who silently replaced it before resuming his position by the door. The Duke’s face assumed a thoughtful expression as he flicked the tears from his fingertips. “I think you could also agree that any movie that brings things to such a crescendo of awesome as to be epic in every way, discounting its peasant beginnings, is worthy of praise, no?”

“Indeed. With the so-called ‘lesser’ films one sometimes has to work with the director, meet the writer more than halfway, forgive (nay, celebrate!) countless continuity flubs and bits of incidental idiocy, not only suspend one’s disbelief but send it hurtling into orbit! But let it not be said that I am a fancy-pants afraid of such work. No, I find that in most films, if you’re open to them, there will always be something that will make you smile, shriek, shudder, or laugh out loud in ridicule. But whether you’re celebrating the admirable ambition of a less-than-talented dreamer, reveling in the sleazy exploitation images of a perverted madman, or guffawing at the ineptitude of a bumbling buffoon, are you not still entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”

The Vicar’s brow darkened, and his lips curled into a sneer. “Of course, there are those that just don’t even try. And that, my friend, is unforgivable. In fact, I tell you that in my church there is only one unpardonable sin, only one commandment that must not be broken.” He stood, stretching his arms out Christ-like, and intoned so deeply that the bare nipples of all the servants in the castle, both male and female, were hardened with the vibrations of his mellifluous voice:

“Thou mayest be stupid. Thou mayest be clumsy. Thou mayest be a bad writer or inept cameraman. Yea, all these indulgences I grant unto thee. But children, heed my words: THOU SHALT NOT BE BORING.

He relaxed and sat down again, leaving the servants quivering like so many inchoate heaps of raspberry Jell-O. “Passion is necessary. If the filmmaker cares, it shows. If he does not, it blows.”

The Vicar glanced at the antique grandfather clock near the fireplace, its gilded wooden gears oiled with the blood of extinct reptiles. “I must be returning to the vicarage soon. However, let us agree to inform each other of each new ‘bad’ movie discovery we make, and to expose its entertainments—intentional or not—to your subjects and my congregation. After all, the latest blockbuster needs no pimping from us, as a thousand bubble-headed town criers will sing their purchased praise from the very rooftops; we need not add our voice to those. And a well-considered masterpiece—Herzog’s latest, or Michael Moore’s Sicko, for instance, similarly needs not our approval to bolster its success. But these gems buried in the mire, these diamonds in the swamp of obscurity, these glorious failures and unsung successes—the people must be told.”

And with that the Vicar rose swiftly and joined arm-in-arm with the Duke. They swept through the door and down the stone walk, or so it appears to be at first glance--though here and there an up-turned “stone” reveals itself one of the actual human skulls upon which they tread. They chatted amicably, as old friends do, about various trivialities, such as the availability of a fabric woven from the strands of a rare blonde baboon from lower Mongolia, and the lapis lazuli-encrusted pitchfork that the Vicar had gifted to the Fel-Guard Captain who had foiled an assassination attempt last Brumalia. Arriving at the Vicar’s ebon coach, the Duke bid farewell and pivoted smoothly in a swirl of ermine and scarlet to return to his keep, as the Vicar’s coach sped off into the night, pulled forward by a cadre of undead horses.


Tenebrous Kate said...

There is so much, so right about this post--it warms the cockles of my black little heart. I am fully prepared to promote the Doctrine of the Glorious Failure. Vicar, Duke--I salute you.


The Vicar of VHS said...


It's a pleasure and an honor to be able to count you as a subject! You're obviously a woman of refinement and taste. :) Feel free to drop by the Duchy or the Vicarage anytime.

Make that the Vicarage. The Duchy is a silly place... ;)

flightless said...

Bravo. I feel unworthy even to comment upon a blog post of such scintillating wit and ribald refinement.

Ashton Lamont said...

what a sexily superb site gentlemen! i salute you!

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