(Editor’s Note: I’m not sure who the audience for this piece is. The five people who have watched Static? If you are one of those, then welcome. I have found my people at last.)
The “Roadmap” For This Entry
A voice from the “future”: I have just read over what I have written and realized that it lacks any kind of cohesiveness. I decided to devise a list of objectives (a way of finding my own ass in the dark without a flash light).
- I am going to talk about Static (1986) as a statement on insanity. Specifically, how much “crazy” are we comfortable with in everyday life? When do we turn our backs on someone who we feel has crossed over the line from “lovably goofy” to “needing help?”
- I didn’t say this is going to be a linear list of objectives, so let me back track. Before I get to my assessment of Static, I am going to give my audience (all two of you) a look into how I select movies to write about. (Have you ever read about PT Barnum? He used to promise people they’d see a Unicorn, and it would turn out to be a goat with a cardboard cone on its head. This is going to be a bit like that.) This will naturally feed into why I chose to write about Static. I will also talk a bit about “smart blogging” and why I don’t do it.
- As I said, this isn’t linear, so: After my thoughts about insanity in Static, I will talk about why it succeeds as a film. I will use hyperbole and ballyhoo such as: “This is the great cult classic without a cult...one of the best films of the ‘80s...a film that speaks to me personally...but it should speak to everyone else too!” That sort of film nerd ejaculatory bullshit.
- There are standard things that I should include in this review. You know: plot summary and a description of the characters would be helpful. I will attempt to sprinkle that on like salt on French Fries.
- I am also going to speak more about “the script that drove me insane.” (See my Crown International entry.)
Are you still here?
The Method Behind My Madness
As I sat down to begin the “hashing out” process of this review, I had a strange and self indulgent thought. I have never explained why exactly I choose to review the movies that decorate this obscure little corner of the internet. I remember the one time I ever attempted to read Nietzshe. He wrote an entire book about why he was so clever, relevant, and insightful. Nietzshe was leaving it behind for generations to discover that: “Hey, this dude probably shouldn’t have died in obscurity with a bitchin’ case of syphilis.”
I’m not going to go as far as to write an entire book...maybe just a paragraph. So here it goes!
My philosophy for Playground of Doom is simple: I attempt to sound like the guy on the next bar stool over. The passionate film geek who has no problem pontificating on different colors of movie blood used in ‘70s Hammer Horror films. There is no reasonable explanation for why the guy cares so much about an abstract bit of minutia. You might not listen to everything he pours out of his soul. You might not agree with it. Still, you leave the joint with an odd hankering to sit down and watch The Satanic RItes of Dracula.
The opposite of that (and what I like to call “smart blogging”): Many standard movie blogs have an exceedingly narrow focus. You want to write about the films of Ingmar Bergman? That audience is now yours through the magic that is search engines. You love movies based on Stephen King Novels? The King legions will find you, and you’ll have a “successful” blog.
That doesn’t quite mesh with my man at the bar, though. He has a very personal relationship with films, and only talks about movies he gels with.
He is the blogging version of the priest in “Eleanor Rigby.” Look at him working, writing a sermon that no one will hear...
But you know what? Damn it, he made at least one person seek out Static.
Oh, this was supposed to be a review of Static. Please let me adjust accordingly and we’ll come back to that.
(I was serious before: Is anyone still reading this?)
Why I Chose to Write About Static (1986) part one
There is a reason that I went to such a painstaking effort to introduce Static. (“Painstaking effort” only looks like “avoidance,” please bare that in mind.”)
Allow me to conjure up my “character,” the man at the bar who starts to rant about Static. Here he goes:
“Have you seen Static, the Keith Gordon movie? What? You need to track that down. It’s the cult movie without a cult. One of the best films of the ‘80s...and no one has seen it. Oh, I have to tell you what it’s about? All right: here’s the pitch. This lovably goofy guy, Keith Gordon as Ernie, loses his parents in a car crash. So he develops this top secret invention: I almost don’t want to spoil it for you...but it’s a TV set that broadcasts a live signal from Heaven. He keeps hoping to see his Mommy and Daddy.
Oh, did you just check out? No, no, this isn’t some bullshit movie you see on that Religious Over the Air channel at 2 a.m. Ernie only claims that it broadcasts a clear image of Heaven. Everyone else only sees snow...or more specifically Static. There’s an inherent metaphor in the title...a crazy person is capable of seeing anything they want to. So called sane people only see ‘static.’
What do you mean you and your friend are leaving? You’re getting a drink somewhere else? I haven’t even told you about Amanda Plumber as Julia...she is (I think) an old flame of Ernie’s. Holy shit, there’s this great opening to the movie...you see, Julia is a keyboardist who flips out on stage. She just walks off in the middle of a rock concert...it’s fucking great.
Here, let me walk you to the door. I still have to tell you about Ernie’s cousin Frank, played by Bob Gunton. He is this crazy pseudo preacher! Have you ever read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood? He’s like the central character in that book; except he believes that World War III is coming. Frank lives in an honest to god bomb shelter...he gives his kids hazard suits and gas masks for Christmas.
They sit around and watch the fucking TV wearing hazard suits!
Can I at least call you sometime? I could tell you about how Static perfectly utilizes The The’s classic “This is the Day.” It’s says so much about the emotional state of the characters! Ernie is deluded enough to believe that this faulty invention will change his whole life. ‘This is the day/You’re life will surely change..’
Did I mention that he works in a goddam crucifix factory? He steals them off the assembly line! Wait, do you know the The The song?”
Our man starts to sing as the girls leave the bar:
“‘You didn’t get up this morning/Because you didn’t go to bed/You’ve been watching the whites of your eyes turn red...”
This should go without saying: our man doesn’t score...Static goes unfairly neglected...and my little blog goes unnoticed because I didn’t write a review of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3-D.
Why I Chose to Write About Static part two
You most likely get the gist of what Static is about now. The “crazy” inventor and the T.V. to Heaven is the crux of it.
We now interrupt our review for an autobiographical break:
I was working on a script about an inventor around the time I first caught Static. This was to be the blue print for my second film; I apparently hadn’t learned anything about practicality from the first one. No, I wanted to stuff the movie to the proverbial gills. “What would I do if this was the last film I ever made?” I asked myself.
The problem was the story started to bother me profoundly. There was something in the core of my being that had been vacuumed into the script. I wasn’t ready to deal with anything that primally unsettling...no, I wanted this childish dream of “making movies.” The two warring parties (the Emotional Baggage and the Dream) couldn’t seem to reconcile. That left me in a state of paralysis for finishing the script.
(I would later come to the conclusion that you need to deal with the baggage first. After that, you are safe to make the movie. The work will reflect your emotional maturity, and be all the better for it. John Lennon’s album The Plastic Ono Band is a prime example of this.)
I started to puzzle over the archetype of the “Inventor.” What is it all about? An inventor is bringing a thing to life out of thin air. That is a massive amount of responsibility. You have to be crazy for even wanting to attempt such an endeavor. You have to be even more “fucked in the head” (to use a layman’s terms) to continue to believe in your work. This is especially true when the sound and fury of your passion falls on deaf ears.
You can use the character of an inventor as a nifty metaphor. Dig a little deeper under that character and you find the Dreamer. You unearth the story of most artists. I’ll even throw in Don fucking Quixote and Warren Beatty in McCabe and Mrs Miller.
Was I pulling a Don Quixote? Was I just tilting at windmills? Was I “crazy?”
Somewhere in the haze I encountered Static. I’m not making this up: the movie found me through the innocuous Comcast On-Demand service. Do you see the question listed above this ranting? “Why did I choose Static?” The fact that this movie resonated with me has a giant something to do with it.
We now return to our regularly scheduled review.
(Are you still here? I wouldn’t blame you if you are running for the exit.)
Why I Chose to Write About Static part three
This is where I tie Eleanor Rigby, the guy at the bar, and Ernie from Static together. Yes, there is even a large portion of myself thrown in.
Static is about how and why we deem people to be “crazy.”
Take a look at how the other central characters in the film interact with Ernie.
- Julia, after her melt down on stage, explicitly asks Ernie: “Do you think I’m crazy?” Ernie is smitten, and just finds her quirks eccentric and adorable.
- Frank, Ernie’s cousin, is what we might today label a “fringe personality.” The man lives in a “World War III” shelter. I am completely confused by his rhetoric to be blatantly honest. He poses as a Bible Thumper, only to reveal the fact that he doesn’t believe in Jesus. His belief is that Jesus won’t save us from the impending World War III...and he employs the preacher act to throw people off the scent of his so-called truth. The logic is missing; but Ernie never comments on it. He still sees Frank as his best friend.
- Ernie is somewhat of a local celebrity. One of the people at the diner he eats at says: “That boy is going to be famous someday.” There’s a dark irony there because of the ending of the film. (Not to be revealed by me.)
I touched on the significance of the title. Ernie reveals his invention about half way through the film (the classic “midpoint” in screenwriting terminology). That is when his so-called “friends” abandon him. The lovable nut has gone too far to the dark side. What lead him there? Belief in his esoteric passions; mental illness is just a little bit of a side effect.
Ernie’s “community” needed him before the reveal of the invention to act as a mirror. He was a direct reflection of their own insecurities, and they loved him for it. That mainly has to do with the casting of one of cinema’s more lovably enigmatic nerds: Keith Gordon. There’s no way you can’t find him sympathetic.
What happens when the Keith Gordon/Ernie mask falls off, though? The people he was close to (Frank and Julia) can’t stand the harsh reality of what they see.
The guy at the bar, Ernie, the priest from Eleanor Rigby, and me: we should probably keep our interests to ourselves. They tell stories on us, and we start to appear a bit “touched.” Find a more mainstream hobby like Football. You’ll be better off that way.
(Really: who spends their Saturday writing over 2000 words about a film five people have seen?)
Wait, there’s more: A Few Reasons Why Static Is a Good Film
Static is a good film because of the little nuances that so easily could misfire as “pretentious.”
- There’s a small boy who lip synchs to an old country song on the diner’s Juke Box.
- Ernie gives Frank’s children nightmarish masks as a Christmas gift. Why does he feel like that’s an appropriate thing to do?
- How is Frank in a sturdy marriage? His wife is an absolutely gorgeous and stable Asian beauty.
- The wonderful scene in which Ernie goes to invite Frank to his “unveiling party.” The two men sit in the fall out shelter, surrounded by automatic weapons, and drink Tang while having a heartfelt moment.
- The haunting use of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” over the end credits. The tragic ending takes place on Christmas Day. I’m sure there’s ironic commentary there. I just haven’t deciphered what it is commentary on yet.
- The movie slowly reveals itself: You don’t know what the hell Ernie is up to Director Mark Romanek and co-writer Gordon take their sweet time to reveal all the pieces of the puzzle.
Are you still here? Would you like to see my invention? You’ll never guess what it is...
Next Up: The much anticipated (and delayed) conclusion of the Abducted saga.