Spout Mavens Disc #14, Part 6 of 13: Shorts! Volume 3 - Loose Ends (2003)

Director: Stig Svendsen
Norwegian, 9 minutes, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

A scene that I did not mention the other day in my piece on My Name is Yu Ming was one in which the titular character, a Chinese man who has learned Gaelic in order to seek a new and hopefully more fulfilling existence in Ireland (a course which he has suggested to himself entirely at random), engages in an impersonation of an iconic movie scene. Yu Ming, his face covered by cream as he shaves in front of his bathroom mirror, begins to perform De Niro's "You talkin' to me?" scene from Taxi Driver, repeating the famous lines in his newly learned second language, though after he does four or five bits, he drops the tough guy act and snickers nerdishly at the mirror, handily amused with his lonely antics.

I started to wonder then as to whether a character in Yu Ming's circumstances and location would have not only actually had the chance to see Taxi Driver, but whether that sequence has quite the same impact dubbed into another language, where it is no longer De Niro verbally acting the part. My musing then broke down into whether, if Yu Ming had indeed seen Taxi Driver, it was as a bootleg via the black market, or then, if not, if the film were even available legally in his country. In Ireland, where My Name is Yu Ming was made, certainly it is available, and the English version would naturally carry over and play well the same there. It was the inclusion of China into the equation that had me musing.

I didn't think much about this film scene that comments on yet another film scene until I watched the sixth film on the Shorts! Volume 3 DVD collection, Loose Ends, a couple of days later. Where Yu Ming only fleetingly (and without real consequence) nodded at American pop culture, this nine-minute comic Norwegian short practically wallows in it. Having recently watched Simon Pegg's Spaced for the first (and second and third) time, I couldn't held but reflect upon it when confronted with Loose Ends' pair of Star Wars-obsessed supergeeks, who start an epic battle (though always of modest proportions) over whether E.T.s belong in the Star Wars universe.

Their geekitude is proven by their abilities to delve into such battle not over the better films in the Star Wars series, but over the worst one instead. But I myself shall not continue the debate, nor will I give away much more in the short, as pretty much the entire piece depends on how they play off the various permutations of this running feud. This includes the punchline, which I find personally a little underwhelming, though when I first watched it, the bit did warrant a chuckle on my part, as it did my girlfriend, who is herself a tad obsessive over the series, when I showed it to her later. At that point, though, I was past the chuckling stage over the ending, and had moved on to wondering where the rest of the Clerks-style Norwegian comedy classic, out of which this short seems to have wandered, could be. Two loser geeks rambling smartly but to little positive effect about minor details in Star Wars movies? Sounds like Nordic Kevin Smith to me, especially with a lot of Ås waddling about the place.

I am still unsure about whether the title Loose Ends really works for this film, as I really don't see anything in the commonly accepted though ambiguous area of loose ends in it, nor is anything really left unresolved, nor is it Norwegian porn -- gay, straight or transgendered -- so it certainly couldn't stand for anything in that area. The title most definitely didn't prepare me for the fact that I would smacked straight off in the face with jokes about Jar Jar Binks and the slow, careful loading of an E.T. Pez dispenser. But, like the Yu Ming scene, Loose Ends set me immediately into wondering about the prevalence of American pop culture throughout the globe. Not so much about the effects of such prevalence, because I really don't care, and am, in fact, more concerned about the effects on our own country, and only regarding those things for which I hold distaste if not outright disdain.

I do not doubt that someone will take me to task for considering the Star Wars films wholly American as they were filmed to a great extent in England, Tunisia and points elsewhere, and with an international cast to boot. But, production-wise and creator-wise, they are just as American as Lucas' Graffiti, though if it helps matters for the nitpickers (with whom I would often fall into rank), we could just speak of this as English-speaking culture and be done with it.
In the end, we have a series of science fiction/fantasy films (let's not start that argument here) that are wildly popular throughout the world, are referenced constantly in American culture in all forms of media, and now, apparently, have inspired a Norwegian filmmaker to create his own slacker comedy short built around the incidental appearances of characters from other American films or from films in the same series which take place years in the future apart from the films under discussion (The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith).

That this became the subject of the film's dialogue charmed me from the start of Loose Ends, chiefly because I was not expecting it, especially from two guys (one of whom, unsurprisingly, is named Lars) driving through some undefined backstretch of the Norwegian road system in the middle of the night. I doubt if the subject were anything else of actual Scandinavian origin that I would have been drawn so quickly into the film. (Well, any subject except for lutefisk... that is so frightening and noxious a concept, that any film attempting to explain its supposed appeal has got to be fascinating straight through.) Suddenly, I am watching two fellows from a foreign land having a conversation that I could just as easily have with any of my own friends here in the States. And probably have had at some point.

But the film, perhaps befitting the shabbiness of its choice of Star Wars flicks, is only an amusing trifle and the initial charm starts to wear off before the conclusion. Even in a home where I am surrounded by Harryhausen posters, Universal Monster models and Bruce Campbell knick-knacks, geek culture grows increasingly thin with me the longer I am exposed to it through the voices or actions of others outside myself. It's the main reason I have yet to actually venture to Comic-Con, even though I live not that far away. It's the main reason I have only been in a comic shop twice in the last three years. And it's also the reason I have yet to attend a film festival down here. Perhaps it stems from a self-loathing, and I don't wish to be reminded of that which I have become, a person who has been sucked into a vortex of comics, music, toys and videos from which I know no reasonable escape. Not to say that I do not enjoy my trappings nor continue to add to my various collections. But I also recognize that perhaps with a little bit of self-restraint, I might have a real home now, instead of a massive pile of what largely boils down to nothing but paper and plastic representing junk culture crammed into an increasingly crowded apartment. Who knows what I might have done with the money I would have saved over the past 25 years? I might have done something bigger than just blowing wads of cash attempting to complete my Fantastic Four collection (which I never actually did) or tracking down those elusive Cowboy Bebop soundtrack import CDs (which were subsequently swiped from me). At least Yu Ming knew enough to cut his geek foray off after a couple of Gaelic-translated Travis Bickle lines.

And now you know why I am reluctant to be concerned about how our culture is affecting the rest of the world. Sometimes, I think they can just have it. And the Norwegians can certainly keep The Phantom Menace if they wish...

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