Bruce Vs. the Uppity Pricks: Bruce Campbell LIVE at the NuArt, Saturday, December 20, 2008, Pt. I

Onstage at the NuArt Theatre in Los Angeles, Bruce Campbell referred to the New York Times movie critics, as a whole, as “uppity pricks.”

While I myself read the Times reviewers somewhat thoroughly each and every week, and particularly like A.O. Scott’s writing, I found it hard not to agree. Knowing full well that Campbell was referring to a recent nose-thumbing by someone on that paper towards Campbell’s latest directorial, producing and acting effort, the obsessively self-referential My Name is Bruce, I was pretty certain of the attitude that the review likely took.

Sure enough, returning home that evening and checking out the squat, barely five-paragraph long review from a few weeks back (which I somehow missed, and which therefore adds a touch of truth to my previous phrase “somewhat thoroughly”), I found an article titled “The Evil Dumb” and a statement from writer Stephen Holden which basically posits that My Name is Bruce, a low-budget meta-B-movie venture is the type of film that “only a cultist could love.”

Setting aside for a moment that I am a charter member of the Bruce Campbell cult (anyone that saw the first Evil Dead in a theatre in its initial year of release has immediate and inextinguishable membership), I toss back, softball-style so you cannot possibly miss it, this question: what’s so wrong with that?

We are now (and have been for quite some time) in an age where one trend is replaced without hesitation by the next trend, almost without society taking even the slightest breath before each new indulgence in mass hysteria. The current indulgence is for a film titled Twilight and its source material, a series of books built around a breathlessly romantic, awkwardly family-valued and ultimately phony take on vampirism (though really, aren't most takes on vampirism technically phony? At least, in the sense that we are dealing with myth and fiction for the most part, excluding those in our "real" world who have somehow become convinced that they require blood for sustenance). The media does their job, and then the rest of the world sits by while a couple million randy teenage girls obsessed with promise rings and the perfectly coiffed boyfriend finger one out to thoughts of the glistening, fangy Edward Cullen remaining oh-so-true to his little Bella. And sure, critics such as those at the New York Times pretty much trash such a film in the same manner that Holden dismisses Campbell's far less openly commercial effort, and without really attempting to understand either cult. If there is an attempt to do so, it is usually on the side of the more commercial effort so that they can wring a few extra name-dropping articles out of the film (even if they trash it) so they can sell a few extra papers. That's fine. It's the newspaper game, and I do not fault them for it. But please make some small attempt to recognize or at least understand smaller cults such as Campbell's before telling the remainder of the world to not bother because you just won't get it unless you are a fan.

If a film is made, and without a single shred of doubt, is clearly created precisely to amuse (and simultaneously administer a loving backslap at) the admittedly goofy cultists of the Bruce Campbell camp (amongst whom Jen and I will forever firmly align ourselves), and then this film satisfies the bulk of them in some arcane fashion, is that not some small form of success, however downgraded some might consider it? Certainly I found some fault and one major annoyance within the film, but given that he filmed most of it on his own property on a relative micro-budget, and also given that the film is so purposefully shaggy and self-deprecating, I honestly could see that, if such a film were viewed by those largely unknowing of Campbell's talents, they might actually come to love the big lug like the rest of us. If, do to my cultism concerning Mr. Campbell, you think that perhaps I am not the best person to be judging anything he has created, then you are probably not aware of the main thrust of this blog, which is for myself to remain frightfully honest at all times in these pieces. This includes rating films like My Name Is Bruce appropriately and truthfully, despite my prejudices either for or against the creators of said film as I enter the theatre.

If you go on to IMDB and check out the page for My Name Is Bruce, you will find (at the time I wrote this) that about 3947 people have combined forces to give the film an overall rating of 7.4, which is pretty high on the IMDB scale of things, given that films like The Godfather and Citizen Kane end up around 9.0 or thereabouts as a maximum out of 10, thanks to IMDB's weighted ratings system, which is meant to balance out such occurrences as when a rash of Bruce Campbell or Twilight fans log in and then go apeshit with the "10" ratings. Likewise with people who seethingly hate either one and dole out nothing but "1" ratings as their only way of punishing a bunch of movie people who they insist have slighted them in some way, either by time, money or general overexposure. Either form of fanaticism does no good for anyone who is seeking a balanced look at a movie which they might be tempted to see, and IMDB seeks to even things out with their weighted ratings system. However balanced, 7.5 is pretty damn high for a movie that is not necessarily even close to being as well-made as the bulk of films that end up in that vaunted 7.4 range, so perhaps the weight of the system hasn't really served its purpose to its fully extent in this case. At least, not yet. But setting aside all ideas of Campbell fanaticism, tossing out those tens on our own since surely all of those people are members of Holden's proposed (and assumedly noxious and despicable to the likes of him) Campbell cult, perhaps such a high rating is a sign that there are people are actually getting the film. Is it possible that a film that supposedly only cultists could love could actually be approachable and --gasp! -- found enjoyable by someone who is not necessarily of that ilk? Yikes!!! How could such a mistake be made when the Times has so clearly put forth the notion that to the opposite degree?

I have no specimens with which I might prove this theory, so further experimentation cannot possibly occur at this time. There were only two of us there in the theatre within our personal acquaintance, and those two were us. But I do not find it far-fetched to imagine someone being talked into tagging along to one of Bruce Campbell's theatrical tour stops promoting his newest venture - say, perhaps, the NuArt Theatre on a Saturday night in December? -- perhaps on a date or in a group of earnest pals already converted to the cult, and, with perhaps little or no knowledge of what they are about to see, still leaving out the front entrance of the theatre after two hours having enjoyed the film.

Most likely this would be largely due to Campbell, who, even when he is acting the immense prick -- or perhaps because he is, as this character is his stock-in-trade -- is one charming em-effer. There is a reason he has the cult that he does, and it has little to do with the overall quality of the films or shows in which he has plied his trade. Certainly, for some it could definitely be a factor; some people just love crappy B-movies and that's that. But I would warrant a guess that the vast majority of his fans were created through his performances in the Evil Dead films, and probably another chunk came about from his time on TV as Brisco County, Jr., Autolycus and Jack of All Trades. And, currently, with the huge success of his latest show, Burn Notice, he is undoubtably gathering a collection of new converts to his ever-growing cult.

Here's the deal, and probably the biggest reason that puts the lie to what Holden says: Campbell, in no matter which type of film he appears, big-budget or mediocre, A, B or Grade Z... Bruce Campbell, the actor, does solid work. He usually doesn't play things straight, and the vast majority of his work is without a single doubt in the tongue-in-cheek vein. But he can play it straight if called upon, and he does the smirking, winking, smarmy thing like Miles on the trumpet. Even in what would seem to be such a limited area of expertise, there is a subtle range on display. Yes, he has been in a lot of outright garbage, and most of his fans genuinely wish for him to be in bigger and better films, just as the man himself no doubt would prefer. But the bulk of his fans will eagerly sit through that outright garbage, straight-to-video crap like Moontrap and Alien Apocalypse, just waiting for Campbell to appear in more mainstream, big-budget fare like the Spider-Man trilogy and The Hudsucker Proxy (even if there is a certain form of "pal nepotism" involved in them). However he gets the parts, there is no doubt that Campbell takes full advantage of the big-screen exposure. Or even small-screen exposure. Whatever he appears in, his fans recognize that he is there for them... to entertain them. And, because he gives quality in even the goofiest trash, that them is growing larger all the time.

That Campbell takes the time to trash the Times onstage during an end-of-film Q&A session is a clear sign that this is definitely a man who takes personal umbrage at being written off completely as a B-movie hack by critics at large. And, despite holding outwardly such an air of self-deprecation within the film, he can still be hurt, as anyone would, if something they have poured their time, money and hard work into is dismissed blankly by those that theoreticaly hold a certain amount of critical sway over those who attend the movies.

Of course, then we might be talking about the types of movies that cultists don't necessarily love, and it was with a huge crowd of cultists that Jen and I found ourselves aligned and in line with a couple of Saturdays ago, when we all wrapped around the side and down the alley behind the NuArt Theatre in L.A. to meet our hero, Bruce Campbell. And when we left the film, did we, even as bona fide cultists of the Campbell variety, find ourselves loving such a movie? You know, the type of movie that only cultists could love?

(To be continued...)

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