Notable Reads: Level (and Revel) to Some Purpose

The Badasses of 17th Century Britain…

Whether the Ranters comprised a cohered organization of religious heretics is still under historical scrutiny, though there’s a great deal of evidence that their practices and beliefs made up among the most radical in the first decades of 17th Century British heretical movements. They cursed incessantly, they fucked whoever whenever*, wore hats in-doors and threw ‘Thou’ and their clothes to the wind whenever they damn well pleased. Principled in their antinomianism, the belief that man was not bound by the Laws or Writs of religious institutions, they anticipated a much less violent Raskolnikov by a few hundred years. It was the duty of the Ranter to sin in order to prove his liberation from such shackles, an expression of extreme and democratic individualism born of the more moderate Calvinist elect ideology. The Vice Squad par excellence; impassioned advocates of vulgar anti-statism, perhaps, but a model of early Modern social protest to be admired today. Click here for an excerpt of Abiezer Coppe’s A Fiery Flying Roll, one of the best surviving examples of Ranter thought. The document cost Coppe a long unjustified imprisonment.

*well… Maybe. Their “lascivious” character was often leveled as a slander by their moderate Parliamentary and pro-Monarchy opponents, but whatever. Only the prudish were turned off.

“Frittering Away”

“Best Worst Movie” is a Where Are They Now documentary account of the personalities behind “Troll 2,” arguably the best car crash of a B film ever made. It’s all pretty dramatic stuff. The director, Michael Stephenson, once the would-be child star pictured anguished and green above, doesn’t make much of the superlative besides the Upright Citizens Brigade-driven cult frenzy that sparked some 20 years after the film’s original release. His energies are spent instead piecing together the various ways that the film’s comically horrid reputation has played out in each of the actors’ lives since and presently.

From Stephenson’s own ironic look at his dashed childhood dreams of launching a career from a no-name Italian director’s anti-vegetarian gore fantasies to the accomplished career stage actor who, approaching 80, considered the film just another meaningless development in a life frittered away lonely and absurd, “Best Worst Movie” does much more than highlight the really, really hysterical joys of watching (and making!) bad films. With equal attention Stephenson gives us a cross section of the delusional hunger for celebrity: he himself admits this consciousness at 8 years of age, while Margo, now ostensibly schizophrenic and holed up in her self-imposed solitary confinement of caring for another unstable woman (her mother: thus visions of Grey Gardens) waxes inflationary on what “Troll 2” has meant to her: “You compare our movie to a Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart movie and it fits in. Because our movie was all about people and the experiences those people are experiencing. Just as Casablanca and those movies are about people and the experiences they are experiencing.”

I should mention here that it’s not just the nods to the Maysles’ brilliant documentary interest in loneliness and insanity – sure, solitary and completely nutty real life characters are a-plenty in “Troll 2″‘s living specimens; but Stephenson also has some keen ability to express the painful frustrations of any process of artistic production: one can never know the results in advance (the bankrolled Damien Hirsts of the world notwithstanding). Thanks to films like “Hearts of Darkness” and “My Best Fiend,” film goers can bear witness to the agony and ecstasy of great film making. Safe to say that Stephenson has given us the same picture for the worst.