Friday, October 22, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. VIII: The Devil Went Down in D.C.


"The man, the myth, the legend! The one and only Billy the Kid!"

My second favorite scene involving FuckFace. There’s something quite poignant here despite all of the douchy behavior that obscures it. We see him in his existential shades and ratty old school jacket, walking across the autumnal village green of Fraternity Row. Like a true narcissist, he stops before his old frat house and waits to be noticed. It doesn’t take long. We see the glorious welcome develop like catching fire: some kids hanging out in front of the house see him and run in to grab Troy, a towheaded North Virginia good ol’ boy who comes bounding down the steps like a welcoming warlord. Billy, wearing blue socks over his pants cuffs for some reason, runs up and they do a double-hand high-five. Everybody cheers. Billy the Kid is home again!

Cut to an action shot of FuckFace and his acolytes playing a rompin’ game of tackle football. He and Troy tumble in the dirt and then have a bromancy “just like old times moment.” Lowe’s face when he says “old times” and smiles couldn’t be more phony. You can’t help seeing him thinking about where they were all going to go out partying that night—meaning him, Judd, Emilio, Demi—and that, Yeah man, I’m famous and I’m gonna get famouser. Life is swiggity-sweet! Lemme just get my “old times” face on so we can go out and grab the brass rings that are owed us!

Fuck Face, ever testing out all the angles, tries a ham-handed attempt at charity-work—for himself: “Troy, man, I was thinking that maybe I could get a job on campus with the students. The fraternity, coaching. Anything.”

Soooo, you want a job as a “coach” for an informal pickup touch football team. Right. Uh-huh.

TROY: Oh yeah! We could use somebody like you around here, Billy!
TROY: Yeah, we need somebody to get us some good drugs, man!

WHANG ZING!! BUZZ KILL!! Billy’s reaction is classic: utter deflation. Is this all I meant to you guys? Yep. That’s why it sucks to be a guy. That’s why it sucks to be a legendary party animal. Unless one of your frat mates grows up to be Jack Kerouac and writes a bestselling novel about a character that was based on your legendary wild behavior back in the day a la Dean Moriarty, the “stories” you are racking up will evaporate, and your “bros” who once cheered you and egged you on will be looking at you in nostalgia-tinged pity from their barcalounger in their plush living room in their beautiful house whose couch your are currently crashing on after your 11th rehab stint. There’s no retirement dinner once a great party boy retires. There’s no grand speech from your successors praising your time in the sun, no gold watch, no Tiki torches. One day you just show up ready to go like you always have and you’ll hear a pipsqueak’s voice behind you, utterly unafraid of any consequences you could bring down on them: “Who let the old guy in here?”

Cut to a rather unappealing looking bald baby with a deformed head and drool smeared all over its chin, looking happily at a cheap rattle. Poor Felice is minding her young daughter: “What is that, your rattle?” she coos to the child, holding back from saying: Where is your daddy? Wasting our time again? Chasing pipe dreams? You and I have a looooot to talk about when you’re older, gal young ‘un… The bitter-lemon look she gives FuckFace is like a cornered viper – it almost looks as if she’s going to bite him. Then, out of nowhere, she drops another bomb on our boy: “Remember Ray Slater? The guy I was going out with before I met you? Well, he came by to see me yesterday. He still wants to marry me. He said he'd take care of me and Melody.”

FUCKFACE: Don't you give up on me.
FELICE: We could probably still get an annulment...
FUCKFACE: No! I'm gonna change. I'm gonna get the right job. Look, there's gonna be no more drinking. And no more women. You're not gonna believe how out of hand it's gonna be!

The fact that he used his patented phrase “out of hand” – obviously cribbed from Alfred Lord Tennyson – does not bode well for this promise, does it? It’s interesting that although the filmmakers offer our FuckFace an easy way out that any decent young man in the prime of his life wouldn’t leap on in a millisecond, he stubbornly turns it down. I mean how hard does a guy have to be hit in the face with Divine Luck before he notices it? Is this some sort of cautionary scene about the mental aftereffects of beer-bonging?


We are back with poor Mr. Kim, the “Korean gangster” whom Alec set up with FuckFace. Now – because that proved so successful – he’s let Alec talk him into talking with by far the most stable member of this privileged gaggle: “Krazy Killer Kirby” Kaeger. Meethinks after this, Mr. Kim will divest young Mr. Newberry of his thumbs.

MR. KIM: I work out of my house. You must be available 24 hours a day. Complete discretion and loyalty. $500 a week.
KIRBO: I'm your man, Mr. Kim!
MR. KIM: I must be able to trust you with my house, my car, my private affairs.
KIRBO: Look no further, Mr. Kim. I'm your man!

Kirbo, in this scene, sits next to a large potted ficus tree: both strangely sit at the exact same angle. Is Schumacher making some sort of visual pun that Mr. Kim fails to pick up on that he would be better off hiring a potted plant to look after his house than this scrubbed-cheek spiked-haired cherub in front of him?

Kirbo puts up a good front – the ladies’ underwear under his suit is probably helping – but don’t all psychos when they’re putting together their terrible secret plans for the rest of us? We think that, maybe somewhere, Mr. Kim recognizes that Kirby is like him – insane yet capable, a functioning upwardly mobile sociopath who will dominate the crooked and shadowy world of D.C. power brokers when he and the old guard are all dead. He sees himself in this pink, red haired, corn-fed jocko-homo. Perhaps Kirby could be for him what Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski was for the Gambinos, Luca Brasi was for the Corleones or Chris Partlow was for Marlo Stansfield: his personal angel of death.


Kirbo, who's obviously gotten the job, pokes his head out of Mr. Kim’s Mercedes and hisses at the snarky private chauffeur to open his door. She reluctantly does as she is told and Kirbs springs out of the car towards where Dale Biberman is walking into work, not with a dagger or poison acid or straight razor in his hand but a copy of the Wall St. Journal, because he is a lame-o.

Later, at the trial, the chauffeur will be called as a witness. Here is an exerpt from her testimony:

PROSECUTOR: What did Mr. Kaeger do then?
CHAUFFEUR: (holding hanky) Well, um, then he walked towards the deceas—uh, Miss Biberman.
PROSECUTOR: Did he have the chainsaw in his hand at that time?
DEFENSE: Objection your honor. Using the power of suggestion!
JUDGE: Sustained. Keep your mentalist tricks out of this courtroom, counselor.
PROSECUTOR: Noted, your honor. (puts away spinning hypnotism wheel) Thank you. I put it to you again, miss: what was the accused carrying in his hand when he approached the victim?
PROSECUTOR: Answer the question!
CHAUFFEUR: I’m, I’m sorry…I can’t…
PROSECUTOR: You mean you can’t, or you won’t!
DEFENSE: Objection!
JUDGE: Counselor, I’ve told you about your liberal quoting of Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which Vincent Canby of the New York Times once called “a vulgar bargain-basement teen fantasia.”
PROSECUTOR: (takes ‘I Don’t Know’ sign off his neck) I’m sorry, your honor. Now, miss, would you please tell us what Mr. Kaeger was holding in his hand when he approached the hot leggy sawbones.
CHAUFFEUR (crying copiously) I can’t, I can’t, I’m sorry…it’s just too…
PROSECUTOR: I know it’s hard…
CHAUFFEUR: …too LAME. He was holding the Wall St. Journal, folded up like he had been reading it, with a couple of articles outlined in red pen with the words ‘ask jules’ written on them.
[The courtroom gasps.]
JUDGE: Sorry. I’ll turn the heat down in here.
PROSECUTOR: And what happened next?
CHAUFFEUR: Well, uh, then Miss Biberman, said, ‘Kirby, what are you up to?’ And Mr. Kaeger told her that he had just been handpicked as special attaché to Mr. Kim Sung Ho.
PROSECUTOR: The famous Korean entrepreneur?
CHAUFFEUR: (looking both ways rapidly with her eyes) Yes, uh, “entrepreneur”….
CHAUFFEUR: So, um, she’s all ‘What about medical school?’ and he’s all ‘Foolish pipe dreams, Dale. I had to grab my financial opportunities while I could. It's all about money, right?’ and she’s all ‘Well, good luck’ and he’s all 'I'm throwing a little party at Kim's house on Saturday night. I'd like to see you there’ and she’s all ‘Thanks, Kirby. I'll try’ and he’s all ‘good deal!’…”
DEFENSE: Objection! You honor, how long do we have to stand for this? The witness is obviously regressing to some sort of tween mall-chick state…
JUDGE: Overruled. I’ll allow this, but watch yourself, counselor…
PROSECUTOR: Thank you for the leeway, your honor. In order to return our witness from her regressive state I have elected to admit to evidence exhibit C… (pulls out Dale Biberman’s skull with the doctor’s reflector cap still on it on it and shoves it in her face) ‘Why are you continuously late to this class, Mr. Spicoli? Why do you shamelessly waste my time like this?’
DEFENSE: Objection!! Your Honor!!

And so on and so on and so on…


Wendy and our man Howie are canoodling like a couple of young lovers from a Booth Tarkington novel, standing by a gleaming new lemon-yellow Chrysler LeBaron convertible. She is obviously leading him on, and he’s buying it hook, sink, and liner. Alec and Leslie, dressed for the evening, show up to meet them. Alec sees the car and asks Howie: “So does this mean that you're officially engaged?” Howie, fresh and peppy as a puppy, emotes proudly: “Yeah!” before Wend cuts him off at the balls: “No, it means I'm officially thinking about it.” Howie backs down meekly: “Uh, well...” Alec uses this as a cue for a little emotional blackmail.

ALEC: What is this, Howie? Didn't you think women were always dying to get married?


The foursome arrives at Mr. Kim’s townhouse, where a swingin’ party down the line is happening, complete with smiling Korean houseboy in a white jacket bearing a tray of bubbly. In his delusional state Kirbo has decided to completely replicate the party at which he stalked Dale Biberman. He has also apparently decided to share credit for the party with the ficus tree. Seeing as it did so well in Mr. Kim’s job interview, Kirb has decided not to see it as a competitor for Mr. Kim’s affections. It sits right next to the front door, greeting guests and taking coats.

Oh look, the chauffeur has joined in on the action, she is halfway through her revelation as a “hottie” under all of that chauffeur-wear (see also: the nerdy/hot journalist in Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes”). John Parr's "Man in Motion" plays over the scene -- again. Apparently, there is no other music for this crowd. These Washingtonians have not heard the booty-bumpin’ black DC club music called “go-go” or its signpost acts like EU ("Da Butt"), Trouble Funk ("The Devil Went Down in D.C.") and Chuck Brown ("Bustin' Loose"). If this scene plays now, of course, there’d be a little Jay-Z or Three 6 Mafia on the stere—uh, iPod.

POLITICAL PARTYIN' D.C STYLE: Marion Barry Dances to Trouble Funk

Resplendent in a rented tux with red tie and cummerbund, Kirbo has become sort of a hair-gelled version of Jay Gatsby, putting on a huge party for one person who never shows. (Daisy = Dale, get it?) FuckFace, Alec and Howie all sport the 80’s layered look, with Alec and Howie both wearing British style v-neck sweaters under their sports coats. (Are Alec and Howie brothers under the skin?) They wander past Kevin, who's busy yammering away to a bunch of underclassmen: “You are so wrong. College is a four-year delusion so you don't have to deal with reality. Hi, Les! You're lambs waiting to be slaughtered, you undergrads…” This is the crucial point of the film where Kevin becomes tiresome.

Howie and Wendy pass FuckFace, who is wearing by far the worst tie of this film: a gold lamé number that like all of his ties looks to have been taken right out of a Salvation Army bin. The three regard each other warily, like gunfighters. Wendy tries to stammer out an introduction but Howie beats her to it, saying “Howie” before she’s finished with her sentence. (This might be the only improvised moment in this film, and it’s a wonderful one amidst a Gobi desert of spontaneity.) Howie politely shakes Billy’s hand and then says nervously but commandingly: “Well, we'll see you a little later, okay?” Howie is growing some balls: Wendy’s harpie sister was right, he is a “fine young man.” Howie = 1. FuckFace = 0.

Alec wastes no time in pouncing on our boy: “Billy, I want you to know I'm not gonna be getting you any more jobs.” Billy responds in mocking turn: “Al, you're so perfect. Such a young God. You not only have the right stuff, you have the right job and the right hair. I, of course, have the wrong hair.” As he says this, he nearly bumps into his own doppelganger—if you freeze frame, they make the exact same motion at the exact same time—with the same wrong hair, the same bad fashion sense (orange Hawaiian shirt under grey linen jacket), same dickweed smile. They never know the other’s there, but they pass within inches. Creepy.

Les, Jules and Wend are standing to the side, klatching. Jules is wearing by far her worst outfit to date: a pink leather jacket with her hair crimped from a Belgian waffle iron and silver lipstick later popularized by erotic dancers in the 1990s:

JULES: Forrester said he wanted to know what I'm looking for in this relationship. So I told him love, companionship and the vice-presidency. (throws her head back and cackles like Roseanne)
WENDY: Sounds like you have your boss wrapped around your finger.
JULES: I ever tell you what he likes me to do with my finger? (puts her arm around Wendy’s neck, almost burning her with a cigarette, blows smoke in Wendy’s face)
LESLIE: How's your stepmother?
JULES: Hanging on, the old witch. I found this place in California called the Neptune Society. They just wrap her up and feed her to the sharks for $500. I just have to ship her there.

FuckFace, ever the enabler, oozes out of the crowd to lope a tentacle around Jules to pull her away for some line-snortin’.

(Note: Schumacher places Poor Howie in the background just to the left of Wendy. Initially, it looks as if he’s having a conversation with someone offscreen, but it soon turns out Howie is just standing there in the corner in his itchy green sweater and yellow shirt, gazing forlornly at Wendy as she completely ignores him. Here, Howie is cast in the same role as Myra from the homeless soup kitchen, pushed to the margins yet staring wonderingly, fascinated, by our vapid main characters. In essence, Howie and Myra are stand-ins for you and me: we are the great unwashed, and we are fascinated by the beautiful people who ignore us and treat us like the window dressings for their busy lives. It's an L.A. thing.)

Wendy has broken away from Howie – how is he faring all by himself? “Uh, no thank you, I’m allergic to paté” before sneezing all over the proffered tray – and is standing out on Mr. Kim’s brick patio. There is some sort of visual metaphor set adrift here: the patio furniture has been covered over with white tarps, which blow in the stiff autumn wind. (Interpretation: “Summer’s over kids, time to grow up and die!”) There is romance in the air, which FuckFace promptly ruins by revealing that he hocked his beloved sax to pay the phone bill and then asking Wendy if she’s “still...a virgin?” (Implication: “You did it with HOWIE rather than ME?!”) Wend finally sprouts some moxie: “That's none of your business.” Yeah, Wend! Unfortunately, she ignores the tingly sensation she feels and unconsciously squeezes her rubberized thighs together. Meanwhile, inside, Howie gets his tie caught in the bathroom door. In front of a lot of people.

Cut to a rapidly unraveling Kirbo on the phone, tracking down Miss Biberman: “Yeah, hi. By any chance, did Dale Biberman get called in on an emergency duty tonight? Okay. Thanks.” Perhaps juiced by the word “emergency”, he tries an “emergency breakthrough” usually reserved for disasters like flash floods and fires. But Dale’s roommate isn’t having it: “I want you to make another emergency breakthrough. Do you hear me? She won't release it? Did you tell her who's calling? Did you tell her I was giving a goddamn party for her?!

Kirbo slams down the phone and angrily storms out of his own party. He is now in full psychotic-break form, capable of just about anything. He passes FuckFace, who in the middle of his 11th screwdriver woozily watches him go before stumbling sloppily over to the coke-snorting table, joining Jules and a now completely hottied-out chauffeur, who as it turns out is quite the coke slut. “Make room! The kid can’t fly on one wing!” FuckFace announces as Jules hands him mirror and straw. It is here that I usually imagine a threeway between FF, Jules and the hot chauffeur. (What can I say? I'm a product of my time.) Imagine this scenario: Jules and the chauffeur and FF go to a nearby political rally for Senator Hodges the Hotel Van Buren and videotape themselves having sex and dropping X; afterwards, FuckFace passes out and Jules and the chauffeur steal his wallet and sell the tape to Meet the Press. It might look something like this:

Ah, dreams…wait, IS THAT ANOTHER GUY!?

ALEC: Quiet, please! Quiet, please! Quiet, please. Everyone! Thank you. Big Al has an announcement to make!
SARCASTIC GUY: Oh, well, now we're excited.

Kevin inadvertently invents hip-hop scratching by pulling the needle off the record, which of course, is STILL “Man in Motion,” a record which is really making the rounds of the Georgetown party circuit.

ALEC: On June 1, Leslie Hunter will do me the long, long, long-awaited honor of becoming my bride. You're all invited! Thank you very much. Howie, let's make this a double wedding.

When Alec says Leslie’s name, he almost puts his arm around Howie, who stands grinning like an idiot next to him by the fireplace. Alec, we notice, has pushes his coat sleeves up to his elbows and has removed his crème-white cashmere v-neck, indicating he is really sloshed and feelin’ silly. Leslie, who was doing party-type things like adjusting the flowers by the stereo (weaselly Kevin lurks nearby), throws a conniption. She stalks across the room with some difficulty in her tight long spinster dress and shorty boots, pulls Alec into the kitchen, where they both stand correspondingly by two sinks filled with bags of ice.

LESLIE: What's the matter with you? Cut it out! We discussed this at home. Now you completely discount me!
ALEC: (acting innocent, grinning, hands in pocket, rocking on his heels like Johnny Carson giving a monologue) I'm just trying to facilitate the marriage process.
LESLIE: You want marriage or a Christmas card with the Newberrys in front of a fireplace?
ALEC: You're afraid to commit!
LESLIE: No, I'm not afraid to commit. I have to have something for myself first before I can share it with you.*
*I’m not proud of it, but this is one of the lines I subconsciously have picked up from this film over the years and have used repeatedly in my adult life, mostly to avoid commitment. I used it for so long that I actually started believing that I came up with it; when I found out it wasn’t original, and what the source material was, I was very upset. It’s a condition peculiar to us member of the Media Cocoon generation. There’s certainly a case to be made for subliminal suggestion.

ALEC: Oh, will you just for once not use as the excuse for not marrying me your god-damn career?

This line is delivered in a classic Judd Nelson hectoring/mocking tone of voice. God, he sounds like such an exquisite asshole, and his assholeness really spikes like a fever and doesn’t let up for the rest of the film. Is this, like The Big Chill, more the tale of a young hero fallen in the eyes of his adoring college friends? Alec never becomes likable after this, not that he was that likable before… in fact, from now on, we’re referring to Alec as “Titmouse."

Still, it’s easy to imagine Bill and Hillary Clinton having this conversation sometime back when they met at Yale:

LESLIE: Fine. All right then. I have a better excuse. What are we going to do about your extracurricular love life?
TITMOUSE: What extracurricular love life?
LESLIE: Alec, come on.
TITMOUSE: What did Kevin tell you?

Similar to many moments in this film, this comes out of nowhere. Up until now we, like Titmouse, had no indication whatsoever that Leslie had caught on to his garden rompin’. It just appears – poof! – and we’re supposed to buy it. Remember us bitching about the loose plot thread of him going to work for Senator Hodges? (No? Well, we did.) How about making Titmouse’s dalliance some hot chick in Senator Hodges office, tie those two loose threads together? That way it would be more believable for Leslie to catch on without too much explanation. But explanation seems not to be what this movie’s about.

Still, there’s much to be said for Les’s approach. Turns out she didn’t really know, she suspected, and then bamboozled Titmouse, who thought he was such a hot-shit political strategist, into admitting his infidelities. Thus comes the impression that Titmouse is more pissed at her for duping him than he is at Kevin for supposedly spilling the beans. Still, he’s gotta do yet another asshole thing and rush to the living room and throw poor hapless Kevin to the ground, screaming down at him: “What did you tell her? What did you tell her?” before Leslie calmly slides the knife in and twists: “He told me nothing. It was just a hunch...until now.” Again, the poor John Parr song is scratched off the record. Must be getting pretty worn by now.

Alec has that classic moment of momentarily turning into a large uncleaned ass. Right in front of everybody. He tells Leslie with mock hurt: “I want you out of the apartment tonight.” The party starts up again. Fuckface, now thoroughly debauched and looking like Lester Bangs after a really bad night, slurs: “It's cool. It ain't a party till something gets broken.” The chauffeur, now denigrated to TOTAL coke slut, hanging on FuckFace as he announces, “We're swinging now!”

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK: Where we examine the significant fallout from Kirbo’s party and finally get to our long-delayed new feature: ‘What If This Scene Was Directed By…?’ We promise. Pinky-swear.

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