LTTP

Welcome
to the column! I’ll be appearing here on alternate Wednesdays to spread good
cheer and ruminations on classic and near-classic films with the acumen of the
mildly concussed.

The
purpose of Late to the Party is to systematically dismantle my geek credibility.
I’m one of the younger generation here at CHUD,
less experienced in the ways of the world and of women than Nick, Devin, Jeremy,
Russ, or Micah, and probably you as well; I had my first wet dream in the
nineties, since you asked, so I naturally missed out on a lot of the film
culture from the seventies and sixties. I don’t know exactly how old my
superiors here are, so I’d better throw in the fifties, too. Add to that the
fact that I grew up in a town with a population of four-thousand, with a single
cinema run with draconian ruthlessness (From Dusk ’til Dawn played for only
a single show; nobody came, because the theater-owner simultaneously ran an
intensely negative review of the film in the local paper) and the result is a guy
who spent most of his late ‘teens and young twenties frantically catching up on
everything good in the world.

In this
column, I will be exposing my shame for your amusement, as penance for the
great sin of being born later than I had any right to have been. These admissions
include such juicy tidbits as: I didn’t see John Carpenter’s The
Thing
until I was twenty-one; I was unaware of any Kubrick film other
than 2001
until 1999; and, as you’ll hear about in today’s column, it wasn’t until a
couple of weeks that I was exposed to Battle Royale. Sometimes these weaknesses
are my own fault for being so damn oblivious. I also think that somebody has
written the world "gullible" on the ceiling, while we’re cataloguing
my failings.

As a wee
babe in arms, I accept your derision, sensei,
and beg for education. Write me at iandonnell@gmail.com
or visit our forums to discuss what
steps I ought to have taken to get born earlier.

Battle Royale

I first
heard about the subject of today’s column from a meathead colleague my freshman
year at college. I was standing in line for the lunch room, friendless and
possessing poor taste in fashion. The girl in front of me wore a turtleneck
that, combined with her weight, actually did a good job of making her look like
a turtle. In front of her stood two giants, baseball caps on at strange angles.
I couldn’t see their faces, except occasionally in profile, so I forever
remember them as Nostrils and Lips. One had a nose fit for spelunking in, and
the other a pair of big, rubbery lips that looked too clumsy to fit around
anything much more complicated than "hungry" and "horny."

Nostrils
spent some time scanning the dining hall. "Fuck," he announced. I
wondered if there was going to be more. "Could take ‘em all out."

"Yuh,"
said Lips. "That’s what I keep thinking now, most places since I seen
that."

They went
on, one-upping each other on weapons they would get a hold of. Because I’m an
optimist, and my standards are low, I muttered, "Sounds like someone just
saw Lord
of the Flies
," to the Turtle.

"God,
I hated that book. But they’re talking about some Japanese movie the guys in my
hall watched last night. Battle Royale or something."

Two
thoughts got me: the first was "mayonnaise," because I had just seen Pulp
Fiction
the week previous (a story for another column); the second was
that the movie adaptation of Lord of the Flies really sucked.
More important matters took precedence over this strange introduction to
Japanese cinema, namely that Turtle went off and sat with Lips and Nostrils, at
some sort of hall dinner thing, and I got to sit next to the kitchen by the
overflowing trash can. A food fight broke out. I got hit with a banana. Nobody
died, though, so the movie must not have had that big of an impression on Lips
and Nostrils.

It’s
glancing blows with films like this that all too often color my experiences as
a moviegoer. Confronted with recommendations of Battle Royale from
friends, I’d either shrug indifference, reliving the wet slap of the ripe
banana; or I’d outright lie and say I’d seen it, but didn’t really dig the
thing.

Part of
the reason I struck on this idea for a column is that such a weight of films
ignored, forgotten, or passed on can build up like teenage angst and dribble
out at the most inopportune times. As I write this, I’m listening to The Cure,
and you can bet I’m wearing mascara. It’s important to have good outlets.
Thanks for attending my therapy.

I didn’t
grab Battle
Royale
a couple weeks ago because I felt guilty, though I did give a
pointless and misdirected apology to the girl ringing up the sale. I had to
pick the disc up because I’m building a fort out of dystopian cinema, and I
needed another parapet. Before gluing it in place, I gave the film a look-see.
With headphones on, because my wife says sustained Japanese makes her head hurt.

My
hopeless flirting with Turtle turned out to have been spot-on. Battle
Royale
really is a lot like Lord of the Flies, with its spontaneous
society predicated on violence. I was immediately hooked. There’s nothing
approaching literary majesty in the dialogue or the scenario, but the simple
expressions of combative cross purposes makes for something immediately
accessible, and at least mildly rewarding to the highfalutin’ viewers out
there.

I’ve been
known to falute pretty damn highly around here, which is why I’m pleased as a
kick in the crotch to admit that I love Battle Royale because it depicts
violence among children. It’s awesome when kids kill each other. I don’t even
mean that facetiously. I’m a big fan of myths and folk tales, because they
feature children — half-formed individuals — confronted with galvanizing
situations, events that completely fuck them up and force them to carve out the
remainder of their characters. Pan’s Labyrinth is a fine example of
this type of story; Ender’s Game is another.

There’s
something mysteriously compelling, for me, about children being thrust into
situations that our societies have evolved to protect them from. The buffer of
society ensures the survival of all our children: the stupid, the heartless,
the dicks, the liars, and all the nice ones who would have died out in caveman
days. Battle Royale strips that buffer out entirely. It’s a stark,
thin plot, which results in nothing approaching the oddly tender moralizing of
both of the examples above. If the film had a world that provided more than
vague oppression, perhaps there would have been some room for a bit of story
memorable beyond the hook.

As it
stands, Battle Royale could have slipped out with the title Humanity
113: Intro to Growing the Fuck Up
. It’s got none of the depth of my
favorite child-ruining epics, but on the other hand it’s got way the hell more
satisfying fight scenes and cute Japanese girls. Also ugly ones, but hey, it’s
a microcosm of society, after all.

So,
what’d I miss? My college professors always told me to read a text through
twice before discussing it in class. I’ll squeeze another viewing of the film
in before I get picketed for harboring ill-will to precious babies. Educate me!