Sunday, November 30, 2008
He’s merely a man, as the title suggests. A fragile mortal, imperfect like the rest of us, subject to errors and the fickle dictations of mood. Why then do I feel obliged to offer grand sweeping hyperbole in introducing Bruce Campbell?
Deity status, a throne of beatitude, a kind of global genuflection, all are excessive children born from an attempt to convey Bruce’s brilliance. Restraint dies and a flamboyant display of tribute takes over. The murk of modesty, clearly a trait of the real man, becomes lit oblivion as quaint words evolve into epic narratives of analogy and metaphor, ending with Bruce upon a summit of reverence, shining glory downwards on a proletarian mass baying for his mercy. Alas, too soon into this game of mindless exaggeration does comicality arrive to blot out all else. Laughable, lifeless words! Meaning has no place in the stream of overstatement, a surge instigated by justifiable admiration, but left demonically possessed by superfluous gestures. Bruce is a god. Bruce is a genius. Bruce leaves my underwear steeped in the goo of lust.Add repetition and in creeps banality. Hackneyed hindrance grasps the soul, drags it to a place where circularity holds sway, the result being one’s condemnation to repetition of the same tired phrases ad infinitum.Curiously, it’s the endearing humility and incessant self-deprecation amply demonstrated by Bruce that makes him so frequent a recipient of such kudos. While appreciative, deification to this degree would no doubt cause him unease. After all, energies ought to be focused elsewhere (go and eat your Cheerios, son), be done with it, give to yourself the pleasure and resume foraging in the swamp of civilisation. Movement and action are the rightful consequences of inspiration; breathe in Bruce’s celluloid presence with a mind to use and utility. Don’t end at the beginning, Bruce’s omega appears to be an alpha the more one peers at it.But the problem remains, the idol stands worshipped and cloaked in praise.It would be disingenuous to call My Name is Bruce an exploration of this theme, some kind of ball-tightening treatise on celebrity, a filmic essay on the assumption of persona and the performativity of everyday life. It’s a comedy where Bruce Campbell plays himself. Enough said. That’s more than satisfactory to constitute a dream scenario for the numberless legions of his fans. But sadly a synopsis is built of slightly more than that and I’d hate to earn the scorn of my readers (more than I’ve already done).The small town of Gold Lick is plagued by death and destruction as an ancient monster is unwittingly unleashed by a local teenager. Young Jeff (not Fahey) witnesses his buddies’ slaughter and just about escapes himself. Thankfully Jeff is well-acquainted with the work of Bruce, being a member of the hardcore division of the fan base (DVDs of Maniac Cop and Alien Apocalypse lie scattered about his car, nestled neatly alongside copies of Fangoria, probably hugged tight against his Bubba Ho-tep t-shirt on numerous occasions). This kid decides to solicit the services of Bruce to help deal with the monster. Bruce is brought to town, but naturally dubious he considers the entire situation artifice, a mere play orchestrated by his agent. Unities must be forged if Bruce is to see past the fallacy of his foolhardy mind and defeat the evil force.Bruce’s character is himself. Or rather, Bruce’s character is Bruce Campbell, a spoiled, brash, insensitive B-movie actor who lives in a trailer and is constantly tormented by the thought of his ex-wife. Whiskey is the blood of his soul, his dog his only companion. His career lies wallowing in the pit of schlock, a place of budget-less cliché and inept actorship. A scene being filmed for a dire sci-fi flick called Cave Alien 2 is our first introduction to the man. Stilted dialogue and cheap rubber monsters abound in this unequivocal mockery of some of the real Bruce’s dodgy role choices, the past that dips into splatter pantomime, the genre pieces on which he has built his massive following.The set of Cave Alien 2 sees Bruce affect obnoxiousness and a prima donna attitude. His grandstanding and self-importance is punctuated only by the lurid sleaze tactics unleashed upon his blond co-star. Looks of distaste and snorts of contempt are universal reactions from cast and crew alike. This caricature of egotistical posturing creates out of Bruce Campbell a new figure: ‘Bruce Campbell’. Or better, Evil Dead’s Ash, lifted from fiction’s prison and employed as a B-movie actor.The stupidity (Bruce spends much of the film thinking the monster scenario an elaborate birthday gift), the callousness (a too-inquisitive fan in a wheelchair gets kicked out of shot, the squeal of a vehicular collision sounding as Bruce departs) and the cowardice (when confronted with the reality of the monster Bruce immediately runs away, leaving the local population behind to fend for itself), all are core traits of Ash. On arrival in Gold Lick, the local fanfare gets spoiled as Bruce harangues them, cantankerously complaining and poking fun at the yokel alterity each presumes. Coarse words said against the mayor prompts young Jeff into admonishing Bruce, alerting him that it is the mayor his words are being directed at, to which Bruce hilariously replies,“I don’t give a shit if he’s the king of kiss my ass!”It’s genius of this stature that impels one to soar to the highest echelons of highfalutin praise in describing Bruce. Impossible to resist, the tendency gets realised too easily. Especially when Ash-style hysterics get rolled out so often. The twofold sense of awe and expectation expressed by the local crowd harkens back to the similar reaction of the medieval peasantry in Army of Darkness. There’s even a Sheila for Bruce to fawn over.A history of cinema lives in My Name is Bruce. The obvious send-up of Bruce’s career is there, lovingly arranged on jazzy tendrils of hilarity. But there’s also an array of other allusions and inclusions. Making an appearance as Bruce’s ex-wife is Ellen Sandweiss who played Cheryl in the first Evil Dead (remember the amorous tree?). Dan Hicks, who in a former life was Jake in Evil Dead 2, plays a citizen of Gold Lick, and Timothy Patrick Quill, who was the blacksmith in Army of Darkness, plays his lover. Catchphrases from the past feature heavily, notably used to humorous effect such as when Jeff attempts to seduce a zesty nubile with the words “give me some sugar, baby.” Casual references to obscure films like Assault on Dome 4 also contribute to the creation of this marvellous bric-a-brac Bruce Campbell landscape.Super special, extreme mention needs to be reserved however for Ted Raimi. As if he wasn’t content with being the highlight of Bruce’s last directorial effort, Man with the Screaming Brain, he offers here another stunning performance. Actually, that should read performances, for he plays three roles. The snivelling agent wears the face of Ted Raimi, as does the painter charged with changing the town’s sign when a murder has occurred, updating the population figure while forever mumbling complaint at the sudden slew of work he’s been handed. Finally, and probably most amusing, he plays an old oriental gent who warns the town about the monster (a Chinese war god). Ted is one of the most underrated comedic talents working today, yet unfortunately it takes the work of either Bruce or his brother Sam Raimi for us to see him onscreen.My Name is Bruce is an audiovisual massage for the fans’ glands. It’s an eraser of sores, a shield against inferior cinema, an assassin of high-minded pretension. A nutritious aesthetic paradise wherein all expectancy is fed to laughable heights, a delightful reservoir of satiated desires. The intended audience are the owners of Running Time, the squirming bodies queuing for a repertory showing of Mindwarp, the plucky fanboy exalting the merits of Bruce’s Herbie flick. The film’s appeal is to those who need not read the words of the title to know who Bruce is – they can easily recognise the titular presence without recourse to a formal introduction.The culture is one where each reference resonates. Each in-joke contains the possibility of immense guffaws, the sort of laughter that’s a threat to the control of bodily functions. Indeed, loss of bladder control is threatened by the merest glance of Bruce’s distraught face when the scripts for Cave Alien 3 and 4 arrive in the mail, or when Bruce tries desperately to look knowledgeable about guns before the expectant eyes of the townsfolk.Cries of genius and wailed positivity, deafening acclaim and romanticised imagery, these constitute the impossibility of discussing Bruce Campbell in a modest way. The obstacles of sheer sublimity, alongside words like maestro and ubermensch, make the impossibility a permanent symptom in the analysis of his work. Yell fool at the exaggerator and he’ll point to My Name is Bruce, hurriedly mumble something about “watch it, you ballbag,” and scamper off to a mental land of Bruce Campbell decadence and sumptuous reverie. It’s the only way it can be.