Wednesday 4 January 2023

La farándula (1998)

Director: Cristian Cancho
Writer: Cristian Cancho
Stars: Erick García, Fanny Labbé, Karla Aquije and Daniël Schoonenboom

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

La farándula, which means Showbiz in Peru, where it was made, is the epitome of the movie that you won’t believe exists. While you might assume that’s because of what happens within it, given that this is basically a porn flick acted out entirely by Barbie and Ken dolls, I’d call out the hour long running time as even more unlikely. I can imagine filmmakers with the intense discipline needed to animate an hour’s worth of stop motion with Barbie dolls, because it’s been done before and with more nuance; Todd Haynes used that technique in Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story so that he could progressively shave down the title character’s doll during the movie to illustrate her raging anorexia. I can also imagine filmmakers sitting around the mancave, probably drunk, laughing about how funny it would be to make a porno with Barbies, but never actually doing so because, hey, we’re all out of beer and we have to be at Walmart for the early shift at nine. Is that the time? The wife’s going to kill me.

The thing is that I wouldn’t have expected any crossover between those two sets of filmmakers but there’s apparently one down in South America. In fact, this isn’t the first South American adult stop motion animated Barbie movie to cross my path, because I first heard about an Argentinean short film from 2002 called Barbie Can Also Be Sad. This was apparently broadcast on television in Brazil but eventually fell afoul of Mattel, the company that manufactures Barbie. They obtained a court order to prevent it being shown at the Urban-Fest film festival in Mexico City, pushing it underground where Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story had grown into such a cult success, after Richard Carpenter sued Haynes for copyright infringement and got the film withdrawn from circulation. This is the longest of the three films and easily the most outrageous, given just how much Cristian Cancho crams in to his hour. That’s one good reason to cover it here, with another in the hilariously broken English subtitles. “You may uncomb my hair with one fart.”

In this film, Barbie and Ken start out together, but don’t stay that way very long. She’s in the bath when we first meet her, covered in soap and imagining how her holes will be stretched when she finally marries Ken and allows him to have sex with her. He walks right in and tries to convince her to do that right now because he’s horny, but she’s having none of it and so their relationship ends there and then. Fortunately, they both have other options. Ken goes to a whorehouse, Las Cucardilas, but can’t even get any from a nymphomaniac whore (“Hello, I’m whore,” says Miloo). Instead, he ends up raped outside by José Carlos Cruz Cruz and his gang of gay wrestlers. Now he’s a bloody mess, left in a gutter for his friends to find. Barbie, on the other hand, goes to a big concert with a bevy of friends, all of whom have exactly one thing on their mind and are blissfully unafraid to talk about it. These girls are enough to make a sailor blush. No wonder all the voice actors are laughing their heads off during the end credits!

I should add that, given how depraved this film ends up getting, the most surprising thing to me is the diversity of the soundtrack. I honestly can’t name another film with music this varied and that’s a surreal overlay to the action. Hilariously, my son wandered in within twenty seconds of my starting this movie because he wanted to know what we were watching that had Exodus’s Pleasures of the Flesh on its soundtrack. I can’t imagine that, even if Cancho had permission to use Peruvian rock ‘n’ roll outfit, Melchormalo, he had rights to use anyone else’s music, whether that be the Tornadoes or Sepultura, the Bee Gees or Ozzy Osbourne, the New Kids on the Block or the Lunachicks, the Righteous Brothers or Ennio Morricone, the Eurythmics or Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, those wacky musicians from the Star Wars cantina. I’m sure the global megacorps who own all that music are about as happy with it being used in Peruvian Barbie porno movies as Mattel is in providing the cast members, which is to say not at all.

I bring up the wild soundtrack because everyone ends up at the concert and I’m trying to imagine its particular line-up making any sense anywhere in the world. The opening act is Body Count, with the fact that a doll was painted black to represent Ice T somehow less offensive than his striped Waldo shirt. After that, it’s apparently the Red Hot Chili Pepper, because only Anthony Kiedis is there from that band, even though he goes all out to make up for the lack of the rest of them, not only wandering on stage naked but for a famously placed sock but ejaculating onto a girl in the audience for good measure. Then it’s Jem. Yes, that’s the cartoon singer Jem, with her recognisable packaging as a backdrop, even though the subtitles have called her Yem throughout. Finally, it’s Donnie from the New Kids, who’s a popular guy in Peru, it seems, if mostly in gay porn circles. He gets quite the story arc here, albeit with less of a stage presence and more of a presence in between Ken and what looks like a modified Samuel L. Jackson doll in a sex sandwich.

The budget is much higher than I thought it would be, given that the club includes an actual crowd. Maybe the crew spent a month of prep raiding thrift stores for whatever dolls they could find and shoehorned them into the script. Of course, I’m sure the dolls in the queue outside are the dolls stagediving inside and they ended up painted black for the bookends with Shaka Zúlu and his army of south seas cannibals (“Germans?” “Forget it, he’s rolling.”) That’s still a lot of dolls though. Heck, we realise how many dolls they must have found by watching five minutes of end credits featuring individual voice actors playing individual characters with their own recognisable dolls. Frankly, I was most impressed with the animated eyes and lips, because these dolls blink and talk far better than I’d have expected for a project like this. I’ve seen a lot worse on Cartoon Network and in this millennium too! I’d suggest that Robot Chicken didn’t feature mouth movements this efficient and that didn’t come along for another seven years.

Talking of Robot Chicken, this trawls its net far wider than Donnie Wahlberg’s gay orgies, because there’s an actual story in play here and parts of it appear rather like what that show might consider if Cartoon Network was willing to sanction it. For instance, over in the cemetery, Ken’s buddy Pete unwisely pisses on the grave of Jason Voorhees, which I hadn’t even realised was in Peru. This may just be a generic magic showbusiness cemetery, though, because his gravemates include Elvis, Caligula and some dude called Lucio Cabro, who brings up zero hits on Google when I search for him. Anyway, Jason rises from the grave and seeks out Pete, who’s now paying Manuela to be his girlfriend. She thinks he’s ugly and wants him to get lost, but screws him anyway because we’re firmly in porn film logic here and everyone screws everyone in porn films whether they like each other or not. Pete is so popular that, in the subtitles, he’s only ever referred to as “the jerk of Pete”. And Jason stabs him with a spear mid-thrust. Pete, that is. Well, both.

Now, nobody else notices because Manuela separated from the other girls at the concert. All the others went back to Angie’s place to get their freak on with their giant spiked dildos, which is not remotely the reason why this is one of the most outrageous scenes in the movie. Sure, we’re coming off (pun well and truly not intended) Ken and Donnie from the New Kids letting Guillermo join in on their trip round the lazy susan, even though he’s apparently Donnie’s antebellum slave who can’t speak a name without putting “Master” in front of it. But Dorella has invited Chela and Rasputin, Chela being another nympho friend and Rasputin being Chela’s horse. Yeah, you heard right. I think I learned a lot in this scene, if mostly about how hard it is to frame an orgy with a horse in an aspect ratio of 4:3. No wonder there weren’t any bestiality orgies in Hollywood movies of the twenties and thirties. Why does it all have to be about the Production Code? Sometimes, legs are just too long to fit in the frame!

Anyway, I promised you a story. The other strand of that, in between the debauched sex scenes, is Ken going to see Barbie because he wants one more chance. We know how serious he isn’t, because, when Barbie leaves because of some temporary mystery crisis, he immediately tries it on with her cousin Wendy from Miami, who caught his eye when she opened the door. Now, Wendy is only thirteen, so when he gets her high and has her play in his pants, we’re suddenly in kiddie porn territory. They promptly go upstairs so that he can play Papa Smurf with her and the soundtrack switches to Urge Overkill’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, which may take the absolute biscuit for inappropriately appropriate. And Barbie’s right there when Ken goes downstairs so his goose is cooked. The next time they meet will be in a courtroom, because she’s going to have him up on statutory rape, and we’re going to turn not only into courtroom drama but social commentary too, because Donnie’s lawyer got Michael Jackson off. In a manner of speaking.

At this point, I actually started wondering how much of what I was seeing was bona fide social commentary and how much was just Cancho’s script being as outrageous as it could be. Does the inclusion of a Troll doll at the Dragon where Ken meets with his lawyer, Miguel Villaseca, mean anything? There was a South Park style animated character earlier, so the same question there! Does it mean anything that Villaseca has trained his dog to give oral sex, or, when it doesn’t step up to service Ken, he does instead? As we know that Ken and his buddies are lowlifes anyway, is there meaning to their funeral for Pete when they set fire to his corpse and pee on his head? Is there a reason why the guys watch The X-Files in a Metallica filled bedroom? Above all, is there any social commentary to be found in the finalé with Ken being gang raped on a pole by an entire island of cannibals, all while King Kong wanders about in the background, presumably wondering if he’s going to join the queue. Revenge for colonialism, maybe? Karma for the ape!

Maybe not. Maybe the only social commentary here is in the way that the beautiful people believe they can get away with anything. Ken doesn’t have any regrets about anything he’s done and firmly believes that all his problems can be made to go away by simply throwing the right lawyer at them. He only fails because the judge bizarrely turns out to be Wendy’s dad and the forensic report on Jason Voorhees’s spear comes in, which he’d touched, and so he’s lumped with double homicide for good measure. Even with life imprisonment handed down, he’s still unrepentant, merely waiting for his lawyer to slip a judicious five grand to the right guard so he can sneak away. If I’m reading this correctly, it may actually take the intervention of Superman to restore the balance of karma, downing his plane on the cannibal island so that we can be sure he’ll spend his days getting shafted. And yet, even there, Ken wins because he frickin’ enjoys it. Given how gay Ken turns out to be, why was he ever with Barbie in the first place?

This is a surprisingly watchable movie, though sex scenes are even more boring (pun not intended) when they’re made with Barbie dolls. This ends up being a transgressive comedy as much as anything else, the sort of thing that would likely grab stoned attention if played in the background at a college party. Sure, most would see it as a Robot Chicken ripoff, not realising that it predates it, but it would still play well in that scenario, I’d think, especially as this has the added benefit of hilarious subtitles just in case the volume’s turned down so nobody can hear the unexpected use of theme tunes from Bonanza and Hawaii Five-O or Nino Rota’s Love Theme from The Godfather in a Peruvian Barbie porno. Sure, this would lose an entire dimension without sound, but it would still remain quite a conversation piece and the subtitles only add to that. I need to hire the translator of “Oh, yes, some buttheads bring him down and bang gang him” and “Yes indeed, nigger guy and don't forget to to dream with my butt” to subtitle every Saturday morning cartoon.

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