Denial: “They’re not really doing this, right? No, surely even they wouldn’t dare…”
Anger: “YOU CORRUPT, ARROGANT SONS-OF-*****! WHEN I GET A HOLD OF YOU…”
Realism: “Yeah, what’d you expect? These are the great ones of this world; the people who sell their souls for the power to impose their brain-dead views on everyone else. They aren’t tolerating any kind of serious opposition for long. Welcome to the modern world.”
Despair: “Nothing matters: I’m done with this whole system. I mean, not as if any of us can do anything about it anyway it seems.”
Jewish: “I am never going to stop making mean, sarcastic comments about this…”
It’s nearly Lent, which means it’s carnival time, so let’s take a look at how meat is made. Though whether this will make you want to go to town on the remaining flesh products or become a vegetarian is an open question, I suppose.
The short opens with brothers Brad and Greg seeing a long train of Hormel cars and deciding that they would like to go on a tour of the meat processing plant to see hog carcasses being broken down (“Dear Brad and Greg, what the hell is wrong with you?”). From there, we mostly leave the boys behind while the narrator takes us through the creation of everything from ham to spam and beyond.
Did I mention the short is thirty minutes long? Thirty minutes of industrial meat processing. Among other highlights, we get to see raw processed wiener filler (“at this point our lawyers no longer allow us to refer to this as ‘food'”), meat grinders in full action, clearly unhappy workers operating in close proximity to extremely sharp instruments, and a loving close-up of a cow carcass being skinned (“The tail! The horrible tail!”). Then, when they run out of meat, the short keeps going to talk about other aspects of the business, such as R and D or accounting.
Basically, Hormel wanted to show everything they had to offer, whether in products or jobs or tours (apparently, that was a thing; they end by inviting the viewer to come on one). And boy, do they ever.
Meanwhile, the narrator blithely engages in so many accidental double-entendres (“the wieners are discharged onto a larger conveyor”) that, even in a film like this, I can’t help wondering if it was intentional on someone’s part.
The crew are in top form for the chance to play Upton Sinclair, and the jokes practically write themselves for most of the short (to the point where Kevin actually gets flustered by the sheer number of jokes he could be making at several points. See above regarding the double-entendres). The raw horror of disassembly and the frankly revolting appearance of half-processed meats in an industrial atmosphere, coupled with the narrator’s upbeat tone, make for a mesmerizing spectacle and, quite frankly, the guys’ sincere revulsion makes it all the funnier (the nightmare that is the Hide Cellar would go on to become one of their stock jokes).
I will say that the jokes start to fall off a little toward the end, as the meat processing is increasingly left behind and we ramble on about mechanical trades and such, but it’s amusing throughout and the jokes in the first three-quarters are so funny that the overall effect isn’t really spoiled.
And, like most such educational films, it is kind of interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of industrial food presentation, unappetizing though it is. I mean, Brad and Greg asking to go on tour is as strange as ever (as is the the question of why the filmmakers felt the need for this thin framing story), but it’s still a glimpse at a process that most of us never see, but which has a real impact on our lives. Our world is so complex that most of us see only the merest fraction of the things we depend on for basic necessities. A film like this pulls back the curtain a little, for better or for worse.
Find the Beef here.
Some Favorite jokes:
“Back to the pork-cut, the story of bacon.”
“The greatest story ever told!”
“We do get a few hands, I won’t lie.”
“Thousands of automated needle injections per minute: just like grandma used to make it!”
“…And little Brad and Greg just can’t stop puking.”
“These units are capable of printing and reading.”
“Unlike the average high-school grad.”
“You don’t get fired at Hormel, you get relocated to the Hide Cellar.”
P.S. I just had the idea for a musical remake centered around a cover of ‘This is Me’ from The Greatest Showman:
“Meat is good
Meat is swell
The Hide Cellar’s a living hell
This is Hormel!”
Since I’ve been preoccupied with job-hunting and related issues lately, I thought this week we’d take a look at Coronet’s (yep, them again) film on How to Keep a Job.
Meet Ed, an ‘ambitious’ young man who is laid off from his current job and sets about applying for another one. At his interview, he proceeds to bad-mouth his old company while trying to evade admitting that he was fired. The Riffers point out the flaws in his thinking pretty quickly:
“It wasn’t my fault: the company just up and started firing people.”
“And for some reason they started with you?”
Fortunately for Ed, his interview exists in an educational short, and so the manager, thinking (inexplicably) that Ed might amount to something, proceeds to tell him the story of Bob and his twin brother Walter, who demonstrate the dos and don’ts of keeping a job. Bob gets started right to work easy, Walter puts off his work until the last possible moment. Bob spends his office downtime catching up on work, Walter wastes time. Bob focuses on his job, Walter bad mouths the company to anyone who’ll listen (“What can Brown resentfully do for you?”).
As usual, Coronet makes some good points in a somewhat heavy-handed and corny manner. In this case, the points are rather nuanced when you look at them. For instance, they point out that it’s not so much a question of being actually fired as that, sooner or later, every company has to cut down staff, and when that time comes it’s going to be the people who do the bare minimum acceptable work, rather than making themselves particularly valuable, who get the axe first (“Fire both and outsource it for pennies”). They also show that bad-mouthing your current company does you no favors either in your present job or in applying for another one.
Of course, the Goofus and Gallant-style storyline, as well as the whiney protagonist make for a lot of rich riffing material. Among others, there’s a running gag of the twins hiring strippers, jokes on the business world, and some gags dealing with the substandard state of the film print itself (“Sorry I time traveled real quick there”:
“Make yourself so valuable the employer can’t let you go.”
“Paint your whole body with pure gold!”
“I didn’t do anything; why fire me?”
“I think you just answered your own question.”
“I’m just kidding: that suggestion box is really a shredder.”
“No system! And no one in charge with enough brains to start one.”
“Shouldn’t have put the Scarecrow in charge.”
“A company has to operate within its income.”
“No one’s gonna bail them out if…oh.”
There’s also a great call-back to the earlier short This is Hormel (“I’m going to show you a room we call ‘the Hide Cellar'”),which was about some kids who request to take a tour of a meat disassembly plant and get to see cattle carcasses being graphically skinned and processed (no, honestly; that’s what it’s about). We will definitely be covering that one sooner or later.
In any case, this is a very enjoyable short, and, like many Coronet films, actually gives useful advice that you can take in while laughing at the jokes. Check it out and make your job secure!
I mean, unless the company decides it’s cheaper to outsource it to the other side of the planet after your union insisted on making it prohibitively expensive in order to justify their own existence, which they did because neither of them could possibly care less about you.
But that’s a topic for another time.
I thought we’d do something a little more ambitious this week; our first feature length Rifftrax. While the shorts are fun and tasty, it’s the feature films that are Rifftrax’s bread and butter, as with Mst3k before it. Among other releases, they periodically do live shows with the guys riffing on films up on stage before an audience. These often lend a whole new level of fun to the proceedings.
Like most of their live performances this show comes with an introductory short, in this case an odd bit of ’60s…something called What Is Nothing? (“a film about the actual content of a Michael Bay movie?”), which has two young boys discussing the title question. I don’t know why anyone would make a film about two eight year olds having an extended philosophical discussion about the nature of non-existence, but they did. I mean, who would be the target audience for this? When would this film ever be shown? I get the impression that the filmmakers were largely as stoned as these kids appear to be (Kevin speculates the kids wrote the last two seasons of Lost).
The pointless faux-philosophic musings naturally makes for great fun from the Rifftrax crew, and a strong opening act to the main event.
It’s followed by a pair of short cartoons narrated and written by the five-year-old daughter of an internet animator. They don’t even bother riffing the cartoons as they’re too insane and (obviously) childish to even need it; the stream-of consciousness child storytelling is enough (though the second one features a cartoon Jesus prominently and in ridiculous situations, which is kind of uncomfortable, despite this being a child’s imagining. They’re easy to skip, though).
The main feature is, of course, Jack the Giant Killer, a 1962 fantasy adventure film that is very clearly trying to cash in on the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Apparently, producer Edward Small had been one of the potential backers Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer had pitched that film to, but had turned them down. After it became a huge hit, Small belatedly tried to make a duplicate film for himself, right down to hiring the same director and two of the same stars (Kerwin Matthews and Torin Thatcher) playing essentially the same roles they played in the earlier film.
One thing it doesn’t share is Ray Harryhausen’s special effects. Instead the effects are provided by a crew of less prestigious names, including fellow stop-motion artist Jim Danforth (who eventually collaborated with Harryhausen on Clash of the Titans). The results dramatically illustrate just why Harryhausen remains so respected in the field. There are a lot of special effects in this film, of many different varieties; a bunch of stop-motion creatures, lots of matting on the witches and ghosts, and plenty of 2-D animation on the magical spells and such. The sheer scale is rather impressive, but unfortunately the effects are pretty lackluster for the most part. The stop motion figures look very rubbery and generally have lame designs (in stark contrast to Harryhausen’s intricately detailed and solid-looking creations), as well as being very jerky in their movements. The matting is pretty terrible for the most part, especially the witches’ assault on the ship, which goes on for a long time and is just rough to look at, with its deep blue filter and negative color animation (though the creature design on the witches is pretty good). The giants are very, very clearly inspired by the cyclopses from Sinbad, right down to the satyr legs (“Oh, thank God; he carries his own pants”). And the 2-D animation is nothing short of embarrassing at times.
The plot of the film is also much less engaging than Sinbad, revolving around the evil wizard’s plot to take over the Kingdom of Cornwall by turning the princess into a witch (“And Lady Gaga is born!” “Born this way, of course”) and forcing the king to abdicate so that he can rule from behind the scenes, raising way too many questions about how this whole witch thing works in this world. In Sinbad it was nicely straightforward: the sorcerer wants his lamp back, greedy for its power, so manipulates Sinbad into taking him to the island by putting a spell on the princess. Also, the genie is more than a plot point, but serves as both a useful ally and occasion for Sinbad and the princess to show their nobility in contrast with the sorcerer by taking the chance to set him free, despite still needing his help. His equivalent here, a leprechaun in a bottle, is only a device to get Jack through his obstacles (Sinbad was also much less dependent on the genie), and isn’t released until after the heroes are already safe.
All in all, it might be an interesting study to examine why Sinbad works so well and this film doesn’t. Not that it’s terrible really; there’s certainly enough going on that you don’t get bored, and the fairy tale story is enjoyable at least. If nothing else, the film commits wholly to its fantasy tone and setting. Torin Thatcher is particularly enjoyable to watch, of course, hamming it up with as much gusto as before (though without the charisma and character of the earlier role). His sidekick Garna (played by veteran character actor Walter Burke) is even more fun, and whenever the two of them are on screen it’s a wonder there’s any scenery left.
It’s evident that the Riffers are enjoying the film as much as mocking it. It’s a light-hearted, innocent romp that’s hard to dislike for all its faults. They have a lot of fun mocking the absurdities at hand, or obsessing over minor details (“Herla the Wizard is dead?! No!”). The riffing remains strong throughout, while the film itself is entertaining enough to keep your attention. Among other running gags are naming one prominent witch ‘Phil,’ imagining Sigurd the Viking cheerfully telling tales of pillaging and murder (“And my favorite part was the women weeping while we disemboweled their husbands.” “I don’t like spending time with you!”), and gags on how annoying and repulsive they find the imp in the bottle (“Even the leprechaun from Leprechaun thought this was offensive!”). As usual the monsters are given hilarious voices and dialogue (“So, ‘Giant Killer.’ Family name, I assume?”). The Riffers perfected their ‘monster’ voice back in Mst3k, and it’s pretty much remained unchanged since: a kind of high, nasal rasp that just makes every line funnier.
The film is just so crazy by the end that it doesn’t take much riffing, to the point where they speculate that the girl from the opening cartoons may have written it.
A few other favorite riffs:
-“Text from Admiral Ackbar: says ‘It’s a…’ eh, I’ll read it later.”
-“If we knew that, we would know what to do.” “Well, thanks! You’re fired.”
-“Avast and whatho the scuppers! I’ve got no idea what I’m sayin’ lads.”
-“I knew we should have used mortar to build our castle instead of pure evil!”
Overall, this is one of my favorites of the live shows; the audience reactions lend an extra sense of watching the show with an enthusiastic company. The fact that the Riffers occasionally flub their lines and improvise freely adds to the good-natured tone of the whole thing: the guys don’t take themselves too seriously and it’s all just about having fun. If you’d like to branch out into longer-form Rifftrax content, this is a good place to start.
This week’s offering takes us back to the affluent, synthesized world of the 1980s to learn the truth behind common misconceptions of shoplifting. Like most of these shorts, it’s actually makes a pretty good point, though while being melodramatic and heavy-handed, which makes for a good combination for the Rifftrax crew.
The short depicts a few different characters (only two of them are actually connected, which admittedly makes the short less contrived than it might otherwise have been if they all knew each other) as they experience the myths of shoplifting (“Is that the one where Hercules picks up a 7-11?”). Among these mythes are that no one gets caught, nothing happens if you do, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and so on. It’s actually rather effective despite the melodramatic tone. The bit where the kid’s parents are called to the store to pick him up does a particularly good job of conveying the discomfort of the situation. It’s followed by a nice bit of the boy telling his friend (who was trying to laugh the situation off) that the worst part was “I felt like a thief.” (“Wait, felt like a thief? You were a thief. Hey, come back here!”).
Incidentally, the boy is Black, the son of two obviously middle-class parents who lay into him when they find out he was stealing, taking the store’s side one hundred percent and pointing out that the kid had no excuse to be doing that. Race is a topic I tend to avoid, since I find it incredibly tedious and I think most of the rhetoric surrounding it is painfully stupid, but to dip in for the moment, it seems to me that this is the kind of thing you don’t see very often anymore. The kid is just presented as a kid; not as a representative of a social class bearing the weight of x, y, and z issues. Same thing with the young woman who loses out on a job when they find out she was picked up for shoplifting as a teenager (“Prepare to live a life haunted by scarves and calculators”). Meanwhile, several of the police and security guards on display are also Black, just mixed in with the other characters. And this is in an extremely casual, educational film from the 1980s (this tallies with my experience of other films of the era, which, by modern standards, were incredibly relaxed about race. They didn’t ignore it, but they tended to relegate it to a secondary issue at best, behind, well things like ethics and the storyline at hand. So…good job with that, intervening years).
Anyway, leaving that aside, this is one of those shorts that is interesting in itself, but very funny for the riffing. The guys glean a lot of humor from the unimpressive leads (“We’re going to turn you over to the Nerd Crimes division”) and the subject matter itself (“Tough place; I’d better tell my cellmate I stole a graphing calculator”). They have fun taking the melodrama to the extreme (“Skulls of the shoplifters are displayed as a reminder”) and on the idea that the merchandise is probably not even worth the effort to begin with. Overall, the humor complements the short very well, letting the message play through while turning it to comedy (“Do you offer a five finger discount?”). The short is competently done enough to be engaging (including giving a realistically stupid portrayal of rebellious teenagers, like when one kid is more excited about having been arrested than concerned about the effect it’ll have on his future), while the Riffers inject supporting humor throughout (“Alright; on to my embezzlement hearing!”).
In short, a fun, engaging little flick enlivened by strong riffing making for another solid short from Rifftrax.
One of the hundreds of educational films made by Coronet (not an exaggeration, by the way), this is kind of a special case. Typically, these ’50s educational shorts are centered around basically ordinary, blandly decent kids dealing with a single, common problem (how to ask a girl out, being shy, etc.). Not this one! This one has an actively unpleasant, selfish, and moronic young man at its center.
Meet Jeff; a bow-tie wearing high schooler chasing the ideal of popularity. He does this by paying close attention to his wardrobe (“thank you, unmonitored clothing drive drop-off box!”), pinning up a photo of the football captain (but apparently not actually observing his behavior, to judge by his late-game realization that the guy does none of the things that he’s been trying), and dating a girl he admits he isn’t all that attracted to, but who everyone likes, all while daydreaming about how many people would want to be his friend if only he had a snazzy car and the right clothes. Then, the night of the school dance, his father (who had promised to loan him the family car) tells him that he’ll have to go back on the promise because grandmother had a fall and his mother has to rush out to take care of her for a few days. Jeff spares not a breath of concern for his aged, injured grandmother, but just keeps whining that his dad promised he could have the car, finally concluding “they just don’t want me to be popular” (“Right. They pushed grandma down and broke her hip to hurt you“). So, rather than take the bus to the dance, he calls his girlfriend and cancels with a lie about being sick.
Does he then do the sensible thing and stay home? Maybe reflect upon his life choices and what a selfish little brat he has become? No! He goes out to the local malt shop, where he tries to show off to a bunch of Freshmen, who proceed to mock him mercilessly (no, seriously; that’s what happens). Then, predictably, his girlfriend walks in (you will be amazed at how sick you get of the word ‘popular’ before this film is over).
The short proceeds to have his father explain the concept of ‘ideals’ to him, though the short doesn’t have a particularly clear view of the subject. ‘Ideals’ end up meaning ‘vision’ or ‘drive’ or just about anything positive.
Needless to say, between the spineless, self-centered protagonist and the vague moralizing, the Rifftrax crew have a field day with this one. “Don’t you see, Dad? I’m the center of the universe!” Things get going right out of the gate when Mike speculates that the overly bombastic title music must be from the sword fight halfway through (prompting Bill to ask, “An educational film with a sword fight?”). The odd framing device of a point-of-view shot from a car driving at night (because ideals are like headlights: “They’re a bit dim”) also prompts some good jokes, as does Jeff’s dog, Stew, who serves as the recipient for his solipsistic musings (“You mean nothing to me”). Meanwhile, the father’s rambling speech on ideals gets a fair number of good jokes (“Aw, now you’re just being socratic and stuff”), though the short’s at its best when Jeff is front and center in his stupendous stupidity (“I’ve got to have ideals like honesty and sincerity…” “A spine and a pair…”).
I have to say, in my experience ’50s educational shorts generally don’t misfire very often. Oh, they can be stupid and ham-fisted, but the basic morals and storylines tend to be solid. This is one of the exceptions; the protagonist is an unlikable idiot whose redemption is far too little, too late, and the thesis is too vague; like they were rushed on this one. The result is a confused, basically pointless short and a very memorable Rifftrax entry.