Friday, May 05, 2006

Badisimo Santa

The only thing stupider than reading a comic strip aloud is trying to explain why a comedy is funny. So just take my word: Bad Santa, directed by Terry Zwigoff (Art School Confidential, Ghost World), is funny. It's dirty, it's mainstream, it's anticommercial, and it's funny. And Better Santa, the version recut by editor Robert Hoffman that Zwigoff screened here at Ebertfestivale, is even funnier than what made its way into the theaters, Scissorhands Weinstein brothers style. It's coming out on DVD soon, so my recommendation is to just rent it — when your children are asleep.

In the interim, a few notes from the q and a with Hoffman and Zwigoff, who grouse at each other like an old married couple:

Zwigoff, who really is a friend of Crumb, the subject of his eponymously titled doc, looks like he'd be a friend of Crumb. An unruly shock of sideswept hair and dark-rimmed eyes, a tendency to talk out of the side of his mouth, a self-proclaimed ignorance of music made after the 1920s: just what you'd expect from a man who eats hypocrites for breakfast in all his films, including this one if you can stop blowing your diet coke through your nose long enough to notice.

There are now five versions of this film: the original theatrical release, the DVD release Badder Santa, the special version cut for TV (TV version?, gasped half the audience), and the version for Comedy Central, who merely cut down the theatrical release and bleeped out its cusses. Hoffman suggested that the TV version was indavertently the dirtiest: "Fudgestick" is hardly a cleaner alternative to "fuckstick," for example. It certainly is grosser.

Interestingly, Zwigoff and Hoffman bear the brothers Weinstein no ill will, claiming that they often demonstrated good instincts and were clearly very invested in the project. Diplomatic? Surely. But let's not forget that there's a reason the W.Bros managed to pull of as much they did..

Because the brilliant Tony Cox stars as a truly nefarious elf, Zwigoff discovered the hard way that no one can agree on the appropriate term for persons of very short stature. Midgets? Deemed offensive by those belonging to said category. Dwarves Offensive to some. The term "little people," deemed acceptable according to some websites, offended El Zwigoff himself.

"Everyone was experiencing personal problems." acknowledged Hoffman and Dr. Zwigoff. "Billy Bob [Thornton, as said Bad Santa] was breaking up with Angelina Jolie, and it was a nasty shoot overall. A lot of scenes we knew we could get arrested for at any moment so we'd just get as much coverage as we needed and then get out of there."

In interviews, the former Mr. Jolie (aw, I just refer to him that way because I'm sad he's not my boyfriend) has said that he was drunk for every take as an acting choice. Love the story, but Zwigoffian debunked it promptly — if not entirely. "I don't think he was drunk for every take," he said. "There were some scenes when he was really acting, I'm pretty sure."


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