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Askew Review 15

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(Blue Underground) 1993. Drama/Comedy.  114 minutes. Not rated.  Nudity, some violence, other adult situations. It's not enough that Bubby (Nicholas Hope) is an unkempt, mid-thirtysomething man who lives with his abusive single mother (Claire Benito) in a dank hovel stained with all the bodily humors of the rainbow.  He is also a literal mental infant who has never been allowed outside and is unwilling to test Mom's dual threats of divine punishment and poison gas beyond the front door (an idea she sells by wearing a gas mask into and out of the house).  Add to that some intense family dynamics -- including a complicated man/housecat relationship and the abrupt return of Bubby's grizzled, booze-infused father (did I mention he's the town vicar?) -- and you're still only halfway there. Although mentally challenged, Bubby has a savant's talent for mimicking the speech and mannerisms of people and animals.  A poorly timed display of this gift almost immediately angers his newly arrived Pop (Ralph Cotterill), and when Bubby is thrown out of the house and finds no brimstone or phosgene in his lungs, a new chapter in his manchildhood begins.  Leaving his circumscribed past behind, he sets out into the city, bent not so much on making up for lost time as hungrily chasing new stimuli.  His utter lack of guile occasionally gets him in trouble and makes for the few really hard-to-watch scenes here, but for the most part his childlike soul quickly endears him to people who supply various combinations of music, alcohol, nookie, jail, and junk food.  (Travel tip:  Like pizza?  Avoid Australia .)  His biggest benefactors are a roving bar band who adopt him as a roadie.  He soon becomes their cryptic, spastic frontman, the rote replays of his awful home life consumed by the crowds as a part of the act.  Little do they know how much he suffered for his art.  But without a lick of self-pity, our Bubby backs his way into a niche of his own in post-punk society; and isn't that -- plus having our story turned into a 12-bar blues riff -- what we all really want? 
Some films don't stay with me beyond the click of the one-way exit door at the cineplex ("Dr. Detroit," I'm looking at you).  Others strive for the heavens on celluloid wings of hubris and make me feel guilty when I don't get them ("My Left Foot," "The Towering Inferno").  I'm quite pleased to report that "Bad Boy Bubby" is neither A nor B. To peg writer/filmmaker Rolf de Heer's story simply as a redemption tale would be like calling his title protagonist a man with issues.  Both are true but only form the nucleus of things much larger, harder to label and often bracingly inappropriate.  De Heer's narrative has a measured pace which allows the cast -- Hope in particular -- to push their characters in interesting ways without bogging the story down.  The scenes, especially after Bubby leaves home, become sequential, distinct vignettes that are appropriate to how Bubby, with a stunted concept of cause, effect, and continuity, might function in the world around him. Visually and aurally, de Heer is superb.  His film is beautifully shot; Bubby's domestic life especially reminded me of "Eraserhead" and " Brazil " with its steadfast rejection of color, light, and charm.  Sound also plays a huge role in this film, from oppressive industrial backgrounds (more Lynch and Gilliam) to raucous garage-pop rousers to the sweet voice of a Salvation Army darling who briefly but memorably shows Bubby the power of song. Bubby doesn't -- indeed can't -- see himself as a bad boy, and neither should we.  Think of Bubby's bizarre odyssey as a demented, NC-17 version of the Sunday-comic neighborhood meanderings of that "Family Circus" twerp, and you're not far off.  "Bad Boy Bubby" is in part a study on life, liberty, and the pursuit of stimulus, one that I dug immensely.  But if you need more than such a romp promises, rest assured you will also learn that just because a person's worldview may not extend beyond their physical reach, their heart can still be as big as New South Wales.  You may be startled, elated, or mortified, but you won't be disappointed.  Wonderful extras on this DVD include spoiler-laden interviews with de Heer and Hope, and an early, very creepy short film starring Hope. -John Praxle





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