I’ve been waiting so long to see this I was beginning to get tyred, so thanks to EM Foundation for the disc.
(Quentin Dupieux, Fr, 2010)
Too arch to be scary, too trashy to offer insight…but the sheer chutzpah of its unique conception is manna to an ageing Moviedrome addict
Every Sunday night in the early Nineties, I would religiously stay up – or, failing that, set the timer on the VHS – to catch Alex Cox’s never-bettered voyage in cult cinema, Moviedrome. It was my introduction to a world beyond mainstream Hollywood, a place where sex, violence and utter weirdness reigned. I saw at least two of my all-time top 10 from those Sunday night viewings, and the work of most of my favourite directors was featured.
Rubber is perhaps the closest a film has come in recent years to emulating the look and feel of a typical Moviedrome flick. Its basic premise – about a rubber tyre that comes to life and gets its kick from blowing up heads a la Scanners – would be enough to gain admission, a gleefully trashy B-movie shot with low-budget verve and ingenuity. But it’s also an arch, post-modern treat that takes as its subject the sheer transgressive thrill of watching a silly movie that doesn’t take sense – a Moebius strip of meta-textuality that is also right up Moviedrome’s street. Oh, and did I mention the director is Mr Oizo of Flat Eric fame? Put these elements together and the result is mind-boggling, self-indulgent, ragged round the edges and very entertaining. In other words, (im)perfect.
There’s no reason for the tyre’s newfound sentience. Indeed, that’s the point, as a tongue-in-cheek prologue makes clear. Imagery straight out of Lynch or Bunuel (a police car knocking down deckchairs in the road like dominoes, a captive audience of spectators watching the action unfold through binoculars) prove to be self-consciously surreal, a Brechtian goad applied to a genre where, usually, suspension of disbelief is all there is. The result is like an essay about the sheer joy of seeing something new and different…but also the strange bond between cult filmmakers and their audience. What drives somebody to watch a film like this, when even the director is going out of his way to dare the audience to stop?
It’s obvious, undergraduate stuff – but the fact that such analysis has rarely been applied to the killer ‘B’ provides enough novelty to get by. Oh, and the snide interaction between ‘actors’ and their ‘viewers’ is deliciously funny, driven by a wry acknowledgement that if they weren’t providing a running commentary, us guys sitting back with a beer in our hands would be. Then again, the affectation might be smoke and mirrors, a means of padding things out to feature-length. It goes without saying that the digressions, straight-to-camera asides, and Purple Rose of Cairo-style collapsing of reality and fiction get in the way of telling a story that might otherwise be over in the space of a short. After all, how many times can you see a tyre make a head explode?
But what’s remarkable is that Dupieux very nearly pulls off his mad story anyway. There’s some genuinely brilliant technique at work here to make ‘Robert’ the tyre a compelling protagonist despite being an inanimate object. It’s not only the low-key FX required to give Robert an endearingly child-like wiggle as he learns to roll himself along, but also old-fashioned virtues clever framing and cutting – a montage depicting Robert’s dawning realisation of his identity is a textbook example of associative editing. Best of all, is the predictable (but brilliant) sight-gag as we learn exactly what a tyre watches on TV for entertainment.
Rubber is released on DVD next week. Look both ways before crossing the road.