At the impressionable age of 17 I left the rural town where I grew up to attend college in the big city. There I soon learned that movies weren’t just a convenient occasion to feel up a girl and, if she turned you down, to blow into your empty Milk Duds box and make a fart noise. No, they were “films,” a form of entertainment that, when molded by a master director–an auteur–could achieve the status of art.
Jean-Luc Godard, checking his vacation pictures.
At my college there were film societies for foreign films, contemporary films, documentary films–you name it. The people who ran these clubs dressed in black turtlenecks and wore berets–indoors! They talked about “tracking shots” and “jump cuts,” which I thought was a passing route run by a tight end. I was woefully behind in my knowledge of le cinema, but I got up to speed as fast as I could on the road to becoming a cineaste.
I boned up on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. I watched the films of Indian director Satyajit Ray. I saw Orson Welles play Harry Lime in The Third Man, before Welles got so big the phone company issued him his own area code.
At the end of the school year I would return to my home town to harvest fescue or haul ice or man the staple gun on an RV assembly line. Believe it or not, I found it hard to squeeze my hard-earned knowledge of French New Wave directors into the conversation when we’d go out to lunch for chicken fried steak.
The contrast between the two cultures was striking–“decomboobulating” in the words of Bird Dog, a guy who pulled ice on the 2 to 10 shift at one summer job. How could one live with such cognitive dissonance? And then came the epiphany–l’apercu–that would henceforth shape my summer leisure time. Why not apply the finely-honed bullshitting skills I had picked up hanging around with avant garde film fans to the Swamp Thing cinema that flourished all around me?
It isn’t easy to just jump into the bog of Swamp Thing cinema. Like the early British films of Alfred Hitchcock, the prints have often deteriorated, and they are hard to find. Your local library or video store is unlikely to offer The Legend of Boggy Creek, whose heart-stopping slumber party scene ranks right up there with the Rosebud shot at the end of Citizen Kane: A gaggle of high school girls assemble in a mobile home for an evening of popcorn and cootie catchers, and are dreamily discussing who has cuter eyes, Joe Don or Gene Ray, when the hairy arm of the Boggy Creek monster busts through a window, spoiling all the fun!
But, you ask, what if my local college adult extension night school doesn’t offer a Le Cinema du Swamp course. How will I hold my own when somebody starts in with “I found the denouement of The Swamp Thing Escapes anti-climactic, and the jute-and-epoxy costume unconvincing”?
Simple–take this quick and easy online Introduction to Swamp Thing Cinema! It’s pass-fail–continuing education credit may be available in some states.
Swamp Thing Returns: 3 1/2 gators. As every aficionado of le cinema du swamp knows, Swamp Things never die, they are merely injured and withdraw into the muck to lick their wounds. When they recover, they come back madder than ever. In this fine debut flick Roger Nelson, who went on to direct It Came From the Compost Heap, lures you into the ultimate horror with a succession of increasingly larger victims, from a harmless baby chick to a miniature French poodle.
Bride of Swamp Thing: 4 gators. Sandra Bernhard steals the show in this romantic comedy that sends an important message: if abducted by a Swamp Thing from your campsite, make the most of it! You may find love where you least expect it–the arms of a seven-foot-tall lizard-like creature with day-old possum on its breath.
Sandra Bernhard: No makeup required.
Beauty and the Swamp Thing: 3 gators. Nicolas Cage is “Unga,” a misunderstood swamp thing who is befriended by Mariah Carey after he picks a tick out of her hair. A worthy effort by an NYU School of Film grad, the plot is ultimately overpowered by the soundtrack, especially “Swamp Thing’s Love Theme.” The production numbers flag as the creatures from the lagoon flop their tails around a lackluster swamp daubed in mud by set designer Otile Villa, giving the film a claustrophobic feel. I found myself wanting to hold my head under brackish swamp water until the film died a natural death, or had its limbs torn off by Zorz, the lizard-like creature that earned a Best Supporting Swamp Creature nomination for his performance.