I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Tank Girl

TANK GIRL is a messy, silly, winkingly obnoxious version of the ’90s expensive b-movie, one of those weird ones that doesn’t exactly work but is kind of charming just because they had the gall to try. John Waters producer/FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE director Rachel Talalay somehow convinced MGM to pump money into this adaptation of a cult British comic book about a smartass punk girl driving a tank through post-apocalyptic Australia. (Other MGM releases in 1995: FLUKE, SPECIES, GET SHORTY, also distributed THE PEBBLE AND THE PENGUIN, HACKERS, SHOWGIRLS, LEAVING LAS VEGAS, GOLDENEYE, CUTTHROAT ISLAND.) The movie’s story of facing off against a typical bad guy, even fighting him to the death on a raised catwalk for the climax, is too half-assed and conventional to work, but the frenetic style and goofy tangents are a successful extension of the main character’s personality.

Lori Petty (BATES MOTEL, POINT BREAK) pours every drop of hyperactive tomboy playfulness in her voice and persona into the character of Rebecca, who is never specifically called Tank Girl but does steal her would-be namesake when she escapes imprisonment by the wasteland’s fascist oppressors, Water & Power. This militarized corporation hordes the last of the water and cruelly attacks anyone who finds their own source. In my opinion they are not a good company to work for; when they fire employees they kill them with machines that harvest their body’s water content.

W&P raid the house where Tank Girl and her friends live, kill her water buffalo and her boyfriend (Brian Wimmer, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE), giving her a classic revenge motive. But to be honest she doesn’t seem to think about that again, the real trouble is that they abduct her young friend Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower, the young version of Sharon Stone’s character in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD) and sell her to an upscale brothel. Tank Girl finds and infiltrates the place and busts Sam out but immediately loses her again – her mistake, in my opinion, is stopping to give the Madame (Ann Magnuson, TEQUILA SUNRISE) a bad hair cuit and lead everyone in a Busby Berkeley style musical number of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.” If not for that minor misstep they would’ve gotten away.

Malcolm McDowell (SILENT NIGHT) plays evil W&P CEO or whatever Kesslee, who at first is just a regular asshole but he gets blown up and James Hong (NINJA III: THE DOMINATION) sells him robotic body parts including an arm with spinning sawblades all over it. I’m sure it could’ve been worse with a different actor, but he’s not a very exciting villain, a major weakness of the film. Maybe one problem is that McDowell’s standard mode is gleeful perversity. We need an uptight bad guy who’s going to be personally offended by Tank Girl’s crassness and rejection of traditional female behavior.

Tank Girl’s attitude is expressed as much through the look of the movie as anything else. Original comic book artist Jamie Hewlett has many illustrations shown through the movie, and according to Talalay on the DVD/Blu-Ray commentary track he contributed hundreds of designs. Production designer Catherine Hardwicke (THRASHIN’, TAPEHEADS, FREAKED) and costume designer Arianne Phillips (THE CROW, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, various Madonna tours) pay tribute to Hewlett’s immaculate smartass style where everything and everyone is covered with cool logos, tattoos, scars, scabs, straps, cartoon animal heads and other trinkets and doodads. It’s a crazed-hoarder style that reminds me of the earlier Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the later HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES.

Her hair and clothes change drastically from scene to scene with no explanation, and she wears odd accessories like a candy necklace, an army helmet covered in green fuzz and striped ’80s gym socks as elbow pads. Petty says the taped fingers are her contribution, a tribute to Michael Jackson. The cluttered interior of her tank is decorated with a beer tap, fuzzy dice, troll dolls, eyeballs, leopard-print seat cover and an Etch-a-Sketch with the Mona Lisa drawn on it.

When she runs out of bombs she reluctantly loads the cannon with cans of beer. The tank can drive itself while she goes on top to fire guns or arrows or a sling shot or to barbecue herself a hot dog. When she’s not inside it sometimes it follows behind her like a faithful pet.

As Petty explains on the commentary, Tank Girl “don’t give a FUUUUUuuuuck,” and the movie is an extension of that. She’s less a portrait of a human being than a Bugs Bunny like trickster designed to be thrown into danger to taunt bad guys with her wiseass remarks.

I like that we don’t really get to know where she comes from or what her deal is. She explains a little bit about her comet-stricken world in the opening narration, but has she just been fucking around in the 11 years of drought? Was she already a punk before then? I think she just tries to live a fun life with her friends despite the hardships. But now things have changed. Now she has new friends, and one of them is a tank. It kind of has the approach like it assumes everyone will just play along that they know what a tank girl and a jet girl is and what’s going on here so just relax and everything will be cool.

She doesn’t seem to have much fear. She’s not put off by killing or finding dead bodies. She torments her foes by refusing to take any situation seriously, for example when she’s a prisoner being transported and she snaps a guard’s neck with her legs, then pretends like she doesn’t know why the other guards are mad about that.

Forced to work in a mine, she doesn’t seem upset, other than when she confides to a guard that she’s worried about missing Baywatch. It looks like they finally broke her when they have her wearing shorts and a straight jacket, sitting on a frosty metal grate in a freezer. But when Kesslee walks in she says, “It’s really hard for me to play with myself in this thing.”

Despite her tough exterior, there is evidence that she harbors a nostalgia for fantasies of a golden past. There’s the Cole Porter song, but also she treasures her photo of Doris Day and commissions Sam to make a wooden carving of her. While she’s in the tank having a missile fight with a giant semi-truck her TV is showing IT’S A PLEASURE, a 1945 musical comedy starring Olympic ice skater Sonja Henie. Compare this to the scene in FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (excerpted from the documentary SOUNDTRACK TO WAR) about tank crews in Baghdad listening to Drowning Pool’s “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor.”

Ann Cusack (NIGHTCRAWLER, SULLY) makes an appearance as Sub Girl, a crazy lady who tells Tank Girl where to find Sam. Courtney Love, who had once been a house guest of Talalay before she was famous, wanted the role, but couldn’t because of her husband’s suicide. Instead she’s credited as “Executive Music Coordinator Courtney Love-Cobain” for a soundtrack of ’90s alternative rock type groups including Hole, Bjork, Bush, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Portishead, Sky Cries Mary, L7, Belly and Iggy Pop (who also has a cameo as a pedophile named Rat Face). The opening credits theme is Devo’s “Girl U Want,” which they re-recorded with singer Jula Bell because Talalay thought the theme needed to be sung by a woman. The songs give the movie an upbeat energy, and then there’s one montage where it slows down while she takes a very cathartic shower – fully clothed, and with sand instead of water. (Water is expensive.)

Ice-T contributed a song called “Big Gun,” a legit song, avoiding the pitfalls of the one he did about DICK TRACY. He seems to be describing Tank Girl, but stays carefully non-specific enough that it won’t sound laughable out of context. See, he could’ve been rapping about kangaroo people, because he plays one in the movie. The Rippers are mysterious underground killers who everybody’s afraid of and no one has seen, but Tank Girl decides to befriend them and ends up with one as her boyfriend at the end. (The studio made them cut the scene implying they fucked.)

I’m down with the ridiculousness of Ice-T (JOHNNY MNEMONIC) as a rogue marsupial-DNA-enhanced super soldier, but unfortunately even the genius Stan Winston didn’t figure out how to pull the idea off at that time or under those circumstances. The makeup looks ugly, the characters are mostly acting-like-they’re-funny-but-not-funny, their movements are like some community theater production of Cats, and there are a surprising number of clearly visible wires as they do their unconvincing super-hops. Their unfortunate crappiness drags the movie down so far that they’re the best argument for a TANK GIRL reboot in the age of mocap NINJA TURTLES.

Ice-T is clearly the best of the kangaroos, though, because he has dreadlocks and just acts like Ice-T as a kangaroo. On the DVD/Blu-Ray commentary track, Talalay says that he refused to take part in the scene where the other kangaroos do a choreographed River Dance type thing together, which is why he spends the scene standing aside looking disgusted at them.

Good move, Ice.

The other big name (but not at that time) is Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts as Tank Girl’s new Water-&-Power-defector friend/mechanic Jet Girl. Young Watts wears limited makeup and nerd glasses to look allegedly mousy, and she gets to use her real accent. It’s not her first role, but it’s early enough that she followed it up with the TV movie BERMUDA TRIANGLE and the DTV sequel CHILDREN OF THE CORN: THE GATHERING.

Also Dawn Robinson from En Vogue plays a hologram (?) dancer instructing Tank Girl how to get dressed at the brothel.

I remember when I saw this in the theater there was a power surge that caused the sound system to turn off and switch to the classical music CD that played between showings. It happened right in the middle of Kesslee’s speech about his evil plan, and it seemed enough like the style of the movie that at first I thought it was an intentional joke. Talalay is constantly cutting in cartoon drawings of the characters and locations, and a couple times goes into full-on animation sequences (done by Colossal Pictures, the same studio that did that for NATURAL BORN KILLERS). On one hand, these techniques give the movie a sort of collage style that is very appropriate, and add an extra level of cartooniness to the exaggerated world of the live action footage. On the other hand, the animated parts are jarring because they look very different and are more just show-offy music video type visuals than pieces of storytelling. And sometimes the Hewlett-drawn establishing shots make it seem cheap, like they couldn’t afford to build her actual house, even though they then cut to a huge, elaborate set.

In a 2008 interview with Mark Kermode in The Guardian, Hewlett said that “key bits of the movie just got missed – they simply forgot to film things. So we had to draw loads of establishing shots of buildings. And then they had two endings, that were both shit, and I seem to remember that there was an animated ending. Was that in the finished film …?'”

It was, and on the commentary track Talalay laments that the studio wouldn’t let her use her other ending. For her part, she says of the first animation sequence, “This came out of the fact that we could not do big action. We just could not afford to do big action.”

TANK GIRL lost money and got terrible reviews, but still has as much or more appeal than some of its fellow weird-’90s-comic-book-movies (BARB WIRE, THE MASK, MYSTERY MEN, JUDGE DREDD, SPAWN, STEEL).

Writer Tedi Sarafian later got a story credit on TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. He’s the brother of Deran Sarafian, who directed DEATH WARRANT and TERMINAL VELOCITY.

Eight years after TANK GIRL, production designer Catherine Hardwicke started directing and did THIRTEEN, LORDS OF DOGTOWN and THE NATIVITY STORY. But ever since 2008 she’s only been known as the director of TWILIGHT. Choreographer Adam Shankman has also moved up to directing (THE PACIFIER, HAIRSPRAY, ROCK OF AGES). Second unit director Peter Ramsey got into computer animation and is the director of RISE OF THE GUARDIANS and the upcoming animated SPIDER-MAN movie.

Most importantly, two of the Spice Girls met while waiting in line to audition for TANK GIRL.

Co-creator Hewlett, as you can tell from those quotes, was not happy with the movie. But he and others were able to resurrect the character in comics many time since. These days he’s arguably better known for the excellent album art and videos he does for his cartoon band Gorillaz.

There aren’t really other movies quite like TANK GIRL, but watching it this time it made me think of the much more expensive and mainstream comic book movie SUICIDE SQUAD. Both have big problems as stories and are visibly chopped up and studio-compromised, but still have a certain charm because of their tongue-in-cheek-in-your-face style and likable weirdo characters fully inhabited by the cast. There’s also a certain similarity between Tank Girl and Harley Quinn, but I think Tank Girl has a better idea what she’s doing, and we can take heart that she’s dating a nice Ripper and not a homicidal maniac who brainwashes her to jump into acid.

Anyway, it’s a reminder that even though we’d prefer a great movie, there’s room in the world for lovable messes.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 16th, 2017 at 4:32 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

50 Responses to “Tank Girl”

  1. Count me as a fan of this. I still remember Lori doing that Cole Porter number.

  2. The concept and Lori Petty alone got me through the clunky bits. It reaches BATMAN & ROBIN levels of stupid, but in a more playful way. And it was the start of my Naomi Watts crush.

  3. This movie is essential viewing for everybody who wants to know what the 90s were like. At least in pop culture terms. Based on a comic book that was for its time edgy, shot in a hyperactive MTV style, doesn’t take itself seriously for one minute, not afraid of going SUPER weird, full of pop star cameos, a soundtrack full of alternative rock* and that weird, nihilistic but super-fun feminism spin-off named “girl(y) power”.

    The whole package is such a weird, super silly time capsule, that I forgive it all its flaws. Even that it crosses the line to mysandry more than once** doesn’t really matter, because of its “Nah, just kidding. Here, have more sugar water and PAAAAARTTYYYYYYY!” tone.

    I remember a STARLOG interview with Lori Petty, where she talked about some cuts that the studio made and that really pissed her off. Mostly a sex scene that she had with one of those kangaroos. (Legend has it, that it featured an enormeous mutant kangaroo schlong, that was removed for MPAA reasons.)

    Seeing Lori Petty in anything always makes me happy, btw. I’m glad she’s now on a high profile TV (streaming) show.

    *At this point Hollywood was still afraid to use electronic music in their movies, but I guess Underworld’s BORN SLIPPY from the TRAINSPOTTING soundtrack the following year (and maybe the HACKERS soundtrack, although I don’t remember if that movie and its music made any impression during its release) showed the world that it’s okay.

    **Petty much every man in this movie is evil, most of them are rapists, at least one is a pedophile. The only good men are Tank Girl’s Boyfriend, who gets fridged (and then forgotten) immediately, and the kangaroos, but even they discuss the possibility of raping her at first!

  4. One of my proudest moments was asking Ice-T what was up with TANK GIRL. His answer: “Look, when you get a chance to play a kangaroo man, you take it.”

  5. I always wanted to like this one but just found it obnoxious. Then the kangaroos come in and I find it almost unbearable. Maybe with a re-watch I’ll appreciate it more.

    Glad to here Petty’s career is doing okay again, I’ve always liked her presence in movies/shows. Shocked she doesn’t get more voice work, I thought for sure back in the 90’s that would be a good fall back for her.

  6. Interesting take, CJ. I didn’t care for TANK GIRL in the ’90s, precisely because I felt its desire to fit into the decade’s fashions was trying too hard and felt obnoxious. But maybe I’d enjoy it more now. There are a few ’90s youth market movies that didn’t make much of an impact on teens back then, but have caught on with future generations: THE CRAFT, EMPIRE RECORDS, HACKERS.

  7. I won’t rule out that the 90s were in the US a bit more…subdued and therefore were more appreciated by European kids. But when I think of the 90s, I think more or less of the visual style and cartoony nihilism of TANK GIRL or HACKERS, including teenage girls (and young adults) with pink or blue hair, a million face piercings, skimpy silver skirts and tight shirts that have “Bitch” written on them.

    Check this out, this wasn’t subculture, this was youth culture! (Note the commercials at 5:55. And yes, the woman in the beginning is Heike Makatsch from RESIDENT EVIL and LOVE ACTUALLY) It’s basically what your kids have now going on with EDM and PLUR, but over 20 years earlier and much louder, faster and colourful.

    https://youtu.be/m7gT1J8r0oI

  8. I agree with you. The problem with TANK GIRL (and what might make it more palatable now) is that it was Too ’90s For the ’90s. A big part of the pop climate then had some edgelord shit going on.

  9. Mark: I feel like if you think the 90s were cool, you weren’t there. If you were actually a member of the demographic this EXXXXTREME GRUNGE ALTERNATIVE RIOT GRRRRL WHATEVS crap was marketed at, you stayed as far away from it as humanly possible, for the simple fact that our generation hated being marketed to. Unlike today’s youth, who seem to expect to be pandered to at all times, we just wanted The Man to stay the fuck out of our shit. So when some desperate schlock like HACKERS came out that tried to commodify our teen rebellion, we rejected it in droves. That changed toward the end of the decade when the younger 90s kids like Griff grew up and started thinking this knockoff garbage was the real deal. Those are the ones driving 90s nostalgia, not the ones who were old enough to take part in the decade’s many trends and movements.

    The Man never did figure out how to market to Generation X until we got old and they discovered our only weakness: nostalgia for the 70s/80s stuff we grew up on that were the last things we loved uncynically. Then we became just another cog in the pop culture machine.

  10. I mean, look at this horseshit with everybody whining about Beyonce not winning a Grammy. Boo fucking hoo. Back in my day, it was just a given that the music we liked would never win an award from the backslapping Boomer establishment. Can you imagine some Gen X slackers crying because a bunch of 65-year-old honkeys in suits didn’t give Pavement or Fishbone or whatever some stupid trophy in front of a room full of tux-wearing phonies? Fuck no. Not being recognized by those assholes was a badge of honor. We didn’t like their shit and they didn’t like ours and that’s the way we wanted it.

  11. That’s a fascinating and true point. The director of Hackers actually has an interview with Mark Kermode where he points out that the movie initially bombed because teens in the ’90s felt the idea of going to see a movie about other teens in the ’90s was uncool.

  12. When I grew up in the late eighties it was not allowed in Sweden to air commercials aimed at children so I never had that problem.

  13. See? Seems like the American 90s were more “Ugh. Everything sucks. Cobain is dead. I’m too cool for that shit.” while the European 90s were: “WHO CARES ABOUT ALL THE BAD SHIT IN THE WORLD, LET’S DO DRUGS AND PARTAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!” Of course movies like HACKERS or TANK GIRL were appreciated more over here.

  14. I can´t verify such broad claims. Maybe it was difefrent in Germany with the wall coming down and all I don´t know. I don´t even remember the 90´s that much. I was still listening to Guns N Roses and Bon Jovi when everyone around me listened to Ace of Base. I felt so detached from everyone. I think I still do.

  15. This is one of those films you watch and think is rubbish, then wait for ten years and think “Hey, maybe I just wasn’t ready for Tank Girl”, so you watch it again, and you realize you were right, and it was just rubbish. Sort of like Dune.

  16. I’m loving this discussion. Very good points made that I also slightly question. Do you think TANK GIRL falls into the HACKERS category of poser shit? Or does the fact that they knew what Tank Girl was (and involved its 26 year old creator) give it authenticity? I feel like it was a failure but coming from a sincere place.

    And maybe this would’ve been worth mentioning in the review: this is a then-expensive movie where most of most important contributors (director, lead, production designer, music supervisor) are women. Talalay talks about her intention of making “a feminist tract” and not letting Ice-T ad-lib “Women” at the end of a scene even though it was funny. I think this would all be widely celebrated in a movie now, but then I don’t remember anybody even bringing it up.

    And Majestyk, I love what you say about the Grammies but it’s easy to see differently if you look at the racial part of it (it’s hard not to think Beyonce’s perfect intersection of pop hit and artistry would’ve won if she was a nice white lady) or if you pull the historical lens back even further to include the ’70s, when Stevie Wonder won multiple album of the year awards and that actually was some of the coolest music at the time. (I only know this because I was reading about album of the year winners to see if they EVER were something I liked.)

    But I agree, in general the idea of expecting cool music to be honored by the Grammies is a recipe for disappointment and IN OUR DAY that would not have been desired anyway.

    “Who gives a fuck about a god damn Grammy?” –Flavor Flav

  17. P.S. I love CJ’s theory of the European (or German) ’90s vs. the American ’90s.

  18. I always felt I kind of missed the 90s. I graduated high school in 92 and grew up in Utah, where things were slow to change, especially before the internet, so I always felt I identified more with the 80s. Plus, by the time I got into the 90s I thought I was just too old to care about fitting in with the cool kids and what the new hot thing was. Maybe I was just a true gen-Xer and didn’t care, like Majestyk says. I didn’t even care enough to actively dislike things that were trying to be 90s cool. Again, I just figured that was life off in a big city, not that it was being a poser.

  19. Oh HACKERS was definitely made by posers (Who weren’t untalented and had a good hand at picking future stars and compiling a soundtrack album, that 20 years later stands the “authentic time capsule” test.), but I agree that TANK GIRL, despite being a major studio production that was most likely greenlit to commercialize certain youth trends, was more sincere and credible.

  20. Always dug this movie, but the comics are just so much better and frankly, impossible to make into a coherent movie. There’s no real ongoing stories, it’s just random little episodes with the same sets of characters. They tried here, but they’d be better off just animating the comic and not bothering with real actors all together.

  21. It doesn’t quite work, but I think TANK GIRL is 100% sincere and absolutely gets what it’s going for. But I don’t know if that was clear at the time — my recollection of it, culled several years after the fact– was that the prevailing opinion of the film held that it was yet another case of the THE MAN trying to steal our good stuff and sell back an expensive watered-down version. Which is definitely the plan, I think, but Talalay et al truly seem sincere and bold in retrospect. Lori Petty absolutely gets everything right down to the last detail, even if the rest of the movie around her is a little more clumsy about it, despite its good intentions.

  22. Vern: I’ve no doubt that the Grammy academy or whatever is biased in the sense that they are most likely primarily white people with historically white tastes, so you’re gonna get some naturally occurring racial bias. But I read that black artists actually have a statistically higher representation among Album of the Year winners than black people do in the general populace. Obviously, all those Stevie wins are gonna throw off the numbers, and besides, you would be right in saying that black artists have made a disproportional contribution to modern popular music. Mostly, though, I think Adele winning is just what you get when you have a system that rewards the middlest of the road output. I don’t think there’s a big conspiracy. I think it’s just a lame award voted on by lame people who like lame music.

    Which is why I don’t get the Beyoncé uproar. “The Grammies are just a bunch of boring old white people giving awards to other boring old white people! The artists I like deserve one!” Like, if the award was called what it is (“Most Palatable Album to the Ears of Casual Music Fans to Have on in the Car”) then would they still want Beyoncé to win one? She doesn’t get the dull offay award because she doesn’t make dull offay music. Or do they just think she deserves every award just on general principle? I just don’t get it. It’s like a cult. Beyoncé fans and the Grammies is a real ALIEN VS PREDATOR situation for me because no matter who wins, I lose.

    In conclusion, go listen to IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK again.

  23. I thought the Grammies were considered notoriously out of touch. Or was that just for the many years it was hosted by Andy Williams and then when they gave the first heavy metal award to a band featuring flutes. Do most people not think that anymore?

  24. A heavy metal band using flutes? So Kyle Gass snuck in those fucking flute tracks anyway?

  25. The Grammies are still considered out of touch, but instead of just rolling their eyes and letting the establishment have its meaningless little circle jerk, the kids today want in. My generation was perfectly happy to ignore the the whole dumb spectacle until it trundled off unmourned into total irrelevance, but these kids seem to want to keep it alive so they’ll have the chance to prove that their music is just as commercial and pandering as any other generation’s.

  26. Shoot, it was Jethro Tull.

  27. God, everything Mr. Majestyk has said times 1000…particularly about our Achilles Heel: 70’s & 80’s nostalgia. I mean, Jesus, I actually teared up watching John Carpenter perform live…probably the highlight of 2016 for me.

    I don’t think our generation even watched the Grammy Awards…the last time I remember watching was when Michael Jackson introduced The Moonwalk (I think I was 9).

  28. I thought that at one point everyone knew that the Grammys were the lamest of already lame awards shows. Even the Simpsons mocked them back in the 90s. When did people start caring about the Grammys? Is it when music critics started using the word “poptimist”? Or is it a sad attempt on the part of pop culture journalists to get people to care about a big event in the midst of an ever fragmenting culture?

  29. Which two Spice Girls?

  30. Man that 1995 MGM slate is full of extremes. acclaimed hits like Goldeneye, Get Shorty and perhaps Species and colossal bombs like Cutthroat Island, Showgirls and Tank Girl.

    One thing that always bothered me about Tank Girl was Malcolm McDowell has a holographic head. I don’t care how advanced technology gets, you still have to have a head.

    The ’90s definitely weren’t cool while they were happening. I’m trying to figure out why I’m obsessed with them now. I love hearing how Europe viewed American culture in the ’90s. I think part of it is that the failures of the ’90s were trying really hard. Today so much is prepackaged and calculated to appeal to demographics, failures are just boring. But someone actually tried to make a Tank Girl movie and it was weird as fuck, that’s interesting.

  31. Ancient Romans – These two: https://youtu.be/z5bQKkhH94E

    Don – Good news – Michael introduced the moonwalk on the Motown 25th Anniversary special. So it might’ve been even longer than 1983 since you watched the Grammies.

  32. RE: The Grammys (Which are still more credible than the German ECHO)

    I’m actually more confused that people are mad at Beyonce NOT winning. A while ago there was this meme making the rounds, which compared the lyrics to BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY to the ones of a Beyonce song, with the angry conclusion that Queen never won a grammy while she already had a shit ton, for songs full of “yeah” and “wooh” and the help of 10 different songwriters or shit like that.

    (Also on a personal level: I couldn’t hum one single Beyonce song, despite them being played constantly on the radio, but that also applies to Adele.)

  33. Ha! That’s right, I’d forgot it wasn’t at the Grammies! Looks like the special was broadcast on May 16, 1983…which still would have made me 9 years old!

  34. I have never followed pop music much, so the revelation that there is a heavy metal band using flutes (you say it’s Jethro Tull?) piques my interest more than you guys probably intended.

    I would not have guessed that such a thing could exist, unless Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” counts as a real song (and even in that the flute music is a keyboard if I’m not mistaken).

    On the larger topic here … We’ve had 1980s nostalgia for so long now, I was wondering how much more time would have to pass since the 1990s became of interest. I’m glad to know that it’s finally arrived, and that the weirder and more misguided stuff from that time is what has endured. I might have to actually watch SPAWN, BATMAN AND ROBIN or MONKEYBONE at some point.

    But maybe it has always been thus – from 1950s monster movies to 1970s blaxploitation and kung-fu and 1980s VHS slasher movies, it’s the stuff that was considered shamefully lowbrow at the time that is defiantly embraced by younger generations who missed it the first time.

  35. Curt – that’s the thing that makes Jethro Tull winning the first Grammy for heavy metal so controversial, no one, including Jethro Tull, considers them heavy metal.

  36. Curt: As Maggie said, Jethro Tull is only heavy metal to people who don’t know what heavy metal sounds like. But if the idea of metal with flutes interests you, check out any number of “folk metal” bands. Most are from Scandinavia and mix their native folk instruments in with the usual shredding riffs and blast beats. Examples: Turisas, Finntroll (who sound sort of like Mr. Bungle if Mike Patton was an evil gnome who lived under a bridge), Lunsk, Hammers of Misfortune (not Scandinavian as I recall–they mix a medieval minstrelsy vibe in with their tales of kings and bloody battle) and others I’m probably forgetting.

    I’m really just a tourist in that area. Dan Prestwich is the real metal expert round these parts.

  37. I actually like HACKERS, but only saw it three years ago, and was cynical about the “corporate-cool” pandering of its ads as a teen. It’s a movie that could only be made at that specific time in history, when people were paranoid about the internet but didn’t correctly foresee what it would become.

  38. Funny thing about Jethro Tull/metal is that there are several metal bands who consider them an influence. Iron Maiden covered one of their songs, and no less than Metallica themselves have a shrine to AQUALUNG in their studio.

    Progressive rock in general has historically now been slung together with heavy metal. Besides the fact you had later bands like Queensryche and Dream Theater labeled as progressive metal, they are the two most loathed genres of rock in critical circles. But “prog” is so much more than something that’s considered a cousin of hard rock/metal.

  39. CJ – I never followed Beyonce closely, but Lemonade is a truly great work. Unlike so many albums today, it’s a listen-from-beginning-to-end album that feels of a whole, even though it has different styles and subjects. Primarily it deals with her feelings after catching her husband cheating, which seems to be a true story, so it’s very personally revealing (surprisingly so since her husband is as famous as she is). It’s very emotional because she unleashes her fury and puts Jay-Z through the wringer but also it’s a complex relationship problem because she wants to lay the law down without ending her marriage.

    I first experienced it in “visual album” form (it debuted on HBO but the DVD is included with the CD) and that’s the best version because it’s a beautiful series of videos that all feel connected, and because there’s a poetic interlude where she threatens to use somebody’s sternum as her “bedazzled cane.” The imagery is as powerful as the music, glorifying powerful black women, and the mothers of victims of police violence, and her southern roots. And there’s a really cathartic part where she smashes up a bunch of cars with a bat and then decides that’s not enough and (SPOILER) fucking drives a monster truck over them.

    After I watched it a few times I thought “I wonder what it’s like to just listen to it as an album?” and I put it on my iPod and it turns out it also works with sound only. So the combination of Lemonade’s emotional resonance as a grown-woman-confessional, its inspirational quality as a statement of feminism and black pride, and just being great to listen to, and also having a monster truck in the video, makes this a classic that could only be made at this time in our country and at this point in Beyonce’s life. So I think it’s fair to say it’s a masterpiece of pop music.

  40. From that perspective she totally should’ve won. It’s the first time someone really gave a good explaination for that, other than “We don’t like Adele, because she isn’t Beyonce” and “#GrammysSoWhite”.

  41. Jethro Tull never won a “heavy metal Grammy”, the award was for “best hard rock/heavy metal performance”. Calling Jethro Tull a hard rock band is not inaccurate. I think this myth got perpetuated by whiny Metallica fans.

  42. One thing I find interesting about the 90s is that in many ways “the man” did succeed at co-opting a lot of fresh/innovative trends and absorbing it into corporate synergy. Grunge, Gangsta Rap, Jungle etc. obviously ended up following the same path as everything else, but in many ways “irony” is the 90s most pervasive and, for the most part, tedious legacy. When GREMLINS 2 and THE SIMPSONS made fun of their own merchandising empire in 1990/91 it could certainly be considered a form of crony cultural capitalism, but it was relatively unprecedented, fresh, and were early examples of what we now understand as “post-modernism”. By 1997 when similar jokes were made in BATMAN & ROBIN and HERCULES, it seemed like a tedious way to flog Disney Stores and (late, lamented) Warner Bros. stores merchandise ahead of making a solid film.

    I feel 90s “irony” is how we went from TRANSFORMERS sneaking into 1986 matinee screenings to being one of the biggest stars in 5 out of 11 summers since 2007. For better or worse we’ve gone from MAC & ME to two Lego commercials being among the best and most beloved mainstream movies of the decade.

    A lot of Xander Cages out there started working for Augustus Gibbons under duress, and then started to have so much fun they weren’t sure if they didn’t like it better that way.

  43. I have never liked Beyoncé’s music. She’s got that “straining for effect/to take a dump” R&B voice I have been conditioned to hate by 25 years of singing-ass choruses ruining otherwise decent hip-hop songs. The only song of hers I’ve ever been able to stomach was a mashup of “Single Ladies” and the theme song to THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. But your review of LEMONADE made a great case for it, Vern, so I gave it a shot.

    Oh man. I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t think I’ve ever deleted an album faster. It might be about some really deep, philosophical shit but I have such a pathological hatred for every sound, tempo, and atmospheric technique employed in the production of this music that I can’t get more than ten seconds into any song. It is positively Pavlovian how fast I reach for the skip button. This could be some Wyld Stallyns shit that ushers in a thousand years of world peace and I still wouldn’t be down.

    I’m sure it’s still better than Adele, though. What sets her apart from Celine Dion is a total mystery to me.

    So yeah. I feel more justified than ever in maintaining my strict policy of ignoring everything the Grammys and anyone who gives a shit about the Grammys thinks is important.

  44. The Grammys are such bullshit, and now they treat rock musicians like 2nd class citizens because it doesn’t sell as well anymore. At least there is integrity left in the Emmys and Oscars, even if they still provide some head-scratching and eye-rolling as far as who they award. But on the whole, awards shows are so pointless now, because more than ever creators are getting direct feedback from people as opposed to their “industry”. The internet has made bare all of our needs for acceptance, whether it’s how many followers or likes we get.

    Especially in terms of television. It seems like the Oscars lose viewers every year, and more and more the networks are pushing their own agenda onto these shows. Jimmy Kimmel is hosting the show next week, and ABC has pushed to have stars from their own shows be presenters. And how many years has LL Cool J both hosted the Grammys and had his own show on CBS? I’d at least be interested to see what happened if they just went streaming, and told the networks to kiss their ass.

  45. Pretty awesome that Talalay found this on Twitter and retweeted it. Wonder if she saw the Ghost in the Machine review too.

  46. I’m a music-noob/casual if there ever was one. I typically don’t engage with music on anything deeper than surface level. On top of that I’m woefully ignorant on modern music and am usually confused when I read news and they talk about some super-popular modern music star and I have absolutely no clue who they are but I’m supposed to according to the article. Shit I only recently started dipping my toes into the world of hip hop/rap. Therefore I can’t really get into this music discussion (I mostly listen to 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s music, very little modern). I mean I try to keep up and listen to modern stuff but most of it just isn’t for me and instead of complaining about the damn kids on my lawn I ignore it.

    As for the whole wanting to be accepted by ‘the man’, I can attest to that. My generation has this odd ‘Please accept me’ thing going for it. It’s one of the reasons why I think anime fans (mostly 90s kids) can be so annoying. We so want to be accepted by people who don’t want to accept us that we look to DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN on how to achieve that and we end up with ultra-violent and awful superhero comics and an obvious parody trailer of freaking POWER RANGERS and totally buy it at face value. I used to blame 80s-kids but as I got older, I’m pretty sure it was my generation now. So my generation whining that music they like isn’t being acknowledged by the Grammy’s doesn’t surprise me.

    In conclusion: “If they accept the nerdy shit I like, they’ll accept me and that cute girl in the cube next to me will totes give me the time of day! Now let me tell about the deep mythology of POWER RANGERS and how on the surface it is stupid and goofy but if you look beneath you’ll see that it is actually quite serious…”

  47. flying guillotine

    February 21st, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    I definitely recall going into this movie wanting to like it a lot more than I actually did. My biggest take-away was Naomi Watts… Even before she was a bigger name, I was like… holy cow, who is SHE?

  48. I firmly believe there are 2 actresses in the business today that make anything they star in watchable (a bit).

    Naomi Watts and Eva Green.

  49. I find this movie painful to watch. Lori Petty is annoying rather than “quirky”, and the whole thing feels so forced. It’s as if some focus group decided grrl power was the next big thing so they got some middle aged white dudes to write a screenplay. The fact that it is based on the work of some purportedly legit talented comic book artist and he was involved in the production just makes it sad. I had seen the movie years ago when it came out and thought I had mixed it up in my mind with JOHNNY MNEMONIC and, given its no-so-bad reputation, I gave it another chance recently. Nope, just as painful as I remembered.

    As far as American vs European tastes in pop culture and especially pop music…. Europeans (excluding Great Britain) have ALWAYS been the goofy clueless cousin to us Americans. Not the immature cousin who loves Taylor Swift or Justin Beiber or whatever is popular with the kids — the clueless, weird, maybe somewhat creepy cousin who is so tone deaf on what constitutes “good” or “bad” music or style that they listen to absolutely awful abominations that simply are unheard of or ignored by sane people. And yet in Europe these acts are presented side by side with American acts with absolutely no sense of irony or shame, and to American eyes the difference in quality is glaringly obvious. Robbie Williams being a prime example, or Eiffel 65 or Aqua or that kind of terrible Eurotrash pop. It’s an unintentional bastardization of American pop culture where they take everything that is good about what they are trying to mimic and turn it up to 11, with none of the style or grace that made the original good art.

    You can say many of the same things about many European movies remade in American, unfortunately.

  50. The Undefeated Gaul

    February 23rd, 2017 at 4:09 am

    rainman – As a European myself I feel like I gotta at least mention that most of your examples (i.e. Aqua and Eiffel 65) were never intended nor appreciated as “serious” music. I will admit that Europeans (I might be generalizing, but this at least goes for the Dutch) tend to greatly enjoy this type of objectively terrible, but sometimes catchy and fun “music”, meaning they indeed end up side by side with “proper” music on the charts in a seemingly random order. Still, no European in their right mind would ever consider Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” to be a work of art. More of a fun, nostalgic time capsule, reminding us of high school dances and more carefree times in general.

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