Saturday, December 14, 2013

#171: Street Trash (Jim Muro, 1987)

A slimy, scuzzy, disgusting, morally bankrupt, often very funny "video nasty" (to use a British term I've always enjoyed), Street Trash is two-thirds of a classic midnight cult movie. Unfortunately, the other third (which I completely blocked out after my first viewing) is a godawful piece of gang rape, necrophilia, and sexual harassment as entertainment misogyny that is impossible to enjoy if you're not a dirtbag. That piece of the film tarnishes the rest of it by association and made me feel dirty, but if you can get past those scenes, the rest of the film is pretty damn enjoyable, if you enjoy melting, exploding humans, wallowings in filth, and hilarious non sequiturs. Writer Roy Frumkes (whose parallel career as an actor began when he played 1st Pie-in-Face Zombie in Romero's Dawn of the Dead) has said that his goal in writing Street Trash was to include something that offended absolutely everyone, so I guess the gang rape is there for people like me who don't enjoy gratuitous sexual violence. On all other counts, I can enjoy what Frumkes is going for here. I'm very uptight about cinematic depictions of sexual violence if they're included just to shock or titillate. I can get behind every other poor taste cinematic transgression, however. That's just the way I'm wired.
Street Trash is about a community of homeless, alcoholic vagrants in beaten-down, mid-1980s Greenpoint, Brooklyn and what happens to them when an explosive concoction called Tenafly Viper hits the neighborhood liquor store they frequent. I spent three lovely days in Greenpoint this past summer as part of a week-long New York vacation, and it's definitely lost much of the scuzz captured here by Muro. The cinematically hellish Manhattan and Brooklyn streets of '70s and '80s New York captured by Scorsese, Toback, Larry Cohen, and on and on are practically a bouquet of fresh tulips compared to Muro's Brooklyn. You want to spray every character and location with a high-powered hose and an industrial-sized cauldron of soap.(Aspiring rock bands: Soap Cauldron is still available.)
So. I said Tenafly Viper was explosive. It is. One drink of this stuff and the unlucky imbiber either melts or explodes in crazy Day-Glo colors. And it's not a slow, wait-for-it-to-be-absorbed-into-the-stomach-lining thing, either. You immediately start exploding or melting as soon as you swallow that first drink. The basic rule seems to be that fat guys explode and skinny guys melt, but some people work a nice combo platter of melting and exploding. The colors are different every time. This may be inconsistent, but if there's one thing that's consistent about Street Trash, it's inconsistency. This movie is all over the damn place.
The characters inhabiting this world are, almost to a one, disgusting, drunk, sexist, racist, homophobic, filthy in body and mind, conniving, unethical, and fond of dropping bizarre one-liners. Most of them live in a junkyard behind an auto-body shop, including a crazed, murderous Vietnam vet with a knife carved from a femur and a couple of runaways. The crazed vet often has Vietnam flashbacks. An Italian gangster and his smart-ass doorman also get mixed up in this story. The gangster sings the closing credits tune, a parody of Sinatra's "My Way" that incorporates his threats to the doorman and the unfortunate effects of Viper (sample lyric: "What's this? I'm startin' to ooze. You little creep, what's this fuckin' shit?"). Real humans made this movie, which exists and can be watched.
Frumkes' script and a lot of the acting are decidedly amateur, which is par for the course on a low-budget exploitation movie, but a handful of the performances have a lot of charm, and the special effects and camerawork are surprisingly way above average. You probably know whether this is the kind of film you can find some value in, but if you're still on the fence, let me mention it also includes a character getting decapitated by a compressed air tank while his severed head manages to look up the skirt of a passing woman, a severed penis that is used in an elaborate game of keep-away, the aforementioned exploding and melting bums, a character who wears a gas mask for no discernible reason, a yuppie sent flying through his own windshield, some decent slapstick comedy, and the most extensive shoplifting scene I've ever seen. And of course, a few fart jokes. And, unfortunately, the rape and harassment scenes I mentioned earlier, which can be fast-forwarded through without missing anything entertaining or important.
Maybe that sexualized violence now embarrasses director Jim Muro, because he refuses to discuss the film in interviews and has all but publicly disowned his involvement in the film. I mentioned before that Street Trash features some tremendous camerawork, and Muro is the guy responsible. In addition to his directorial duties, Muro operated the Steadicam. A few short years after Street Trash, Muro became one of the most in-demand Steadicam operators in Hollywood, and he's currently one of television's most successful cinematographers. As a Steadicam guy, his CV includes Brain Damage, Maniac Cop, Field of Dreams, The Abyss, Dances with Wolves, Predator 2, The Doors, Terminator 2, Point Break, JFK, Raising Cain, A Few Good Men, True Lies, Clueless, Strange Days, Casino, Heat, L.A. Confidential, Titanic, and The Insider. Maybe it's understandable why Muro downplays Street Trash, but I think it's important to never forget your roots, which, in Muro's case, includes exploding drunken bums and an airborne severed penis.

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