In anticipation of our episode on Freud, we welcome your Freudian analysis of this extremely weird short about the value of springs, presented in MST3K-vision to make it tolerable.
This particular video is sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” made into a commercial about springs, and the fact that it was ever made is thoroughly astounding. What interest group would fund this? Who could be the possible audience? Why does it keep going on and on? The commentary makes this much more explicitly Faustian, and the latter portion of the movie depicts the life of many a philosophy doctoral student who can talk about nothing but, for instance, Hegel’s take on the dynamic relations of substratum-specific components to create emergent phenomena within another substratum, thereby giving an account of apparent transcendece within a system that is basically enclosed, though only in its potentiality.
I’ve got a long history with Mystery Science Theater, and have recently been gorging myself on Rifftrax, its modern, Internet-only incarnation. At its height, MST3K struck me as a unique art form: free association theater, a kind of basic exploration of humor where the jokes came so fast that not all of them had to be jokes at all, where a commented continuation of one of the lines spoken on screen pulls the whole stream, instantly but only for a moment, along a different interpretive track.
The MST3K writers’ room was packed with far too many people, watching the movie in multiple passes, and additional writers would watch independently and mail in more jokes, so that every little space was filled with some association (that presumably in many cases competed with other jokes to get there), and you had to listen very carefully to get it all, even stopping and rewinding to try to decipher that one quickly muttered comment. I seldom went so far as to look up the references that I didn’t get, though an episode guide was released at one point that explained many of the these. For me, not getting a joke was a challenge to my cultural literacy; one had to go watch the older movies or whatever to earn the right to laugh.
A recall a friend making fun of my watching this back in college, saying that it was like having substitute friends to watch a movie with, but this didn’t ring true, and not just because there’s no way actual friends would be talking that much during any movie, and if they did the results would be pathetic (a recent episode of the sit-com “Community” addressed this). No, it’s because a well-done MST3K episode was an autopsy of the film, and idiot movie-making conventions, and the associative scars left in our own brains by prolonged media exposure.
For a more recent example, here’s a sample of the Rifftrax from The Happening:
This is actually a film that I didn’t mind so much; M. Night’s moods and music make his films enjoyable to me even when they don’t make much sense. A successful riff doesn’t require, however, that you hate the film (as a challenge to themselves, they even did Casablanca). Now, Rifftrax doesn’t have the same frantic, over-packed quality that I loved about MST3K. It says something about the attempted status of MST3K as art that its original creator Joel Hodgson got burned out on the whole thing a few seasons in–though now he has a limited effort along the same lines as Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic, which I’ve yet to check out, largely for economic reasons (CT requires you to purchase the DVDs, whereas Rifftrax are sold in audio form over the Internet or with older films available for rental through Netflix and other sources).
The big difference between MST3K and Rifftrax is that Rifftrax covers current Hollywood blockbusters, so the idea (with most of them) is to enjoy the movie in itself, then enjoy the merciless skewering. I’ve found that the latter doesn’t ruin my ability to subsequently enjoy the movie on its own, and frankly, mocking your idols is good. MST3K typically covered movies that were so boring and awful that you could never ever stand to sit through them unadorned (Red Zone: Cuba is one that immediately comes to my mind).
Now, when I recently showed my lawyer sister a recent Rifftrax short on keeping your room clean, she remarked that this would be she could see herself watching this kind of thing if she had A LOT of time to waste. But then again, the philosopher is often referred to as someone who stops and takes his time, unpressed by practical need, exploring the issue for as long as it takes. This is not to say that after watching 10 shorts in a row about safety, hygiene, nutrition, and elementary education that you won’t feel a bit of sameness. Anyway, laughter, too, can be exhausting.