Friday, October 21, 2011

Didn't see this coming

The guy beside me on the subway is in his early to mid-20s, wearing a Ralph Steadmanesque t-shirt with Picnic at Hanging Rock printed in the traditional freaky Steadman script (think about the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas cover). The shirt itself is black, the printed colour something between unhealthy yellow and khaki and there’s a stylized etching of what one assumes is the titular rock with a woman falling/flying/leaping off the top in a Victorian-style dress.

I can say with complete certainty that nobody else in our subway car has the same shirt under their jacket. I really wish I had a photo of it, it would have been worth the Why is this weird man taking pictures of a stranger on the subway? response from the locals. The t-shirt wearing guy himself is a clean cut sort and doesn’t resemble Hunter S. Thompson or Withnail or any of Steadman’s other grotesques, he just looks like a film major en route to class or his shift at a video store or whatever production house awaits his services as an underpaid production assistant.

Ralph Steadman is a cult figure. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a cult film. But putting the two of them in the same context for the sake of satire (or a really, really weird homage) is something I haven’t ever seen or would even have been able to imagine until this morning. It’s an in-joke for the shirt’s creator and the handful of people who can pull up both references on short notice. It reminded me of an old National Lampoon Radio Hour tribute to Last Tango in Paris by way of Gigi (Brando & Schneider’s rendition of I Remember It Well is a showstopper), or Christopher Guest’s small-town theatre impresario in Waiting for Guffman branching off into merchandising with a Remains of the Day lunchbox for hungry Merchant-Ivory or Kazuo Ishiguro fans.

This kind of humour is pitched at the wry chuckle for those in the know rather than the all-out guffaw from the great unwashed. To be in on the joke, you need to know that Steadman was Thompson’s artist of choice and that Hanging Rock is (in very small circles) famous for being a film about nothing where most of the nothing happens offscreen (suspected culprits range from ghosts to aliens to rampant existentialists). Neither Thompson nor Steadman would willingly sit in a screening room with it. The t-shirt pushes you to a place where you’re either impressed by the in-bred, in-jokey effort behind it or washing your hands of it while muttering ‘I wish I had as much time to waste as some people’ while you head to the nearest exit.

Me, I sort of admire the melding of minimalism and all-out gonzo (from a safe distance). I wouldn’t wear the shirt myself, but if it’s mass produced I’d love to hear from the marketing team that loosed it into the world. If Steadman doesn’t sue, I think they could whip up a t-shirt that depicts a decent Sound of Music pastiche in the style of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Whether drawn out of utterly misguided love or truly imaginative loathing, it would be one hell of an antidote to the film itself. The hills might truly be alive after all; be afraid.

October, 2011


Patti said...

Smiling. I would have been one of the great unwashed in that subway car ... "I don't get it....whatever."

But the hills REALLY being alive? THAT'S funny.

Mike D. said...

If the hills were alive, would they have eaten or rejected Maria? Either way, a well placed crevasse or a landslide would have silenced all that damn singing and really, that's the important part.

stretchyfernia said...

LOL! hills are dancing I might say...hahahaha..I love the art though.

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