Monday, October 18, 2010

Rubin and Ed (Trent Harris, 1991)

It is written somewhere that living in an inside world is different than living in an outside world. In the former, the events that take place mainly occur within the spacious confines of your own head. In other words, not much happens beyond the odd hallucination and the occasional parental disruption. Well, the complete opposite happens when faced with an outdoor existence, as your weather-beaten psyche is literally inundated with all kinds of newfangled stimuli. Sure, the hallucinations remain, but you will probably notice that they have expanded not only in scope, but also in terms of intensity (if you wear platform shoes, for example, they will seem larger than they really are). One particular individual meets this inside-outside culture shock criteria perfectly, and that is, Rubin in the delightfully off-kilter Rubin and Ed, a little film with big ideas about a man with a watermelon-eating cat named Simon and another man with substitute hair. Encompassing a wide birth of deep and meaningful topics, the film, written and directed by Trent Harris (Plan 10 from Outer Space), somehow manages to successfully bridge the gap between the absurd and the deranged. Announcing its charm almost immediately with the introduction of its playful music score (Fred Myrow), we learn that even a set of thick blue curtains, a stack of old newspapers and a boombox (one that sports the coveted "auto reverse" feature) can't shield you from the real world forever.

We all know what it's like to mourn the loss of a furry loved one. My black cat died at the ripe old age of seventeen and recall being quite shaken by the experience. It's true, I kept their remains unburied for longer than I should have, but my situation never got to the point where I found myself drinking the sweat that had accumulated in my platform shoe's insole after walking for hours in the arid, extra dry wilderness of Utah, a state located in the United States of America with the kind of skies that would even impress a fluffy cloud expert like Rickie Lee Jones.

The advantage the person mourning his dead kitty in this film has is refrigeration. In that, he can hold on to the idea that his four-legged pal is still around without having to worry about decomposition. Unfortunately, Rubin (Crispin Glover), the dead kitty person, is confronted by outside forces who unwittingly compel him to bury the deceased animal. It begins with his mother, who tells Rubin that he can't listen to Gustav Mahler (his late cat's favourite) and squeak the yellow rubber mouse (his late cat's favourite) until he leaves the house (or in this case, his hotel room) and makes a friend ("No friend, no music!"). However, it's ultimately a fella named Ed (Howard Hesseman) who puts the unorthodox burial adventure in motion after he knocks Simon out of the freezer ("Why don't you keep you hands off other people's refrigerators").

The odd pairing both have ulterior motives: Rubin wants Ed to come over and meet his mother (proving to her that he has in fact made a friend). Ed wants Rubin to attend a seminar run by the mysterious "The Organization," a self-help group (run by Michael Greene from To Live and Die in L.A.) for successful salespeople, in order to show Rula (Karen Black), his smoking hot wife, that he is not a total failure. With his mother awol, Ed agrees to help Rubin bury his cat in the desert. Sounds simple enough (lay cat to rest, swing on by the seminar), but things get a tad weird when Rubin decides that the spot they chosen isn't quite right. The high-strung Ed, lounging in the dirt by a smallish hole that, thanks to Rubin's indecisiveness, bares not a single dead cat, even direly points out the impending weirdness that is about to transpire. While some may not appreciate this sort of self-aware candor, I found it to be refreshing, as most films of this nature seem to shy away from acknowledging their own strangeness.

The scene where a sexier-than-usual Karen Black (Mirror Mirror), sheathed in an alluring red dress (the camera even slowly pans up her supple frame as if she were a curvy pin-up model circa 1949), can be seen screaming while entangled in the fender Ed's company car is just the first of many outlandish dream sequences peppered throughout Rubin and Ed, a film that isn't afraid to show a cat water-skiing. And even though Crispin Glover can be seen at one point wearing a hubcap on his head, the film isn't completely enamoured with its own kookiness. On the contrary, the way the film deftly mixed unexplained nuttiness ("Andy Warhol sucks a big one") with moments of pure pathos was elegant and smooth; like droplets of liquid slowly oozing out of a recently discarded can of beer. I mean, call me a nonsensical sack of deformed hammers, but I thought the scene in the cave where Ed bonds with Rubin to be quite touching. You really got the sense that Ed genuinely cared about Rubin's loss.

In a flash, your mind immediately stops thinking about the exquisite paleness of the legs sprouting out from the torso of that woman Rubin harasses by the hotel's pool–Rubin inadvertently utters one of the worst pick-up lines ever ("You wanna meet my mom?")–and the film starts making you ponder the meaning of life. Okay, maybe I wouldn't go that far (her legs were crossed after all). But it does capture what it must feel like to inhabit the specific skin of two men on the cusp of scoring an existential breakthrough.

Employing the word "asswipe" like it were a badge of honour, Howard Hesseman, an actor best known as the iconic Dr. Johnny Fever (his slacker diskjockey character from WKRP in Cincinnati), gives a complex performance as the beaten down Ed, a man reduced to repeating corporate nonsense in the presence of others. Affixed with a questionable wig (hair substitute), Howard, whether displaying his cringe-worthy habit of adding an unnecessary Spanish flair to everyday Anglo phrases (I know for a fact I heard him say, "el weirdo" at least twice) or extolling the virtues of Cat Ballou, imbues the defeated Ed with an unhinged tenderness.

While it doesn't seem to get thrown around that much nowadays, I've always preferred "asswipe" over "asshole," its more popular cousin in the high stakes realm of anal-based insults. I don't know, "asshole" just seems to sit there like a lump of coarse nothingness. On the other hand, "asswipe" seems to glide off the tongue with a gentle grace.

The phantom-like Brittney Lewis appears every now and then as Rubin's nameless dream girl. Usually dressed in swimwear–the kind that was fashionable during the late 1980s, Brittney helps Rubin when he is lost–this comes in handy when he finds himself aimlessly drifting amongst the desert's penis-shaped rock formations (similar to ones found in the music video for 2 Unlimited's "Magic Friend"), and builds up his self-esteem when he is down. You could say: The magic friend is what she is.

A demented humanitarian who almost kicked David Letterman in the head, Crispin "I'm making my lunch!" Glover is an awkward revelation as the platform shoe-wearing Rubin. Unafraid to rock a pair of gaudy bellbottom trousers in a desert setting, Crispin captures the despair of a desolate pet owner in a way that only an actor of his unique reputation could summon. And while the ridiculousness of appearance may at times dampen the weightiness of his predicament, the eccentric actor always manages to advance his character's spiritual cause.

The year may be 1991, but the black and blue ensemble Karen Black wears while talking on the phone in her kitchen was definitely purchased in 1986.*

Why my viewing expanse (the eyeball-centric area I use to watch things with) and this wacky adventure have never got around to molesting each other until now will probably remain a mystery. I love movies where mismatched oddballs wander the desert in search of themselves. Wait a minute, no I don't. But I did love this one. We all need someone to help us let go of the coolers that contain the partially frozen remains of our dead pets.

video uploaded by dtnehring

* Just because the film was released in 1991, doesn't mean it was shot in 1991; Miss Black's outfit could have been only a couple of years old.

Anyway, thanks to Tenebrous Kate over at Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire for making me more aware of this film than I already was.


  1. I need to get around to seeing this film. I am in love with Mr. Crispin Glover.

  2. Love Rubin And Ed. I need to dust off my old vhs copy very soon thanks to this review.

    Over the holidays we were behind Crispin Glover on line at the airport. He was in hurry to get to LA, and apparently was going to miss his flight. There was a big fight between him and the ticket agent and it was uber-awkward. Apparently the agent didn't realize this was the guy who's density, I mean destiny, was to fall in love with Lea Thompson at the under the sea dance. If I wasn't going San Diego instead of LA I would have offered to give him my seat, or the very least kick my travel companion to the curb and join him so we could be dead fucks together.

  3. I love you so much for being a fellow worshiper at the shrine of the weird. We really need to put our heads together and design some appropriate ecclesiastical garb (no black Nike Windrunners, pls)...

  4. By some sad and wild coincidence, I had my 17-year-old black cat put to sleep not four hours ago :(

    Oh well, I love this movie, and even planned on writing a review of it at some point. Have you ever seen The Beaver Trilogy? (Trent Harris and Crispin again). It's a must Yum, as it were ;) There's a good interview with Trent Harris in Cinema Sewer magazine also.

    Also, thanks and no thanks. I have that damn Dolly Dots song stuck in my head thanks to you! "She'll turn your brown eyes blue...". Anyway, thanks, this review was a perfect fit for how my evening going ;)

  5. What the hell?
    By the way, you should review more movies that are feline-centric. (And I don't mean pussy.)
    I think I've mentioned this, but I have a cat named Simon, but I don't think he'd eat watermelon. Actually, he might. He's really fat.
    I never knew Rickie Lee Jones was a meterologist.
    We're behind on Jeopardy!

    Oh, I watched the Kids in the Hall's Death Comes to Town. There was a jury duty selection scene that reminded me of you. ("oh, they do have jury duty in Canada!" :))

  6. Morgan: Yeah, I can see that. After all, he does have a certain quality about him.

    Cinema Du Meep: I'm surprised it didn't end up on TMZ.

    Lea Thompson? Under sea dance? Are those Back to the Future references? ;)

    Speaking of Lea, she was on the cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly.

    Tenebrous Kate: Yeah, fashion forward cult-wear. Lots of buckled shoes, striped tights, wide belts and neon everywhere. (Tingle, tingle, I sound like Michael Beck from Xanadu.)

    Black Nike Windrunners were the shoe of choice of that cigar-shaped spaceship cult.

    Thomas Duke: Sorry to hear that, man. :(

    You should still totally write one.

    The Beaver Trilogy, eh? It looks like it's available at Trent Harris's website.

    Oh, that Dolly Dots' song, it's a burrower. It's like one of them slugs from Night of the Creeps; in that, it gets in your brain and proceeds to fuck your shit up.

    Karim Amir: Feline-centric as in about cats, not feline-centric as in about vaginas. Got ya. :)

    Weird, I added the name "Simon" to the entry at the last minute because I felt I wasn't treating Simon with the respect he deserves.

    Yeah, Rickie Lee Jones is the first name I think of whenever the topic of "desert skies" is brought up. (A sample of her rambling about the skies in her native Arizona was famously used on The Orb track "Fluffy Little Clouds.")

    I've started watching Jeopardy! again. In other words, all is right in the world. (I sure did miss that annoyed look on Alex's face whenever contestants blow the clues pertaining to Canada.)

    Funny, I said the same thing when I got my jury summons in mail. Except, I think my sentence was peppered with the words "shit," fuck," and "piss."

  7. The Beaver Trilogy? What was I just saying about pussy?

    Okay, I see the Rickie Lee Jones connection. I've always liked her Flying Cowboys album. produced by that guy from Steely Dan who also produced China Crisis's Flaunt the Imperfection and Diary of a Hollow Horse.

    My other half was studying for an exam in an American History class, and one of the terms he had to know was "54-40 or fight." I couldn't help singing the words to "One Gun": "Hey there pretty girl, can I kiss you?"

  8. Glancing over at my next entry, I couldn't help but notice that it's filled to the brim with pussy talk. So... it looks like I'm gonna have to break my pussy promise. :( On the bright side, I do mention cock a bunch of times. :)

    I must say, I'm impressed by the way you were able to connect Rickie Lee Jones to China Crisis in such a succinct manner.

    Speaking of 54-40, the Canadian Jeopardy! clue this week was USA-Canada border related.

    Tell Mr. d that a YouTube user named VinilOldSchool‬‎ has posted material from Basic Pain Procedure, Nitzer Ebb's demo cassette from 1983. It's raw and even more DAF-like than their late '80s stuff. Of course, I'm assuming he's a big fan of NE, if he's not, ignore what I just said, and tell him I said "Hey."

  9. Great review, I'm looking forward to seeing this (hope to watch it today). Another big recommendation for The Beaver Trilogy. You'd love it.

    Did you actually make it to that screening of A Serbian Film? Are you scarred for life?

  10. "My cat can eat a whole watermelon."

    Um, yeah, The Beaver Trilogy. I'll definitely be watching that one in the near future.

    Too bad I can't say the same for A Serbian Film. What can I say? I lost my nerve.

  11. this is my alltime favorite movie. Really happy to see others loved it, because there's a good portion of people who just don't get the genius humor in it!

    great review.

  12. I finally watched this and can I just say that everyone was right. This is like the best think ever.

    While much is made about Glover, the real unsung hero here is Hesseman. He is the peanut butter to Glover's chocolate.

    I love this movie and am ordering it (along with The Beaver Trilogy) from Trent Harris's website.

    Danke schoen, kind sir.

  13. Nichts zu danken!

    Hesseman rocks.

    I'm looking forward to The Beaver Trilogy.

  14. Yeah, s s s s oh yes. One of my favorite moments ever broadcast on TV was Glover nearly kicking that lecherous Letterman in his febrile face. Uhhhh...sorry did that come off as hostile? My wife was in his audience once and her description of him as being the grossest slimy horndawg bastard seems to have had an effect on me. I mean; have some class about it for crap's sake! Anyhizl...Love Crispin. References to this film have floated just out of my grip for years, and reading this august review finally got me close enough to grasp. $75 VHS on Amazon! Wowtch! But then (God bless us everyone...Your teacher's full of crap - Dickens/Rocko's Joe Murray) your comments pushed me to the Trent Harris website. A handful of his flicks for $25 a pop on DVD! Ruleage! This is my favest evar best Blog!