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Charlie: You panicked those people last time. Don't panic these people. I'm sure they have enough on their minds. They don't need any more stress. Just cut them up like ribbons and be done with it. No one likes a showoff. Be nice to them, and let their spirit live in peace to infinity.
DVD ReviewThe retelling of the Charles Manson mythos as a rock musical with stop-motion animation—and a gaggle of rock stars tossed in for good measure—sure seems like a wonderfully bizarro idea. Director John Roecker waves his punk aesthetic proudly in Live Freaky! Die Freaky!, referring to the film's message as "do not conform or listen to anyone," and presents an intentionally edgy (if edgy means "hit me in the face with a hammer") satire of Manson and his followers that I guess is supposed to shock viewers—and I'm sure this film will—with its graphic claymation sex and broad dismantling of mainstream values, such as the surefire tactic trampling on religion.
Now I'm about as religious as a rotted tree stump, so one can throw around Jesus/organized religion jokes all day long and I'll barely even notice them. The stuff just doesn't shock me like I guess it's supposed to. A difference in belief doesn't make the simple act of bashing funny, because like any attempt at humor, it takes a good gag to do that. For Roecker, the idea of an LSD trip transforming a crucifix first into a swastika and then an undulating mass of penises screams that this is supposed to be shocking, and the explicit sex scene that follows continues this sort of sensory assault involving Manson and more religious icons. Yes, I get it. He's trying to startle viewers with a don't-give-a-damn punk value system, but it's not that easy. There has to be some substance behind it, doesn't there?
Like Dragnet, the names have been changed, though it hardly seems like protection of the innocent. For Roecker's film, the names of the real-life characters have been altered with the subtle finesse of a poor Mad Magazine parody. There's Charles Hanson (Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong), his faithful followers Hadie (Lunachick's Theo Kogan), Hex (X's John Doe), and Heslie (Famous Monster's Sean Yseult), and eventual victims Sharon Hate (Kelly Osbourne), Mrs. Ha Bianca (Jen Johnson), Mr. Ha Bianca (Matt Freeman), and Habagail Folger (Asia Argento). Oddly enough, the only name that remains unchanged is Squeaky (Go-Go Jane Wiedlin), and if you've heard Wiedlin speak you'll understand why. A prologue features a wandering desert nomad (the film's only live action sequence) in the year 3069, where, according to the narration, Earth has been ravaged by "virus, famine and death." Said nomad discovers a buried copy of the book "Healter Skelter", and it's there that the story flashes back to 1968, and the claymation begins.
The opening straight-jacket interrogation of Hadie—overseen by a trio of pigs (get it?)—is an eerie looking bit of subversive animation, full of strange angles and dark shadows, but any hope that the rest of the film could maintain that level of surreal intensity is short lived. What follows are interludes featuring lots of unnecessary sex of every variety (you name it, it's here) that make the controversial puppet coupling in Team America look like high art. Instead of being shocked to see a female character perform oral sex on another female character, I just felt dulled, as if Roecker was trying to desperately push too many buttons at one time.
There are lots of hip, happening rock stars cropping up throughout, including Green Day's Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt, Rancid's Lars Frederiksen and Tim Armstrong, AFI's Davey Havok, Blink 182's Travis Barker, and Good Charlotte's Madden brothers. The weird thing is, many of these bands appeal to the young teenage/Hot Topic mall crowd, and Roecker's film (at least this unrated version) seems like it could be a little heavy for unsuspecting eyeballs that live to drool over Billie Joe Armstrong and everything he does. That doesn't make the content shocking as much as perhaps just inappropriate, at least for 14-year-old girls.
I'm sure Roecker didn't make this for 14-year-old girls, but the presence of Green Day and Good Charlotte is lure enough to make this a curiosity. Who knows, maybe this will become some underground rite of passage amongst the mall-walking Green Day army. I'm liberal and open-minded, and I do admire Roecker's stab at unadulterated shock-value filmmaking, but I question the marketing aspect. But I guess that's the punk aesthetic.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.78:1 nonanamorphic widescreen, the relatively debris-free transfer here has very soft edges throughout. Colors are warm, but a bit smeary in spots. Hardly a showcase transfer, the feature waffles more often than not toward being good, but far from great. It's a case of the imperfections suiting the rough-edged material.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Two surround sound audio choices here, one in 2.0 and the other in Dolby Digital 5.1. Opt for the 5.1 if you can, because though it isn't particularly aggressive when it comes to rear channel usage, the music sound far more crisp and clean than the 2.0 mix, with a bit of a more pronounced bottom end. Voice clarity and quality is clear at all times, with moderate directional movement.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Unknown White Male, The Intruder, A Hole In One, Dear Wendy, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Happy Hour
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Roecker, Billie Joe Armstrong, Jane Wiedlin
Packaging: Amaray Double
The DVD features a commentary from director John Roecker, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Jane Wiedlin. Aside from revealing the secret location of Viggo Mortenson's head in one scene, the chatter is giggly, mumbly and lightweight, made all the more surreal by the dominant presence of Wiedlin's chirpy, helium-esque voice.
A quickie of a deleted scene (:34s) sports a baby slaughtering a pig, and nearly half of the runtime is a title card describing the scene, so in actuality the scene runs about 15 seconds. The behind-the-scenes section features Making the Puppets Speak (15m:16s), with rough and tumble footage of Billie Joe Armstrong, Jane Wiedlin, Davey Havok, Lars Frederiksen, and John Doe recording their various bits of dialogue. The Recordings and Rehearsals section has behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the music video for Mechanical Man (01m:38s), clips from the recording of the Original Title Score (05m:42s) featuring Jen Johnson and Blink 182's Travis Barker and as well as scenes from the Recording "Your Blood Will Set You Free" (11m:00s). There's also storyboards, a peek at the filming of the film's only live action section—Desert Footage (02m:04s)—and a music video for Mechanical Man (03m:01s).
A glossy six-page insert booklet carries an interview with John Roecker, answering such questions as what effect would Live Freaky! like to have on an audience, and what the main point of the film is. This interview provides more answers than the commentary does, so I guess that's a good thing.
The film is cut into 12 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThere's a real trick bag here, because condemning the unrated/uncensored version of John Roecker's film will likely label one a prude or someone who just doesn't "get" it. But that's oversimplifying things, because it takes a lot to shock or stun me anymore, and not completely liking Live Freaky! Die Freaky! has nothing to do with the graphic absurdity of the content.
The hipness of the cast and the solid soundtrack aside, the plot itself relies too heavily on bursts of juvenile sex humor when a retelling of the Charles Manson story should be consistently dark and terrifying, something that shows glimmers of promise in the stop-motion/claymation approach used here.
The idea and presentation never live up its potential—and Roecker seems to try too hard to shock—but Wellspring has included a soundtrack CD with this release that is excellent on its own. Just don't make the mistake of picking up this unrated/uncensored version for your favorite 14-year-old fan of Green Day or Good Charlotte (and they are legion) because this is the equivalent of puppet porn.
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