I get so excited on Oscar night. It’s the one night of the year on which an undiluted fascination with glamour, glitz and glossolalia is tolerated in this Puritan country of ours.
Glossalalia: “Who are you possessed by tonight, dear?
What’s that–one of those things is not like the others? What are you–Sesame Street?
Oh, you thought I meant the Oscar Oscars. No, no, no, darling. I meant the Swamp Thing/Kung Fu-Pimping Oscars, the more exclusive motion picture awards show, held each year as a challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy in the movie business–all those shoot-em-ups and chick flicks. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” as Pauline Kael called it, quoting an Italian movie poster.
The Citizen Kane of Swamp Thing cinema.
No, I’m talking about the two neglected film genres that “the Academy”–I get reflux of bile whenever I say the words–refuses to acknowledge as part of the great tradition of American cinema; swamp thing (or more properly, “thang”) movies and Kung Fu-pimping movies.
I know, you’re probably shaking your head right now, saying “I don’t know what he’s talking about!” Funny, I have that effect on people–but it’s true. There are no more characteristically American movies than those that depict ghastly creatures emerging from Ozark swamps and Kung Fu-fighting pimps. Even as we speak some young French critic trying to make a name for himself is penning an article for Les Cahiers du Cinema finding in Kung-Fu-pimping flicks virtues that benighted American film critics have overlooked. As Maurice Chevalier said of Gigi, they’ve either been standing up too close or back to far when it comes to these rich and fertile sub-genres.
Pardon my self-promotion, but I’m up for an award myself tonight; Best Supporting Actor in a Non-Dramatic Role in an Adaptation of a Swamp Thing Musical, in my case “Here Comes the Critter!” Variety called it “a light-hearted romp through a generation of swamp thing movie cliches that is redeemed only by lugubrious lighting and drop-dead gorgeous rubber swamp-thing costumes.”
To which I reply–“You say ‘cliche’ like it’s a bad thing!”
The loyal fans who make up the audiences for swamp thing movies across this great nation of ours live for the cliches. They know that the swamp thing is going to get the girl, even if he first meets her by thrusting his paw in the window of a double-wide mobile home. And when he’s wounded by animal control officers who call in reinforcements from the Sheriff’s Department, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and slinks back into the swamp he will–like General Douglas MacArthur–return. You see, swamp things never die, they just fade away to lick their wounds–and return for vengeance!
Rudy Ray Moore
Then there’s the “diversity” side of the outlaw cinema coin–Kung Fu pimping movies. These films depict a world that Academy voters are wholly ignorant of; all they know is movies of uplift, the cinema of Driving Miss Daisy. If you ask them who Rudy Ray Moore was, they ask “Was he the guy who valeted my Bentley?” That’s no way to talk about the guy who was the Orson Welles of Kung Fu Pimping Cinema, according to no less a source than The New York Times, and now is the subject of an Eddie Murphy biopic!
America needs an all-girl army of Kung-Fu Killers!
But first–we will honor Moore and his counterpart in the Swamp Thing genre, Charles B. Pierce. Was he the D.W. Griffith of le cinema du swamp thing? It is not to soon to declare him so.
Charles B. Pierce, father of Swamp Thing Cinema.
And so the stars have come out tonight here in Hoxie, Arkansas, the Hollywood of these orphan genres. As always the program is way behind schedule as every swamp thing director, editor and key grip has to thank his mom, his dad who took him frog-gigging at an early age and introduced him to the lore of the swamp, his high school biology teacher who taught him how to dissect a frog, etc. etc. Let me say right now that if I win tonight I’ll be up there and off stage in under 10 minutes–tops!
A hush falls over the crowd as the Academy’s Director, Clell Durnell, a man who claims to have captured a swamp thing in his youth only to have it escape before he could exploit it for exhibition at goat-ropings and county fairs, takes the stage. He is going to present posthumous Lifetime Achievement Awards to Pierce and Moore, and a lot of us have a nagging sense of guilt that they were not honored while alive for lifetime achieving.
Frog gigging is great training for budding Swamp Thing Film Industry pros!
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he says as the images of Pierce and Moore are projected on high school venereal disease instruction film screens behind him–we can’t afford the high-tech production equipment of the “other” Academy–“tonight we honor two giants of the industry, without whose efforts and vision, none of us would be here.”
The Kung Fu Pimping stars come out in Hoxie!
“Before Rudy Ray Moore, there was no Kung Fu Pimping cinema. Before Charles B. Pierce, if you asked an usher which theatre at the Framingham 14 Megaplex ‘Swamp Thing’s Revenge’ was showing in you would get nothing but a blank stare.” He pauses for a moment: “Of course, with the low wages theatre owners on the Swamp Thing/Kung Fu Pimping circuit pay, blank stares are fairly common.”
The audience cracks up, just as they no doubt are at the Oscars, but remember–our emcee isn’t Ellen Degeneres, he’s an amateur doing the best he can with material he writes himself.
There follows a retrospective of the two men’s careers, how Moore got started with a Bell & Howell camera, how Pierce financed his first flick–“Swamp Thing I!”–using nothing but his Fingerhut private label credit card. He thought about selling his wife into white slavery, but the couple decided against it “purely for health reaons,” Pierce told The American Scholar in 2003. Moore had no such compunctions; he was, after all, trying to jumpstart the Kung Fu-Pimping film business.
Some of the younger directors in the back begin to yawn and talk among themselves; all they know is what they learned in film school at UCLA or NYU. They have no appreciation for the difficulties Moore and Pierce faced just starting out. They didn’t have access to expensive student loans that would keep them buried in debt, slaving away as night shift editors in the bowels of some big studio until they were nearing retirement age.
I turn around to shush the gabby young Turks behind me, and they quiet down for a second as the emcee continues. “Swamp Thing represents everything that’s great about America,” he is saying. “An entrepreneurial spirit, a love of small house pets–as a source of food–and a willingness to epater le bourgeois that is so sadly lacking in films produced by the big studios.”
The audience allows themselves a collective pat on the back; we know we’re mad and bad. We don’t give a flying frog’s butt about PG ratings or Golden Globe nominations. We’re–out there and we don’t care!
Pierce’s widow makes her way to the stage to accept her late husband’s award, as do a crowd of women who were legal or common law wives or girlfriends of Moore, or just nodding acquaintances. Unfortunately, there’s only room in the budget for one (1) award per awardee, and so a fight breaks out among Moore’s distaff followers.
“He didn’t love you like he loved me!” a woman named Charmayne screeches as she grabs at the little golden pimp statuette.
The extended Moore family gathers for Christmas.
“He didn’t love you, baby, he just screwed you,” another cracks as she pops her gum. “And it sounds like you was named after toilet paper.”
“Ladies, please, let’s settle this in a civilized fashion,” the emcee says.
“Like how?” a scantily-clad woman asks.
“Like the government does,” the emcee replies.
“There’s enough of you to hold a state-wide lottery.”