Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 8, 2019

Mr. America

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

If you are a Andy Kaufman fan, you’ll probably like “Mr. America”, a film that opens tomorrow at the Metrograph in New York. It stars Tim Heidecker as a character named Tim Heidecker who has some similarities to the real person. In this mordant satire, the semi-fictional Heidecker has decided to run for District Attorney in San Bernardino County, California even though he is not a lawyer, nor does he live in the county. His motivation for running is only to unseat the DA who prosecuted him unsuccessfully for the murder of 18 young people who bought toxic e-cigarettes from him at a music festival he organized in the county. Even though a hold-out on the jury forced a mistrial, Heidecker still felt victimized.

The premise of the film is that a documentary is being made on his run, which is a disaster from beginning to end. The only person who takes him seriously is a woman named Toni Newman (Terri Parks) who shares his MAGA-like hope that he can make things become “like they once were” in San Bernardino, which means before the Latinos and Blacks moved in.. As he passes out incoherent campaign literature at the doorsteps of a white-bread suburban neighborhood, he reminds people he runs into to vote for him because he will “put an end to crime” on the first day he takes office. The comparison to Donald Trump could not be more obvious.

However, the intention of Heidecker and co-writers Eric Notarnicola (who also directed) and Gregg Turkington is not exactly satire in the conventional sense. It is much more to describe the rot at the core of American society that can allow a politician such as the fictional Heidecker to emerge. The film could not be more different than the tame cable comedy shows like Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart used to host. It is a much darker form of comedy that will likely have your eyes fixed on the various scenes as if they were highway accidents. For example, he has posters made with these words written in 72 point bold letters: “We have a rat problem”, referring to the DA he is running against. When restaurant owners allow him to put them up on their storefront windows, only one objects—a sign of the psychological and political numbness that besets the USA.

Besides Heidecker and Parks, the only other major character is Gregg Turkington, whose character, like his, has the same name. In the film, he is represented as having been a co-host of a TV show about films that the two once did together before it crashed and burned. In real life, Heidecker and Turkington co-hosted just such a show. Here’s a snippet:

Turkington haunts Heidecker, showing up at sparsely attended campaign event to denounce him for setting fire to his VHS archives of obscure Hollywood films from the 1970s. Like Heidecker and like Andy Kaufman, Turkington is a master of deadpan humor and—to be honest—is the main reason to see “Mr. America”.

I first saw Turkington in “Entertainment”, a 2015 film directed by Rick Alverson and co-written with Heidecker and Turkington. He played a comedian whose shtick was insulting his audience just as Tony Clifton used to do in Andy Kaufman’s comedy revues. Following the Clifton model, Turkington’s performances in comedy clubs pushed the envelope of audience acceptance. Although most people assumed that it was Kaufman who portrayed Clifton, it was actually Bob Zmuda, Kaufman’s long-time friend and co-writer.

In my survey of Alverson’s films for CounterPunch last year, I wrote about “Entertainment” as well as similar work titled “Comedy” (both can be rented below) that starred Heidecker a “a rich and sadistic creep named Swanson, who lives in a yacht in the Hudson River and who spends most of his time hanging out with aging hipsters like himself who enjoy humiliating people beneath them on the social ladder.”

To give you an idea of the social commentary Alverson, Turkington and Heidecker are about, let me cite my CounterPunch review:

Although Tim Heidecker has made a living as a comedian pushing the transgression envelope, he understood that despite Swanson and his pals attempt to simulate it, the film was a critique of the entire scene. He told the Los Angeles Times:

The idea of trust-fund guys who live in Brooklyn in their 30s is really interesting to me. There’s a time and a place where that kind of bohemian lifestyle is appropriate, soon after college, in your 20s. But there are people still living that many years later; they haven’t evolved to the next phase. I know people like that. There are elements of me in that. And there’s something very interesting sociologically. That behavior has been validated or seen as a positive thing or a cute thing or a quirky thing. The movie tries to be critical of that lifestyle in a fairly subtle way. The biggest mistake people could make is watch the movie and think there’s any condoning of anyone in it. This character is clearly meant to be grotesque.

He follows that up with an observation that is in sync with Alverson’s about the role of religion:

There’s a generation of people I think without a strong connection to family, to religion, to civic duty. They have a real disassociation from the problems of the world. People we’re talking about live in a “Matrix” alternate reality. I’m not an expert. I hope that there are people interested in a variety of things, in making our cities and world a more livable place, with engineering and science degrees. But film-criticism majors are only going to be so useful in our warming globe.

3 Comments »

  1. It sounds like this movie shares a lot with Joker. Have you seen that? I’m supposed to go this weekend.

    Comment by Robert Green — October 9, 2019 @ 11:16 am

  2. Good observation. In fact, I posted a comment yesterday in a thread about “Joker” on FB that I doubt it could be half as powerful as social commentary compared to “Mr. America”. I will see it before long. Right now I am a bit under the weather.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 9, 2019 @ 11:41 am

  3. Louis, we hope you will be writing about the new film “Joker” that is generating so much discussion. Thanks, d

    Comment by d — October 11, 2019 @ 11:42 am


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