Tuesday, July 24, 2007

5 Sensational Simpsons Cinema Satires

With just under 3 days until the premiere of David Silverman's THE SIMPSONS MOVIE it seems like every pop culture site on this whole world wide web has a Simpsons list or celebratory article these days.

The Onion A.V. Club has a Simpsons list promised for every day this week - so far we've got Monday's Inventory - "15 Simpsons Moments That Perfectly Captured Their Eras",Tuesday's un-numbered "The strangest Simpsons products", and Wednesday's The Simpsons Vs. Civilization - all well worth checking out. 

Vanity Fair recently presented their "survey of the 10 funniest top 10 Simpsons episodes ever", The London Times chimed in with their "The 33 funniest Simpsons cameos ever", and even AOL Television did a 25 "Best Episodes Ever list". Whew!

Being a huge Simpsons fan (and yes, I would defend the recent seasons to anyone) I couldn't resist making my own list. This being Film Babble it should be cinema-centric and that presented an obvious concept : the best most definitive extended satires of a particular film. 

Now there are thousands of film references through-out the entire 18 year run of the classic show. Many characters come from the movies like failed salesman Gil who is a Jack Lemmon GLENGARY GLEN ROSS (Dir. James Foley, 1992) archetype, Chief Wiggum's voice and mannerisms are based on Edward G. Robinson, Apu is named after Satyajit Ray's THE APU TRILOGY, action star Rainer Wolfcastle is obviously based on Arnold Swartzenegger and so on and so on. 

It's hard to think of a movie that hasn't been name-checked and of course many episodes borrow plots, angles, full screen set-ups and quote exact lines and but these are to me the most notable whether they were full episodes or extended sequences satirizing specific movie classics: 

1. “Rosebud” ('93) : A few months back CITIZEN KANE (1941) * made the AFI's Top 100 list and this episode named, of course, after Charles Foster Kane's (Orson Welles) last word is Film Babble's #1 Simpsons Cinema Satire. Not just because it's a parody/homage to that immense immortal masterpiece but because it's a phenomenally hilarious episode that has deservedly made many lists. 

Evil nuclear power plant millionaire C. Montgomery Burns (The C. is for Charles - another similarity to Kane), who keeps a box of Nev-R-Break snow globes at his bed-side longs after his childhood teddy bear Bobo, much like Kane longed after his beloved sled. In a flashback we see that after being abandoned by the pubescent Burns (his father - "Wait, you've forgot your bear! A symbol of your lost youth and innocence!") Bobo has a historical journey involving a plane trip with Charles Lindbergh, a stay in Hitler's bunker, a trip on the submarine Nautilus before finally ending up in a bag of ice in the present day. 

Bart purchases the ice at the Quickie Mart and gives the old ragged bear to Maggie. Burns learns of the Simpsons possession and he offers a huge reward but standing by his daughter Homer refuses. Burns's ineptly funny attempts to steal back Bobo may not recall KANE and a good chunk of the show is the usual Simpsons riffing but the KANE context of the Burns Bobo back-story really puts this one on top. 

A cameo by the Ramones is the icing on the cake. 

"Rosebud" wasn't the first or last Simpsons episode to reference CITIZEN KANE. In the 1990 episode "Two Cars In Every Garage and Three Eyes On Every Fish" Burns protests "You can't do this to me! I'm Charles! Montgomery! Burns!" which obviously comes from "You can't do this to me! I'm Charles! Foster! Kane!" and in that same episode Burns stands in front of a big poster of himself during his campaign speech. 

In one DVD commentary the Simpsons staff remark half-jokingly that they have referenced KANE so much that you could recreate the film completely from Simpsons scenes and shot steals. 

2. “Cape Feare” ('93) Just a few episodes before "Rosebud" both the original CAPE FEAR (Dir. J. Lee Thompson, 1962) and the '92 remake CAPE FEAR (Dir. Martin Scorsese) got their episode length roasting over a Simpsons fire. Substituting Sideshow Bob (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) for recently released revenge minded Max Cady (Robert Mitchum '62, Robert Deniro '92) we get essentially the same narrative - A family is stalked by a man he once helped put in jail. 

The Simpsons in place of the Bowden family leave town and assume new witness relocation identities as The Thompsons and take up residence at Terror Lake. The whole ends in a showdown (actually a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore") on a houseboat. 

Also factor into the mix a slice of Hitchcock's classic 1960 thriller PSYCHO: Sideshow Bob stays at the Bate's Motel. A truly inspired episode but silly as can be - on the DVD commentary writer / producer Al Jean even says "when you look at Sideshow Bob and his master plan it really is just to stab this 10 year old boy! I mean when he gets to the boat it's not very subtle - 'I want to cut him until he dies!'"

There's that and this priceless Sideshow Bob line when defending his "Die Bart, Die" tattoo in court - "no, that's German for "The Bart, The!" 

3. “The Shinning” ('94) In this 8 min. segment of "Treehouse Of Horror V" THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980) gets skewered. Burns has the Simpson family act as caretakers for his mansion in the mountains modeled meticulously on the Overlook Hotel in said Kubrick classic.

When told by Groundskeeper Willie that he has "the shin-ning", Bart replies "you mean "the shining!" Willie whispers "shh - you want to get sued?" When leaving for the winter Burns boasts about his cutting off the cable TV and the beer supply - Two things that Smithers argues may have been the reason the previous caretakers went insane and murdered their families.

Burns says "perhaps, if we come back and everyone is slaughtered - I owe you a Coke." Sure enough in almost no time Homer does go insane. The deconstruction of THE SHINING is a thing of genius here - Marge saying "What he's typed will be a window into his madness", the ghost of Moe prompting Homer to kill his family but having no real substantial reason for it - "uh, because they'd be much happier as ghosts." 

Then there's Homer's take on Jack Nicholson's over the top antics. When blowing his "Here's Johnny" intro because he chopped his axe into an empty room - he finally gets the right room and holding up a stopwatch yells "I'm Mike Wallace, I'm Morley Safer, and I'm Ed Bradley, all this and Andy Rooney too on 60 Minutes!"

4. “Cosmic Wars : The Gathering Shadow” from "Co-Dependent's Day" ('04)– This one is a little odd. I mean STAR WARS (1977-2005) has been directly referred to in many many episodes (go here for a Simpsons Archive List) so to have a likewise film series with a look-alike director (Randal Curtis standing in for George Lucas) seems a bit off. 

Apparently they didn't want to name names because it deals with ridiculing the anticipation killing THE PHANTOM MENACE so the Simpsons creators didn't want to alienate or insult Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox according to Wikipedia. I included it because is has some great prequel parodying moments when breaking down the numbing exposition and specifically satirizing Jar-Jar (Jim-Jam). "Cosmic Wars" only exists for a few minutes so it's one of many films within the Simpsons and is never mentioned after the episode (they go back to STAR WARS references) so it is a perfect example of what Matt Groening has called "flexible reality" or a "rubber-band universe" - in which something lasts as long as the joke does then the next day it's gone.

5. “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(annoyed grunt)cious” ('97) The answer to stress so strong it's making Marge's hair fall out is for the family to get a nanny but not just any nanny MARY POPPINS! - No wait, make that Shary Bobbins. Julie Andrews was set to play the part but the producers decided on Maggie Roswell to take on the vocal duties of the sweet singing flying umbrella traveling, and just all around neat freak.

The episode is a complete musical and uses several melodies from the original 1964 Disney film. It goes back and forth from the respectful tributes in the songs to the crude satire of the cheap animation and outdated morale. In the end crude satire wins - Bobbins dies by getting sucked up in a passing airplane's jet engine while the Simpsons' backs are turned.

This episode reportedly had to have the most padding out of any Simpsons episode - an “Itchy and Scratchy” Quentin Tarantino parody “Reservoir Cats"” (pictured on the right) was a late addition.

That's the Top Five but special mention should be given to: “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” ('93), from "Treehouse Of Horror IV," a dead on spoof of BRAM STROKER’S DRACULA (1992) right down to Burns' hair-do. Contains better acting than the Coppola version for sure.
“Marge On The Lam” ('93) lampoons THELMA & LOUISE (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1991) 

“Two Dozen and One Greyhounds” to the tune of 101 DALMATIONS (1961)

“Deep Space Homer” ('94) steals its ending from 2001 : A SPACE ODDYSEY (1968).

Al Jean once said it was a close tie between the large amounts of CITIZEN KANE and Kubrick references on The Simpsons.

Maybe when the show is over we can take a tally. I've been trying to only deal with more extended parodies because there have been too many snippet steals from movies in the series run but Homer as the space-baby is just too hard to pass up. 

“Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield” ('96) - This magnificent episode's title and some of its inspiration comes from THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD but it's really more PULP FICTION as many have acknowledged before me and will again. And so on and so forth. The next time I post will be after I see THE SIMPSONS MOVIE and I will give you a full review. Until then may a noble spirit embiggen your soul. 

More later...

1 comment:

Rune said...

Hmmm. Robert Mitchum played Cady in the original, Robert De Niro played Cady in the remake and Sideshow Robert (Bob) Terwilliger stood in for Cady in the Simpsons remake. I'm naming my son Robert...