HAIRCUT 100: Day 91, No. 91. On this momentous and truly horrifying day in American and world history, I salute Robert Francis ‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait: comedian, actor, writer and director. I hadn’t scheduled Bobcat for today, but was reminded of him when Film 4 astutely broadcast his disturbing road movie God Bless America (2011) in the UK last night, just ahead of the US Election results. As a stand-up, Goldthwait is known for his gallows humour and sharp, political satire, in the great tradition of transgressive American comedians like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, and for his distinctive and rather fractured voice. He went to school with Tom Kenny – Spongebob Squarepants himself, another fine stand-up comedian – and was performing solo by the age of eighteen. He achieved mainstream recognition for his portrayal of the gang-banger-turned-cop ‘Zed’ in the Police Academy franchise, and as one of the ‘Stork Brothers’ in Savage Steve Holland’s One Crazy Summer (1986), starring the very young John Cusack. He also delivered a memorable turn in Scrooged (1988), playing Eliot Loudermilk, a junior TV executive fired by Bill Murray’s Frank Cross for questioning violent programming, who returns to the office on Christmas Eve with a rifle…
Goldthwait has directed several TV shows and comedy specials, as well as the movies Shakes the Clown (1991), Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006), World’s Greatest Dad (2009, starring old friend Robin Williams), the horror film Willow Creek (2013), and the savage political satire God Bless America, which, quite frankly, blew me away with its honesty and intensity. This film in many ways revisits the plight of Eliot Loudermilk; the hero, Frank (Joel Murray), finding himself divorced, out of a job, and increasingly appalled by the cruelty and vulgarity of the culture in which he lives. Diagnosed with a brain tumour, ex-soldier Frank embarks on a Bonnie and Clyde-style murder spree with alienated teenager Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), targeting bigoted, right wing broadcasters, bratty, rich-kid reality TV stars, Tea Party activists, fundamentalist Christians, people who talk in movie theatres, and the judges of American Superstarz in a vigilante crusade not unlike that of the ‘Crimson Bolt’ (Rainn Wilson) and ‘Boltie’ (Ellen Page) in James Gunn’s equally dark social satire of the same year, Super.
Like Sidney Lumet’s similarly bleak Network (1976), God Bless America reaches a climax with a character addressing the TV audience (and therefore also us) through a camera at gunpoint, which is also where I want to end up today, for obvious reasons. This is what he says:
‘My name is Frank. That’s not important. The important question is: Who are you? America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest. We no longer have any common sense of decency. No sense of shame. There is no right and wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated. Lying and spreading fear is fine as long as you make money doing it. We’ve become a nation of slogan-saying, bile-spewing hatemongers. We’ve lost our kindness. We’ve lost our soul. What have we become? We take the weakest in our society, we hold them up to be ridiculed, laughed at for our sport and entertainment. Laughed at to the point, where they would literally rather kill themselves than live with us anymore.’
The movie ends shortly after. Alongside Kevin Smith’s Red State (also made in 2011), this is probably the most thought-provoking critique of contemporary American culture I’ve seen in the last decade, and is even more relevant today than ever.
In June last year, Goldthwait was named ‘Filmmaker on the Edge’ at the 17th Annual Provincetown International Film Festival, with John Waters presenting the award.