PATRICK STEPHENSON

Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

“Our Man Bruce”

by Patrick Stephenson,
S-mart full-timer

OBSCURANT // If the cinema—with its womb-like voids and penitent, movie-going crowds—is an altar at which we worship, then Bruce Campbell is one of our Gods. Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp? Mere charlatans beside Our Man Bruce, whose roles in B-movie greats like Evil Dead, in which he fights zombified Deadites, and Bubba Ho-Tep, in which he—as a scarily convincing aged Elvis—destroys a cowboy Bruceyhat- and boot-wearing Mummy, have made him an icon of independent, renegade cinema.

This past Wednesday, between 6:00pm and 12:20am, I spent time in the company of the man they call Ash. Bruce Campbell, on break from Olympus, looked directly at me and spoke. I shook his hand but was unable to respond. The questions I’d prepared as I’d waited three hours in line were erased as I stood before him. I waited silently while Campbell signed my copy of his latest book, Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way, then left. Elated. 

My meeting with Campbell took place at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities bookstore, an underground locale in the campus Union. More than 400 people gathered within to see Campbell. Most wore Evil Dead shirts, or carried unwrapped action figures of Campbell as Ash, his catchphrase-spouting character in the Evil Dead series. (Hail to the King, baby.) Not all, however, were stereotypical geeks. A leggy brunette, digital camera aimed at Campbell from the store’s back end, perched on her boyfriend’s shoulders. A normal-seeming 12-year-old girl, standing at the very front of the line, had Campbell’s books as well as several movie posters. The man’s appeal, then, is broad, i.e. girls like him, too!

Campbell’s visit to Minnesota was two-pronged in its intent. Firstly, he came to promote Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way, an autobiographical novel wherein he imagines what would happen if he—a B-movie actor—were cast in an A-list film, with stars like Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger. Secondly, he came to screen his newest film, Man with the Screaming Brain in which he stars as the eponymous victim of an undesired brain transplant, at the University’s Oak Street Cinema. Both releases signal a change in Campbell’s career as an artist. Whereas his last book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, was a memoir, devoted to Campbell’s anecdotes about creating Evil Dead and living as a big-chinned, lower tier actor, Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way is his first work of fiction. As well, The Man With the Screaming Brain is Campbell’s directorial debut.

Make Love… is a treat. After “Bruce Campbell,” its main character, is cast as a sage doorman in a sophisticated romantic comedy called “Let’s Make Love,” disaster results. Campbell insists on creating a backstory for his minor, but pivotal persona, and—in the vein of Brando and other method actors—insists his fellow stars call him by his character’s name. In addition, bringing his B-philosophy to an A-list film, Campbell choreographs an action scene between his character and co-star Richard Gere, and nearly kills Gere in the process. Ultimately, his efforts balloon the comedy’s budget from $35 million to over $100 million. The book’s type is too large, but Campbell’s writing is solid and note perfect in comic timing. Visual gags, including fake newspaper reports that detail the alcoholic dissolution of the “Campbell” character, and transpose Campbell’s face onto the body of a Buddha, are interspersed throughout the text. 

After Campbell finished signing books and memorabilia in the U’s bookstore, he transferred to the Oak Street Cinema, for a 10:00pm showing of Man With the Screaming Brain. The movie’s budget, said Campbell in a pre-show Q&A, numbered in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. A joint release between Anchor Bay and the Sci Fi Channel, Screaming Brain proves that—as a director—Campbell shares the visual flair exhibited by his pal, director Sam Raimi, who directed every entry in the Evil Dead trilogy, and both Spider-man films. Brain‘s story, based on a comic book created by Campbell, meshes well with his natural talent for physical comedy. It focuses on an American businessman who travels to Bulgaria and is murdered by a vicious gypsy. Several scenes throughout, including one of Campbell riding through Bulgarian streets on a pink Vespa, with massive, Frankenstein-style red marks across his forehead, are priceless.

Further bits of genius involve Campbell arguing with the voice transplanted into his head, struggling to drink some vodka, and caressing a dying robot’s synthetic hair. Gore and outlandish violence, further trademarks of Campbell’s ouevre, are also in full effect. In one scene, Campbell tears flesh from an attacker’s ear, and smashes a beer glass into another’s face. In a different scene, two women cat-fight, punching each other full-on in the face and throwing each other, like rag dolls, around a shabby hotel room and down a flight of stairs. It’s just brilliant, brilliant stuff, and seeing it with a large, affectionate audience made the experience even more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, most people won’t have that pleasure.

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Written by patiomensch

March 8, 2007 at 12:08 am

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