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Monday, April 1, 2013

UHF: Life as a Mop, Through a Lens


Welcome. It's the Niles Files third April Fool's blog. Hi! Again, hi! If you're really bored and life is still pointless, like it was last year, check out last year's entry on Young Einstein, or the selection from the year before that, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Have a good day! Wheeeee!

“Inner life manifests itself in various elements and conglomerations of external life,” writes Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler, “especially in those almost imperceptible surface data which form an essential part of screen treatment. In recording the visible world – whether current reality or an imaginary universe – films therefore provide clues to hidden mental processes.”

I don’t know what the fuck that’s all about. I suppose it has something to do with Kracauer surveying German cinema through Expressionism and the Weimar Republic and tying it to how all that morbid stuff anticipated things in the German unconscious that blossomed into National Socialism or something, but I don’t fucking know. I haven’t read the book. I bought a used copy on Amazon a while back and it’s just *there*, collecting dust. Sometimes when I’m drunk  I’ll pick it up and skim it looking for my name. But the passage sounds like it could probably pertain to the focus of this week’s discussion, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Jay Levey’s motion picture masterpiece from 1989, UHF, a comedy all about the inner life of a single man made manifest in his fortuitous occupation as programmer for a neglected UHF television station out of Tulsa. The imagination of George Newman (played by co-writer Yankovic, who also wrote much of the film’s music) is at last able to leap from its boundless interiorization, where it had disrupted the workings of his day-to-day life, spoiling a string of day jobs and injuring a romantic relationship with a patient girlfriend, Terri (Victoria Jackson).  But by bridging the inner workings of his mind to the screen, and so to the community (and with the aid of another dreamer, the innocent, Parsifal-life janitor Stanley Spudowski, played by Michael Richards), George Newman at last achieves fulfilling individuation. Instead of being crushed by his dreams, like the boulder that squishes the dreaming George into burger meat during the picture’s Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired prologue, with U62 everybody has bought a share of stock into George’s mind, the communicative, fully fermented body of proliferation and imagination, and the worlds of screen iconography and reality have achieved harmony.  The representative “New Man,” George is no longer the onanistic, isolated dreamer, and Terri will now be a fixture in “all” of George’s dreams, as he tells her in the film’s Gone With the Wind finale.

But Yankovic’s intimate, psychological journey of this “New Man” existing through an increasingly videoscopic age of ubiquitous camera eyes and image reception is onto the irony of how the audience is also “watching” a “film,” a story that bears its own lofty quotation “marks,” UHF (or “UHF”), and indeed we are provoked into wondering how we interpret its signs, taking its resonances of technologically constructed fantasy and ethereal imagination out of the theater with us as we exit and plan to make our own twinkie wiener sammiches. UHF’s prologue is filled with such signs warning of a wrong direction, beginning with the alleged (though still earnestly deliberate) flub of a mercenary having his left arm whipped off by the silent, Indiana Jones-styled Newman, when a close-up of the arm on the ground shows us what is clearly the right arm, pistol in hand.  From there we see the “Sacred Hovitas symbol,” sticking its tongue out at us and “certain death for anyone who enters” the dark cave, where the prize for image creation and manufacturing waits within the deep bowels: the Oscar, coveted by George Newman as it was coveted by Al Yankovic (and who was glaringly overlooked, so predictably, by the Academy in favor of inferior films like Driving Miss Daisy and Born on the Fourth of July).  George’s guide turns back in alarm, but outside he’s killed by a train that’s found it’s way through the Amazon rainforest.  The guide heeds the warnings, but this is the terrain of George’s head. He’s no safer in the pit of the temple than he is outside. Indeed, UHF anticipates Inception by decades.


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