73. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF LITTLE DIZZLE (2009)

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“It was smart and weird and different and exciting.  I was just curious to see how it would turn out.”–Actress Tania Raymonde on The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle script

DIRECTED BY: David Russo

FEATURING: Marshall Allman, Vince Vieluf, , Tania Raymonde, Tygh Runyan

PLOT: Dory has a good job as a data manager, but he throws it all away when he stomps a co-worker’s cellphone in a fit of sanctimonious anger.  Jobless and desperate, he takes up with a band of janitors led by Weird William, a transvestite Gulf War vet.  When the cleaning crew pilfer experimental cookies from the garbage can of a marketing research firm, they discover that the addictive treats have odd side effects: not only do they cause hallucinations, they also make men who eat them pregnant.

Still from The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer/director David Russo worked himself through college as a janitor.  He was deeply affected by an incident where he found an undisposed of miscarriage in a toilet bowl, and that sight became the genesis of The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle.
  • Dizzle is only cinematographer Neil Holcomb’s second feature film as Director of Photography, but since childhood he has worked on over fifty major movies and television shows as a gaffer, best boy, or grip.  At age twelve he got his second job in movies, working in the electrical department on David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet (1986) .
  • The film was distributed by Tribeca Film, in association with American Express.  It’s strange to see corporate sponsorship for an underground, anti-corporate movie, and it will be interesting to see if the trend continues.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A smear of fluorescent blue in a porcelain-white toilet bowl.  Other images are more arresting, but this is the one that recurs over and over: in hallucinations, hanging on the wall of a snooty art gallery, and as a “grade A blowout” discovered in a commode by the janitors on their appointed rounds.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  It may be a comedy about male pregnancy, but this is no obvious Hollywood yuk-fest like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior.  There’s a minimum of morning sickness jokes, and a maximum psychedelic cookie freak-outs.  About society’s outsiders and their skewed experiences in a society that’s more insane than they are, Dizzle is made in the underground spirit of Alex Cox’s Repo Man, but with contemporary digital visual gags reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  This is a movie that contains a cross-dressing, pot-smoking, ex-military entrepreneur named “Weird William”—and he’s barely a footnote in the catalog of the movie’s oddities.


Original trailer for The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle

COMMENTS:  For about ninety minutes, Little Dizzle races along with an insane, kitchen sink charm that suggests it’s about to become a slacker manifesto for the new millennium: it’s downtrodden good guy janitor/philosophers struggling against soulless corporate suits carelessly unleashing  industrial/biological nightmares on the unsuspecting populace.  The sad news is that, much like the title creature, Dizzle dies before it can thrive; just as the story is building to a climax, the script panics while thinking how its going to top itself and end the bizarre story on astounding note.  So it chickens out instead, ending by hitting the reset button.  The final result is intended to be epiphanic, but what’s good for the protagonist isn’t always good for the audience.

The frustrating non-ending is a miscarriage that cuts short Dizzle‘s chances at cult immortality, but the good news is the rest of the movie is packed full of satire, wit and weirdness.  It seems as if David Russo suspects this is the only movie he’ll ever get to make, so he’s making sure every thought he’s ever had worth documenting gets on film.  The movie draws on his real-life experiences as a janitor and artist, and everything about Dizzle reflects the director’s unique personality; it’s so honest, original, and crafted with smart love that it’s almost impossible not to become intoxicated by Russo’s enthusiasm.  By genre, Dizzle is a lightly satirical absurdist comedy crossed with a drug trip movie.  The movie explores religious yearning, the janitorial lifestyle, corporate amorality, gender roles, and the heartbreak of losing a child, and makes time to take swipes at the art world, focus groups, and the health care system, too.  Stylistically, Russo throws every trick he can think of at the screen, and most of his gambits stick.  Words materialize and hang in the air.  Spinning black bars rush around trying to cover up the naughty bits of two janitors as they fornicate in fast-motion.  When one custodian explains that the term “janitor” derives from the Roman god Janus, he swivels his head and briefly becomes the two-faced deity.  The visual gags fight with the verbal ones for our attention and admiration, and the contest ends up a draw.

The cookies cause hallucinations as well as pregnancy, mainly so that Russo can indulge his experimental impulses and create freak-art effects unbound by reality’s rules; when you see the results, you won’t be bothered that the plot point is forced.  Not that the director needs drugs as a crutch in order to go weird.  An early scene depicts the workplace eruption that costs data manager Dory his job.  It’s a mounting office panic attack rendered through quick-cut editing featuring endless rows of spreadsheet numerals, a bouncing screensaver icon, cute cats and line drawings of Christ, scored to friendly advice to avoid truncating the kitten vivisection data, a babbling cellphone conversation by a mini-skirted co-worker, and a robotic voice warning pious Dory that the bimbo is a “Christian slut.”  Dizzle‘s everyday reality is so strange that at first it’s hard to imagine Russo will be able to up the ante when the hallucinations start; that is, until a blue fish hanging on a barroom wall swims out of its picture frame and into a forest and through a city, turning into a swirling neon light show en route.  At that point, you could confidently say that Dizzle‘s hallucinations are weirder than its realities, and that’s not even the psychedelic pièce de résistance (wait for the shower scene for that treat).

But although Dizzle has a surfeit of strangeness, that’s not all it has going for it.   The score, entirely by the Seattle band “Awesome” (the quotes are part of the proper name) is impressively eclectic, covering everything from indie rock to metal to Native American chant; its difficult to believe all these sounds come from a single outfit. Up until the missteps at the ending, Russo’s craftsmanship is remarkably assured for a first time director.  Aided by an experienced cast who donate all their chips to the movie’s pot, he’s confident managing both actors and casual comedy routines.  Marshall Allman holds it all together as the existentially bewildered young adult who’s simultaneously shy and a ticking bomb waiting to be ticked off, but it’s Vince Vieluf who really shines as O.C., the janitor who’s also a philosopher, artist and egotist supreme.  In lesser hands, O.C. could have come off as an insufferable jerk, hogging all the best lines for himself, but Vieluf makes the character charming and endearing, and you see how Dory is attracted to him; he’s like the cool older brother who casually puts you down, but is willing to shed blood if someone else disrespects you.  A montage scene where volunteer cookie testers are subjected to some not-ready-for-grocery-shelves snack items relies almost entirely on facial reactions and a few one-liners from Vieluf; it’s a minor piece of connective tissue, but it’s executed almost flawlessly, fitting into the fabric of the movie and looking like the work of a much more experienced director.  What’s remarkable about that scene and others like it is that, in the film’s first ninety minutes, the movie never stumbles and betrays its inexperience; when it’s not marvelous, it’s never less than presentable and workmanlike.

As fine as the acting, direction and visuals are, it’s the script that’s Dizzle‘s primary asset—which is what makes the story’s failure to resolve at the end particularly sting.  The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle is one of the most quotable cult comedies in recent memory.  “You name the turds you find?,”  Dory wonders as he’s getting adjusted to life as a janitor.  “The legendary ones name themselves,” O. C. observes.  When an interviewer suggests his art installation is based around toilet humor, O.C. responds, “Yes, there’s toilet humor, but there’s also toilet sadness… toilet tragedy… toilet triumph!  Toilet a lot of things!”  He’s also talking about the film, of course, which, despite its literal toilet humor finds a remarkably sure tone that’s edgy and hip without ever becoming crass or cynical.  The movie is satirical, but it’s also as hopeful and as confused as its protagonist, who switches religions as frequently as Russo switches film styles.  The film sports great lines, but for the most part the comedy stems from putting crazy characters into stressful situations and watching them fall apart, as when macho Methyl (Tygh Runyan) turns into a blubbering lump when he gives birth; when chaste and terrified Dory is seduced by sexy Ethyl (Tania Raymonde); and when Dory holds O.C.’s hand as he takes a postpartum soak bathtub while confronting girlfriend Tracy (Natasha Lyonne)—Allman spontaneously volunteers to be Vieluf’s “emotional attorney.”

Despite all the hallucinogenic razzle dazzle, Russo builds the core of a great (and surprisingly conventional) comic narrative with likable characters and detestable villains, which is why the film works.  Up until the very end, that is.  Another great quote from O.C. sets up Dizzle‘s final act: “If you believe in living symbols like the Native Americans did, what kind of message do you take from a fluorescent blue fish, conceived from industrial cookies, born out of the asses of men?”  Russo has thought up a great bizarro scenario, but like his janitor/philosopher alter ego, he’s not sure what it all means.  That’s OK, because Dizzle‘s capable of standing on its own without a deep unifying message; the story, the comedy and the outrageous sights are all the justification the film needs.  Which is why, in my view, Russo should have toughed it out and given the movie a more conventionally satisfying ending, instead of the confusing, faux-profound, artsy denouement we get here.  The script has perfectly set up a rousing final battle between the forces of spirituality, humanity and justice against the legions of hypocrisy, profit and villainy.  It’s to be a showdown pitting idealists against professional misanthropes, with the good guys holding a secret weapon.  But, instead of rubbing evil’s nose in the mess its made, Dory suddenly shifts and adopts a Zenlike, indifferent attitude: he gives up the struggle and finds peace.  The movie seems to unspool itself backwards, as if the events never happened or didn’t really matter, and in lieu of a real story resolution we see a slideshow of hopeful images and a mysterious slogan of contrition while a children’s choir sings earnestly.  From Dory’s high-strung character’s perspective, this laid back, go-with-the-flow attitude may be a wise choice, but for we the audience, its frustrating narrativus interruptus: we’re robbed of our climax.

At the risk of sounding like I’m subscribing to the Snoop Dogg school of film criticism: Dizzle sizzles, then fizzles.  Fo’ shizzle.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…like ‘Clerks’ reimagined by William S. Burroughs.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

“…imaginative if erratic blend of slacker comedy, corporate satire and goofy surrealism… It’s a mess, but it’s a mostly endearing mess.”–Jason Anderson, Toronto Star (contemporaneous)

“‘Grandly absurd’ is an apt description of the trip that is ‘The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle,’ from title to ideas to scope… [s]o it’s all the more disappointing that this Mr. Hallucinogenic Toad’s Wild Ride ultimately goes nowhere.”–Michael Ordoña, The Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

OFFICIAL SITE: The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle – background information, lots of stills, and Little Dizzle news and reviews

IMDB LINK: The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Tribeca Extra: Little Dizzle Director Interview – at the time of this writing Amazon is offering this 3 minute extra feature from the Dizzle DVD as a free rental, though the entire movie is no longer available for Video on Demand rental

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle – audio interview with writer/director David Russo from a Seattle radio station, focusing on his rise from janitor to feature filmmaker

Interview with Filmmaker David Russo – a short videotaped interview with Russo by Seattle movie critic Tom Tangney

SWX Interview: Cast of ‘Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle’: Informal, high energy video interview with stars Vince Vieluf, Marshall Allman, and Tania Raymonde from We Are Movie Geeks

Tania Raymonde * The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle – RealTV interview with Tania Raymonde, with Little Dizzle clips

DVD INFO: The Tribeca DVD (buy) is light on extras, containing only a couple of very short interviews with David Russo (which should have been lumped together into a single five minute interview). There are also trailers for other Tribeca productions. The American Express logo is slathered everywhere possible on the extra features; odd, considering the movie’s lightly anti-corporate slant. We’re willing to forgive the credit barons if they help bring films like this to the light of day, however.

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