Dungeon Classics #18: Meet the Feebles

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Meet the Feebles (1989, New Zealand)

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Danny Mulheron, Donna Akersten, Stuart Devenie
Running Time: 97 mins.

Before he got into serious filmmaking with Heavenly Creatures and The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson was just having fun in New Zealand. His second feature film after Bad Taste is this weird puppet movie which is filled with sex, violence, dark twisted humor and thick Kiwi accents. The Feebles is a variety show starring the hysteric Heidi the Hippo. Behind the scenes, dark things are going on. Bletch the Walrus, who runs the show, is also an exploitative gangster dealing drugs and cheating on his girlfriend Heidi. Trevor the Rat is shooting puppet porn in the basement and attempts to drug and rape one of the dancers (a dog). And a paparazzi fly is constantly hanging out in the toilet eating shit and making up lies about the cast members. As can be expected from Jackson at this point in his career; there are plenty of body fluids flying around. Obviously it’s not for all tastes, but if you are curious about the legendary director’s early stuff, look no further.

10 New Beatles Insights Through Peter Jackson’s ‘Get Back’

‘It would be fair to say that today ‘Let It Be’ symbolizes the breaking-up of the Beatles. That’s the mythology, the truth is somewhat different. The real story of ‘Let It Be’ has been locked in the vaults of Apple Corps for the last 50 years.’

So says director Peter Jackson in the ‘Get Back’ book that accompanied his eight hour lasting documentary on Disney Plus.

Jackson’s film fills in a lot of missing puzzle pieces in the story of the world’s most discussed band. Not for nothing are basically all Beatles Wikipedia-pages re-edited with new information from the previously unseen footage. For me personally, the documentary was a real eye opener. It gave me the following new insights into the legendary group and my favorite musicians of all time. The order of the insights is completely arbitrary.

1. George spontaneously quit the band
After George leaves, which for me seemed to happen completely out of the blue, John considers replacing him with Eric Clapton who had just left Cream. Was he serious? Maybe. Of course they really wanted George back…

2. There was little conflict
Despite George leaving, there was little conflict. At least nothing dramatic. Of course they had frequent discussions and they were obviously uncertain about how they should proceed and evolve from that stage on, but major fights and arguments? There weren’t any.

3. Yoko is just a wallflower
A persistent rumor about this period of The Beatles was that John constantly bringing Yoko to the studio was a major source of tension within the group. This doesn’t appear to be the case. She is always there, but she hardly speaks. Just once in a while she plays some experimental music. Besides, the other guys bring their girlfriends along as well constantly, especially Paul, but it doesn’t distract from the creative process at all.

4. Many of the later songs were already being written here
During the ‘Get Back’ sessions, they played many early versions of songs that would later appear on ‘Abbey Road’ (their final album) and solo albums. These songs include: I want you (she’s so heavy), Polythene Pam, Teddy Boy, Her Majesty, Hot As Son, Isn’t It a Pity, Something, Octopus’ Garden, Jealous Guy, Sitting in the Backseat of my Car, Gimme Some Truth, She Came in Through My Bedroom Window, Another Day, All Things Must Pass, Oh Darling, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Every Day, Carry That Weight and Sun King.

5. Much of the creative process is just goofing around
By this time, their full time job was just coming to the studio and composing amazing music. They did so by fooling around much of the time. They know literally hundreds of songs and played them constantly. The documentary also shows the almost telepathic connection between Lennon and McCartney. And an observation by Jackson is that Lennon found a new partner in Yoko Ono and this is visibly painful for McCartney. But he accepts it and deals with it.

6. Jealous Guy had a different title and different lyrics first
Jealous Guy – one of Lennon’s great solo songs (B-side of Imagine) – was first called On the Road to Marrakesh. Apparently, John wrote this in India, then it was rejected for ‘The White Album’ and here he plays it during the sessions at Twickenham Studios.

7. Paul is a great manager as John takes a back seat
In the early days of The Beatles, John was sort of the bandleader. During the ‘Get Back’ sessions, it is Paul. He does so in an inspiring way. He wants to go for the best possible results and doesn’t get pushy or annoying. He is just trying to keep the band going and eventually, they get really going.

8. The album ‘Let It Be Naked’ is much better than the original
‘Let It Be’ was up until now my least favorite album by The Beatles. This changed when I heard the Naked-version which was released in 2003. This made me realize what a messed up job Phil Spector did with the material on the 1970 original version. And why did he exclude Don’t Let Me Down? A fucked up decision. The Naked-version is true to the original vision of the group to strip their music down. All of the twelve songs sound amazing. This is an album truly worthy of this brilliant band.

9. One After 909 is one of their early songs
I never appreciated this song much, but thanks to the documentary I started loving it and I now play it constantly. It is an early song which John wrote while he was just 15. Paul is very pleased with it as well. The lyrics are about nothing, but what does it matter? It just sounds really really good.

10. There were ideas for a different ‘The End’
During the film and in the many transcribed conversations in the books, the boys and original documentary maker, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, were constantly trying to come up with an idea for a live performance to conclude the ‘Get Back’ project. Of course this ends up being the famous rooftop concert – The Beatles last live gig ever – but there were many ideas before that. The best one was Paul’s. He proposed a live show with news men in between songs bringing the latest news. And at the end of the show, the final bulletin is… ‘The Beatles have broken up!’

My Greatest Cinema Moments Ever

There was a terrific feature in Empire Magazine last month, especially during a pandemic when all cinemas are shut down and barely any major movies are released. They invited their readers and celebrated filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Bong Joon-Ho to share their favorite cinema moments.

They are specifically looking for moments in which the whole audience experienced movie magic. Think Hannibal Lecter escaping from prison in The Silence of the Lambs. Can you imagine the audience’s response when he pulls the face off in the ambulance? I sure can, even though I never saw Silence in cinema. Or the ending in Buffalo Bill’s house where the depraved serial killer is stalking Clarice Starling with night vision goggles? These are memories from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead), who initiated this feature.

Wright: “I vividly recall riotous screenings of A Fish Called Wanda and There’s Something About Mary, the unforgettable sound of massed sobs in E.T. or Titanic, or just the palpable energy of the first weekend crowd of Scream or The Silence of the Lambs, which was so electric, you’d think it could power a city. I’ve been lucky enough to have made a few scenes myself where the crowd have drowned out the next scene because they are laughing or whooping (I’m thinking the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in Shaun of the Dead, JK). Such moments are truly infectious, but again, that’s an adjective that needs to be retired for the moment.”

Other notable contributions in the issue are:
– Darth Vader’s dilemma right before he kills the emperor in Return of the Jedi. By Simon Pegg.
– Luke throwing down his lightsaber, also in Return of the Jedi. By Mark Hamill.
– Neo stops the bullets, but the whole film really, in The Matrix. By Chris Evans.
– The tragic reality of Menace II Society. By Patty Jenkins.
– The ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. By Joe Russo.
– And many many more….

My favorite cinema moment by far is The Lord of the Rings. I went to fellowship on opening day and it was a magical experience. You could feel the whole room just be completely absorbed by the wondrous world Peter Jackson and his team had painted on the screen. It was breathtaking. I remember highlight after highlight, but the ultimate audience engagement happened in Moria where the fellowship faces one challenge after the other. When finally Gandalf sacrifices himself to let the others escape, the audience felt like Frodo: totally and utterly defeated. By the time they face the Uruk Hai at the end, the audience was re-energized, and left the room in pretty good spirit, but also sad because of the loss of both Boromir and Gandalf.

The Two Towers even topped this experience. The way it starts is just a master move. Gandalf being pulled into the abyss and falling and fighting the demonic Balrog. Everybody in that cinema went apeshit. After that: one great scene after the other. But the real show stealer of the evening was off course Gollum. Never before had a digital character been so fully realised. Andy Serkis’ performance is mind blowing. He should have won the Oscar for best supporting actor that year, no question. The movie ends at Helm’s Deep and this is a groundbreaking battle scene in terms of pure scale and spectacle. It is the only movie I saw in cinema three times.

Of course, at the moment there are no cinema experiences at all, but the memories remain. And like many of our favorite movie characters, they will return at some point. No question. True cinema moments are magical. There is no substitute.

How to Write a Television Series

Originally published on FilmDungeon.com on 24-12-2007

As a lifelong devotee of the moving image, I developed the idea of writing screenplays. What better way is there to get your break into movies when you’re a non-professional that wants to be a filmmaker? I had already written a movie screenplay. A low-budget horror-comedy comparable with Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. The problem with actually filming it was that a considerable budget was required. I am from the Netherlands where even renowned filmmakers struggle to get another project done. So who was going to invest in a cult film with a microscopic target group and an inexperienced director?

It was time for a strategy change. TV-series are the next best thing. And being the creator of a TV-series is what many would call a dream job. So would I. You get to write and produce a mini-movie every week, and when successful, you can continue it for as long as a decade. So I decided to start the creation of my very own TV-series. I already knew my subject. Or concept if you will. Now I needed some ideas on how to craft my screenplay.

To get this done I bought a book: The Sopranos – Selected Scripts From Three Seasons. This is an extremely useful book for aspiring TV-writers. But knowing the show is probably a prerequisite. It describes the process of writing a series. The creator of the show, David Chase, explains how he came up with the overall theme of every season. Then, together with his writing team, he started working on the individual episodes. Every episode has three or four storylines. One major storyline called A. Then there are smaller ones called B, C and sometimes D.

Once the storylines were decided, the actual scenes were described. The five example screenplays in the book are in between 35 and 80 scenes long, and approximately 60 pages (1 hour of TV). When the scenes for every story were decided they are sequenced in a logical order. Then the episodes were divided among the writers. They had approximately two weeks to come up with the first draft. Then the show’s creator read it and gave the writer feedback on what he liked and didn’t like about it. Then the second draft was written and this process continued till the final draft was ready for production.

A great benefit of this book is that it contains five example TV-plays. If you need direction on the format of a TV-screenplay, all you have to do is check out one of these. After finishing the book I was ready to start the creation process of my very own TV-series. First a lot of research had to be done. I collected newspaper articles and started reading books on my subject. I started shaping my fictional world by describing the characters, their life stories and their personality traits.

The research and preparation took me a whole year. Of course I did it all in my spare time. I also had a day job to keep going. After this year I was ready to write an actual episode; the pilot. I wanted to do this in one go, because I thought it would make the writing process easier. So during a holiday in Crete I wrote the pilot script. It was certainly fun to do. But finishing the script was a weird sensation. I was proud that I had not given up, and had now completed it. But I was also wondering if what I wrote was actually any good…

Update 2021
No, that pilot tv-script I wrote is not very good. However, I haven’t lost my passion for this writing business. I recently decided to give it another go. That Bad Taste like script I mentioned earlier, I have decided to rewrite it. And it will be in English, so it is fit for international audiences.

Will it ever be a movie? Small chance. No one will want to produce it, that’s for sure. It’s too weird and has no commercial appeal I think. But if I ever get my hands on some money that has no immediate purpose, I might produce it myself. It has the potential to become a fantastic amateur cult movie.

And I would put it straight on YouTube when it would be done. It would be a lot of fun to make for the voluntary or underpaid cast and crew, that’s for sure. So I take another advice from David Chase, don’t stop believing!