Josie and the Pussycats
In purely legacy terms, it seems bizarre execs would even think it a viable idea to repackage movie versions of Hanna-Barbera cartoons as meta-driven, adult-skewed vehicles, for the benefit of the former kids who grew up with them. It would suggest – surprise! – they understand very little about the sanctity of fandom (as for Barbie, well, I don’t know how you’d approach that and not meta-it to kingdom come). The bomb status of Josie and the Pussycats had immediate repercussions, in terms of the following year’s live-action Scooby Doo. But where that movie was serially aiming for low-hanging fruit, Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan’s consumerism/music-biz satire is, for the most part, smart and self-aware in all the right ways. The worst you can say of it is that it could have gone further.
Wyatt: I mean, would you be more interested in a band called simply The Pussycats, or are you more likely to buy a CD, or read a comic, or watch a cartoon, or go and see a movie about a trio of luscious ladies… called Josie and the Pussycats? Hmm?
Melody: It does have a nice ring to it.
The movie’s failure pretty much did for Elfont and Kaplan on the big screen (they first attracted attention for their A Very Brady Sequel screenplay, and got this gig despite Viva Rock Vegas; since then, they can be found foraging on TV, along with a various forgettable screenplay credits including Surviving Christmas, Made of Honour and Leap Year). In contrast, the Scooby Snacks of 2002 were penned by James Gunn, who went on to much bigger things. Now the former James Gunn, of course, despite co-heading up DC Studios, he “had written an edgier film geared towards older kids and adults”. Gunn, as we all know, is infamous for his edgy deleted “jokes” on Twitter, which is the least of that particular iceberg. Indeed, it seems the first Scooby Doo cut was an R, leading to cleavage being CGI’d out, the ditching of stoner Shaggy and removal of a lesbian kiss between Velma and Daphne (it seems rebooters can’t get enough of messing with Velma).
Les: Well, we were working on some remixes of the last single, right? We heard, like, a really strange background track. We were wondering whether or not you knew what it was all about.
Elfont and Kaplan are less interested in deconstructing the central trio than the world around them. Consequently, Rachael Leigh Cook (Josie), Rosario Dawson (Valerie) and Tara Reid (Melody) make for very likeable live-action versions of their comic/cartoon selves, with only a spritz of brainwashing to throw a spanner in their bezzie-mates works. When boy-band Du Jour discover a sinister backing track on their latest mix, MegaRecords promoter Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) arranges a “fatal” plane crash so needs a ready replacement. Step forward, the Pussycats. They’re even signed before Wyatt has heard them play.
Cook was briefly in demand in movies thanks to Pygmalion-riff She’s All That (Harvey was very involved with it), and she’s her own patented brand of cute here. Reid’s legacy is affirmed, thanks to this and The Big Lebowski (rather than American Pie, alcohol abuse and plastic-surgery nightmares). Somehow, with those hips, her trousers stay on throughout. Dawson’s had the most visible subsequent career of the three, which includes Danny Boyle capturing her snatch for posterity. Melody’s bubble brain is awared all the best lines, including the contender for 100 Best Lines ever that is the title quote.
Les: Oh, well, we managed to land the plane just fine. Unfortunately, it was in the parking lot of a Metallica show. Well, the fans beat the crap out of us.
Frankly, a whole movie just following the antics of Du Jour would have been pretty funny, particularly since its members are clearly improv-ing (per the outtakes at the end of the movie). They comprise DJ (Donald Faison), Les (Alexander Martin), Marco (Breckin Meyer) and Travis (Seth Green). Green, of course, was alleged to be a paedophile by (it seems, such is the murk of the visible world) Black Hat-posing-as-White Hat whistleblower Isaac Kappy (others he identified included fair calls Hanks and Gunn; Kappy’s under arrest, apparently, not dead). Along such Dark Hollywood lines, at one point, impressionist Aries Spears (as The Other Carlson Daly) attempts to kill Valerie while trying out his impressions, including a rejected Chris Rock. Accused of being unfunny he replies: “You know who’s funny? Bill Cosby. And he’s going to kill you… after sticking a spoon in your pudding”.
Du Jour are introduced singing their big hit Backdoor Lover to adoring fans; yes, somehow this was a PG-13 (PG in UK, which may have been the edited version, although nothing struck me as any different on this viewing). Fond of affirmative statements – “Du Jour means friendship”; “Du Jour means teamwork” – with their pilot-abandoned plane heading groundward, the otherwise constantly squabbling band can be heard citing mantras including “Du Jour means seatbelts” and “Du Jour means crash positions!”. Miraculously, they survive the attempt on their lives, only to encounter Metallica fans (Les escapes relatively unscathed: “And I thank God every day I knew the words to Enter Sandman”).
Serena Altschul: Du Jour’s label, Mega Records is yet to release a statement, but they have released a limited-edition commemorative box set, complete with a CD-ROM history of Du Jour, in stores tomorrow.
The picture has MTV presenters – back when MTV was still a musical influence – out in front, parodying themselves, per the above (for more recent examples of corporate “death” plundering, see Prince, George Michael and Bowie). The picture is nevertheless sufficiently recent that it can just about announce a “simultaneous global webcast”, however. Back when that was “exciting”. Indeed, perhaps the reason Josie and the Pussycats misses is because it has to fake its pop stars. Maybe an all-out deconstruction à la Head or A Hard Day’s Night would have gone down better. If Elfont and Kaplan had written this as Spiceworld, the Spice Girls might – might – have achieved a whole different level in terms of lasting reputation (notably, the not wholly dissimilar brainwashing-and-celebrity comedy Zoolander, also released in 2001, would also have a far more sustained afterlife than on its initial release).
Fiona: This is what our operation really does. Blue is the new orange. This is where it starts – the fads, the fashions, the product placement. From this command centre, we control the most influential demographic of the population. We decide everything – from what clothes are in style to what slang is in vogue. Feather tank tops, matching pants. Kind of a Buffy meets Chicken Run, feathers are the new rhinestones. The new word for cool will be “jerkin'”, as in, “Dude, that’s jerkin'”.
Melody: That’s dirty.
Fiona: This is the epicentre of all trends. We turn your world into one giant TV commercial. But how, you may ask, can our operation be so effective? Sure, these kids have brains like Play-Doh, just waiting to be moulded into shape, but something else must be going on, right? The Chinese guy knows what I’m talking about.
MegaRecords conspires with the US Government to brainwash the kids into buying product; essentially, the movie’s a soft disclosure on Tavistock-esque techniques for influencing and indoctrination, taking the easy route of consumerism as its principle target. In that respect, it’s in the line of Carpenter’s They Live!, (“Money is your God”; “Consume”), particularly since some of the instructions we hear, courtesy of Mr Moviefone – “he does all our subliminal tracks” – include “Conform”, “Freewill is overrated” “Jump on the bandwagon” and “There is no such place as Area 51”.
The picture’s a veritable glut of consumerist logos and brands, which might be the makers having their cake and eating it, were it not for the fact that none of it was paid for. Amusingly, none of them – the corporates – seemed to object to being marked out in this way (probably judging it as a win-win; it’s hardly Bud Light). A blast of a Megasound-treated track and vegetarian Melody is demanding a Big Mac (when we next see her, in the shower, McDonalds logos and mascots are plastered all over the bathroom). Valerie wants “a pair of old-school Tretorns”: “Jerkin’ Tretorns are the new Adidas” replies Josie (a hilariously goofy delivery from Cook there). Later, such revealed instructions as “Diet Coke’s the new Pepsi One”, “Heath Ledger is the new Matt Damon” and “You’re nobody without an Abercrombie & Fitch vintage tee” lead manager Alexander Cabot (Paulo Costanzo) to exclaim “I want a vintage tee… and Heath Ledger”.
Megastore Girl: That’s because they’re mindless drones who will gobble up anything you tell them is cool.
Anyone dissenting – such as the above real free thinker and non-conformist – is unconducive to a productive society (she’s promptly thrown into the back of a van and vanished). Cumming and Posey come on like they’ve been taking notes from Richard E Grant and Sandra Bernhard in Hudson Hawk (Cumming actually appeared with REG in Spiceworld). They display a convincing line in crass marketing speak (“Just think Christina Aguliera times three except one of them is incredibly tan… or else T.L.C. with two white chicks… or, um, Hole!”) If the picture rather lets the pair off, in the final analysis – they turned to evil because they’re ugly/deformed/freaks, like Bond villains – it’s in aid of an arch cartoon lesson (“No, I think the moral of the story here is you should be happy with who you are”) and the promise that the government has got off scot free and is channelling its activities in another direction: “Besides, after the concert, we were gonna shut down your operation anyway. We found that subliminal messages work much better in movies”.
Eugene Levy: I’m here to talk about subliminal messages in rock-and-roll music, or as it’s simply known in some cultures – rock music. For years, the government has been wisely coercing teenagers to buy products they normally wouldn’t want just to get their money. Fact: Kids don’t have bills to pay. Fact: They don’t pay taxes, but they do babysit and hold minimum-wage jobs that earn them wads of cash as thick as, well, my body of work. But these kids today aren’t dumb. They’re not going to buy just anything. That’s why the government has been planting small subliminal advertising suggestions in today’s rock music. The results? We can now get these kids to buy just about anything. We can have them chasing a new trend every week, and that is good for the economy. What’s good for the economy is good for the country. So God bless the United States of America, the most ass-kickin’ country in the world.
As for what it is the subliminal messaging really stands for, perhaps it’s worth considering the allegations of Todd Field, as reported in Mark Devlin’s Musical Truth. He recounts his conversation with David Crosby: “I said, ‘Do they still bring the master to the Temple Room?’ Dave said ‘Yeah’. I said ‘Do they still have the coven conjure demons into the master?’ He said ‘Of course’. I said ‘Now I gotta know something. What’s the main reason for rock music?’ He said ‘The same as when you were in. So that we can place spells on people that we couldn’t cast spells upon.’ I said, ‘Okay, one last thing. I’ve been hearing that you must be an initiated witch now to get a record contract’. He said ‘That’s right. Many of us that weren’t total witches have to be witches now in order to produce music’”.
Per Field, we’re told the master recording thus goes through “the Megasound” – that is, the Temple Room all major record companies have – on a full moon, furnished with a pentagram engraved in the floor and a coven of thirteen witches conjuring a demonic force, instructing it to tell the demons under it to follow each copy coming off the master. Many songs are written in “Witch Language” – Devlin cites Hotel California and Helter Skelter as renowned examples. Whether or not Field’s legit, in the present environment, where the only far-fetched conspiracy theory is one persisting in the claim that conspiracy theories are bunk, the revelation of such a procedure wouldn’t be remotely surprising, would it? Particularly given the annual processions of ghoulish rites and symbolism at Super Bowl performances or other major events, all with an expressly Luciferian bent. Devlin also devotes a to chapter to backward masking, noting examples including Madge’s Justify My Love (“Hear us, love us, Satan”) and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven (“Oh here’s to my sweet Satan”) Set against that, Josie’s call to worship Mammon is relatively innocuous.
Fiona: Ever wonder why so many rock stars die in plane crashes? Overdose on drugs! We’ve been doing this a long time. If they start to get too curious, our options are endless. Bankruptcy, shocking scandals, religious conversions. We’ve created a highly-rated TV show just to explain what happens to these people.
Josie and the Pussycats’ spin on dead celebs – in contrast to Miles Mathis’ – is that they’re actually dead, because they knew too much and were going to squeal. Thus, those involved in promoting them are implicitly complicit in the illusion. Carson Daly – who would briefly date Reid – tells Melody “You know, if I wasn’t a key player in this whole conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America with pop music, Iike, we could totally date”. Altschul has prepared the report on Melody and Valerie’s deaths before the fact (“Josie and the Pussycats’ debut concert was unexpectedly cancelled when an automobile exploded in the stadium parking lot. The passengers were identified as Valerie Brown and Melody Valentine, two of the founding members of the popular rock band. Investigators on the scene were quoted as saying the two died a slow, fiery death inside the four-wheeled hell pit”). Like the BBC and WTC 7.
Alexander: You know what? I still don’t understand why you’re here.
Alexandra: I’m here because I was in the comic book.
Lest we get too bogged down in allusions to reality, Josie and the Pussycats is often simply very funny. Indeed, its debit is that it rather has to drag itself through a passage of sincerity – of friends falling out and making up – amid the laughs, which means there are dry spells. From the risqué (“Honk if you like Pussy” reads Melody’s placard, before she emerges from foliage with the full text (“… cats”); “Do I get to touch Carson?” asks Melody: “Anywhere you like”, replies Wyatt) to the meta, the movie is commendably sharp; Wyatt sells them the change in their name based on multimedia versions of themselves (“comics, cartoons… and movies” – a film of their rise to the top is announced, starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu). Pyle confirms why she’s even in the movie – let alone on the plane – to anyone else mystified (above). Love-interest Alan M (Gabriel Mann) is a bit of a wet blanket, but even that seems to be intentional (Josie mends his truck for him; he sings acoustic guitar because he’s a sensitive artist). And his name is rightly ridiculed (“Yes, what’s with the initial? It didn’t work for Shelia E, and it doesn’t work for you”).
A movie where the cult appeal is richly deserved, then. Albeit, I recall the polarised opinions at the time, so it was clear a select contingent recognised exactly Josie and the Pussycats’ merits from the first. As for the songs? They’re quite reasonable – the album went Gold – and you can’t hold it against Cook (“I cannot sing at all”) for not lending her vocals to them. After all, it didn’t stop Rami bagging an Oscar.