While everyone is out seeing the big blockbusters and films from the Oscars’ shortlist, it seems these days the only movies I go see are obscure and generally confusing to most people. I’m not sure exactly why I go see these movies. Maybe it is for the camp factor. Or even just for the curiosity. Or perhaps even the scarcity of the screening itself. Does it really matter? All I am saying is that I seem to spend money for the experience of seeing some esoteric bullshit.
Monday was no exception when I went to the Music Box Theatre to see the lost Robert Altman teen comedy O.C. and Stiggs. Altman is a major name in the world of New Hollywood cinema having directed such great titles such as MASH, Nashville, and Short Cuts. In addition to his making films with an aesthetic that highly stylized and satirical, he was also a maverick as a director in the sense that he was difficult to work with in the sense that he became anti-Hollywood during the 1980s. It was during this era that he directed O.C. and Stiggs.
O.C. and Stiggs is a teen comedy about two trouble-making high schoolers who plot to prank an upper-middle class suburban family they despise in their hometown of Phoenix. Though it was shot in 1983 and finished production in 1984, it wouldn’t see the light of day until 1987. The initial concept of O.C. and Stiggs was developed by the National Lampoon and meant to capitalize on the trend of teen comedies that had seen a boost of popularity a few years earlier with titles such as Animal House.
Not much is known about the film since it was a critical bomb and Altman’s least commercially successful movie having only earned $29,000+ at the box office. Though somehow, in the film’s development, Altman was attached to direct and that is when the initial concept changed during the course of production.
While the film was intended to be a true teen comedy, Altman had the plan to derail the original vision and turn it into a parody of the teen comedy genre. With appearances from notable talent such as Dennis Hopper and Melvin Van Peebles, plus early appearances of talent like Cynthia Nixon, O.C. and Stiggs is a bizarre examination of teenage mischief through the lens of Altman’s satirical take on the American culture of guns, capitalism, and freedom.
The Music Box Theatre was almost packed to see this obscure title. It was quite a strange experience. The film does not age well with numerous sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic jokes and a style that obviously comes off as parody, even if that wasn’t evident to the studio and distributors at the time. While I have seen movies of a worse quality than O.C. and Stiggs, it still stands out as one of my strangest viewing experiences. I think with other bad movies, I sense an earnestness from the director and their thinking they were making something truly wonderful (i.e. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room). With Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs, this was parody without irony which is something you don’t see much of.
The only thing that has stuck with me from the experience of seeing the film was the music. In the film, the two leads are obsessed with King Sunny Adé & His African Beats, a Nigerian jùjú band. Only two tracks were contributed to the film. One was an original composition called “O.C. and Stiggs” which had an instrumental that appears frequently throughout the film and plays in its entirety over the ending credits. Unfortunately, that track has never been released. While it does appear on YouTube, I cannot include it in my blog as the focus track since it has never been officially released outside of the film. So, for this purpose, I’ll focus on the other track that appeared in the film.
During one of the big pranks O.C. and Stiggs play on the town, they interrupt a local play production so King Sunny Adé’ & His African Beats can play a concert after being swindled by a promoter in Mexico. They perform “Mo Ti Mo,” from their 1983 studio album Syncro System, in its entirety with everyone in the place dancing and jumping around and forgetting that they were supposed to see a play. In an otherwise odd scene, the performance was fantastic (studio and film versions below).
I never have to see O.C. and Stiggs again. I’m glad I saw it, but now it enters my long list of films I saw because of curiosity and scarcity. You don’t need to see it as well. But do check out King Sunny Adé & His African Beats.