by Cambria Meadows
Un Film Dramatique is a film by Eric Baudelaire which features the lives of twenty middle-school students from Dora Maar Middle School within Saint-Denis, France — part of BAMPFA’s Documentary Voices series. Although I originally viewed this film for a class, I found myself casually thinking about it on my own time after I had watched it, making me realize how much of an impact the film had on me. A lot of the time, I feel like documentaries attempt to tackle heavy points of contention, and rightfully so. But, what I liked about this film in particular was its ability to address both social and political issues while also maintaining a sense of innocence and light-heartedness, indicative of the 11-14 year olds’ attitudes.
The film’s collaborative aspect between the filmmaker and the young subjects is an essential element of the film, as the space created allows students to not only speak their minds, but also to wield cameras themselves. I think using both footage of the students as well as diary-like videos made by them enables the film to feel very genuine — the audience getting both an outside and inside look into their thoughts.
In some of the interview-style footage, it’s inspiring to hear these students have such complex opinions about ideas like racist intentions and the idea of origin; when I was 11 I think the most complicated thing I thought about was pre-algebra. The childrens’ expressive tones and gestures show their convictions on such topics, and they speak with such ease yet sureness. This ability to speak so freely can be attributed to their young age and their carefree mindset, ironically the characteristics which keep them excluded from such conversations with adults normally.
Another intriguing aspect of this film to me was the childrens’ role in becoming filmmakers themselves -- Baudelaire allowing them to take cameras home and use them on their own. Baudelaire encourages these kids to film anything, so we see moments like car conversations with parents, dancing and singing, and one girl showing us her pasta-making regimen. Although these clips formally vary from the interview-like conservations the children have when the filmmaker is present, the one continuous line connecting all of the footage is their vulnerability and their ability to open up about anything on their mind, showcasing whatever they want to the camera.
Not only does the film allow us to see the kids’ ideas develop in various ways, but we see them actually grow up as well; by the end of the film the students still participating look noticeably older. This film does an excellent job at depicting the complexities of childhood and allows the voice of the film to become intertwined with the student’s own voices, so you feel like you’re hearing them instead of some overarching message. Watching this documentary made me consider childhood and the idea that one day we lose it even though we don't explicitly realize it. This unnoticeable shift becomes visible through the children in the film, as towards the end they begin to censor the way they speak more, one girl redoing one take a number of times. Although the awareness we gain with becoming older is good, I also wonder how it can be detrimental. Even though we can’t time travel back to our own childhoods, this film allows a glimpse into others’. I’m keeping my fingers-crossed about time-travel coming into fruition, but if it never does, this film is a great way to get a piece of that.
by Saprina Howard
2020 saw the release of several hit films just before the COVID-19 quarantine dropped. One of the last major films many folks saw in theaters (including myself) was Birds Of Prey, an action superhero film that follows Harley Quinn’s schemes after her break up with the Joker. It’s packed with loudly choreographed fight scenes, witty banter, and memorable color schemes. Though I look back on the experience fondly, I can’t help but to remember an uneasiness that plagued me.
The film was cool or whatever-- until a comment so distasteful in one particular scene ruined my mood for the rest of the film. It hijacked my usual post-movie-deconstruction convo as I rode home with my partner that night.
What is this scene? A little Context.
The film’s villain, Black Mask brags to one of the protagonists, Black Canary, about his various treasures and foreign cultural artifacts displayed around the room. He notices she’s fixated on a mask to which he approaches her and reveals it is from the Congo. He asks her if she’s been there, she replies no, but that she’s heard it’s beautiful. He quickly refutes her claim with one horrendous line, “It’s dirty”. The scene moves on.
timestamp: 36:38 - 36:51
Why Does This Scene Ruin The Mood?
The comment may have been a device to help audiences grasp how truly disgusting this villain is. However, the audience would also have to believe the opposite of what Black Mask said, or else he would just reaffirm the audience’s negative beliefs about countries in Africa.
The latter is true. This movie isn’t reserved exclusively for audiences who understand that Africa is a continent with resources and cultural wealth, nor that a plethora of its countries are modern societies. Instead, this scene was ingested by ordinary people around the world who believe Africa is a monolithic and poverty stricken ‘country’ where barbarism and tribal warfare are the heights of their civilization.
I boldly claim such because I, an African American, sat amongst a mainly white and asian audience in San Francisco where this scene caused the entire theatre to erupt in laughter. They detected humor where I detected insult. No joke was told, but those laughing understood the code implied by stating that the Congo was “dirty”.
Humor depends on socio-cultural understandings. As an effect of post colonialism and the ways the world has been conditioned to prescribe little to no value to African culture and Blackness as a whole, it’s common for people to believe the insidious myth Africa is an uncivilized place.
The “joke” (statement rather) may have seemed harmless, but it’s really a symptom of a greater issue. It’s safe to say that finding Black Mask’s statement funny required viewers to feel affirmed in their own misconceptions of Africa enough to identify with the line. By laughing they revealed their ignorance.
While it is certainly in the writers’ best interests to make believable dialogue, it’s unfortunate that a supremist comment like this is even believable for Black Mask to say. Screenwriters choosing to write things like this is exactly how film perpetuates lies about Africa.
Remaining critical and considering the context in which a thing was created is a good way for viewers to remain vigilant to the ways Africa is silently subordinated in our subconscious. Coded language and jokes indoctrinate our thinking and understanding about places we’ve never been, which makes it easier for us to accept myths that justify the racialized world we live in
“Believable dialogue” doesn’t need to perpetuate negative stereotypes. With that said, Black Canary’s response was well written-- admitting she’d never been to the Congo but heard it was beautiful. Sure this movie was fiction, but why wasn’t Black Mask’s “believable dialogue” imagined outside of a stereotypical box too?
by Saffron Sener
When I was twelve, I asked my parents if I could get a Tumblr account. All my friends had blogs, and talked at length during lunch about posts they’d seen, in-jokes they were a part of, how they styled their themes. At first, my father rejected my request on the basis that the platform was “too inappropriate” for someone of my age. You could see anything on there, he said. For what it’s worth, he wasn’t wrong - anyone active during that 2012-2014 sweet spot knows all too well how dangerous it was to scroll through your dashboard in public. That was part of the allure to my almost teenaged brain, of course. I begged and begged, until finally, after my 13th birthday, he relented. My friends and I spent hours finding and uploading the perfect html, customizing our blogs and thinking of the perfect url - mine still looks almost exactly the same as it did when I last renovated it at fourteen.
A window into the mind of 14 year-old Saffi. Please don’t go try and find my blog, lol. It’s a secret!
It’s been nearly a decade - nine years in November - that I’ve been on Tumblr. There’s been gaps, some nearly six months long, but I always come back. I can’t help myself. The platform has some intoxicating mix of qualities - unique, provocative, nostalgic, alternative, strange - that keeps me under its spell. It wasn’t the same place as it was nine years ago, five years ago, even two years ago, but there are remnants that remind me of the wonderfully vibrant and compelling platform it has been to me. Back in 2018, Tumblr usership took a big hit when site administrators installed draconian anti-nudity regulations on posts, causing most active users to migrate to Twitter. The website had an atrocious pornography problem tending towards pedophilia and assault that led to its removal from the App store, so most users (myself included) were happy to learn that its programmers were going to address how parts of the website were so dark and dangerous; instead, though, they implemented a flawed content-recognition software that automatically deleted blogs with any posts containing identified “nudity” (including anatomical drawings, Renaissance paintings, and b&w architectural plans that it incorrectly flagged, for example). And the bot-porn blogs evolved, still active on the platform but skirting around the ban by links to external websites - the software did little but shuffle the more hardcore accounts off onto other, less policed platforms, failing to confront the root problem.
For reasons like the 2018 mass exodus of users, the content on Tumblr is in many ways outdated, a few years behind the neverending daily rounds of Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. It feels like the only social media platform I can go on and still get genuine posts about SuperWhoLock reblogged onto my dashboard. Yeah - I’m not kidding. And the terrifying ads, which became a prominent and permanent feature of one’s feed around 2017, are both inexplicable and seemingly never related to anything one might search or be interested in. Surreal, almost.
It remains, though, my favorite social media platform in terms of personal, individual usage. I certainly don’t use it as much as I did, mostly just hoping on every few weeks when I remember it exists, reblogging about a hundred posts, and then forgetting about it for a few more weeks, but it holds a very special place in my heart. The sheer range of art, thought, literature, media, and music that the platform exposed me to at such a formative time in my life truly defined me. Though it was not always positive - like I said, before regulation, you were bound to see pretty much any explicit image of any nature at some point scrolling through your dash, and there was definitely a Tumblr “ideology” in 2014 that wasn’t the most healthy - it was a way to express and explore myself that I didn’t really have in any other form as a thirteen/fourteen+ year old.
Scrolling through my dashboard for hours and searching through blog archives is what introduced me to the world of zines, which is a community I remain active in today. When I started selling my first zines (technically illicitly because yes, I was disciplined for selling zines on my high school’s campus) at fifteen, there was a Tumblr blog to commemorate the moment, and to keep people up-to-date with each issue. And it was on Tumblr that I was able to privately explore parts of myself - like my sexuality - away from the scrutinizing eyes of parents. Posts reblogged to my dashboard brought me to the Queer Zine Archive Project just after I started high school, sparking tons of feelings in my thirteen year old brain that I wasn’t super equipped to handle - I’m glad now, as a twenty-one year-old, that they were swirling around tangentially in my head at that point, though. The first person I came out to was the girl who helped me code my personalized blog, the same theme I have now. I will say: on the flip side of the platform, had Tumblr users extolled a more rational, open, and less problematic governing ideology about queerness, I might have fared a bit better in that realm and avoided repressing those feelings for an additional five years. Haha, maybe in the next life.
Now, for better or for worse, I have this strange, wonderful time-capsule of my youth. I never kept a diary or a journal, but I still have my Tumblr archive - and I cherish that shit. I was embarrassing as hell in 8th grade, but I’m so happy that I have this huge collage of images and text and videos that represent my mind, my interests, my feelings at the time. To see the changes over months and years is endlessly fascinating. Unlike Instagram or Twitter, you get to customize almost every aspect of your blog, creating a little space for yourself that feels special and representative in the way I’m sure MySpace did for generations before me. I got my Instagram right around the same time as my blog, and even back as a thirteen year old, I was incredibly conscious of the fact that I carried myself differently on the photo-sharing app; every photo had to appear perfect, I needed to look beautiful, and each post had to get enough likes. My Instagram, which still has some of my photos from 2013/2014, is more sanitized and superficial - it’s a nice photo album, but it never really felt like I was using it for me, rather for the construction of some version of me for other’s consumption. Perhaps this is an individual experience, but I never felt that way on Tumblr. Tangentially, I cared what my (closest) friends might think about what I reblogged, because they were the only ones who had access to my blog; on the whole though, the things on my blog were there because I liked them and I wanted them to be there. I rarely made posts, so there was no reason to care about how many notes a post might get. It was my own little world, and I think I needed that as a preteen, teenager, and even now.
Ratz 5 Skate Part Review!!
by Beck Trebesch
Rat Ratz 5 is a 14 minute skate part released on the Quartersnacks Youtube channel in November of 2020, featuring a talented team of youngsters from Milan, Italy. Posting a 36k view count at the time of writing, Ratz 5 is a charmingly grisly, effortlessly stylish, and undoubtedly promising look into what's to come from the peripheries of the skateboarding world.
First and foremost, what the Ratz lack in skating ability, they make up for in creative problem solving genius. One might walk away from a Ratz 5 thinking: “Wow! They really fucked that spot up!!!” And you would be right. I feel in most other instances, this would be to the detriment of the part, a distraction even, but in this unique moment, it comes off as endearing and authentic. The Ratz team finagle every little gap, ledge, and angle at the Mensana in a feat of distinctly urban ingenuity, building on each other’s technical prowess and creativity. There are so few shots in this part that feel the same even if it's the same 3-stair or ledge. Even when it seems the crew is going to run out of features to hit, they manage to pull out a new maneuver to keep the video fresh or in Italian, nuovo (see the 50-50 to late shuv, Rach’s Muska flip, and the back 5-0 to tailslide nose grab combo which is downright electric). As fun and accessible as the skating is in Ratz 5, Brisquit’s unpolished but patient filming and editing is the touch that elevates this video from novel, underground edit to contender for part of the year. Follow cams, side by side, front, back, above, below, you name it. Brisquit got the shot. It may not be as flashy, colorful, or manicured as other skateparts but it's so well-suited to the skaters, the spots, and the scuzzy beauty of Milano.
The second aspect of Ratz 5 that has kept me coming back probably once a week since its release is the compositional variation and cross cultural hybridity in just about every sliver of this part. Off rip, the music. Oh yea, this soundtrack fucks. If anyone reading this has also read my Collage review (ski movie), they’ll know how much music choice and sound balance can disrupt a part, no matter the quality of the actual talent on display. In this case, Brisquit loads up his utterly nasty quiver of ‘No Slack in My Mack’ by Lil Ugly Mane, ‘One’ by Ghostface Killah, ‘Für Elise’, ‘Doomsday’ by Discharge, and ‘My Kitchen’ by Gucci Mane and hits pacing and energy dead in the heart. Pairing with the tasteful Supreme garb and variety of Nike Dunks showcased through the entire video, the music has a uniquely American flare (minus ‘Für Elise’ and ‘Doomsday) that shows a keen ear and a sharp eye for the global skateboarding diaspora. Furthermore, given how young a lot of these kids are (I’m talking 13-16), it shows an unspoken maturity, confidence, and sense of community that pulsates through the entire part. I also love the Ratz’ incorporation of graffiti into the part. The motion of the arm arcing bubble letters on abandoned freight trucks, the quip of the can spitting white paint, and the public stealth of the taggers leads to a supremely enjoyable set of moments that whisper volumes about Milan’s underground.
Upon first watch, I was left with a few burning questions. Where would I be if I was this cool at such a young age? What’s next from this crew of kick-flipping, cigarette-smoking rabble rousers? Why don’t more people know about this incredible video? And while the jury’s still out on the outcome of my possible foray into a hypebeast-clad street skating career at age 14, we can now confidently speculate on the future prospects of Ratz. It seems (given my Ratz littered Instagram feed) that famed skateboarding filmer/director/editor William Strobeck and the Supreme Crew linked up with the boys in Milan for at least a good month or two, meaning the follow up to Strobeck’s 2019 ‘Candyland’ (the most watched video in our friend group for both unironic and ironic purposes) could be right around the corner. I’ve never been more excited to watch wheels turn and ollies pop!
Ratz 5 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXToyTHS-0s
Candyland - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk1cLKpzHck
Film Fest 2021!!!!
by Julia Cunningham
While only in its third year, the BAMPFA Student Committee’s Student Film Festival has quickly become a beloved event and a mainstay in the BAMPFA Student Committee’s annual lineup of events. Held for the first time in 2019 in the Barbara Osher Theater, it had to be moved online in its second year due to the pandemic, becoming the first of many BAMPFA SC events to be hosted virtually. We are excited and grateful to be able to virtually present the Student Film Festival again this year, with films curated by the BAMPFA Student Committee’s Film Subcommittee and brought to you via a beautiful website designed by UC Berkeley student Timothy Tucker.
Of course there would be no film festival without the incredible creativity of student filmmakers. This year’s lineup features 14 films created by student filmmakers from across the Bay Area. There is truly something for everyone in this lineup in terms of length, style, and content. Some films are narrative, others documentary, but many would best be described as experimental or genre-defying. Many of my personal favorite films from the lineup explore personal and vulnerable realities in a stylistically and visually potent way, such as in Dear Commuter, heart whispers, and Telepatía, but all of them achieve this in distinct ways that highlight the strength of the filmmakers’ unique voices.
While not curated around any particular theme, I think that many of the films do speak to themes of distance and reflection. Perhaps it is the events of the past year that makes it easy to project these themes onto almost any piece of media, but I also think that it speaks to the individual strength and artistry of these filmmakers that their films, even if not created in the past year, are able to sensitively yet potently resonate with our present moment. I hope you love these films as much as we do, and appreciate these incredible student artists for continuing to create and share their work during these financially, emotionally, and creatively challenging and isolating times.
A silver lining of hosting the film fest virtually is that it is available for anyone in the general public! To watch the films, check back into the BAMPFA SC website to be redirected to the official Student Film Festival website. The website will be launching this Thursday, April 8, and there will be a live conversation and Q&A with BAMPFA Student Committee members Collette Keating and Amaris L’Heureux and student filmmakers that day at 7 pm! Happy viewing!
by Truly Edison
We’re now a little over a month post-The Stand 2020, the latest in a current boom of mediocre big-budget Stephen King screen adaptations that have been the bane of my existence since IT 2017. Anyone who’s talked to me in the last six months has probably heard my tirade against this trend at LEAST once, but the absolute state of The Stand 2020 felt like a particularly personal blow: I’ve been part of a matrilineal legacy of Stephen King superfans ever since my mom got me hooked in middle school with Carrie, and The Stand is her favorite Stephen King book of all time. Naturally, once she was able to convince me to take on the 1300-page behemoth, it became one of my favorites too. We watched the original 1994 miniseries adaptation of The Stand together, and my mom had been hyped up for this new version ever since it was announced a couple of years ago. Needless to say, it was a rough couple of weeks in the Edison household as we watched in growing bewilderment at the miniseries that ended up being produced.
For the uninitiated, The Stand details the saga of what remains of the U.S population following a virus that kills 99% of all human life on Earth (and before you ask, yes, the release of The Stand 2020 was pushed back due to probably the worst timing marketing-wise a show could encounter). The survivors eventually form two distinct groups, headed by two mythical figures: the God-chosen elderly Mother Abagail, and the chaotic “dark man” Randall Flagg. These groups ultimately have to face off against each other in a battle of “good” versus “evil” (with all the complications such a concept can have, of course). It’s an expansive novel with tons of characters and locations, sometimes compared to stories like the Lord of the Rings series in terms of sheer narrative scale. Taking that into account, I actually don’t want to bag on The Stand 2020 too hard simply because I think it would be impossible to create a working screen adaptation of The Stand that was any shorter than a full multi-season television show similar to something like The Walking Dead (which, as an aside, I’m surprised has never been pitched; if my mom is any indication, people with disposable income LOVE The Stand). On the other hand, I could probably also write a whole manifesto on everything about The Stand 2020 that made me so mad that I would get an actual headache after watching it sometimes. Luckily for you all, this blog post is not going to be that manifesto. Instead I want to narrow in on one specific complaint, perhaps a universal one for adaptation haters: I didn’t like what they did to my beloved Trashcan Man :(
In summary, Trashcan Man (real name Donald Merwin Elbert) is one of the survivors of the virus in The Stand who ultimately allies himself with Randall Flagg’s “evil” side in the final conflict. When he was a small child, his father went on a violent rampage and killed his three siblings, eventually being gunned down by the sheriff of his small Indiana hometown. The impacts of this early trauma manifested in the form of Trashcan Man developing pyromaniacal tendencies: his nickname comes from his childhood habit of setting fires in trash cans. Though this is never explicitly confirmed in the text, many people read Trashcan Man as also possibly being schizophrenic. These effects were only worsened when Trashcan’s mother ultimately re-married to the man who killed his father. As a pre-teen he was institutionalized after burning down an abandoned house, and was subjected to medical abuse for a number of years, including electroshock therapy that severely damaged his memory and cognitive function. After returning to his hometown, Trashcan continued to struggle, forced to drop out of school due to the effects of the electroshock therapy and tormented by the other people in his town who would shout at him in the street and throw things at him. He was ultimately arrested after burning down a church, and begins The Stand shortly after breaking out of prison as the only remaining person left alive there. He then travels to Las Vegas to meet up with Randall Flagg, who communicates with him in his dreams and promises him a better life than the one he lived pre-virus. Without giving away any spoilers, Trashcan Man goes on to play an instrumental role in The Stand’s intense, explosive climax.
I think part of why I love Trashcan Man so much is because on paper he reads as a character who could easily be done very poorly; oh look, here we go, another ~craaaazy person~ with violent tendencies. But Stephen King is able to portray Trash with a game-changing amount of nuance and empathy. We get several chapters in which he is the point-of-view character, which allows for a deep engagement with his personality, his insecurities, the ways in which he interacts with the world around him—all things we would expect to get from any character in such a long novel but so often don’t get from characters like Trashcan Man. We can also get a sense that he’s wanted by other characters, and that he has value and positive qualities despite his mental illness. Flagg seeks him out and speaks to him in his dreams because he needs Trash’s ‘sixth sense’ for finding weapons in abandoned West Coast military installations and skill with mechanics and explosive devices (a byproduct of his pyromania) in order to prepare for The Stand’s final battle. Most crucially, as readers we get a sense of the outside conditions that made Trashcan Man the way he is. We see the ways in which he’s psychologically scarred by the events of his father and siblings’ deaths, and the ways in which the people in his life attempt to help him (by institutionalizing him) only to inadvertently put him through even more trauma. Even on top of all of that, we see the ways in which he’s totally rejected by his community and further victimized in the moments where he needs the most support. Trashcan Man is able to be so much more than just a “crazy guy” taking advantage of the apocalypse to indulge in his demented fantasies: this is a vulnerable person who has just been totally let down and treated like shit by other people and by social institutions, who now finds himself in a position where those people and those institutions have gone away and he has the opportunity to live another kind of life. It’s not a perfect portrayal by any means—like pretty much every Stephen King book, The Stand has aged egregiously—but it still struck me as more nuanced and thoughtful than even some media that comes out today.
In The Stand 2020, Trashcan Man was portrayed by Ezra Miller, who I actually otherwise really enjoy as an actor; I thought they killed it in We Need to Talk About Kevin as another character with unspecified but intense and violently-manifesting mental health issues. I was especially intrigued because apparently Ezra Miller was given a lot of creative freedom with the role of Trashcan Man, reportedly being a huge fan of The Stand and having their eye on the role for a long time. But what ultimately came out of that take is, uh. I’m just going to link the clip here because I honestly don’t think that I would be able to describe in written words the sheer content of this scene. Be warned if you do click, though—Ezra Miller’s first scene as Trashcan Man isn’t just bad, it borders on genuinely offensive. They put on this erratic gesticulation and this horrible screeching that completely drains the scene of any empathy or character-building that it could potentially put forth. Do we learn literally anything about this guy from this scene? Other than the fact that he’s ~craaaazy~ and really likes fire? There’s no dialogue, no flashback (as is used in this scene’s equivalent in the book), none of the things we might expect from an introductory scene to a crucial character. He’s not even wearing any clothes we could make assumptions about him based on. Trashcan Man isn’t a character here; he’s barely even human. Whereas in the book we get an inward view on Trash, and see through that viewpoint how he’s perceived from the outside, the only perspective we get here is entirely from the outside. We’re being shown Trashcan Man from the vantage point of those in the book who so thoroughly ostracized him, as this grotesque freak show that we’re at best morbidly fascinated with and at worst violently repulsed by.
Maybe this would be less of an issue if Trashcan Man had any other key scenes in The Stand 2020. That’s the other thing that bugs the hell out of me about this version of the source material; this abysmal first scene is pretty much all we get of him for the miniseries’ nine-hour runtime. After this he has a brief, hallucinatory dream-interaction with Randall Flagg that...maybe would give us some backstory if literally any one of its hurriedly flashing images were lingered on for a little bit longer? And then he’s pretty much instantly in Las Vegas (where all of Flagg’s other henchmen are disgusted by him, far different from their enthusiastic acceptance of him into their ranks in the book). He “talks” to Flagg (more screeching) for about a minute before he fucks off into the desert for a couple of episodes, not to be seen again until the very end of the series. For a character with such a massive role in the plot, The Stand 2020 reduces him to pretty much a glorified cameo. If the audience had been given a little more time with him, we might have been able to feel connection to and empathy for even this weird caricature that Ezra Miller has created, but we’re not even given the chance to try.
Of course, you can’t just blame Ezra Miller for this turning out as a trainwreck, though if their reported love of The Stand wasn’t just a PR thing for the show then I would really like to have a little talk with them about what the hell they thought The Stand was about. Any piece of filmed media gets touched by too many hands to assign blame to one person, which arguably makes it a little worse in some ways, that so many people would have had to sign off on this version of the character for it to avoid the cutting room floor. Part of the trouble comes from the source material, too—the book is just too damn long to properly do in even nine hours! Trashcan Man doesn’t even get introduced until nearly halfway through The Stand. He’s also a character who potentially pushes the boundaries of what can be shown on TV, especially when it comes to his journey to Vegas. There’s a chapter of the book where Trash runs into The Kid, a violent and sociopathic Elvis lookalike who threatens, tortures, and even sexually assaults Trashcan Man while he’s trying to make his way to see Randall Flagg. This is a part of the book that has never made it onto the screen, and was even cut from the original publication of The Stand. I can completely understand why—it’s a bleak and brutal read, one of the most difficult parts of an already disturbing book to get through. But at the same time, it continues to build our relationship as readers to Trashcan Man, and it’s one of the defining moments of his character arc. Making the choice to cut it completely means that a showrunner has to come up with a substitute for the work it does character-wise, which is a hard wall to scale.
But it’s not impossible to scale, not in the slightest. There have been passable, or even pretty good, on-screen versions of Trashcan Man in the past. In the original 1994 miniseries he was portrayed by Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame, whose take on the character I’ve come to appreciate a lot more post-The Stand 2020. For comparison, here’s his version of that introductory scene. For starters, this scene is almost twice as long as Ezra Miller’s introduction to the character, which gives a lot more much-needed time to get to know him. Though Matt Frewer does erratic and repetitive behaviors similarly to Ezra Miller, the movement and vocal stims that he gives Trashcan Man feel much more humanizing—and his version of Trash can actually talk in full sentences like he does in the book! I never thought I would be so excited about that fact, but here we are. But most crucially, we get a sense of where he comes from and what’s happened to him before we meet him in The Stand in the form of the voices of his childhood tormentors that he hears. We even get a reference to being ‘stuck in the nuthatch’ and ‘given a few thousand shock treatments’, which goes completely unmentioned in the extremely brief and confusing bit of backstory we get for Ezra Miller’s Trashcan Man. Of course it’s not given the same in-depth treatment as it gets in the book, but it doesn’t have to be—a little can go a long way. He’s also considerably more present in the 1994 miniseries as a whole, despite it being about 2/3rds the length of The Stand 2020. The 1994 series seemed to have a stronger grasp of Trash’s role in the novel, and organized its structure accordingly. As bad as The Stand 2020’s Trashcan Man is, it somehow feels even worse when you consider the fact that there was a more rounded-out and empathetic portrayal nearly thirty years earlier.
Mostly I feel disappointed with The Stand 2020 not just because of my personal attachment to poor Trashy as a character, but because of the ways in which this version of The Stand presented itself as seeking to make right some of the failures of Stephen King’s original book and adjust some of its more problematic elements to run more appropriately in our current year. Like I mentioned earlier, Stephen King books have a tendency to age like milk political-correctness wise, and The Stand is DEFINITELY no exception. Before The Stand 2020 came out, the showrunners talked a lot about the ways in which they intended to rewrite Tom Cullen, a developmentally disabled man in The Stand who in the original text is an unfortunate bundle of ableist tropes rolled up into one kind of cringeworthy package. The showrunners understood this failure of the text and took great strides to correct it in their version. And that effort really shows! Brad William Henke’s version of Tom is honestly one of the high points of the miniseries. But it just makes me wonder why the same care and consideration couldn’t be taken when it came to reinterpreting Trashcan Man. Well, I guess I’ll just have to stick around for The Stand 2041 and cross my fingers.