Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 23 minutes
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Imagine “Natural Born Killers”-era Oliver Stone directing a short film about the meat industry after being up all night sipping absinthe and watching “Patton” and “Apocalypse Now”. What you’ve got is the wildly electric and beautifully crafted satire “The Meat Market”, one of those films, never mind short or long, that you studiously watch the first time for the plot specifics and then again and again just to gawk at the heady excesses of style. And like the most passionate, politically charged films of Mr. Stone, “The Meat Market” is fully primed to piss some people off while making others stand up and cheer, “Right on!” But the question of whether the slant is pro-meat, anti-meat, pro-American, or anti-American is thankfully left up to you, the viewer. So refreshing it is, to not be spoon-fed by an often deplorable “message” film for once.
Real life brothers Nathan and David Zellner star as the brothers Rollins, Sonny and Maynard, respectively. It’s an all-too familiar set-up: Sonny is the “brains” of the two and guardian to his not-quite-all-there brother Maynard. The two men are struggling to make ends meet as the sole proprietors of their family cattle ranch in Texas. They haven’t sold a piece of meat in six months and they’re about to get evicted from their childhood home. Their only hope lies in striking a questionable deal with Meat Tunnel Industries, a big-time meat distribution company. When the two meet with the company’s president, George “I don’t like meat. I love meat.” Sledge (the brilliant Paul Norton), their carefully rehearsed pitch is literally blown to smithereens by the insane spitfire of the self-proclaimed “Meat God”. You see, Mr. Sledge is not only a meat freak, but also a Vietnam vet to boot. His two favorite subjects are war and meat, and he often confuses the two. So as he hears the brothers’ pitch, all the while sharpening two massive butcher knives, he frequently interjects with ridiculous proclamations like, “I can make non-meat-eating communities go away” and “Meat makes the world go round” and the manifesto, “Eat meat. Do meat. Lick meat. Suck meat. Smell meat. Meat-o-fucking-rama.” This… shall we say, unusual business meeting ends in spectacularly outrageous fashion as meat is hurled against walls, rantings are spewed, cow costumes are donned, and fireworks set off. At first this impossibly absurd denouement seems like an utter (no pun intended!) meltdown of both plot and sanity, but when the dust finally settles, you realize it somehow makes complete sense. This is a quasi-political satire, after all.
Stylistically, “The Meat Market” is all over the place. Writer/director Chris Ohlson and his clearly gifted crew indulge their inner film students with a mixed media collage of Super 8, black and white, DV, stock footage, still photos, surreal fantasy vignettes, and off-kilter camera angles. From the stunning cinematography of Jay P. Lipa to the snappy editing of Aaron Vega, “The Meat Market” is one of the most accomplished shorts I’ve seen in quite some time. Not only are these guys masters of style, they understand that telling a story through the use of their bag of tricks is ultimately more important than, and in fact a prerequisite for, actually using it. Give these guys a respectable budget and great things will happen!
Not to be outdone by the wizards behind the camera, Nathan and David Zellner turn in more-than-respectable performances as the Rollins brothers. Nathan is especially good as the weight-bearing younger brother Sonny, who understands what the two must do to survive, no matter how painful the price. But hands down, the single greatest thing about “The Meat Market” is the supremely gut-busting performance of Paul Norton as Mr. Sledge. This Shakespearian-trained actor’s evocation of George C. Scott’s Patton (whom he even resembles) and Duvall’s Col. Kilgore is simply RIDONKULOUS! It’s scene thievery of the highest order. My only complaint about it, and the film itself, is that there’s not more of it!
Posted on April 2, 2004 in Reviews by Daniel Wible
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