Buy Buy Love
When the rapes and rioting at Woodstock '99 were first reported, I thought, That's it--the frat fascists have taken over our asylums. Then I remembered being dry-humped against the stage at a 1985 Replacements show. And seeing a naked, bruised woman stumbling drunkenly between grope and shove in the 1969 Altamont concert footage from Gimme Shelter. So much for a "counter" culture, where women might expect the same right to act sexually--or not to--that men assume for themselves. Did it ever exist? And if it did once, for 35 minutes, at a Bikini Kill show, was the mainstream culture now snapping back to remind women, with brute force, exactly who is in charge here?
As the anger wore down, I just felt sad. (Yes, I am getting to a review of American Pie 2. In a minute.) A giant group of young people have the run of a giant site, where they're fairly free--by virtue of numbers--to do as they choose. And the vision of freedom they enact is about forcing sex on others, about torching some food stands. That's how far the realm of possibility has shrunk in 30 years. Barbara Kopple's documentary My Generation (airing this week on the Encore cable network) shows how the hippie idealism of the first Woodstock became a marketing concept by the second and third Woodstocks. And J.B. Rogers's sequel to American Pie mirrors and reinforces the petty dreams now available to America's youth.
Don't get me wrong: American Pie 2 is a funny movie, sometimes extremely so. A bit lengthy and disjointed, it shrugs off any potential sophomore slump with its plagues of hilarious sexual humiliations, primarily visited on Jason Biggs's benighted Jim (he of the original pie-banging). I won't describe said embarrassments further--lest the pleasures of surprise be diminished--except to note that they're almost all public and invariably involve penises, assholes, or body fluids. Oh, and the presence of Jim's way-too-understanding father, played again with unalloyed glee by Eugene Levy.
Now college-seasoned, the cast of friends and girlfriends has returned for a summer of sexual frolic (even if some, like Mena Suvari's Heather and Tara Reid's Vicky, are barely present). And their comic timing once again sizzles--whatever you may think of a punch line that goes something like, "I suggest you get a spoon and eat out my ass." Seann William Scott's hyper-ready slut Stifler and Chris Klein's faithful hunk Oz represent Every(hetero)boy's baser instincts and Eagle Scout self, respectively. If there's not enough of Natasha Lyonne's desert-dry-witted Jessica (why is she hanging with these dorks anyhow?), Alyson Hannigan is allowed to color in the foulmouthed, flute-fiddling Michelle with unexpected vulnerability and spirit.
Twenty-five years of watching teen movies, though, and the primacy of sex and drinking begins to feel like a conspiracy. For your protection, this film contains no conversations about sports or music, let alone plastics, or producing products, or, God forbid, the police torture of the Genoa protesters. These movie characters live in a privileged vacuum, where five Michigan youth can afford a humongous beachside "cabin" on housepainter salaries--and where the group's "intellectual" (Eddie Kaye Thomas) spends his summer studying "tantric" to bone up for another sex session with Stifler's mom. The boys and girls here spend all their considerable energy thinking up ways to achieve, avoid, talk humorously about, or otherwise deal with sex, period; nothing exists outside that frame.
And, yes, that's funny--a loopily exaggerated version of teen sexuality. But it's also kinda sickening. Because you--uh-huh, I mean you--are being demeaned. I'm not talking only about how women are degraded in this movie, although it's done very prettily: Write a script where strong, intelligent women always want sex, and hey, presto, there's nothing offensive in presenting their tits and asses--they uncovered them, right? I'm talking, too, about a scene where the entire male world stops because two hot "lesbians" are playing with each other. You are your dick (or your cunt), this movie says. Let us show you what your dick wants. And when you've bought that, we've got something else you can buy. Don't think, Dick: We've got you covered. (Talk about public humiliations.)
If you think I'm the one exaggerating now, you should hear John Scher, a producer of the '94 Woodstock, considering how many "I come in peace" condoms would be likely to sell. "We've told 'em they can't do drugs, we've told 'em they can't bring food--what are they gonna do?" he laughs in My Generation. "They're gonna listen to music and they're gonna fuck." Scher estimates selling 10,000 to 50,000 condoms; he ends up selling 80,000. As expected, the kids listened to music and fucked--and bought a ton of shit. Indeed, the funniest shot in Kopple's movie is of an "ATM Inside" sign, and a line stretching out to the horizon.
Kopple, the director of the amazing Hormel strike documentary American Dream, is on familiar ground here, depicting "average" Americans struggling with the corporate culture that clothes, feeds, entertains, and exploits them. Once upon a time, a mass concert in Woodstock was taken over by the concertgoers and transformed into storied Event. Three decades later, Pepsi, PolyGram, and the Wiz pay sponsorship fees for the right to define and control the concertgoers and their needs. Kopple gets great access to business meetings, featured artists, and twentysomethings clued in and clueless at Woodstock and elsewhere. There's an impressive range of opinion, with Nine Inch Nails' Chris Vrenna speaking smartly about a generation's lack of global awareness, and Dickie Betts claiming that 16-year-olds always rebel: "It just happened that in 1969 there was a cause."
Kopple and co-director/editor Tom Haneke manage to overturn some Woodstock mythology by finding '69 footage of a woman taunted by the photographer into disrobing. They juxtapose that with '99 footage of men chanting, "Take it off!" to a bemused Sheryl Crow, and of women--at least one of them rather freaked out--bowing to similar pressure. But the sexual violence I was dreading all through the overlong '94 section never arrives: The '99 rapes are never even mentioned in My Generation, which was co-produced by PolyGram Diversified Ventures.
Kopple ends up characterizing that year's fiery property destruction as a spontaneous raging against the corporate machine, a wordless revolt back to the original Woodstock values. That's quite a stretch (Fred Durst is a corporate entity), even if the rapes didn't happen. Yet they did. And they make for a darker picture, one with too many dickheads. These days, if you break shit, you buy it, in every sense of the word.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.