Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Film Review: CANE TOADS- A UNNATURAL HISTORY (1988, Mark Lewis)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 47 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Mark Lewis (RAT, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DOGS).
Tag-line: "The story of a bizarre biological blunder, warts and all!!"
Best one-liner: ""I still love the animal, and they give me a lot of enjoyment."

A whimsical look at humankind's hubristic, unavoidable folly, and notably Werner Herzog's favorite film. And it's easy to see why everybody's favorite whacked out Bavarian loves it so much: told in a style approximating early Errol Morris (like GATES OF HEAVEN or VERNON, FLORIDA) with a dab of Monty Python, the film certainly has a sense of humor, but never loses its interest in the humanity of its subjects. Whether we're hearing from a shadow-entrenched Cane Toad drug abuser:

a scientist with an axe to grind (a vendetta born from Cane Toads killing his beloved cat):

They killed his cat, and he is PISSED.

local yokels who possess love/hate relationships with the toads, or a researcher who simulates toad sex, the film clearly adores the hell out of its interviewees. Sure, the film may be smirking while they're on screen, but it's a gentle form of kidding, like between you and your favorite eccentric aunt. Or between Herzog and, say, everything contained within STROZEK.

The problem presented by the film began with human greed: beetle grubs were hindering the Australian sugar crop, so the Cane Toads were introduced from Hawaii to eat them. Unfortunately, as invasive species are wont to do; they multiplied exponentially, ravaged the ecosystem, and ate everything (from ping-pong balls to cute little mice) EXCEPT the Cane Beetles.

A Cane Toad eats a cute little mouse. What an asshole.

Furthermore, they're extremely poisonous and kill almost everything that tries to eat them, from stray dogs to birds of prey to that scientist's unfortunate cat. Nature: 1. Humans: 0.

But then the humans strike back (if you can call it that) with our own unpredictable nuttiness- staging Cane Toad tea parties, erecting monuments, feeding them cigarettes, and making them their companions. "I still love the animal, and they give me a lot of enjoyment," gently says an elderly man wearing a dingy wifebeater:

At several points in the film, there are dramatizations that could practically be outtakes from 1972's FROGS, which you've got to love.

Near the end of the film, a question of sorts is indirectly posed by the insane shit that is happening on screen: What's more perverse– the necrophiliac Cane Toad that humps away for eight hours, or the human who watches said humping, just to confirm that it lasted eight hours? Yes, this film shows nature to be vile, base, obscene, and deadly. ...But like Herzog, the film loves it anyway- against its better judgment. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Special note: Supposedly, Mark Lewis has recently completed CANE TOADS 2: THE CONQUEST. Werner and I both eagerly anticipate its release.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

CANNNNE TOADS!! Nice review!