Friday, July 15, 2011

Holy Crap On Film: If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

     This is a story about a simple man with a simple message and the simple filmmaker who helped him spread it.  The simple man was Estus Pirkle, leader of Locust Grove Baptist Church in New Albany, Mississippi.  The simple message was an attempt to rouse the patriotism of Americans by proclaiming that most of us are pure evil.  The simple filmmaker was Ron Ormond, who got his big break collaborating with Lash La Rue in the 40s and spent the next 30 years working his way to the bottom.   
     These two simpletons made three movies together in the 70s. The first, and most famous, is inscrutably entitled If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?  It focuses on the insidious communist menace that is always threatening to crawl up our sacred American buttholes and drag us all to that hot gulag in the ground.  To say that Estus demonizes communists and American culture is to make an understatement of Pinteresque proportions.  Here  are Mr. Pirkle’s  thoughts on a number of important subjects:    
Saturday morning cartoons:  “Have you seen these cartoons?  Programs motivated to lead your child into crime.  Into sex.  Into murder.”
Drive-in theatres:  “Spawning house for sex.”
Dancing:  “Dancing is just as wrong as it’s always been . . . It’s the front door of adultery.”
This probably all sounds like a joke of some sort.  It isn’t.  It’s as real as Christ’s suffering balls.
     At one particularly entertaining point in the film, Estus says  “Do these things seem farfetched to you?” and then proceeds to recite a list of the most fanciful facts this side of James Frey.  For example, he says “Are you aware that just 60 years ago, there was not one communist in the world?”  The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848.
     Estus also reveals the tactics used by these evil egalitarians.  There’s a terrifying scene where Christian children are lured into the arms of Fidel Castro with promises of commie candy.  What would you do for a Klondike bar?  Then, there’s the depiction of a diabolical brainwashing technique in which the innocent populace is forced to listen as someone chants “Communism is good.  Christianity is stupid”.  This section is so ridiculous that Negativland felt the need to turn it into a song.  This is the actual voice of Estus: 

I don’t know how any Christian could resist such a tactic.  After all, that’s how they became Christians in the first place. 
     Estus is a hot piece of sass, to be sure, but this movie wouldn’t be what it is without the directorial skills of Ron Ormond.  Ormond made a number of very cheap exploitation movies throughout the 50s and 60s.  Movies such as The Girl From Tobacco Road and Mesa of Lost Women.  Then, in 1967, he narrowly survived a plane crash.  It was a come-to-Jesus moment for Ron.  He renounced his tawdry material (well, after making The Monster and the Stripper) and decided to take his talents to church.  What we have here, then, is an extraordinary combination of two peculiar American art forms.  The paranoid protestant ravings of Pirkle and Ormond’s natural inclination to shock an audience produce something wonderfully appalling.  Trust me when I tell you that I've refrained from describing the most rectum-rattling moments in the film, because I actually want you to watch it.
     A word about the questionable quality of the video.  It seems likely that the ragged copies of this film that flit about the internet are the best we’ll ever have.  The film was filmed on  . . . well, film and carted around from church to church for viewings.  It would require an act of miraculous restoration by several trained professionals to improve this thing, and I prophesize that such an act will never happen.  For my part, I enjoy the lousy quality of the existent videos.  It gives the viewer a nearly tactile sense of what it must have been like to sit in some crazy Baptist’s rec room on a Sunday afternoon, eating pork rinds and fearing Jesus in the faithless flicker of the fragile celluloid. 
Here it is in all its goddamn glory.  Enjoy:

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