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Bindlestiffs: Using the Homeless as Props

Bindlestiffs (2012)
Director/Writer: Andrew Edison
Starring John Karna, Luke Loftin, Andrew Edison

The title of this film comes from an old word meaning hobo. The main distinction of this film is that it was “presented” by Kevin Smith. Other than this, it’s an extremely low budget and rather amateurish indie film that is part comedy, part drama and part random weirdness.

As someone who mainly watches indie films, often obscure ones, I am usually fairly tolerant of offbeat stories without a linear plot. Nor am I a reviewer who is a stickler for political correctness. This one, however, left a bad taste in my mouth, mainly for the way it portrays a homeless person as a faceless, purely symbolic entity who exists solely as a prop in the lives of a group of suburban teens.

Bindlestiffs is about three teenagers (Karna, Loftin and writer/director Edison) who are suspended from high school when they protest the banning of The Catcher in the Rye. This book has long been a symbol of teenage angst and rebellion and, more recently, associated with mass murderers (a fact that becomes relevant to the story).

The three friends embark on a trip to the big city where they intend to experience as much as possible, sex included of course. This is extremely familiar movie territory, but Bindlestiffs is no typical Hollywood teen movie. Unfortunately, it ends up being even more inane and less coherent than the average entry in this genre.

Things get really weird when one of the kids has a sexual encounter with a homeless woman, who then apparently dies. The three drag her body around but before they can dispose of it, she comes back to life. Yet she has no lines, and we never see her face -only a tangled mess of gray hair. For the rest of the film, they carry and drive her around as though she was a mannequin. Even if you do find this amusing, the joke would start to wear thin after an hour or so of this.

There are other scenes involving a hooker and one of the teens smoking crack. Yet none of it seems real. It’s more like a series of disjointed fantasy sequences, dreamed up by a group of sheltered teens with little experience beyond the suburbs.

Another ill formed character is the high school security guard, who plays the stereotype gung ho military type. He is actually funny at first, but gradually devolves into a silly parody. He comes up with a paranoid idea that the kids are planning a school shooting. This could have led to some dark humor, but this is a thread that gets forgotten as the film reaches its pointless conclusion.

I seldom actively dislike low budget indie films, but this one really annoyed me for a few reasons. The dehumanizing of the “hobo” was one factor, and then there were the constant references to The Catcher in the Rye -as if merely mentioning this book could somehow prop up the film and give it depth and meaning.

If you want lightweight teenage rebellion, stick with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which may not be profound but is at least entertaining.

Related Blogs

    Red State -Sex, Religion and Politics

    Red State (2011) -Written and Directed by Kevin Smith

    As the credits roll at the end of Red State, the film is divided into 3 sections -“Sex,” “Religion” and “Politics.” Viewers should be warned that this film takes a rather dim view of all three, at least as they are practiced in the 21st Century.

    Red State is a film that’s hard to categorize because it mixes genres in a way that is alternately confusing and thought provoking. It starts out with a typical Texas Chainsaw Massacre type setup, with a bunch of teenagers heading out to a remote rural location where mayhem inevitably waits.

    Kevin Smith’s film, however, is not a simple slasher film. Far from it. It is also about religious fanaticism and government cover-ups. Ultimately, this leads to a movie that is not only hard to pigeonhole, but one where it’s hard to sympathize with anyone. The teenagers are the least loathsome of the lot. They are the usual dumb but basically harmless group -in this case, answering an internet ad for sex with an anonymous woman. This turns out to be a trap, however, as they end up being held prisoner at a compound run by right-wing Christian fanatics.

    Red State references several actual people and movements. The religious group is clearly meant to evoke the Westboro Baptist Church, which is militantly anti-gay. This real group and its leader Fred Phelps is mentioned in the film to acknowledge this, though the group in the movie is even crazier.

    Later, as federal agents surround the compound, we are reminded of Waco and the rather compelling conspiracy theories around that event (where the government killed everyone in the compound run by cult leader David Koresh). Still another reference that was thrown in was in the name of the reverend who runs the church -Cooper. William Cooper was an actual militia leader who was killed by the government in 2001. I suppose the name could have been chosen randomly by Kevin Smith, but I doubt it.

    Red State does raise some legitimate issues about religion, cults and the abuse of government power. Michael Parks as Cooper does a good job at playing a fanatic who is both wild-eyed and soft spoken. His followers nod their heads mindlessly as he works them into a murderous rage. The scene where the teenagers are about to be killed for their attempted sins is an effective illustration of how blind fanaticism can lead to heinous actions.

    The government is scarcely any better in its response. The local sheriff turns out to be a closet gay who is afraid to expose Cooper for fear that he will be outed. When the ATF gets involved, it becomes clear that the only thing that matters is that nothing unseemly is publicly reported -even if that means innocent people (including children) have to die. Sadly, recent history shows that all of this is completely plausible.

    Red State is a violent, chaotic hybrid of a movie that is worth seeing if you approach it with an open mind and don’t expect it to follow a straight line.

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