Ex Drummer: Dumb and Drummer

Ex Drummer: Dumb and Drummer
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Frites, beer, Soulwax—Belgium has given us so, so much. Let's just leave Ex Drummer off that list. Based on the novel by apparently notorious Belgian author Herman Brusselmans, Ex Drummer wants desperately to shock but manages to provoke only dull disgust.

Dries (Dries Van Hegen) is a successful, self-styled bad-boy writer (a stand-in for Brusselmans, whose works are semiautobiographical). He lives in a posh seaside condo and has threesomes with his attractive young girlfriend. He rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket, smokes, and frequently walks in super-cool slow motion.

A trio of "handicapped" losers ask Dries to play drums with them in an upcoming battle of the bands. They need Dries's fame, and though he regards them with obvious contempt, he wants the story that wallowing in their squalor will provide. He accepts. What follows is less Spinal Tap than it is Gummo (no offense to Gummo).

The film is bleak, gory, and violent. But more than that, it's just brutally, unrelentingly misogynistic (so much so that its casual homophobia and racism seem almost insignificant by comparison). The band's lisping singer beats, rapes, and murders women; their deaf junkie guitarist neglects his wife and, fatally, his daughter; the bassist's arm locked stiff one day because his mother caught him masturbating (although his homosexuality is suggested as a more significant handicap). Dries names the band the Feminists, reasoning that "four handicapped men are as good as four feminist bitches." (Dries's handicap is his supposed inability to play drums, not his moral and emotional bankruptcy.)

A rival band's frontman, Big Dick, makes his wife show Dries her vagina, which he affectionately calls her "exploded rat" and which his namesake member has stretched so wide that he and Dries can stand in it like a hallway. The Feminists' guitarist's wife introduces herself to Dries by announcing that her vagina stinks of rotten fish. When not parading their mutilated/diseased genitals around, the women in this film are mostly reduced to fetching beers and having sex; the bassist's mother also gets to domineer him and his father, who is forcibly kept confined to his bed.

The vagina-as-hallway scene does highlight the film's one strength, which is its sense of style and visual aesthetic, a kind of flashily rendered filth that recalls Trainspotting, though without anything like that film's fun or wit. First-time feature-length director Koen Mortier's next film is set to be an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Haunted, a project in which his flair for macho grotesquerie should serve him, if not his audiences, well. recommended


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Estey 1
Man, I so wanted this to be a new "Trainspotting," a movie about bad boys you can watch over and over due to its clear style and wit. There's always such a line to cross with (even black) humor -- you have to put the bully into the universe which is bigger than him, not have the world around him be just as mean and meaningless. Thanks for the tip about this one.
Posted by Estey on August 6, 2009 at 6:50 AM · Report this
LaRiiiiM0RrrHAwtiiii696969 2
Posted by LaRiiiiM0RrrHAwtiiii696969 on August 8, 2009 at 5:19 AM · Report this
It's always so cute when pre-teen males discover the internet. Did you know that the 'Caps Lock' key makes every single letter you type into a capital letter? What better way to show off your powerful, masculine emotions!
Posted by Here I Am on August 8, 2009 at 5:49 PM · Report this
Seems strange to criticise this film for its misogyny. Yes it is there for all to see but clearly it's integral to the characterisation of the band as more than just hapless idiots with a deluded idea of their own importance - which they undoubtedly are - but much worse.

Each are clearly shown to be either utterly socio- or psycho-pathic (with the possible exception of the cack-armed bass player) from Dries' distanced perspective, which as a narrative device is crucial in two ways: firstly, it covers over his own severe misgivings until he gets more and more involved with the depravity and squalor that surrounds the other Feminists. This is important because we are led to believe from the outset that Dries lives as comfortably as possible given that he is from the same town as the other Feminists, and sets up a character dynamic which implies that this film is going to be about class conflict. The impression I got from the first half hour or so was that this was going to be a middle-class cataloguing of underclass dysfunctions with little sympathy for their plight and pontificating on the merits of following the bourgeois lifestyle.

However, the film very cleverly turns this assumption on its head, by gradually introducing Dries' tyrannical traits as his alpha status in the group develops. He is a gay-basher certainly, by all accounts also a vindictive manipulator, and with ample evidence a vengeful counter-aggressor. Thus it becomes apparent that the film is not a product of an ivory-tower viewpoint from its writers, but a thorough admission that it's hands are in fact very dirty indeed, and had been from the outset.

The second point to make about Dries' distance from the rest is that it forces the audience to assess their own culpability for the plight of the underclass. Since the audience is introduced to the story, via a retrospective prolepsis, by Dries' opinionated and articulate monologue delivered to a camera barely the length of Big Dick's member away from him we are clearly being invited to identify with Dries' personal account immediately. As Dries gets progressively nastier, and he becomes increasingly embroiled in their disreputable behaviour and exhibits some of his own, this immediate identification is brought into question. The assumption here would be that the audience would at this point begin to recoil at the events taking place, because their detached window of reference is gradually worn down, eventually putting them, right there in the room without an escape hatch. The fundamental question being asked at this point is - "Well, you were OK with squalor and depravity on the basis of its Otherness, its lack of applicability to your own situation, but you're not innocent, no one is, so what are you going to do about it?".

A question which Dries answers, and in a way which returns me to my original point. While Dries is clearly no angel, for him unlike the rest the buck does stop somewhere, and it is with misogyny. We are given numerous examples of Dries' equivocal, reciprocally satisfying relationship with his wife, and further implications that he abhors the violence which the band's guitarist inflicts on women. Dries takes it upon himself to orchestrate an ingenious comeuppance for the guitarist, whereas he leaves the other two band members to rot in their self-inflicted misery.

All this makes the accusation that Brusselmans' penchant for embellished autobiography means that he too is a homophobic manipulative tyrant because his story is being told through the unreliable conduit of Dries a shameful one. I can't say I've read any of Brusselmans' books, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt seeing as his protagonist in this film is certainly no hero, and we as audience are encouraged throughout the last half to view Dries as just as much of a product of his surroundings as his bandmates are. Just like any good semi-autobiographical author should (Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson spring to mind), Brusselmans seems to have recognised that after living a helter-skelter life and choosing to write about it, he should enjoy no privileges or immunity from the events surrounding him as he realises he's just as accountable as anyone else who features in his stories.

Finally, I thought this was a hugely enjoyable film not just for its visceral portrayal of interestingly drawn characters, or for the engaging dynamic between them, but because (maybe especially) the jokes like the vagina-as-hallway sequence - in the context of the film's events - are very very funny, in a self-deprecating and preterite way that I think is incredibly difficult to pull off in the visual medium.

I hope readers of this site will now approach this film with a more balanced perspective. It deserves at least that.
Posted by berbelang on August 27, 2009 at 4:17 PM · Report this

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