Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let Rob Zombie Cast Who He Wants

by Patrick Bromley
Everyone lay off Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie.

So I know this article is a little out of date, as Rob Zombie's latest directorial effort 31 was released last October and there's no "newsworthy" justification for bringing any of this up. Truth be told, I wasn't a big fan of that movie; even as someone who has liked every one of his past films, this one felt like Rob Zombie was autopiloting to the point of self parody. Because it was one of the movies I was most looking forward to in 2016, it also wound up being one of my biggest disappointments.

I come here not to reassess 31, however, nor to defend what I agree are its many problems. But I have been listening to a lot of Zombie's music in the last few weeks (unusual for me, as I haven't really been in to anything heavy since my Ministry/Body Count/Pigface days in high school), and as a result have been watching a number of his videos on YouTube. His wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, appears in many of them -- most famously "Living Dead Girl," still one of my favorite music videos of all time.



Seeing Sheri Moon pop up in so many of his videos reminded me of a common criticism of Zombie's work: he needs to stop casting his wife. This complaint dates back to 2003 and Zombie's first movie, House of 1000 Corpses, in which fans mistook an obnoxious character for an obnoxious performance. Sure, Baby Firefly's constant shrill cackle and self-consciously "playful" personality can be grating. That's the way the character is written. She's the spider designated to catch flies, so she has to appear the most normal of the Fireflies while still a psychotic who really, truly enjoys being a psychotic. Sheri Moon plays all of that. Don't confuse the part with the actor.

But it is not my intention to defend each of Sheri Moon's performances, despite the fact that I believe they get better with each movie, culminating in The Lords of Salem in which I think she is genuinely quite good. Even if she wasn't, that's not the point. The point is that I want horror fans to stop complaining when Zombie casts his wife. I want him to continue casting whoever the fuck he wants.

Watching "Living Dead Girl" and "Never Gonna Stop (Red Red Kroovy)" and the much more recent "Hideous Exhibitions of a Dedicated Gore Whore," I was reminded of how much I love the relationship between Zombie and Sherri Moon. They love each other a lot. They like to spend time together and work together. Zombie isn't casting his wife because she's "available." He's writing parts specifically for her. Sherri Moon isn't using her husband's films as a platform to a bigger acting career; in fact, she's hardly appeared in anything that he hasn't directed. Theirs is a love story played out across two decades and dozens of collaborations. They act as muse for one another. I think that's totally beautiful.
No, Sheri Moon is not a classically trained actress, and yes, sometimes her performances have called attention to themselves when a particular moment doesn't land. I'm not suggesting that no one should be critical of her work (or any work by any artist for that matter), just that there is a huge difference between "that performance didn't work for me" and "she should never be given a role again!" First of all, I'm a big believer in the idea of filmmakers being given complete freedom to make exactly the movie they want, and asserting casting decisions on anyone flies in the face of that belief. More than that, though, is that I don't get why anyone who is a fan of Rob Zombie's movies and is watching a Rob Zombie movie somehow thinks that the performance of one actor is really fucking things up. Back when he was co-hosting the post-Ebert incarnation of At the Movies, the great Chicago Tribune critic (and one half of my wife's #RelationshipGoals) Michael Phillips once remarked -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that "acting is the last thing to go wrong with a movie." If we are noticing what we think is a bad performance, it is likely the result of some bad writing, or a scene that's been shot or edited poorly, or a director making the wrong choice in actor or any number of issues that might have been addressed before blaming the actor.

This does not mean that Sheri Moon -- or any actor, for that matter -- is entirely inculpable on screen. But I simply do not believe it's possible for someone to love everything about a Rob Zombie movie but draw the line at a single performance. He is a filmmaker with a very specific, very distinct and sometimes overpowering personal aesthetic. It's in the writing, the costuming, the production design, the songs he chooses for the soundtrack, the casting of familiar genre faces -- all those things that make a Rob Zombie movie a "Rob Zombie movie." You're either on board for this stuff or you're not. If you're into it (and I am), it's difficult for me to imagine that you can like all of the big choices Zombie makes but then determine that a Sheri Moon performance is simply a bridge too far. And I also totally get it if you're not into it. His work is not for everyone. But saying that he shouldn't cast his wife is ignoring all of the larger issues you have with his work because pointing to something like nepotism is easier and widely acceptable as being "wrong" (even if that's bullshit). I don't care if it's Helen Goddamn Mirren playing Michael Myers' Ghost Mom leading a horse around, no one is suddenly going to like Halloween II with a change in one actor.
I remember hearing someone (I wish I could remember who) defend Yoko Ono once by pointing out that John Lennon really loved her, and that if he hadn't had that relationship we don't know if he would have made all the music he did in the years they were together or helped to change the world. It has become a cheap joke to suggest that Lennon would have automatically stayed with The Beatles if not for Yoko, but that's impossible to speculate. What we do know is that "Imagine" exists and that his relationship with Yoko Ono deserves at least some of the credit. Now, I'm not directly comparing Rob Zombie to John Lennon, nor Sheri Moon to Yoko, but it's something I've thought about as I've been going through his work and noticing that one of the major commonalities is her participation. Like I said, I'm a big fan of Zombie, and I know that we are getting the work we get from him in part because of his relationship with Sheri Moon.

We're seeing the same thing happening now with Kevin Smith, who has been casting his wife Jennifer Schwalbach since the early 2000s and is now writing and directing starring vehicles for his teenage daughter Harley Quinn Smith. Again, there are the critics and internet mouthbreathers who cry nepotism and suggest that Smith shouldn't be casting his family and turning his work into glorified home movies. I'm someone who found Yoga Hosers fun, and a big part of that is because Smith cast his daughter. Not only do I think she gives a charming and likable performance, but I also really like that Smith is creatively inspired specifically because he wants to showcase his daughter and give her the chance to play in a band and fight Nazis and do yoga and clown around on screen. Would the people who hate the movie -- and there are plenty -- like it better if Elle Fanning was in the lead? Without Harley Quinn, there's a good chance the film wouldn't even exist. Of course there are plenty of folks who would argue that it shouldn't exist, but I have to call bullshit on that, too. Love them or hate them, I'm glad that Kevin Smith is getting to make exactly the movies he wants to make right now. And if what he wants to make is a love letter to his daughter, well, that's beautiful too.
So, again, I know this isn't exactly relevant. But it's something that's I've been thinking about a lot, and I've always said that there's no point in having your own site if you can't talk about what's on your mind. The complaint that Rob Zombie keeps casting his wife is lazy and hack, like mispronouncing M. Night Shyamalan despite the fact that he has been a household name for nearly 20 years. If you hate his work, it doesn't matter who he casts. If you love his work, you love it because you love his choices and the fact that he creates on his own terms. He has made exactly the music and the movies he wants to make in exactly the way he wants to make them, and that includes working alongside the love of his life and greatest collaborator. I hope Zombie and Sheri Moon make stuff with each other forever and I'll be devastated if they ever stop working together someday, because it means that either a) they have split up or b) one of the two has finally caved to all the complaints of fans and non-fans alike. I don't see that happening, though, and that's what makes them special. So few love stories last in the entertainment business, and to watch two artists who are creative and have integrity stay together personally and professionally for 20 years is inspiring. We should all be so lucky. Come to think of it, some of us are.

7 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree with this more. None of my issues with his films (& 31 in particular as the latest example) have anything to do with her being in them or her performances.

    I dig that he writes roles just for her. It's an element of sweetness in a genre that usually leaves that out.

    (Also, I think YOGA HOSERS is a blast and the best part of the movie are the two girls in a cakewalk)

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    1. Nooooooo Yoga Hosers was so, so awful. People might read that and take it seriously!

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  2. Beautiful article, and I hope the Zombie's see this. I think you partly have this point of view because you're a family man, and understand the desire to be around your wife (and kids) as much as possible. I agree that it's awesome that this couple really does share each other's lives as much as they can.

    La La Land shows how tough it is to keep a relationship in the entertainment business because people are always being pulled in different directions. These people do what they have to to work and stay together. It's awesome.

    P.S. I'm actually a fan of Sheri's work. I think she fits perfectly in Zombie's movies and always give it her all.

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  3. What a thoughtful, well-stated article. It's funny I always attributed that quote about acting being the last thing to fail to Gene Siskel. Shows how much I know. But it's SO TRUE and I think about it every time a movie isn't working for me.

    Sheri and Rob both get a lifetime pass for me for the Magnum Opus that was Lords of Salem. Having said that, 31 was one of the worst movies I saw last year. Bounce back!

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  4. I've never enjoyed a Rob Zombie movie. Sheri's performances are just the tip on the iceberg of the paint-by-numbers, mediocre dreck that lie below. He's just a terrible, terrible filmmaker who started off already mired in parody and eventually devolved into complete unwatchability.

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  5. "Would the people who hate the movie ... like it better if Elle Fanning was in the lead?" Great point.

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  6. I don't think Rob Zombie's films are to everyone's tastes but, honestly, I think half the reason they get as much flack as they do is because they're made by a guy who calls himself "Rob Zombie". I feel like there's a very specific reason why Rob hasn't adjusted his moniker for the sake of the screen. His films are a reflection of his very exaggerated artistic persona and therefore deserve to be examined within the sphere of his overall body of work. It drives me crazy when people box films from directors like Rob Zombie, Dario Argento, or Brian De Palma into the categories "good" or "bad". Not everything is intended to be examined through that lens. If you don't like the man's aesthetic after decades of music and films, maybe don't waste your time watching his movies and talking about them in those terms. Like so many things, they aren't for you.

    As for Rob's relationship with Sheri Moon Zombie and his insistence on casting her in everything, I firmly agree with Patrick. The two are partners in crime who inspire one another. I appreciate the level of commitment they bring to each project. She sits at the head of the table of Rob Zombie Repertory Players for a damn good reason and I've enjoyed the wide range of characters she has gotten to portray for him over the course of their careers together.

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