Sometimes it's hard being original. English filmmaker Jim Hosking recalled, "There was an interview we did at Sundance, and the reporter put all the 'likes' that I say into the interview. Every sentence was 'like this,' 'like that.' So I think I must stop saying it."
Maybe he expended all his uniqueness on The Greasy Strangler, his exercise in Day-Glo discomfort that may be this year's most totally off-the-wall film. It all centers around Big Ronnie (self-described journeyman film actor and all-around curmudgeon Michael St. Michaels) and his dysfunctional son Brayden (Sky Elobar) in a near-unrecognizable L.A. The pair are caught up in (or responsible for) a weird maelstrom of bullshit artists, misshapen penises, disco, farts, amateur detectives, horrible sweaters, and, of course, grease. Lots and lots of grease.
During the film's Austin debut at SXSW (before returning for Fantastic Fest, and opening this weekend), Hosking wasn't too eager to explain why all the grease. "It's such a boring answer is the problem."
"Come up with something," producer Ant Timpson suggested.
Hosking sighed. "I really should."
"I've got something," St. Michaels interjected. "Because grease is the word."
"That's terrible," Hosking replied, as the room breaks into laughter. So what's his actual prosaic answer? "Really, we were thinking it was funny that there's somebody strangling people who's covered in grease, and if you're covered in grease it's really difficult to strangle people."
That's the kind of twisted but coherent internal logic upon which The Greasy Strangler depends. It's less a whodunit than a whatthehell?it. Part of the inspiration was arguably growing up with British cuisine in the Eighties, which Hosking described as "sausages with congealed blocks of fat." That parlayed into a character for a different script that he was originally developing with co-writer Toby Harvard. Hosking said, "He lived in a city, and he was obsessed with the fact that he felt really greasy when he was in the city, and he had to get out and he'd feel better in the countryside."
Add in a little murder, and so was born the greasy strangler.
So, grease, strangulation, but something was missing. Oh, yes, penis. No film this year is as likely to be as long on schlong (and occasionally very, very short). "We've been asked if they are prosthetic," said Hosking. "There has been some confusion."
"She liked it," chimed in St. Michaels.
By contrast, Elobar undoubtedly catches the short end of the artificial appendages. "My wife saw the film and asked, just honestly, 'What did they do to your penis?' She thought it was my actual penis."
St. Michaels, again channeling the unsupportive pater familias Big Ronnie: "She wondered how they made it so big."
The Greasy Strangler is a production that brings together Drafthouse Films, the distribution wing of the Alamo empire, Timpson Films, and Elijah Wood's SpectreVision. Timpson said that he and Drafthouse founder Tim League first got to know Hosking's utterly unique style through former Drafthouse booker Zack Carlson. That's how Hosking's 2010 short "Renegades" played at that year's Fantastic Fest, and how he came on board ABCs of Death 2 with his segment "G is for Grandad."
Timpson said, "We all loved that and we asked (producer Andy Starke) what else Jim had been working on, and he sent through The Greasy Strangler. It was one of those moments, reading the first page and knowing his aesthetic and seeing how it would play out in Jim's universe, I had to get on board somehow."
From moment one, this was a project that either sent people fleeing or had them signing up right away. When other studios read the script, Timpson said, their response was, "'This is impossible to make, no one's going to touch this, it's too out there.' Once they said that, we went, 'Fuck it, good, now we definitely have to make this thing.'"
While it may seem to some audiences (and a lot of studios) that Hosking is deliberately trying to push buttons, that's the furthest from his intentions. "I grew up in a house where everybody was naked the whole time, and it just seemed pretty normal to me. There is nothing disturbing or strange to me about any of the nudity in the film. To me, it's just funny."
It's arguably more in keeping with the British comedy traditions, where nudity with a nod and a wink is perfectly acceptable. Hosking added, "In America, it seems to be a bigger issue to have male nudity, whether it's genuine or not. Whereas, I saw Deadpool the other day with my son, and I found the violence in that really quite strong. I could not understand why nobody talks about the violence in films – sorry, I'm proselytizing now – but it's strange to me that it's such a big deal that in our film there's some dicks."
Not that Hosking isn't fully aware that he's made a film that's less seen and more experienced. He called it "innocent and childlike and joyous, in a way, but then it is grotesque. There's a disturbing combination of a sweetness and a tenderness, and also a filthiness, and too much nudity."
The Greasy Strangler opens today. For review and screening times, see Film Listings.
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