Several years ago, LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Robert Glück participated in an exercise for the website lowblueflame.com. Writers and artists were asked to collaborate on describing the plot of a film they'd never seen but heard enough about to form strong impressions.
The idea was that an entirely separate but symbiotic movie existed in the mind, reliant on the imagery, tone, and silhouette of the source but independent of its narrative limits and avenues, imaginatively liberated to go off in innumerable uncharted directions.
LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM explores related terrain. Its writers also wonder what that middle space is between screen and audience, what exists and/or thrives there, and what kind of things that eternal exchange from movie to mind and back produces.
The film Glück chose to recreate was:
GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE
He is the jungle so he can fly through it swim through it talk with the animals die in it, there is no resistance.
There is a woman who loves him. It equals loving the jungle. Alice is not the jungle, she loves the jungle by loving George. Alice has a mother, stylish and driven like Cruella DeVille. We all love evil women who are into fashion. She combines negligence with domination, because she is a big time businesswoman in a Manhattan glass-sheathed skyscraper with a view of life and death. She comes to visit. George brings amazing-to-us flowers in greeting—he’s a flower amazing-to-us. Despite her stiletto heels, Mother is comically prepared for her stay in the jungle, accessorized for the jungle with zebra skin pedal pushers and elaborate coiffeur. For example, her hair dryer turns into an air-conditioner, so while everyone else is schvitzing she’s cool as a cucumber.
George doesn’t really understand: Uguumphoh means I am attracted to Brendan Fraser because of Gods and Monsters. His goofy humor makes him resemble Marilyn Monroe. Comedy gives me access to him, like Brendan would be exploitable, a beefcake version of a dumb blond, and at the same time I feel the real Brendan would be loose and willing, touching even. His soft, soft face, soft muscles, he has a surprisingly narrow waist, it is surprisingly narrow from certainly angles, and a surprisingly meaty torso pivots on it.
In response to her mother’s whole attitude, Alice shrugs mightily, “Mother look around.” They both look at the vines braiding themselves through fat-leaved trees and the intelligent ape companion who chatters away swinging from a limb. He’s a nanny to George Junior who is playing with a baby crocodile. George Junior is in training to be the next King of the Jungle—incredible as it sounds, time will pass, the jungle will be the same forever but not George. Mother and daughter consider the tree house that George has fashioned, which is really a nest suspended by ropes. It rocks in the swaying branches. It’s the daughter’s version of living in a jungle skyscraper. “I ran as far away from you and your world as the globe would allow me to go.”
Little intelligent ape and George Junior are playing with something shiny, what is it?—a huge diamond. Where did they find it? On Elephant Mountain. You can see Elephant Mountain in the distance, a mountain that looks like an elephant. The sun is sinking over it. Mother contemplates the mountain, you can see her elegant silhouette, one arm lifting her martini at an angle. Then her face lights up with the last rays of the sun. Is she responding to the beauty of the sunset? Mother runs a development company, and she has an idea.
There are many gifts the jungle gives freely, fruit, fish, flowers, images. Mother is not satisfied unless she takes more than is offered. George is the jungle so when Mother decides to tear apart Elephant Mountain to make a diamond mine it is himself she will be tearing apart.
He is too dumb and obliging to realize this, but Alice has an increasingly sick feeling as helicopters arrive, the jungle is cleared for an airstrip, and a crowd of miners and corporate ghouls descends. Yet it all seems like a way to be closer to mom. They all set out for Elephant Mountain, which is a trek. The new arrivals are comically incapable of dealing with life in the jungle. One skinny VP is afraid of everything. His fear is comic—like when he finds a little yellow snake coiled in his shoe one morning and the snake hypnotizes him as though he were a mouse, which he resembles, as if the little snake were going to eat him. Another VP is rapacious. He is fat and greedy and sees everything as an opportunity to make money. His rapacity is comic—like when he decides to sell the art of the tribe they meet along the way, the Elephant Mountain People. He buys a ton of art from the laughing tribesmen who keep trying to tell him something but he doesn’t listen, he is frantically greedy. He discovers what they were trying to say when he washes a statue of an elephant in the river. The statue and everything else is made from the dung of the elephant herd sacred to this tribe.
Mother makes everyone stop at four o’clock so she can pour herself a martini from her silver thermos. In the trees birds perch like flowers. Just seeing them is an honor.
The miners discover that there are no diamonds—that the lumpy diamond was actually taken from an ancient idol worshipped by this tribe, the third eye of an elephant. Naughty little intelligent ape took it and George puts it back. At night, the rapacious VP tries to steal the diamond for himself, he so excited by it that his fingers wriggle as though the diamond magnetizes them. He gets it in his big mitt and he looks up to see a million spears pointing at him. The next morning the smart little ape goes Chef Che Che and leads George to the spot where the unhappy VP is buried to his neck in a termite hill. The fat VP suffers almost terminal willies as the termites roil over him like a delirium tremens.
George, George Junior, the ape, Alice, and the tribe are so happy that Elephant Mountain will not be exploited. The tribe is happy to have its mystic eye back. They already think George is a god—well he is a god. He’s as simple as dirt and sky, as though you could penetrate the world by penetrating George of the Jungle. So the jungle is not going to be torn down. Alice and George celebrate by flying through the treetops, watch out for that tree. Intelligent ape and George Junior slide down the rapids and over the waterfalls. They play leapfrog with wildebeests. Mother is watching this family entertainment. You think by Mother’s expression that she is delighted by their joy, that she is changing, becoming human. Inspired by their play she has another even worse idea than the diamond mine: they should turn the mountain into a George of the Jungle amusement park. Experience the jungle at $20 a ride. Bring the whole family. George (the jungle) will be a tourist attraction like Disney World or San Francisco.
George doesn’t understand. These people Bad? What Bad mean? No you can’t be serious. For money? In a way it is the master who takes the ape role, giving us a chuckle now and then (watch out for that tree). The intelligent ape explains Evil to George.
George gets the idea. He tells a pride of lions to attack but the executives trap the lions and send them back to zoos. George leads a stampede of elephants. There are ancient cities made of gold, but what is gold to George of the Jungle? He passes through the sacred Lost City and through the Elephant Graveyard on the back of an elephant. George feels the subtlety of his spine as he rides--he’s almost naked. It’s sex as he rides the subtle trumpeting animal, his ass glued to the elephant’s back, his legs spread-eagle, his prostate with its own life swelling, emitting signals--rapturous jungle. George, George, George of the jungle. The herd tramples the new foundations of the George of the Jungle Park. George makes animal calls for sheer joy. It is the jungle speaking to itself, but the executives shoot the elephants for ivory.
Suddenly there are cable cars going up and down the mountain carrying mobs of noisy tourists. Fake rides imitate real experiences. Misshapen kids wear George of the Jungle outfits, there are African concession stands everywhere. Fake hippos rise from the brown river. They are shot by a fake big game hunter—it’s the scared skinny VP!--and submerge with a fake roar. The tribal people operate the rides and clean the park—slave labor. The sacred elephant god—eyeless again—stands desolate in the childcare center, a ride for snotty toddlers. Mother and her fat VP exalt in satisfied greed. Turning Elephant Mountain into an amusement park is the form that being out of touch with her daughter has taken. If she were human, she would worship George just as her daughter does, just as we do, but instead she wants to shrink him into a Disney attraction. Kids swing from lianas into foam trees.
A horrid pink poodle pisses on the idol’s leg and that is the final straw. Desecrating the elephant idol is the final straw for the gods of the Elephant Mountain. The elephant’s wooden face becomes furious, the trunk lifts, a huge trumpeting deafens the mob. Hands over ears. The earth starts to rumble. Everyone looks up and jaws almost fall off in horror as the top of the mountain blows and a shower of smoke and burning embers starts raining down. All at once palms drop coconuts on VP skulls. The powerbrokers fall, strings cut. George has to save a load of tourists careening out of control in a cable car that races down hill and then downstream towards the spectacular but now polluted waterfall. The water is angry too. Mothers clutch their children, men scream like babies—they have this coming. George clings to the cable car. He is like a traveling tendril, a vine whose furious life is at its tip.
The intelligent ape is smarter than his master and figures things out. Like how to rescue the repentant Mother from the collapsing bridge.