Senior David Brundige has written and directed two animal-based shows at Princeton, Bums and Monkeys (2003), and Pigtails (2004). He has won awards for his writing, been jetted out to Hollywood to meet with studio executives, and has had many models mostly from Russia beg him for roles in his future and possibly non-existent films. After pleading with him for months to watch a movie with us, Brundige finally fit us into his busy schedule between classes and phone conferences. We met with him recently in his editing studio/screening room/bedroom, which he calls “729 Pyne,” to continue the New York Times’ series “Watching Movies With…”
Rob, who is exactly 37% Jewish mother, brought goodies – kosher-for-Passover honey cake and schmurah matzah. Brundige, while not observant, nevertheless identifies somewhat as a Hebrew (at least on his mom’s side). We noshed and began our discussion of the evening’s film, Robin Hood, perhaps Disney’s deepest foray into the quasi-Marxist folktale.
The director sat in his chair, gesturing madly as he spoke about his single passion: children’s movies (and animal fiction). His room’s décor was a mix of Art Deco, Art Nouveaux, and Robert Wei Wong’s college dorm. Brundige, 21, is a man of exquisite taste; he is a man’s man, an artist’s artist, a director’s director. He is a man determined, one who does not always and only sometimes give up on his dreams. He didn’t give up his dream for a full-size mattress simply because it didn’t fit on his twin bed. Instead, Brundige lets his full-size mattress awkwardly hang off the bed frame. Perhaps the mattress is a metaphor for this young, up-and-coming scategorical quasi-genius. Brundige is too big for 729 Pyne; he is a man who belongs to the silicone wasteland of Los Angeles, to the smog, to the mansions in the canyons of chaparral, to the sun, to the beach. He also really is from Los Angeles and will be showing us around this summer.
DB: It was a bold move for Walt & Co. in the 1970’s to create a film that displayed such intense class struggle.
JS: I agree, especially at the height of the Cold War, this film was revolutionary. But don’t you think there are undertones of conservatism to the whole thing? I mean, the whole movie is basically about a tax revolt!
DB: Exactly. There’s also this basic argument in the film that taxes make poor people starve to death. It has inspired George Bush. He knows what’s up in Nottingham and elsewhere.
RB: David, tell me, what drew you to this movie? The plot? The politics? The montage of furry friends and medieval mystique?
DB: I like the bunnies. They’re cute.
We began watching the film on DVD, and onscreen a book opened to the first page of an as-yet untold story. “Very meta,” said Brundige. He said this because he’s a writer. “What they don’t know is that the majority of kids watching the movie can’t read,” he added. We laughed, real hard.
RB: How do you feel about this prologue? About prologues in general?
DB (with pained deliberation): Prologues are slowly withering away in films today. But thankfully, directors like Ridley Scott have made 180 degree turnarounds—his director’s cut of Blade Runner had no prologue but Black Hawk Down had a damn good one, and thorough.
JS: Sweet Big Lebowski reference…Who were the creative minds behind Disney’s Robin Hood?
DB: The director, Wolfgang Reitherman is one of my personal heroes [pulls out a picture from his wallet]; there aren’t many directors like that anymore. Back in the day, Disney was like Pixar, where there was a huge collaboration. Movies aren’t made like that anymore. Movies are put together, one step and person at a time. Pixar is the only truly collaborative movie company anymore. Some of the best movies made, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovitch, and Finding Nemo, were all made in large collaborations as opposed to piecemeal moviemaking processes.
RB: What about you?
DB: Sometimes I collaborate with Charlie [Hewson], sometimes I make up collaborations—I write for famous actors in my scripts. And then they star in them as you can see. I write for what I imagine to be their strengths. Take, for example, Peter Ustinov [Prince John/King Richard]. He was a hero of mine until he died. Then I realized he was mortal. Phil Harris [Little John] was a great comedian and garage band leader of the time. Carole Shelley [Lady Kluck] was in fact the mother of great authoress Mary Shelley.
Robin Hood’s opening sequence features a song describing his adventures alongside a cutesy chase sequence set to song. We are introduced to the film’s two heroes, Robin Hood and Little John. Or perhaps re-introduced: Brundige, the ever-diligent teacher, notes the intense physical similarities between Phil Harris’ Little John (the Bear) and Baloo (the Bear) from Reitherman’s previous hit, The Jungle Book.
JS: Why does Little John have an American accent and Robin Hood a British one? Are they not from the same place, this Sherwood Forest?
DB: Exactly. Little John’s the rugged, chest-thumping American frontiersman, and Robin Hood is a suave, debonair James Bond type. He’s just like James Bond but with costumes. And Maid Marian is the only other one in the movie who’s British. They’re both so cool. Robin Hood’s a maverick.
RB: But is he a gay maverick? I mean, with all the costume changes and the “Merry Men”?
DB: He’s more of a metrosexual, less Bond and more Val Kilmer from The Saint. Then again, Prince John is metro, too. He wants PJ inscribed on his luggage.
We noticed that Robin Hood and Prince John actually do very little throughout the movie. Brundidge commented: “In Nottingham they used to philosophize in trees about the nature of stealing. Were you closing your eyes during the opening scene?”
Before long, the film’s basic storyline is ingeniously revealed: King John’s snake has hypnotized good King Richard the Lionhearted, sending him off on a “crazy Crusade.” In his place, greedy King John taxes the poor residents of Nottingham to starvation, eventually imprisoning almost the entire town for tax evasion. Little John and Robin Hood are Nottingham’s only hope.
JS: What do you think about Disney’s new spin on history? Was a snakebite the real reason for those “crazy Crusades?”
DB: I can’t say for sure, since I’m not a History major. It’s amazing how Disney can subvert and disguise even the most difficult of historical subjects (i.e. an imperialistic jihad against Mohammedans and Jews) by prefixing it with the word “crazy.” But I think this hypnosis theory ought to be seriously considered. Julia Ioffe wrote a JP about it.
RB: Do you use a lot of hypnosis in your own work?
DB: After seeing this and the Curse of Jade Scorpion, I wrote a sort of Woody Allen/Robin Hood character in one of my scripts, because they can both talk their way out of any situation. There’s a real Freudian similarity between the two characters. Freud was big in the seventies, and this whole talking thing was primarily a result of that.
JS and RB (impressed): Indeed.
We then watched a longer segment of the film, noting the subtle ironies and non sequiturs along the way.
RB: Man, this movie is one wild ride.
JS: A rattling good yarn. Here the film takes the myths of our western culture and its turning them on their head, as turtle and rabbit are running together and finishing in unison in a footrace. Is this about integrationist brotherhood?
DB: I identified with the little bunny rabbit, Skippy, as a kid, because we both wanted to be Robin Hood. So no, I think the fact that the turtle came even close is a bunch of bunk, to be frank.
RB: Me thinks this chase scene is bunk too, but I guess I appreciate the juxtaposition of the medieval European “carnival/fair” trope with the inherently Yankee football theme. Isn’t that the “On, Wisconsin” fight song playing as Lady Kluck charges a line of rhinos for the “touchdown”?
DB: If Jacques Tati played football, that’s what he’d look like.
JS: Here the snake, Sir Hiss, breathes helium, and flies above the fairground. Is this a metaphor for drug use?
When Marian and Robin Hood finally get together, in the forest, Jacob felt melancholy, saying that he is glad to get to know this tender, devoted aspect of Robin Hood. He shed more than a few tears on that occaision.
DB: The love scene has always made me uncomfortable. Can we skip it [hint of desperation]? I mean, how do kids respond to this?
JS: Tell me David, what do think about the use of montage here. From what I remember, you utilized a lot of montage in Pigtails.
DB: Well, there can’t be a lovers’ dialogue in Disney, so romance becomes montaged walks in the woods with music, and reflections in the water and boat rides. What do you mean I used montage in Pigtails?
RB: Wait a minute, how there be all this romancing when the rest of the gang back in Nottingham is jail? Has Robin Hood traded is values for some floozy with questionable royal ancestry?
DB: Just keep watching, man. The prison/jail scene here has the best song in the movie; it’s the reason I bought the DVD. Actually, the thought has definitely crossed my mind of going to prison or war to get some creds for my art. Like Hemingway, I mean. I would embrace a draft.
Jacob wails along with the rooster/minstrel character that “every town has its ups and downs, but not in Nottingham.”
DB: The song deserved an Oscar. Okay here we go, the dénouement. Robin is going to spring his pals out of the slammer and steal all the money back from right under the Prince’s nose. Look at this scene: Prince John sitting on all his money reminds me of Scarface at the end when he has that pile of coke in his desk.
JS: Whoa. This is amazing.
RB: Not to harp on the gay thing, but Robin Hood just put bellend that looks like a sock on his nose and undoes the Sheriff’s belt…need I say more?
DB: No, please, don’t.
JS: Stealing from the king must be such an ego trip.
DB: Exactly. This is where we get our contemporary notion of tax “rebates;” the whole scene in very Bushesque.
RB: How do you feel about this the illusion of violence without any of its consequences?
DB: I feel that’s what little kids love so much. And that’s it. What a great movie. The rooster serves the same function as the cowboy/narrator in the Big Lebowski, how cool is that? Is that two references to the Big L? My bad.
JS and RB: Totally cool, David, totally cool.
David Brundige is actually a real director. A short of his, “Otto,” about a man who becomes a Nazi because his wife pushes him around, will be screened on May 3 and May 4 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Go see it.