I recently subjected a good friend of mine to a DVD showing of a 1980 musical called The Apple, one of my favorite films. I didn’t warn him or anything, but somehow he got through it. (I should probably make a note that I am not recommending this film to you.) What keeps any reasonable person going all the way to the end of The Apple, which is part of its magic, is the obviously gigantic amount of money, time and effort poured into it. While watching it, ignoring my friend’s slack-jawed incredulity at this monstrous endeavor, I keyed into a minor but important change in the film they’d apparently made in post-production, cutting out a last musical number and tacking on a convoluted end-scene.
Discussing how this must have been accomplished in a day’s reshoot drifted the conversation into what sort of films I would make if I ever worked on fiction instead of documentary, and then, ultimately, this ponderable that my friend dropped into my lap:
“What Hollywood film would you remake if you could choose from any one, with the exception of The Apple because if you remake that and force me to watch it again I will kill you in your sleep?”
After a minute of thought, I answered: “Gorp“.
Gorp is a summer camp movie that came out around 1980. It was shot very cheaply, and is at most points extremely crude, vicious and offensive. I first saw it on cable when I was a pre-teen, and when I was in my early 20s I found it on VHS and bought the tape immediately. It was $3, and I got it at a Caldor’s department store in the remainder bin. I remember my delight at finding it.
Shot in the middle of the “Animal House – Meatballs – Teen Exploitation” wave of films of the late 1970s-early 1980s, Gorp has little to recommend it to the naked eye. Or the un-naked eye. Or really, any level of taste whatsover. But there are a couple major reasons why I would remake such a film.
First of all, the entire story is told from the point of view of the kitchen staff. The children of the camp and the counselors, normally the center of all the attention in these movies, are in many ways ancilliary, foils against the main characters, who are the cooks, waiters, and maniacs running the food service. In fact, the whole of the interest of the camp is from the staff point of view, with the little politics, the craziness, the evil pranks all being rained down by (ostensibly) adults hired to take care of the campers. There’s a nice sub-plot involving the owner of the camp extracting money (in the form of fines) from the staff, secretly cutting his costs by trapping everyone in insane rules and ordinances. There’s a what’s-to-lose sense about the whole endeavor as the building that houses the staff is destroyed in a near-pointless “war” at the end of the picture that involves a tank and a maniacal Dennis Quaid (in one of his first co-starring roles). As if the blended stew of sex, violence, and viciousness wasn’t enough, it’s a Jewish summer camp; how many summer camp movies have anyone chanting the Motzi?
Second of all, and this one’s a little hard to explain, but the movie is really not done very well. It was shot for cheap money, I doubt anyone got any significant salary, a lot of stuff is obviously first-take-let’s-print, and there’s just an overriding sense of slapdashedness throughout the production.
As a result, I look at this film like a really messed up old car one finds in the back of a lot where the place took it just to get a trade-in. Some car where you can see where they messed with it, and yet it still runs and just needs someone to, you know, completely redo it from the frame up.
I remember watching this film, eating cereal at the apartment complex in Fishkill, NY, sitting on my little mattress in the room that all four of us slept in to save money on heat, and thinking, at 11 years old, I COULD DO THIS.
That’s a key feeling. With a lot of stuff, if you’re young, you just sit back in awe at all the magic, unable to discern how it’s done, having no clue how human beings did this and not just some wonderful machine from space that has godlike powers. While a sense of wonder is a precious thing to have, its dark side is a feeling of never being able to achieve something like this, to want to think about doing something so intimidating, so impossible to learn. I watched Caddyshack a hundred times in my early youth; I never could fathom ever making a film like that.
Gorp showed me that I could do it. I could totally see how they would set up shots, how the scripting would go, how they would cut stuff together. I got the idea, with Gorp. Since the actors have very little direction in the film, it feels like a home movie at different points, although most home movies don’t get a tank to crash through sets. (They should).
The writing has to depend utterly on people talking because they can’t afford sweeping shots. The film, in fact, is so cramped in terms of shooting (lots of long takes because they don’t have time to determine reverse-angle cuts) that I totally got it, even at 11. And I wanted to do something like it.
I would love that. I would love taking 30 days and 20 college students and a few older actors, renting some blown-out resort location, and just whaling out a version of Gorp. We’d keep the sex, knock up the charm, spin the vulgarity, mix up the interactions a bit better, truck in 100 kids for a day for the cafeteria scenes, get a few amateur demo/stunt guys, and break every rule in the book throwing this thing together. We’d borrow crazy equipment, surplus gear, and ruin a lot of plates of food.
Will this ever happen? I seriously, seriously doubt it. But I wanted to mention that inspiration comes from some pretty weird places, and for me, Gorp set me on the path to a sense of the possible. Sometimes when a magician fails, he’s actually teaching his young audience to be magicians, so they can, in their own future lives, not suck.
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