Poor Pepe: from his humble beginnings in San Francisco’s Mission District, the cheeky (if morose) cartoon frog took the world by storm – then became an icon for white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other assorted fascists. How that happened – and what happened next – is the story told by Feels Good Man, now streaming via the Virtual Roxie.
Artist Matt Furie was working at Valencia Street’s Community Thrift when Pepe first popped into his cerebral cortex. Putting pen to paper, in 2005 Furie created a comic book entitled ’Boy’s Club’, featuring Pepe – an uncool outcast with an inferiority complex – as one of the book’s four anthropomorphic characters.
As such, Pepe became an avatar for insecure teenage boys and young men from coast to coast, who quickly adopted him as one of their own on the anarchic message board 4chan. Initially amused by Pepe’s fame, Furie took a laissez-faire attitude toward his intellectual property rights – until Donald Trump retweeted Trumpepe’s image during the 2016 Presidential election, and the artist realized it was finally time to lawyer up.
Directed by Arthur Jones, Feels Good Man details Furie’s failed artistic attempt to reclaim Pepe’s image, and his more successful legal effort to stop hard-right grifters such as Alex Jones from profiting from him. There’s a bigger story, though, as we see Adam Serwer of The Atlantic magazine describe the “alt-right’s” use of Pepe’s as an attempt “to destroy objective truth.” While Furie may have won some legal battles, it’s less clear that the struggle for truth and reality will also end in victory.
A dystopian film with a some Carmen Miranda-esque dancing
Ah, the vagaries of memory. I keep a list of every film I’ve ever seen, but – despite its presence on that list – I have absolutely no memory of watching Dong (The Hole, also screening via the Roxie), a dystopic 1998 feature from Taiwanese director Ming-liang Tsai. But see it sometime in the past, I definitely did – though when and where has been lost in the mists of time. Was it at a film festival? On a long-gone cable channel? On an airplane? I have no idea.
That’s surprising because the film is pretty memorable. Set in a turn of the century Asian city ravaged by a new disease that is causing flu-like symptoms (sound familiar?) before it turns its victims into cockroaches (maybe not), The Hole examines the uneasy relationship between two residents of a grimy apartment building.
The nameless man living upstairs (Kang-sheng Lee) has a hole in his floor leading to a hole in the ceiling of the nameless woman living beneath him (Kuei-Mei Yang). Outside, a constant, intense barrage of rain feeds wallpaper-peeling dampness inside; the hole, meanwhile, progressively grows larger and leakier.
How do these unhappy people respond to their terrible living conditions? By breaking into song, of course! The Hole’s dank, musty atmosphere is periodically interrupted by candy-colored production sequences straight from the MGM backlot circa 1950, including a Carmen Miranda-esque calypso number, a rhumba, and a couple of show tune-style productions.
What does it all mean? To be honest, I haven’t the vaguest – but there’s truly no other film quite like The Hole. How on earth did I ever forget watching it twenty years ago? No idea, but I’m not going to forget it after my second viewing.