Cover of Monkey Shines dvd, featuring an angry toy monkey with bloody knife in its hands.

IC returns with a spooky entry just in time for Halloween!

After a (brief?) hiatus, Invalid Culture returns with season 2 getting started with George Romero’s cult classic Monkey Shines. Focused on the exploits Allan Mann and his helper monkey, Ella, things get a little gruesome when the help that’s need is muuuuurder. Join Jeff, Erika and guest host Clara as we dig into the blood and guts!

Listen at…

 

Grading the Film

As always, this film is reviewed with scores recorded in four main categories, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Like the game of golf, the lower the score the better.

How accurate is the representation?

Jeff – 2 / 5

Erika – 2 / 5

Clara – 3 / 5

Total – 7 / 15

How difficult was it to watch the movie?

Erika – 2 / 5

Jeff – 2 / 5

Clara – 1 / 5

Total – 5 / 15

How often were things unintentionally funny?

Erika – 1.5 / 5

Jeff – 1 / 5

Clara – 1.5 / 5

Total – 4 / 15

How far back has it put disabled people?

Jeff – 3 / 5

Erika – 2.5 / 5

Clara – 2 / 5

Total – 7.5 / 15

The Verdict

Regrets, I have a few…

Podcast Transcript

Host 1, Jeff:
Just when you thought it was over, we’ll come back with a whole new season of Invalid Culture. That’s right. Welcome back. It is time for us to watch some terrible movies, but this season, we got a whole new game plan. We are not just going to be watching the movies on our own. We are also going to be subjecting some of our friends, some of our enemies to the terrible, terrible films. So, welcome back to another season of Invalid Culture with a very spooky episode to get us started. Oh, hey, new season, new theme song. Shout out to Mvll Crimes. Thank you so much for letting us use this banner. Take it away in mvll crimes!
[Intro song: “Arguing with Strangers” by Mvll Crimes, a heavy punk song with Joan Jett-esque singer, quick beat and shredding guitar rifts.]
We’ll come back with a whole new season of Invalid Culture. That’s right. Welcome back. It is time for us to watch some terrible movies, but this season, we got a whole new game plan. Welcome to Invalid Culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest, most baffling, and worst representations of disability in pop culture. Unlike other podcasts that review films you’ve probably heard of, Invalid Culture is all about looking into the abyss of pop culture adjacent representations that just never really quite broke through, because well, they’re just awful. I’m your host, Jeff Preston.
Host 2, Erika:
Hi, I’m your other host, Erika Katzman. Today, we are delighted to welcome a guest host, Clara Madrenas.
Host 3, Clara:
Hi, I’m Clara, also known as wife of Jeff. I am a social worker in the mental health field, and I really liked Monkey Shines.
Host 2, Erika:
Ooh, coming in strong.
Host 3, Clara:
Oh, yeah.
Host 1, Jeff:
Okay. Okay. I mean the idea of this project was the torture those that are in our lives. So, it only felt fitting that we should have my partner on here. As Clara alluded to, we watched this fun little movie called Monkey Shines. For those of you who have not seen the movie, Erika, can you maybe give us a rundown of what is happening in his film?
Host 2, Erika:
I would love to. So, our protagonist, Allan Mann, is this totally regular fitness obsessed man of action. He’s out for a leisurely jog as he does with a bag of bricks on his back. Suddenly, he’s hit by a car and loses everything, both his physical ability and his girlfriend who leaves him for his doctor. Distraught, now a prisoner, I am indeed quoting promotional materials for this film when I describe him as a prisoner of his wheelchair, Allan contemplates ending his life. But luckily, a family friend and pre-ethics committee researcher, Jeffrey Fisher, has been injecting test monkeys with shredded human brains. But internal faculty competition and failing experiments means Jeff must find a new home for prize mutant monkey and what better place than home care.
Now, a trained helper monkey, Ella moves in with Allan to care for his needs, but they begin to form a telepathic connection. Ella starts to carry out violent attacks on people who have wronged Allan and becoming jealous of the human women in his life begins attacking everyone. In the end, Allan must kill Ella before she can kill again, which he does by biting her on the scruff of the neck, whipping her head back and forth for approximately 30 minutes. So, that about sums it up. What did you guys think of this film?
Host 3, Clara:
I thought it was delightful. I thought the monkey was adorable. I thought that scene where he bites the monkey and shakes it to death and it just splats roadkill in his little house, that was just wonderful. What else? The weird scenes where he’s biting blood out of his own lip and the monkey makes out with him, that was just so weird and so entertaining.
Host 1, Jeff:
Brave that they went straight to bestiality an hour into this film.
Host 3, Clara:
Did they though or was it some vampire thing heralding to Romero’s… I don’t know.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, precious bodily fluids, I think, for sure.
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah, they needed to share the bodily fluids in order to have the telepathic connection, obviously.
Host 2, Erika:
Well, that’s how telepathy works.
Host 3, Clara:
Whenever I need to feel more connected to someone, I just sip their blood.
Host 2, Erika:
Jeff, can you confirm?
Host 1, Jeff:
Duly noted. I’ve wondered why I was always feeling so faint. Suddenly, it makes so much sense. Yeah. What did you think there, Erika?
Host 2, Erika:
I did not hate this film. Given your mission to torture people with terrible film, I have to say, I think that you went a little bit easy on your wife because this was not a torturous experience for me. I’ve poked around the interwebs enough to know that some people were not terribly fond of this film, but maybe it’s having the reference package that we have. Taking the films that we’ve previously reviewed as a reference point, this was not bad. We’ll take a look at some problematic tropes, but I think all in all, I think this is going to measure up pretty decently against some of our others.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. I think it’s funny that a lot of people refer to this as B-list horror film as being schlocky and weird. Anyone who’s been following the podcast will know that this is probably the biggest production film we have done on the podcast. There’s probably more time and money and still put into this. It’s not a bad film, but I will say I feel like it’s almost like there’s two very different films in this. There’s the film that starts for the first 18 minutes or so that is just beating you over the head with disability tropes and then there’s this whole other thing that is actually borderline resistant to general ideas and thoughts about disability.
It’s almost like there’s two movies that jammed together where you’ve got these two really blah things at the beginning and the end and then this weird, interested grove in the middle that I think perhaps people missed, because they were so frazzled by the first 10 or 15 minutes. They’re like, “Oh, here we go again. Yet another movie like this.” And then it turned to be something else.
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah, it’s almost got that rear window disability used as just a convenient way to get him to not be able to move in certain ways. And then because they started from that point, they folded in a bunch of things that weren’t actually super disability related, but in doing so, they created a character that had some, dare I say, depth. He was lonely. He wanted to connect with that monkey.
Host 1, Jeff:
Just wanted to find someone that would love him.
Host 3, Clara:
I wanted to connect with that monkey. Such a cutie.
Host 1, Jeff:
Unlike his wife, right?
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah. I don’t know. She was rude.
Host 1, Jeff:
Now, of course, we have our opinions about the movie and we’re going to talk more about it, but we always like to begin with the thoughts of other people. So, we went through our trolling of user-generated comments and it pulled out a couple that were interesting that I think maybe touch on things that I hadn’t maybe saw or thought about in the film. Okay. So, let’s hear what actual film people, and by that, I mean random people on the internet had to say about this film.
Host 2, Erika:
So starting us off, we have a four-star review from Sean Lehman who says, “Jason Beghe stuck in a wheelchair all movie does a pretty good job of projecting vulnerability and anger as I would imagine anyone in his situation would feel. Jeffrey Fisher as Allan’s scientist friend is a well-meaning character who initially can’t believe what Allan tells him until it’s too late. Even Boo the Monkey is a cute little character whose misguided love lands her in a lot of trouble. Dramatic horror movies bring a different sense of tone that doesn’t always jive with the normal horror fan. For a film of this type, it relies on solid acting performances and we get just that.”
Host 3, Clara:
The focus on the performance is interesting. I mean, other than the fact that Stanley Tucci has both no range and yet quite the range, I didn’t really notice anything about the performances themselves, but this guy, he really dialed into the feeling in this movie.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I would say this is actually one of the more professional, thoughtful sounding reviews that we have ever looked at. This borderline professional, I would say.
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah, there’s a sensitivity there too.
Host 1, Jeff:
I wonder though, there seems to be some massive generalizations in this that really crack me up. So, for instance, the fact that the vulnerability and anger, that is just what anyone would feel in this situation. He wants people dead. People are killed because of his rage, which I find it interesting. Well, yeah, he is stuck in a wheelchair. Of course, he would want all these people to die.
Host 3, Clara:
I think though there was a depth there where he didn’t really want them to die. He was a little sad when they did.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, he was trying to stop it. He was trying to stop it. How this whole relationship between him and the monkey play out, we will have to unpack a little bit, because I don’t think I understand… I was about to say the science of it. I don’t know if that’s right, but I don’t know if I understand the internal science of the film. I also don’t want to point out that “Was Jeffrey Fisher a well-meaning character?” This was a man who was banning drugs in his lab, smoking amongst the monkeys, scraping human brain, and injecting it in a monkey.
Host 3, Clara:
He had a lot of chemicals in that lab to be lighting up around.
Host 1, Jeff:
That’s a lot of smoking.
Host 3, Clara:
All that steaming stuff that the monkeys trashed later in the movie. Also, why did the monkeys trash his lab?
Host 1, Jeff:
Revolution, baby.
Host 3, Clara:
Aww, so cute.
Host 2, Erika:
All right. We have another four-star review from A McCleman. This is one of those unknown movies that you will be pleasantly due to its quality, not its theme, surprised by. The director does not resort to gore or silly tricks, no sudden pigeons, no cats being thrown into frame to create a truly disturbing and frightening atmosphere as he gradually shows the protagonist becoming more and more absorbed by his “problem”. I’m sorry guys. I had a bit of a hard time getting through this review, because I do recall some gore and I also recall some sudden appearance of a monkey out of someone’s spinal column.
Host 1, Jeff:
That’s true.
Host 2, Erika:
I just have some off the bat questions about the integrity of this review.
Host 1, Jeff:
I have nothing but questions about this review. I fully agree. There were absolutely jump stares in this film. I mean, he broke the monkey’s neck with his mouth and threw its corpse on the ground. I mean, it might not be literal entrails being ripped out of someone’s body, but I would say it was relatively gore. Not that I have problem with that. I also love this “problem” in quotes. The problem being that a monkey is murdering everyone around him.
Host 3, Clara:
What is the problem? Because a very striking scene was when he does try to die by putting that bag over his head and it’s a horrific moment that they skate right through it, but it’s terrifying. Is that his problem, that he himself would like to die?
Host 2, Erika:
Extremely unclear.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yes. More and more absorbed by this problem that is encountering him.
Host 3, Clara:
That it’s in quotes, right? It’s a problem but not really. Is that what the quotes are all about?
Host 1, Jeff:
I mean if you look at the broad story, the dude loses everything including his wife.
Host 2, Erika:
Does he though? Because he gains the monkey trainer lady in a gradual way that makes no sense. He has a pretty sweet life. He’s got a lot of technological setups to make his life seem relatively simple and easy. He loses stuff. The movie really clips along in terms of how quickly he seems to have a very accessible house. If it wasn’t for the monkey killing everyone, he seems to have a pretty sweet deal going.
Host 1, Jeff:
I fully agree.
Host 3, Clara:
Even then, if he could hide that the monkey was killing everyone, if he just subtly let the monkey do its thing.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I think we might chop this up to McCleman being on the same wavelength as Sean Lehman in terms of just making assumptions about what people’s lives are most likely like when they incur a disability. Finally, we have a five-star review from an anonymous user who went to the trouble of titling their review, “Never mess with God’s creation,” followed by a review that reads, “Loved this movie after seeing Jason Beghe portraying a quadriplegic and then seeing him portray Hank Voight on Chicago PD. He’s two completely people.” I just want to clarify that I am reading the review when I say he’s two completely people.
Host 1, Jeff:
Two full people.
Host 3, Clara:
So poetic.
Host 2, Erika:
Loved Ella. She tried so hard to, number two, please Allan, but I felt sorry for her in the end of the movie when Allan killed her.
Host 3, Clara:
He more than killed her. He broke that monkey. Spoken like a true Chicago PD fan completely.
Host 1, Jeff:
Absolutely. What I want to understand is what relation does the title have to basically anything else that he says at the review? I don’t disagree that it applies to the movie perhaps, but it’s like he set it up as this one thing and then he subverted our expectations with a very different review.
Host 3, Clara:
And then never mess with God’s creation. The movie seemed to take a pretty pro-Darwin approach in my opinion. So, I don’t know that God’s creation is a huge factor here.
Host 2, Erika:
I think this is a cautionary tale when you go injecting human brains into a monkey, things might go poorly.
Host 3, Clara:
But they also might go very neutrally because think of the architecture, the mechanics of that. You inject the frozen, sliced up human brain into the monkey’s veins.
Host 1, Jeff:
Blood?
Host 2, Erika:
General course.
Host 3, Clara:
Yes. He’s got brain in the bloodstream. I don’t know. I’m skeptical of the whole thing.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, we’re going to talk some more about the science in our next segment.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah. I have so many questions about the science. I think my last favorite point about this review is the idea that they’re shocked by the fact that this actor can play two different characters. Has this person never seen actors before?
Host 3, Clara:
Well, we don’t know that they’re different characters. They’re completely people, but they could be the same.
Host 1, Jeff:
Well, they’re different names. So, you could have changed his name, I suppose, because he is Allan Mann in… I was supposed to say Monkey Paws. … Monkey Shines. And then he’s Hank Voight when he reappears in Chicago PD.
Host 3, Clara:
Are you confirming or denying that Chicago PD is a sequel to Monkey Shines?
Host 1, Jeff:
I’m going to reserve judgment until after our conversation. Okay. So, we’ve talked a little bit about what other people thought about the film. We’ve talked a little bit about what the films about in general, but I think it is time for us to get analytical. So, while this movie, I think, does a good job of some things, there are some of those old fun tropes that we get to endure in this film. Particularly you mentioned earlier, the first 20 minutes of the film or so, really lean hard into telling us that Allan Mann is a man of physical form and function. What did you guys think about this opening scene in which he covers his body in weights to go for a casual stroll?
Host 3, Clara:
And nude stretches earlier in the film.
Host 2, Erika:
That was extremely unusual. So, as an experienced distance runner and I’m decently experienced, I have run many thousands of kilometers in training for actual long distance races, not once have I strapped weights to my wrists and ankles and filled a backpack with… Were they bricks? Were they blocks?
Host 1, Jeff:
They were bricks.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, bricks. I mean, I’m no man, man. So, maybe that’s why.
Host 1, Jeff:
That’s why.
Host 2, Erika:
But yes, just back to Claire’s point, I have also never nor could I imagine myself stretching completely naked. Just the thought of sitting on a carpet with exposed genitals, I’m not feeling that, but to be actually stretching in a way that is mashing my nude body into said carpet. No shade to people who stretch nude, who enjoy nudity in general, but there was something unusual about that.
Host 3, Clara:
Especially when there was no other nudity other than the sex scene. We don’t really see his body during the sex scene. So, we see this horrific exposure of him doing his weird nude stretches and then he’s disabled and then his body becomes something else. Something that we don’t see doing nude stretches.
Host 2, Erika:
It almost read a warning for if parents had inadvertently brought their child to this film thinking that it was a cute monkey movie for kids. It was like PS, this is going to get a lot worse than a fully naked man. So, now is the time to shield virgin eyes.
Host 1, Jeff:
This is exactly what Susan Jeffords talked about in the ’80s, you have all these movies like Rocky and Top Gun, Topical. They have all these movies of hard man bodies like Stallone and Schwarzenegger that are trying to recapture this hard man status that was thought to have been lost in the 1970s. So, I think this him stretching with tight oiled muscles, firm buttocks clenching or thirsting for the road to run is they’re trying to set up this duality where it’s like this man has everything until he doesn’t when he’s run over by a truck.
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah, there is something very militaristic about stuffing your backpack with bricks. It reminds you of the big packs and the huffing through the forests of jungles of Vietnam. And then it’s interesting that the scientists are not hard bodies.
Host 1, Jeff:
Exactly.
Host 2, Erika:
They’re nerds.
Host 1, Jeff:
They’re egg heads. Yeah. The one is a heavy smoker who does drugs. The other is this sweaty ham looking man more or less. Also, note that they don’t show him getting hit by the car exactly, but they do show the brick shattering. I honestly wonder if this is Romero being like, “He was built a brick shit house.” That is the joke that’s being made here and then the brick breaks. So, even the hardest of bodies can suffer.
Host 2, Erika:
And then we pretty quickly find ourselves in the OR.
Host 1, Jeff:
Almost immediately. We have that nice cut the body open scene. So, while we were watching this film together, moments into the film, after the accident happens, tell us what you asked, Erika.
Host 2, Erika:
I believe I said I’d like to know how many minutes into the film we get before we find out that he is no longer sexually viable, basically that his penis doesn’t work anymore.
Host 1, Jeff:
The answer is 15 minutes and 5 seconds, about 10 minutes after Erika asked this question.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I mean, I think Romero has a real gift for foreshadowing. We’ve established that much.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yes. Yep. It was pretty clear. I will say though, this was a mic drop moment though when he does reveal the impotence. I love it because he drops this line and then the scene just ends. If you don’t believe me, how abrupt it is, take a listen to this.
Speaker 4:
I’m sorry I didn’t make the party. Linda called me. She sounded pretty crazed. Linda’s dumping me. She didn’t come out and say it, but no, I can tell. Linda’s just not comfortable with the change yet. That’s all. She doesn’t come around.
Speaker 5:
Hey, she walks out on you now. Fuck her.
Speaker 4:
I can’t.
Host 2, Erika:
So, science made its best effort. It failed. He is painfully aware.
Host 1, Jeff:
This scene felt like something that would be in South Park. Just this weird beat, the back and forth of delight. He’s trying to be all supportive and being like, “Well, whatever. Who cares about her? There’ll be more.” But it has to come back to the dick. It has to come back to that’s the problem. She’s leaving me, but I can’t, which I wanted to just put fully in view. She clearly left you, because A, Stanley Tucci obviously. Two, he’s like a rich doctor. She left for the money, I think, honestly.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I think what we’ve covered to this point, this setup of this physically superior man and then understanding the devastating loss of his physical superiority is setting us up to understand that Allan is an object of care. That is, I think, clarifying he is no longer sexual. He is an object of care. He will still be surrounded by women, but they will be there to… I mean, I’m hesitant to say take care of him because I don’t think that taking care is really what they’re doing so much as competing with each other to be the caretaker. This is really interesting. This was interesting for me to think about in the context of this plot because I don’t think this is really something that we have seen portrayed before.
Host 1, Jeff:
No, there’s this immediate shift from women in this film predominantly shift from romantic object immediately to maternal object, literally a mother and then this cold nurse. Well, okay, we could talk more about this later, but this woman who wears many hats including monkey trainer, wheelchair repair person, adoptive device, she was an OT who then sleeps with him. So, she’s a mother and shaves him, his little groomer. So, we have this person who starts out as the maternal carer that then becomes the love object again. That reconstitutes him and he regains his autonomy after he sleeps with her.
Host 2, Erika:
I know this is not our story can we talk about one moment, but we do need to talk a little bit about Mel. So, monkey trainer Mel is how I will henceforth be referring to her. Monkey trainer Mel slips into Allan’s orbit as a monkey trainer and then as you have alluded to suddenly just becomes a caregiver. It’s as though any woman who slips into Allan’s orbit then becomes a caregiver, because suddenly, we see her shaving his face, which is A, quite intimate, and B, relatively, there’s an implication of trust and care and sensitivity. And then it just spirals from there. Wait a sec, wait a sec. We have seen perhaps the first time that Mel and Allan bring, when moments after learning about this support monkey, it is somehow ready to support Allan specifically.
So, Mel shows up with the monkey and honestly credit to this actor Kate McNeil for her face acting, because in that scene, she is so visibly torn into by her romantic attraction to Allan, but also this apparent inappropriateness of her feelings for him. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a client or because he’s disabled or because his penis is broken, but whatever it is, it’s clear that she’s so conflicted.
Yeah, we’re deep into spoiler territory here, but it’s clear that when he regains this ability to, well, this is a fresh spoiler, but walk later in the film, when he shows her that he’s perfectly capable of satisfying her sexually even without a functioning phallus, her confusion is just alleviated. Suddenly, that hold back in her face is gone and she’s just there. She’s ready now. She can be romantically into him. That’s quite an arc.
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah. It’s another piece of just unintentional goodness that this movie seemed to have, because another thing you touched on there was the fluidity of their social networks was clearly just a matter of narrative convenience. So, the fact that the ex-girlfriend gets with the doctor and the scientist is a family friend and the caregiver is also the monkey trainer, it was all very confusing and clearly just there because that’s the easiest way to limit the number of actors we need in this movie. But then it hinted at this sense of community or collectivism that they had in their little bubble that was sweet, cute that they all help each other out in these weird ways despite the fact that all the women were so maternal and caring and all the men were purely selfish.
Host 2, Erika:
So, in that way, there was that bit of a friends vibe where everybody knows each other, but there was also this really tense competition between the four females, the mom, the nurse, Mel, and the monkey.
Host 1, Jeff:
Absolutely. Yeah, which I think is this other trope that the movie… I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but it gets caught into this whole idea of when caretakers become lovers and that whole falling in love with your nurse thing is happening. I think it’s important to note that this woman who’s never met him but has trained the monkey starts to shave him and yet the male family friend who would know how to shave, given that he is a man and shaves his own face clearly or maybe not, maybe his mother shaves his face.
I don’t know how it works in this world. He never delivers any care. Jeff doesn’t provide any care nor really any service other than giving him a monkey. As Claire said, he gives the monkey for selfish reasons, because he’s trying to hide the monkey. He would not have given that monkey otherwise.
Host 2, Erika:
So, there’s the caretaker turned lover, but there’s also some interesting unpacking around the parent, the mom, right? Because the doctor actually instructs the mom to leave because she is apparently causing Allan’s depression. The mom has some, I guess I’d say, stereotypical, but in an accurate way, if that makes sense. So, the mom declares, first of all, doesn’t ask if she’s needed or wanted, but just declares like, “Oh, well, I’ve sold my business and my house. I’m moving in with you because no one else can take care of you.”
Never mind the fact that they’re clearly extremely wealthy and could probably afford hired care if needed. But no, mom is going to sacrifice her life to be there to care for her son. When we see Allan go and spend the weekend at Mel’s, mom is just losing her mind, upset that “Where were you? How could you not tell me?” How old is he? He’s in his late 30s, early 40s.
Host 1, Jeff:
It’s hard to say. I mean, back in the ’80s, he might have been 13. Triple aged, very rapidly.
Host 2, Erika:
Fair point.
Host 1, Jeff:
He was in law school, so he was probably somewhere like mid-20 and he was written for the Olympics. That’s why he was jogging. So, he would’ve been probably early to mid-20s.
Host 2, Erika:
I think even at mid-20s, it would be very normal for an adult in their early 20s living alone, not to inform or check in with their parent or caregiver for that matter about what they were doing with their weekend overnights, et cetera. There were quite a lot of accurate representations, and this was one of them that portrayal of overreach.
Host 1, Jeff:
I wonder if that accuracy is driven by, “Was George Romero being like I want to make a commentary about familial relations after an accident and how people can feel like they maybe are intended to be or must be taken care of or whatever,” or was this all about designing more antagonism so that the audience is like, “Oh, no, Ella’s going to kill the mom next”? I’m wondering. It’s like the narrative purpose perhaps doesn’t actually matter, because I think now watching this movie, this was made in the ’80s, now watching this in 2022, there’s some interesting stuff to be drawn from this that was perhaps not intended, but I think is actually accurate to some people’s experiences after encountering an injury like this.
Host 3, Clara:
I also find it hilarious, the trope of the caregiver, mother, girlfriend situation, because it’s so common that the of intimacy of shaving becomes sexual intimacy. As someone is disabled, there’s this relationship between caregiving and sexuality. I found that fascinating because a part of the reason that I think Jeff, you and my relationship works is because we’re very distinct. I do not play much of a caregiving role at all in your life. I think that’s a good thing because it keeps us able to maintain our relationship that is built on a lot of other things without that expectation that I play some maternal role or that you play some needing role. Something the tropes leave out too is sure, there is caregiving, but the caregiving is directed by you.
So, as much as there’s this disabled person is so helpless and needs to be cared for, whatever, you are actually the one in control in your caregiving relationships. It would be really shocking to me if anything about that ever became intimate or sexual because it just doesn’t have that dynamic in the real world for the most part. It’s so practical and clinical in a way, but also so shared that you have the power and control in directing your care and they have that physical capacity to provide things that you might not be able to reach. But it’s so much more egalitarian than these sexual relationships seem to… There’s weird power and control stuff going on in these sex scenes that is not going on in my observed interactions and experienced interactions with caregiving, right?
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah. So, I’m sorry, but can we talk about that sex scene?
Host 1, Jeff:
I would love to talk about the sex scene. Before we even talk about the actual scene, I just want to note that this sex scene was originally intended to be much longer and a lot more gratuitous, but Romero actually cut a lot of it for various reasons. Famously, one of the producers of the film actually had liked it before the cut, where it was a lot more gritty, which included a penetrative oral sex scene, which was then cut. I would imagine probably it would’ve had to have been cut for ratings. This movie would not have been in cinema if they’d shown him putting his tongue inside this woman. I don’t think they would’ve allowed that, but somewhere in the world there is presumably a longer cut of the sex scene.
Host 2, Erika:
I thought it was pretty great. The first thing I noticed was that they were making creative use of the adaptive equipment that was already in the room, which I think it was both realistic and it felt natural.
Host 1, Jeff:
Totally, totally.
Host 2, Erika:
It was a pretty racy scene. I felt like it wasn’t sanitized or it wasn’t made weird. Essentially disability ceased to exist in this scene.
Host 1, Jeff:
So, when I was watching the scene, all I could think about was the sex scene from Coming Home, obviously John Voight, which was about a decade before this film. Famously, there’s this sex scene, and in that sex scene, in my opinion, it was like, “Oh, this is how they do it.” It felt almost instructional. It was looking in on how the others have sex and it’s like, “Oh, it’s oral for them.”
Obviously, the scene is really actually more about the woman in Coming Home. It’s about her of liberation. Arguably, possibly this is a lesbian sex scene. That’s a whole other body of academic work, but I felt like this is the opposite. Like you said, this felt more a natural this is how people hook up in some ways. There was a bit of a clumsiness to it, but there was still a naturalness to it. There was a fairly long breastfeeding moment that I was like, “This feels a little bit maternal.”
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah, I didn’t read that as maternal in the moment, but now that you mention, it went on.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, he was like suckling.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah. In the moment, I think my mind was like, “At what point does movie sex become porn?” So yes, I was engrossed in that and I think missed the suckling metaphor or is that a metaphor? Symbolism, yeah. Now that you pointed out-
Host 1, Jeff:
Literal action.
Host 2, Erika:
… I can’t unsee that.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah. But then it moves on and it becomes this other thing that they both are willing and enthusiastically involved in. Both of them come at this on level ground, which I think is actually interesting.
Host 2, Erika:
I think when you mentioned the relationship, I think ultimately the sex scene is less about their relationship than it is about his rehabilitation. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s rehabilitation, but I mean she is in this therapy monkey trainer, happens to have a house full of adaptive equipment. Like you said, she does ring a bit like an occupational therapist. Not that OTs have homes full of adaptive equipment.
Host 1, Jeff:
I was about to ask, so do you have a barn of adaptive equipment that you use to train? So that you know exactly what it’s like.
Host 2, Erika:
I mean, I could see in a very highly specialized practice, which she must have had given the cutting edge technology of the day that she had kicking around in her home that she was using to train the monkeys. I bring this up as a bit of a double edged situation, because on one hand, we see it sink back into this very stereotypical, “Oh, he’s regaining his sexuality.” This is the turning point where you can almost predict at that point that he’s going to walk again. He can have sex. He’s totally going to walk again. But on the other hand, just to give it a bit of a more compassionate read, it also is this moment in the movie where we see him more than this.
He gains a whole dimension as a character. He’s often just very glum and all we really see him do is move his head side to side in order to move his joystick. We don’t see a whole lot of emoting other than some monkey infused rage. He comes out of a shell in a way that I think could actually be read as a positive representation of the reality of learning to live in a disabled body, especially with an acquired disability and the positive experience of getting physically close with someone and being able to explore your body and abilities in a different way.
Host 1, Jeff:
I think it really connects with the fact that his other girlfriend, as he understands it, left him because he could not please her. And then he has this inversion where now he’s met a woman that he does please. I think that there’s this good woman, bad woman thing going on. The ex-girlfriend, we know nothing about this person. I think one of my big critiques is I would’ve liked to have known what their relationship was like first before the accident, so to speak. So, that we have a bit of a comparison. Maybe this is actually about him learning how to have a healthy relationship, because all the other women, his mom, the caregiver, and presumably the ex were all not healthy relationships for different reasons, but they were all bad relationships and often bad because the women were “bossy”.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I think a different podcast could delve deeper into some of the gender representation here.
Host 3, Clara:
Oh, yeah.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah. Lots to be said about it.
Host 3, Clara:
They also did though a decent job of weaving in this unexpected complexity in ways that seemed unintentional, but could have been fully intentional. The fact that they referred to his injury or whatever it is has made him disabled, they referred to it at one point as congenital when they find out that he has two breaks in his spine. So, it’s like they have this big brick shattering accident scene, but it’s also just something that would’ve happened anyway.
Or when he discovers himself and his physical rehabilitation is very much tied to the girlfriend, but a psychological rehabilitation that the getting better from that horrific bag on the head scene was very much the monkey who was the evil character that helped with his psychological rehabilitation. So, there were these interwoven complexities that they just dropped in very, very quietly and didn’t focus in on, but that to me felt actually very worth thinking about.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, it made it better. It made it better because they didn’t just say it. You maybe have just actually latched onto the principle crime that most of the films make that we cover on this podcast is that they try to explain everything. They say outright exactly what they’re trying to tell you and it just is so cringy.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I mean, this one definitely did that when he had his injury and then the surgeon was announcing, “We have a C-5, blah, blah, blah. Just so everybody knows what we’re dealing with here. This man is paralyzed. He will not be moving limbs below his neck.” So, it was guilty of that to some degree, but yeah, that was really interesting. It almost taps into a proximity to nature trope that there is something less human. He’s working his way back to completely personhood or something.
Host 1, Jeff:
To be a complete person.
Host 2, Erika:
But he had to climb through the monkey to get to the woman.
Host 1, Jeff:
So, I think you brought us to our last thing that I really want to talk about here, which is the science of this film, because the science in this film is wild because Romero both put some effort but also put no effort into trying to build an internal science logic to this film. Where do you guys want to start on the science of this film?
Host 2, Erika:
I guess we could start with the human brain that was very obviously a chicken breast-
Host 1, Jeff:
Classic film trick.
Host 2, Erika:
… being shaved into a serum and then haphazardly injected into the body of the monkey.
Host 1, Jeff:
Which made the monkey smart.
Host 3, Clara:
I just love how exceptionally childish that is, where it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got to find a way to get the human into the monkey. Let’s just do it literally. Let’s just do it this way.” It’s so childish and yet so perfect. I love that.
Host 1, Jeff:
It’s both lazy, but also creative. They weren’t just like, “Oh, it’s a demon,” or “Oh, I zapped it with radiation,” which I think would be the remake if they were to remake this movie now in 2020. It would be radioactive waves or it’s 5G cell phone towers. So, it would be this other technology, but it’s all about injection and contamination. So, it’s both clever, but also that’s not how this works, that you definitely don’t get smarter by injecting brains into people.
Host 2, Erika:
So, we have this bafflingly juvenile concept of science juxtaposed with a dead on critique of academia, because the doctor is going to these extreme measures because he’s under pressure to produce more research.
Host 1, Jeff:
Literally taking a drug, which forces him to stay awake for eight hours, which I think is just meth.
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah, well, the scraping of the chicken breast brain, he was tweaking. That’s clear.
Host 2, Erika:
Oh, yeah. The injection of that meth also seemed a little haphazard, straight to the arm and go.
Host 1, Jeff:
No measurement. It’s fine. Yeah, 100%. And then you have this debate about ethics, and what’s amazing about it is that the scientist friend, Jeff, repeatedly claims the high ground as the moral researcher at this institute, because he’s not torturing or murdering these monkeys like his colleague is, who is a body man. He’s like, “Why aren’t you sending me your dead monkeys? I want to do autopsies on them.” I’m like, “Okay, but you’re also injecting human brain into a monkey.” I don’t know that you can claim the ethical research high ground in this instance.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I think the last piece around that, just the presence of science in this film was that we have this mad scientist situation happening, but also really sharply juxtaposed with what I’m assuming is cutting edge technology for the mid to late ’80s in terms of the wheelchair, the sip and puff system, the mechanical lifts.
Host 3, Clara:
The voice activated entire house.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, it was rocking Alexa like 30 years before Alexa.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah. So, there was also just a shockingly present embrace of good science also. So, I don’t know if that’s maybe entirely unintentional or maybe there is just commentary on the goods and the evils of science.
Host 1, Jeff:
This was Romero’s first studio film, but if you’re a Romero fan, you’ll know that he often uses the films to critique societal problems, whether it be racism, consumerism, et cetera. These are factors in a lot of his films. There’s definitely this duality, I would say, when used right. Particularly, I would say analog or non-intelligent science, so technologies like the thing that’s holding the book or the complicated phone system that uses punch card in order to auto dial.
These were all seen as good, helpful adaptive technologies, but then technologies like science used by doctors now is a problem, because you have these two doctors, one who’s botched the surgery and ruined his life and stole his girlfriend juxtaposed to this other family doctor who is a man of science, a good doctor who looks deeper than surface. He has a rigor in a way that the other doctor perhaps didn’t. So, it seems like there’s this pivot on the more sentience is involved, the more dangerous the technology is or the worse the outcome.
Host 3, Clara:
It’s noteworthy that he tries a couple things. At the climax of the film when he wants the monkey dead, he tries a couple of things that involve the assistive technology in the house. So, he tries to get a door open, he tries to make a call, but what is it that actually kills the monkey? It is his teeth, right? It’s the most human thing about him, which is his body that is able to crush the monkey and fling it aside.
Host 2, Erika:
Well, guys, we got good and deep into that one. Now I think it’s time to draw back a step and get trivial. Jeff, what do you have for us this week?
Host 1, Jeff:
Okay. So, there’s a lot to talk about on this one because there’s a lot of stuff in this film. It’s also a much bigger film than most of the things we do. So, there’s a lot, and we’re going to miss a ton of it, I promise you. So, obviously, you might remember me from such films as George Romero, obviously well known in the horror community. Night of Living Dead fame, I would say he is maybe the most known. Stanley Tucci might be the most known, most famous in this. This was his first studio film, and there are a lot of references online about how he really did not like the interference of the production company distributor Orion, that sanitized a lot of the original cut, including changing the ending. But we’re going to talk about that a little bit later.
Stanley Tucci, obviously the legend. Joyce Van Patten, who plays the mother, has actually also had a pretty productive career. She’s been in a couple movies, had Marley and Me and Grown Ups, has done a ton of TV cameos. That’s actually what most of the other characters in this film have done. They’ve had long careers of bit parts in TV shows, but many of them are actually still acting, including Jason Beghe our main character.
But more interesting about him is that Jason who plays Allan in the film had an actual horrendous car accident in the 1990s, in 1999.Hhe was in a coma. He was in a hospital, tons of broken bones. He did break his spine, but it got better, I guess. But most importantly, he was intubated and he kept on waking up in the hospital and pulling out the tube which damaged his lungs. So, he attributes his now gravelly voice, which is what got him the job apparently on Chicago PD. He blames that actually on him pulling out the intubation tube repeatedly after his accident. So, he actually is basically living minus the monkey, he is living the life of Allan, which I think is a wild, wild turn of events.
Host 2, Erika:
All right. Let’s get into the equipment facts, because I spent the better part of this film trying to figure out whether this equipment that is seen in the film is legit. To the credit of Romero or whoever on the team was responsible for doing their research, I think they did their research. The industrial looking chain based Hoyer lift that we see throughout the film, I still can’t wrap my mind around the mechanics of this, but Jeff, you did some research and what did you find out?
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, it looks like the frame and the chains that are used to hook into it does appear to be very similar to an Invacare patient lift. That lift looks more like a traditional Hoyer with the bar that you use to brace it up and down. This may be actually an Invacare track lift from back in the ’80s possibly, or it may be something that they cobbled together for cheap where they just got parts of a broken one and put it together. Yeah, apparently, BDSM chain sex devices, big inpatient care back in the 1980s.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah. I mean, there were definitely some inconsistencies. I just cannot figure out how it’s possible that anyone but a walking actor could have hoisted themself up into a sling at such a height to be hovering at standing height over a steaming hot bathtub.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, I don’t understand why they were cooking him like a lobster. Why is he not lowered into the water? Why is he suspended above a full bathtub that is piping hot?
Host 2, Erika:
The other piece of technology that I was really gripped by in this film was obviously the wheelchair. So, Allan has a wheelchair that he operates using a mouth operated joystick. I’m assuming it that just given the complexities of actually using a sip and puff system, learning to use a sip and puff system or even to control a wheelchair with one’s mouth, I’m assuming that the actor was not actually using a functioning system there, but the wheelchair it turns out actually has a bit of a history.
Host 1, Jeff:
Huge history. So, he is in an Everest and Jennings marathon, which is a belt motor wheelchair. It was their hardcore chair. Well, they’re all built for hospital use, but this was the heavy duty one and made for bigger people and had a higher weight range. But Everest and Jennings actually also has a really weird connection within the world of disability in the United States. They were one of the largest equipment manufacturers in the US. They were one of the first companies to mass produce wheelchairs. That all happened until about the 1970s. They were hit with an antitrust suit by the Department of Justice.
Eventually, there was a class action lawsuit because of malpractice and things that they were doing. That was settled out of court in 1984, which was the beginning of the end of their organization. They had a bad ’80s that turned into a worst ’90s, and the brand was eventually sold off. However, their wheelchairs have appeared everywhere, including being used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For those of you in the disabilities studies world, it was Everest and Jennings wheelchairs that were predominantly used by Ed Roberts and the Roland Quads in Berkeley, California.
It was also an Everest and Jennings chair that was the first chair that Christopher Reeve used in 1995 after the accident. So, these were a big deal. This is a big deal company that was making chairs that were ended up in the hands of a lot of people on camera, to say the very least, which is interesting given that this was originally a California founded company. Yeah, this is a real piece of disability history here that is represented. Finally, a wheelchair that is not a quickie.
Host 2, Erika:
Right. So, moving on to production fact, we chatted earlier about the fact that the sex scene was intended to be much longer and significantly racier, but was ultimately scaled back for the release. We’ve also alluded to the original ending of the film being changed. Now it’s my understanding that this was not Romero’s decision, but actually the distribution company, was it, that decided that this film needed to have a happier ending, which is really interesting because ultimately this has a huge impact on the disability narrative. We’ve also alluded to the fact that our protagonist, by the end of the film, is no longer paralyzed or is gradually working his way out of paralysis. He has a spinal surgery that presumably reattaches some spinal nerves.
Notably, he became a candidate for that when he willed his hand to move, which was the criteria for candidacy for that surgery. I don’t know if that is a factual criteria. I strongly doubt it. Yeah, so ultimately, it turns out Romero did not actually intend for this to happen. He was not supposed to recover from this accident, but this was the film company or film distributor’s attempt to make this a more appealing film to broader audiences. Very interesting.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, it’s that real drive that we have to see the disabled person walk again at the end. If they’re not going to die, they have to walk again. Although I am a little upset that we did not get a different drummer’s montage at the end of a dead Ella running alongside him. That would’ve just made it so much better at the end.
Host 2, Erika:
So last bit of production facts we have here. So, there was actually some substantial negative publicity around this film. It was actually disability activists that were vocal about the promotional materials or in response to the promotional materials for the film. So, what I initially read in a news article from 1988 was that people were upset about the… I guess in the promotional materials, there was a monkey in a wheelchair.
So, that was the official story from the production company that, “Oh, right away, we will get that out of the publicity campaign.” But what they don’t really get into and what the likes of Paul Longmore actually and other known disability activists were speaking out against was first of all, just the idea of a monkey attendant turning into a monster.
But secondly, there’s a poem, parts of which appear on the film cover and a much longer version of which shows up in this ad campaign. I mean, it starts out there was a man whose prison was his chair. Should we just read the poem? Here it is. Once there was a man whose prison was a chair. The man had a monkey. They made the strangest pair. The man was the prisoner. The monkey held the key. No matter how he tried, the man couldn’t flee. Locked in his prison, terrified and frail, the monkey wielding power, keeping him in jail. The man tried to keep the monkey from his brain, but every move he made became the monkey’s game. The monkey ruled the man. It climbed inside his head. Now as fate would have it, one of them was dead.
Host 1, Jeff:
Spoiler poem.
Host 2, Erika:
Spoiler poem, but honestly misleading. I fully spent this entire film assuming that the monkey was going to eat Allen’s face.
Host 1, Jeff:
It’s odd that they lead with this idea like, “Oh, no, one of them will die. Don’t worry, but which one?” That’s the real drama. But I also feel like this is not representative of really any of the film.
Host 3, Clara:
No.
Host 1, Jeff:
Am I wrong?
Host 2, Erika:
No, you’re not wrong. I mean the bit about the monkey, but the narrative of the poem that Allan is a prisoner, locked in the prison of his chair and the monkey is controlling his fate, that’s just inaccurate. I feel like this is much the altered ending of the film. I feel like this poem also is really targeted to the American imagination that understands disability as a prison, wheelchairs as something that people are confined to. It’s really appealing to that.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah. I wonder if this is a situation where Romero did not make the movie the studio wanted and this is actually the film they really wanted. They actually wanted this film to be about this frail prison. I feel like the studio wanted Rear Window. They wanted that disabled man, trapped, going to die, that he’s disabled. That’s just not what Romero brought them. They were like, “Well, whatever. We’ll just advertise it that way. We don’t care if that’s what it actually is.”
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah. I’m really curious. I felt a little bit torn when I found out that there were renowned disability activists speaking out against the film, which I felt really was not a terrible disability representation. From what I understand, the outcry was actually about the promotional materials more than the film itself. So, that makes me hopeful that maybe folks would’ve felt a little bit more compassionately towards the film than when they did the promotional materials.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, my sense is that the audience response to this is divisive. There are some within the disabled population that think this is a hilarious movie. They love that it’s campy. They think it’s cool and retro and interesting. And then there are others who think that it’s playing on the same tropes. It doesn’t do anything new. It’s all the same old garbage. It’s also a film that was relatively difficult to get your hands on until fairly recently. There’s been a bunch of new releases, Blu-Ray special editions and that thing, which has made it much easier to access, but there was a period in the early 2000s, where it was actually hard to get a copy of it.
So, I think that might also contribute a little bit that the thing that most people had access to was the promotion and not necessarily the film itself, but if you are paying attention, you will notice that parts of this film are both referenced and shown in the documentary Code of the Freaks, which talks about representation of disability in popular culture. So, this movie has had an impact, if nothing else. But I think it’s that time for us to talk a little bit about what we thought. Let’s rate this film.
For those of you who do not know, we have built an empirical, completely scientific, like brains injected the blood scale to determine the quality of our film. Like golf, our little game, the lower the score, the better. We have four questions that we are going to ask each of our viewers to rate on a scale of one to five, and we will determine the quality of the film. So, let’s start up. Our first question on a scale of one to five, with five being the least accurate, five being bad, one being good, how accurate does this film portray disability?
Host 3, Clara:
So, I think there’s some of the things we touched on like the interactions with the mother who was annoying and the surly nurse and there were aspects of his experience that seemed not to be entirely driven by disability alone. He seemed to have some other dimensions there as well. So, I thought that contributed to overall realism and the fact that he used assistive technology comfortably without it being a whole thing in the same way that I’m thinking of different drummer in the piss tube. It was just a little bit more accurate than that.
Host 2, Erika:
I totally agree. I will be so bold as to give it a two.
Host 1, Jeff:
I also gave it a two. I thought that they actually showed real devices, things that people actually do use in their life. So, there was a bit of woe is me, but yeah, I thought there was some accuracy. Obviously, marks are taken off, because this whole double spinal problem that was missed by the one, this is obviously science fiction. The idea that you would not do a surgery unless someone can move a part of their body first to prove that it is in fact this problem also seems highly suspect. Okay. Question number two, scale of one to five, with five being the hardest, how hard was it for you to get through this film?
Host 3, Clara:
Yeah. One, I thought it was smooth sailing, entertaining. There was even some cute monkey moments. It’s little facial expressions. It’s little hugs. That was great.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I’m largely aligned. I’m actually going to give it a two just for some confusion, for instance, around the science. There was a lot going on there, but generally speaking, yeah, it was a pretty smooth ride.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah. I was also a two in part because I was completely hung up on, “Is his brain influencing the monkey? Is the monkey influencing his brain? Is this telepathy? Why is the blood ritual involved?” Yeah, there were some questions there where I was like, “I do not necessarily,” in a distracted way, because they would add these little tidbits of information that it was like, “Oh, well, that explains it now.” I’m like, “I am even more confused at this point as to what is happening between these two characters.” But this is by far, I would say the best film we’ve watched for this podcast, which is both hilarious and sad.
Host 2, Erika:
I just want to give a quick shout out to Mac and Me, which is somewhat of a contemporary because I think that that was our other probably best. I feel like there’s something about the late ’80s. There was a vibe.
Host 1, Jeff:
Should we even think about the fact that the Roland Quads and the whole stuff in Berkeley was like 1970? And then you guys look at adapt. This is a couple years before ADA has passed. These films are actually perhaps coming out during an American disability renaissance in some ways. So, maybe it’s unsurprising that these are better representations.
Host 2, Erika:
Better but not perfect. So, our next criteria on the scale, one to five, with five being the max, how often did you laugh at things that weren’t supposed to be funny?
Host 3, Clara:
I had more less of laughing at things that weren’t supposed to be funny, finding things adorable that were not meant to be adorable, but laughing at things that aren’t funny, I didn’t do that too much. I thought Romero has a good eye for intentional, funny, shocking. So, I would give it a one or two.
Host 1, Jeff:
1.5 is good.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah, I was in the exact same spot where I found it was a little bit hard to decipher on this. I actually vocalized at one point during the film, “Were we supposed to laugh at that?”, because I felt like sometimes it was actually intended to be funny, even though it was not like haha funny. So, I will join you in the 1.5.
Host 1, Jeff:
Yeah, I’m going to put it as a one. I think that Romero was taking the piss throughout the entire film in some ways. I mean, I think he was trying to play this serious, but it looked serious, which is what makes it funny. I think that was the vibe. I think that we laughed predominantly at the things that were supposed to be funny, I think.
Host 2, Erika:
All right. Our last criteria, on a scale of one to five, with five being the most, how many steps back has this film put disabled people?
Host 3, Clara:
I’m going to give it a low rating again. So, I’m trying to approach this from the lens of someone who just didn’t know anything about disability and I feel like there wouldn’t have been too much in the film that would have really affected that person, Better Sue, the normie, that would’ve been so convincing because the whole movie had an air of lightness to it. Yeah, like Jeff said, taking the piss a little. So, I’m going to give it a one.
Host 2, Erika:
I’m going to have to go a tiny bit harder on it just for the whole stereotypical trope of mad man, man loses his madness and then regains his madness, but really that was pretty much the worst of the crimes it committed. So, I’m going to give it a two.
Host 1, Jeff:
So, I’m going to break the rules right now and I’m actually going to give it two ratings. Rating number one, I’m going to give a two to the Romero cut, which we have not seen which had hardcore sex and no cure at the end, but that is not the movie we received. So, I am going to give the Orion cut a solid three, because yeah, the man stuff, this return to normalcy, and also the very obvious marketing ploy was like, “Oh, babe, yikes.” But I think that Romero cut might have been a one or a two if we had ever got it. So, I’m assuming Romero was listening to this podcast. Please release a director’s cut. The people want to see it.
Host 3, Clara:
The cure at the end was so pointless. Why? I revised my score to a two based on that alone.
Host 2, Erika:
Yeah. I honestly bumped it to a 2.5. I had forgotten about that when I gave it that rating. That’s a serious hit as well.
Host 1, Jeff:
The people have spoken with a score of 23.5. Monkey Shines is officially a Regret, I have a few. Almost an underappreciated piece of art.
Host 2, Erika:
That feels about right to me. All right. Well, that is a wrap. Thank you so much, Clara, for joining us today. It was truly a pleasure to share this bizarre experience with someone else. Hopefully, you are not leaving feeling overly traumatized.
Host 1, Jeff:
That concludes our first episode of season two of Invalid Culture. We hope you enjoyed the episode. As always, if you have a film you’d like us to cover, head over to our website, invalidculture.ca, submit. Or if you would like to be on the podcast as one of our guest victims, please also head over to the website. Send us an email. We’d love to have you on.

 

"Swept Up By Christmas" dvd cover, featuring characters Gwen and Reed standing together before a festive backdrop

Just in time for Hanukkah, a special guest joins Invalid Culture!

In an IC first, Erika and Jeff are joined on our December episode by Paralympic wheelchair racer and budding movie star Josh Cassidy. Together we’ll chat about working in the television/film industry as a disabled person and unpack his recent Hallmark holiday film Swept Up By Christmas. Will Josh’s character find love? Is love the friends we make along the way? Find out in this very special episode!

Listen at…

Podcast Transcript

[Intro song: sleigh bells leading into folk punk song “War on Christmas” by Ramshackle Glory. Lead singer sings “Take down the lights, I don’t do Christmas. Religion is fine, I just hate Christmas.”]

Erika:

Welcome to Invalid Culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest, most baffling and worst representations of disability in popular culture. Unlike other podcasts that review films you’ve probably heard of, Invalid Culture is all about looking into the abyss of pop culture-adjacent representations that just never quite broke through because, well, they’re awful. I’m your co-host, Erika.

Jeff:

And I am your other co-host, Jeff. And in light of the holiday season, and as proud soldiers in the war against Christmas, this month’s episode is going to be a little different. Today we are joined by a real life Paralympic athlete turned disabled actor, who starred as the wheelchair-using vet, Mike, in a recent Hallmark film, Swept Up by Christmas. That’s right, we are joined by Burgoyne’s most famous son, all-around Bruce County beefcake, Josh Cassidy. Josh, welcome, as our first ever guest ever on this show.

Josh:

(laughing) Thank you.

Jeff:

You’re it.

Josh:

It’s an honor. Number one. That’s what I strive to be.

Jeff:

Number one in my heart. So, Josh, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who are you? Why should people care about Josh Cassidy?

Josh:

Oh my gosh. I don’t know why they should.

Erika:

So, what I’ve got so far is small town, perhaps, actor, Paralympic athlete, and long-term childhood friend of Jeff Preston. And I understand there’s a little bit of a story about how you and Jeff first met, so would you care to share a little bit more about that?

Josh:

Sure, yeah. We met, probably, I must have been nine or 10 years old. My dad was in the military, so we had moved all across Canada nine times… or, eight times in the first nine years of my life. And then, he left the military. We settled in Bruce County, going to elementary school in Port Elgin. Jeff’s dad, who is a police officer, came and spoke to the school, and after the presentation was done and we go back to our classrooms, and there was a knock on the door and he was at the door, and he asked the teacher if I could come out and he could talk to me. So as a nine year old, curious, slightly scared, did I do something wrong? I’m sure entered my mind at some point.

Josh:

But Jeff’s dad is just the most chill, soft spoken guy, and was just super kind, knowing I was just new to the area, and asked if I wanted to meet his son who happened to use a wheelchair as well. And yeah, that’s how our first, I don’t know, playdate or whatever you would call it at that age… I don’t even know what we did the first time, now that I think about it. But I mean, our early childhood was a lot of mini sticks, and video games, and video games, and reading, and Star Wars, and adventures in the… What would you call it? There was a name for the woods behind the town.

Jeff:

Beiner’s Forest.

Josh:

Yeah. So anyways, lots of awesome childhood memories.

Jeff:

I think it’s important to note that you said that our early childhood consisted of those things. I also think our teenager years and our adult years, that it didn’t actually change. We never grew up.

Josh:

It happened until we both left the town. We just lost the town and each other, that was all.

Jeff:

That’s it. That’s it. But as I said, there’s always that open… The invite is always open. If you want to come over for a sleepover, we can get back out on the road and play some hockey again.

Josh:

That would be great.

Erika:

So, how did you end up from small town, Bruce… Is it Bruce County?

Josh:

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Erika:

To the big screen, the Olympic stage.

Josh:

So, I always loved sports as a kid, and as I just mentioned, hockey was a big passion of mine, as it was Jeff’s growing up. And one of the challenges in school was being able to partake in extracurricular sports, and I always found a way to figure out how to adapt, and the schools, especially in that area, Port Elgin and Owen Sound where I grew up at that stage, there was really great teachers that, helped navigate through. But extracurricular, there was more bumps, as health and safety had a lot more restrictions and concerns about other kids getting injured if they knock into your chair or whatnot.

Josh:

So, wheelchair racing was something that was introduced to me as a possibility for track and field in high school, and around the same time as the Sydney Paralympic games. Watched our Canadian, Jeff Adams, power away to medals, and I just was super intrigued by it and thought it looked fun. And so, that’s how I got started.

Josh:

Ironically, in our hometown, I had a chance meeting with a Paralympic coach that was there on business, and he got me connected as well, and that sort of was the beginning of my journey from the small town. I mean, in the small town too, I mean, I had the local track club that was great, but so much of my training throughout most of my career was on my own. And yeah, eventually I went to Sheridan College for illustration, and continued training there, and made my first national team, and yeah, the journey continued.

Erika:

And then, so how long have you been, I guess, doing elite athletics?

Josh:

I started competing around 2000, so 21 years, and my first national team was 2005. I believe it was 2005-6. So yeah, quite a while, now.

Erika:

And how long have you been into acting?

Josh:

Well, the first television commercial stuff that I did was most as an athlete, as myself, or as a wheelchair racer. So that’s how I first got some commercial gigs, and then that progressed to just taking some casting calls for other commercials, which another one was a BMO one, and Suicide Squad, which I was an extra in. And both of those was also some kind of, a little bit of consulting on the disability aspect. And then, yeah, this Swept Up by Christmas.

Josh:

I think they saw, I think the agency saw an audition I did for another show, where I actually played someone pretty much the opposite of my character in Swept Up by Christmas. He was a pretty chip on his shoulder, angry, I think war vet as well, but much different. But anyways, had an audition, and it was really after the fact for most of these that, oh, you’re an athlete as well? And that came about. So, yeah, it’s fun.

Jeff:

Yeah. I noticed that you said you were in Suicide Squad. How did that come together, what was your role, and would the movie have been better if you were the main character, and not Jared Leto?

Josh:

First of all, how did it come about? Oh, well, my mind is on Jared Leto right now.

Jeff:

Who isn’t?

Erika:

You speak for all of us when you say…

Josh:

I was thinking like, honestly, everything I have seen him in, he is fantastic. I have the understanding that there is way more that was shot that was cut. Obviously, that doesn’t change the take on the character, which wasn’t totally his, but it would be interesting to get a full take of what it was.

Josh:

So, I mean, it was crazy. I always, obviously I’ve been into comic books. I mentioned, I went to this school at Sheridan for illustration, and that was really derived from a very early love of superheroes, comic books and drawing, ever since I was a little kid. And so, obviously superhero movies and wanting to take a shot at acting at some point, it was always something just, I thought that would be fun.

Josh:

And I guess I put it out into the universe, and I got this random call the day before flying back from Australia from a training camp, and it was someone who had recommended me, gave me my number for a production that was going on in Toronto for a Warner Brothers movie, that sounded like a superhero movie, all tightlipped, whatever. And of course, I’m a comic book fan, nerd, so I know everything that’s going on and shooting. I’m like, oh my God, I’ve heard these rumors about Suicide Squad. This has got to be what it is.

Josh:

So, I had some conversations, because they’re looking for amputees, contortionists. They wouldn’t give much info beyond that. And would I be interested in having some discussions? So, when I got back, had meetings, and went on set, and they were rehearsing it at that point. And by then, I had figured it out, and they knew that I had figured it out, but they really weren’t allowed to say either. But will Smith was training in the next room for his dead shot rolls, and went into the room where Margot Robbie does her, where the very first opening scene where she’s like in a cage, tension area, right, as Harley Quinn. So, seeing that set up go, and man, just the scale of this thing is like, these big productions, that was just eye opening for me.

Josh:

So, the character was to be, well, it was going to be what eventually to me was probably the worst part of the movie, which was the basically sort of zombified. I don’t even remember. They’re like, yeah, zombified kind of super soldiers, these sort of black things that just you could kill, chop and arm a leg off, they’d keep fighting, type of thing. For me, even though I’m in a wheelchair, it was like, we need some double A gams, people that are athletic, that could maybe do some stunt work. So for me, I played goalie, as Jeff knows, on my knees in road hockey, and so my legs can bend all over. So basically, I had to strap my legs up as if they were amputated. The intention was for the shot was like, I would have, I would be basically blown apart and then keep on fighting from the ground.

Josh:

So then, I also helped with them consulting, bringing some other athletes that I knew that were amputees, and try to help recruit a team of these soldiers that would be blown to bits, but then keep on fighting. And rehearsed for one or two big scenes, and the one scene was shot during the national championships, which I was contracted to do, so I missed that one. And then, the other scene was literally on the last day of filming, and it was an all night film shoot. It was a week before the Pan Am games in Toronto.

Josh:

And yeah, again, just the scale was just incredible. It was like, it’s this massive lot, and it just really hit home. When you watch a movie, at the end, all of the credits that scroll, and all of those people, those are all humans with faces and lives that play a huge role, each and every single one, to make this whole thing come together. And then, when you’re on such a big production, you see all these faces and all this stuff that goes in, and the organization and network. It’s incredible.

Josh:

So anyways, long story short, my scene in the end, the ones that I rehearsed for, I didn’t shoot. The ones that I did were, it’s sort of the scene, and I think it’s even in the trailer, where Will Smith’s on this car. All these like zombie super soldier, black Uzi things are coming at him. And, do you want me to tell you the story of what I shot?

Jeff:

I was just going to say, did Will Smith kill you?

Josh:

So, unfortunately, Will Smith was shooting on that same day, because they were doing all these last minute reshoots, so it was a stunt actor that did, that shot me.

Jeff:

So, you were killed by the symbolic Will Smith?

Josh:

Yes, the fake one. They recreated this street, and everything is on fire, and they recreated part of the gardener that was crashed and down on this lot. And basically, they’re all just rushing towards this car that will Smith is on to attack him. And it’s basically like a football charge, rush the quarterback scenario.

Josh:

But for me it’s like, my legs are blown off, so I’m not in that first part. I’m after he starts unleashing. And they’re like, okay, so what we’re doing here is, they’re all going to be rushing. We need you to hide under this car, okay? Now, they’re going to be rushing. I want you to look at me. We’re going to count down the steamboats. One steamboat, two steamboat. They’re going to rush, and then you crawl, but you don’t go earlier than that, because they’ll just run right through you. And they’re like all parkouring through cars and everything, right? But don’t be late, because we’re blowing up this car that you’re under, so you want to get out of there.

Josh:

So, I’m crawling, and this is like a week before the Pan American Games, and my national team would have killed me if they knew. I was nervous myself. Oh shit, what did I do? And yeah, you’re crawling over broken glass and there’s fire and explosions going on. And anyways, they sort of like, kills everyone, and I’m one of the last ones, and I go back to shoot him again, and there’s this sort of 300 scene that’s filmed from the stop where there’s just all these dead soldiers, and I go to try and pop one more in him and he shoots me.

Josh:

But anyways, so much of that film is cut. I don’t… I can point out myself if I saw it. It’s a blink of an eye. So much of that film, from what I understand, like David Ayer a has done so many grounded movies, like End of Watch and Fury. And so, the take that it went, you can tell where the studio went in and was like, ooh, I think zombie soldiers and the Enchantress character… And I don’t know whose was whose idea, but there was just a disconnect from such a grounded thing that was happening, and something else. But anyway, that’s my Suicide Squad story.

Jeff:

And probably bad if you had died under that car in real life, we should say.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

That’s good. That’s good that you weren’t late.

Josh:

The stories that these stunt actors just casually tell was just crazy, the stuff. Oh yeah, hey, check out this one. This is where I was driving this F-1 car and I had to, the car, the wheel blows, so then I have to drive into this semi-truck. And it’s like, this is a car accident where people get killed and it’s like, this is their day job. It’s nuts. Yeah.

Erika:

You’re hitting some interesting themes that have come up in past episodes.

Josh:

Oh, yeah?

Erika:

Yeah. We’ve talked a bit about stunting, or I guess, who’s this stunt work, but also consulting. So, the first movie, the very first episode that did when we were researching a bit about the film, we found out that there was actually a hired disability consultant. And then, our more recent, Mac and Me, we learned that the disabled actor who was hired for the lead role, we learned through the audio commentary that he had consulted a lot on the film. So was that, is that… I’m just curious about your experience with consulting and what that was like.

Josh:

Yeah. I think all three, it was like I was hired as an actor or a stunt, and those bigger ones that I had mentioned. But I mean, all were extremely, let us know. What do we need to do? What’s right? What’s wrong? What can we do to make things easier, help? So, they were all very receptive and took some initiative on some fronts to try and do things, and on other fronts were like, oh yeah, we totally failed here. Please tell us what to do. So the way I was approached, I really appreciated it a lot.

Josh:

And the BMO commercial, that was one as well where it was like, waitlists, and so there was some messaging there that kind of conflicted with me, that I think they were pretty appreciative of, because basically in the commercial it’s like this. You put in your wish, and so the commercial’s like, my wife wishes that I can basically not be confined to my wheelchair, right? And it wasn’t those words exactly, but it was very much that was the vibe.

Josh:

And I was like, listen, I don’t wish that I wasn’t in a wheelchair. I mean, it would be great and cool to walk and run and jump and do all these things, but this is who I am, and it’s brought me so many good things, and I’ve accepted that. So, it wouldn’t be my wish, so if it was her wish, that would be kind of weird. But it was more like, you know what I wish? I’m like, I actually wish I could fly. So, why don’t we change this messaging to just being like, I wish that I could fly, and my wife wishes to see me be able to have the freedom of flight kind of thing. So kind of, the sentiment is there, but it’s a total different angle on the whole thing, right?

Jeff:

Yeah. I’ve got to say, when I first saw you on commercial, at the start of it, from the music, and you’re up in the plane, and I was like, oh hamburgers, here we go, right? This is going to be that classic thing about oh, if only I had one wish, I wish he was cured.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

But then you get this like actual, nice inversion at the end, where it’s like, yeah, no, the wish wasn’t liberation from the chair, the wish was to do something wild. It was…

Josh:

That everyone would love to do, right? Yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah. Now, I have a theory. You’ve been in a couple BMO commercials, and so I now call it the BMO-verse.

Josh:

I’m pretty sure it’s called the BMO effect, isn’t it?

Jeff:

The BMO effect? Maybe. Yeah. That’s true. So, I’ve noticed in the BMO-verse, you have a wife in the wishes, but you are definitely out with another woman during a solar eclipse, or a lunar eclipse.

Josh:

Here is the confusion, okay?

Jeff:

Okay.

Josh:

It wasn’t me in both of them. I mean, it was me as an actor, but in the BMO-verse, right? Me with my wife was one character. It was actually Mike from Swept Up by Christmas, that’s in the background having a latte with that other woman. So, it’s really Mike that’s… I don’t know in the BMO-verse if that’s before or after he met his Swept Up by Christmas… Vanessa, was her name.

Jeff:

Vanessa, yeah.

Josh:

I’m just trying to remember her name.

Jeff:

You don’t remember the love of your life?

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Wait, are you saying you are not with Vanessa on the west coast right now?

Josh:

Listen, I don’t know where the BMO-verse version of Mike slipped into that dimension and stream, so I don’t know if it was before or after Vanessa, so I can’t comment. Mike might be a closet sleazebag, like oh yeah, another latte, with another woman, kind of thing.

Jeff:

Let’s go out with the solar eclipse.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Lose your sight, but I’ll take care of you, baby.

Josh:

Yeah.

Erika:

So, two things here from me. One, and I don’t know if this question’s out of bounds, but…

Josh:

No.

Erika:

Are BMO and Hallmark the same thing?

Josh:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erika:

They have overlapping universe?

Josh:

Oh, there’s a question.

Jeff:

I’ll say, nothing says Christmas like a bank. I think we can all agree on that, right?

Erika:

Now, I’m just thinking of, they have Interact commercials now where you can use your internet cards the way people used to drop coins into the charity tins. Now they have Interact commercials for that.

Jeff:

This is all coming together, guys. I feel like, I think this podcast is done. We sorted it out.

Erika:

Wait, wait, wait. We don’t know anything about the film yet. It’s time to get into Swept Up by Christmas.

Jeff:

Oh yeah, we should talk about that.

Josh:

Right, right.

Erika:

Josh, please, can you tell us, for listeners who haven’t seen the film, tell us a little bit about that film.

Jeff:

Basically, a Hallmark movie, Christmas movie. There’s a guy and a girl, and someone’s not in the Christmas spirit. Someone gets them in the Christmas spirit, and then they live happily ever after right at the end.

Josh:

Oh, was I in this one?

Jeff:

So, who are you? And who are you in all this?

Josh:

So, Swept Up by Christmas is basically, she’s an antique dealer, and the main character, lead male is a war vet who has a cleaning business. They meet on the sale of this estate, and yes, it’s about her bringing him back into the Christmas spirit. I am the main lead’s friend and business partner, named Mike, who is also a war vet. And yeah, basically they have this little business that helps war vets adjust to civilian life, and their cleaning business is their little passion thing, and then there’s a little side romance interest for Mike in the movie.

Erika:

And it’s the aforementioned Vanessa?

Josh:

Oui. C’est vrai. This is a bilingual podcast.

Jeff:

Yeah, it is. It is now. So, one thing that we love to do on this podcast is, we love to see what others have to say about the film. And so, we went out. There were not a lot of reviews, I have to say. Fans of the show, you are not doing your job. There were not a lot of reviews about this movie. But there was one really interesting thing that I learned. Actually, there were two interesting things. Thing number one, I learned there a lot of people writing reviews of every single Hallmark Christmas movie. It is like a whole community, and that is a thing that I didn’t know I needed to know, but I know it now, and I feel better.

Jeff:

But there were two reviews that really caught my eye. A lot of the reviews of this film felt that maybe the main romance was a little flat in nature. However, both on a website called Jamie’s Two Cents, and as well, a website called Lifetime Uncorked, two different reviewers said that they would have preferred if the story instead had been focused on Mike and Vanessa. An Amazon reviewer even went on to say, quote, “I gave this an extra star, four out of five stars to Hallmark, for adding the storyline featuring someone in a physically challenging role. And yes, it’s a formula movie, but I have to admit, I’m a fan of Hallmark’s Christmas movies.”

Jeff:

Now, I’m assuming that was a typo, and they meant physically challenged, but I will allow you to respond to movie guy on Amazon. Would you say your role was physically challenging?

Josh:

Oh, I don’t care.

Erika:

I mean, relative to the other work you described, that sounded like very physically challenging work.

Josh:

You know what, it was long days. The physically challenged… Suicide Squad was pretty physically challenging. And actually, the BMO was a stunt commercial as well. But you know what, it was a really great experience learning-wise for me, and lines and a whole role, and the long days and weeks that all went into that, and the process. Yeah, I mean, obviously Mike is in a wheelchair, so on the consulting side for this, they were more just really open, like what do you need on set?

Josh:

For the script itself, I had one or two kind of adjustments or amendments that I kind of put forward. I can’t remember the first one. The second one… I mean, there was definitely the one, I think it was, when he’s talking about his disability, and how it crushed his, I think it was C4 or something, right? Well, so I am partially paralyzed from L4 down, L3, L4. So I said, if this is integral to the story, I would have to change my level of ability and what I can do to represent if that’s important. If it’s not important, we change the script so that this is where I was injured, so that it’s accurate. So, I had to go through Hallmark and their writers, and their writers, and their writers, and it all got approved, and of course, move ahead, and yeah.

Jeff:

And I’ve got to say, that is something that is always, I’ve found, so strange about films, is that it’s like disability is this throwaway. Like, they don’t actually care if the definition or diagnosis is at all even close, right? They’re just like, I don’t know, C1, maybe. Oh, it looks like muscular dystrophy, I don’t know. And yet, the person is fully walking around with like a little limp.

Josh:

Oh, here’s the thing, though, here’s the thing. To be fair to them, if I’m thinking about these writers, and they’re churning these things out, it’s like, get the script written, throw something in. Let them hire someone else to do… Let’s check our disability accuracy facts here and consult someone that knows what’s going on. But yes, there isn’t always those people in place to catch these types of things, and agreed, it’s kind of thrown in at times. And I was super grateful for this role and this opportunity, and of course, there has to be something that ties in. For me, okay, that’s the reality, and like the other auditions I’ve done, somehow their physical disability is a part of their character. I mean, it’s a part of everyone’s life who has a disability.

Josh:

But at the same time, I mean, I’m not going off on some acting career crusade. I would love to do something with a lot more depth or whatever. But I’d also love to do something where it’s like, the disability part doesn’t even come up, too. Like, I would just, I’d like to take the Rock’s role in some action movie and try and do a better acting job, and bring something that’s great without actually having to delve too deeply.

Josh:

At the same time, I know all stories and drama are about going through challenges and heartbreak and an emotional component, and most people who have a disability have gone through that at some stage, so that’s a real part that people with a disability can connect with to portray that more realistically, too. So, I also appreciate that they’re seeking out more often people with disabilities, rather than trying to have an actor portray them.

Josh:

And again, on the flip side, because I’m both, I just, to bring full perspective, I don’t think there’s anything totally immoral about somebody who doesn’t have a disability playing someone with a disability completely, myself. Acting is roleplaying and diving into a character, and that might be someone of a different ability or a disability, or gender, or culture, whatever it is, however, with Hollywood and the way it is. It’s just like, okay, we’ve had enough of white mainstream playing other cultures and disabilities and whatever. It’s like, we have a huge demographic here that is not represented, and it’s time to kind of bring them into the fold. So, at least it feels like there’s that progression.

Jeff:

Yeah. I think honestly, Hallmark, I think, gets a lot of kudos for this film, and other films as well. I think Hallmark has actually kind of latched on to disability in a way I think others haven’t. But having said that, Erika and I have some questions. We have some questions for you about this film.

Josh:

I thought you were going to go on the LGBTQ, how there isn’t representation there.

Erika:

Oh, and that’s funny. It’s funny, that’s not how I would have phrased that. I wouldn’t have phrased it that way. I was just going to say, this is the most remarkably cis-heteronormative story I have seen ever in my life. And I want to say, this was also my first ever Hallmark Christmas movie.

Josh:

Same.

Erika:

Okay. Okay. And that just really stood out for me.

Josh:

I hear it all the same. I am only aware of this because I was involved in one, so then I was reading all the headlines of backlash, of there is no other kind of alternative storylines with representation. And so, anyways. I mean, we joked on set when we were reading this, like hey, I think we should actually really put a plot twist in there, and just be like, hey, Mike and his best friend, I forget what his name is already, Justin Bruening’s character, we’re actually lovers the whole time. Because we actually showed up to the party with the same sweater and the same pants. So we were like, maybe I slept over and I took something from his closet, and that’s literally our coming out of the closet together. And we just helped Hallmark take care of another area. Maybe they’re doing one this year. I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s probably 12 new ones.

Jeff:

Erika, I will say…

Erika:

This is a hard flash forward to a question I had, which is, will we get a sequel, perhaps titled Moved by Hanukkah? And then, you know, at the time, I think we were curious about maybe exploring your budding relationship on the west coast, but I really like where you’re taking this.

Jeff:

I fully agree.

Josh:

Maybe that’s the big plot twist. I go out with Vanessa to the west coast, and it’s like, no. I miss Reed. That was his name. And yeah, we really explore a lot more things out west.

Jeff:

I’ve got to say, your scenes together, I felt, were electric. I feel like there was something there. I fully do.

Josh:

It was fun.

Jeff:

So, I endorse it.

Josh:

He was, it was great to work with other people, both… I mean, Vanessa’s character, she has a big stage background, but both of the leads have been in lots of shows and movies and have a full acting career, so it was actually really great to feed off of them and their experience, and how relaxed they were, and also their approach, too. Like here, I’m looking at the script like, man, what do I do with this? And realizing that was the same for everyone. It’s like, okay, these movies are cheesy cardboard cutter, similar plotlines. People love them. That’s why they keep making them. But then it’s like, how do we try and bring something that feels real and authentic somehow to this? Anyways, it was good to experience that.

Erika:

I would just comment, you did not stand out as a lesser caliber actor. In fact, a decent part of the way through, I think I said you are by far my favorite character in this film.

Josh:

Oh, thank you. Well, thanks. Thank you.

Jeff:

I was biased. Erika was not.

Erika:

No!

Jeff:

So, that’s an authentic take.

Erika:

Yeah. So, recruiters out there, you have got some serious potential here in Josh Cassidy.

Josh:

Oh, thank you.

Jeff:

Absolutely.

Josh:

Thank you. I’d love to do something else again.

Jeff:

Now, I do have a bone to pick with you, though.

Josh:

Go for it.

Jeff:

So, throughout the film, your character seems to have this object fixation. In almost every scene, you are holding something, whether it’s a coffee cup, or a champagne glass, or a pen, or a pot. Your hands are always occupied.

Josh:

Interesting.

Jeff:

What’s the backstory on Mike’s need to have his hands occupied?

Josh:

Well, really, my hands were actually separately contracted. They are their own actors.

Jeff:

Right. It was in their rider.

Josh:

So, they have their own rules, their own contracts. Like, he’s playing the writer, he’s playing the champagne glass holder. And so, they had their own things that they had to do. One of them had to have a makeover, because the one is tattooed. So, my wonderful makeup artist did an amazing job covering it up. So, maybe that’s not equal representation. Maybe there’s something that isn’t fully exposed in its authentic nature there. But you know what? There’s a role to play. My hands were down. They signed the line, and they did their job.

Jeff:

Yeah, I was trying to think back into our past, if you often had things in your hands when we were friends.

Josh:

No. I mean…

Jeff:

I feel like you do have an average, you’re an average thing in hand person, I would say.

Erika:

Yeah, that’s it.

Josh:

I don’t think I’m over the top. It’s like, the marker, I’m drawing on the board, so I’ve got to have it. The mug, I’m taste testing, so hey, I have to be interacting. The champagne glass just got shoved to me, like hold this, you’re drinking champagne, it’s a party. But you know what, maybe it’s just that my hands were such great actors, it was like, you’re just drawn to them, like oh my god, those are their own roles happening on this film. So, you know what, I’d like to see what roles they have in the future.

Jeff:

It’s true. Yeah. You can’t question the artist, right?

Josh:

No, that’s right.

Jeff:

The artist just knows what to do.

Josh:

Yeah.

Erika:

You mentioned sampling drinks, and correct me if I’m wrong, but was this from the scene with barista Vanessa, and there was a bit of a remarkable moment there, or a memorable moment there. The conversation takes a little bit of a detour.

Josh:

Right. I know what you’re talking about.

 

[Clip begins from “Swept Up By Christmas”]

Mike:

Maybe a little travel thrown in for good measure.

Vanessa:

I haven’t had the chance for that yet, but I mean, I’d love to. I started working when I was 16.

Mike:

I joined the army young, too.

Vanessa:

But you got to travel a lot?

Mike:

Not as much as I would have liked. I was quartermaster in Afghanistan, and I went out on a supply run. An RPG overturned my transport and crushed my L4. So, travel plans were postponed. I came home to Windale, and a year later met Reed at the VA, and like so many, we needed a do-over. So, let’s get to the good stuff. Yuletide first, right?

 

[Clip ends]

Erika:

I’m sharing Jeff’s observation here, that your character comes a little bit out of left field with this disability origin story.

Josh:

Yes.

Erika:

So, can you tell us, was that intended? Was that something that you asked for, or had questions about?

Josh:

It was in the script. That was a part that was changed a bit, because I had the disability part. The other line part was changed in there, and I don’t remember what it was off the top of my head. But I had a lot of conversations with the director, Philippe, who was just awesome, and it was like, okay, this is Mike’s kind of moment. He tells his story, and it’s obviously, it feels shoved in, but it actually, if it holds weight, then it can be an emotional hook or whatever, to give him some depth into understanding who he is a bit. Okay, obviously it’s a bit forced, and all of the sudden in the background, but it’s about traveling, and okay. He also closes it with sort of, I’m getting sidetracked here.

Josh:

So, on one hand, it was sort of like, okay, he just got sidetracked going off into a story. On the other hand, that’s totally what it was, was how do we put this in here to give some weight. So, I mean, it was… you know what, I didn’t have a big problem with it. It was fun, and it was challenging, because in this one, all of the sudden, line-for-line, and then I got a monologue with this little story, and you go through all in one take. One sentence is happy, then it’s expressing good memories, then it’s like, I lost my legs, but hey, everything is okay. And it’s like this sort of way that I had to try and…

Josh:

I think what was on, there wasn’t anything left on the cutting room floor, but the take, I liked the take much better, and I remember that I finished a full take, and they said cut, and everyone who was on set kind of applauded it. So, I know I did a good job with it because it was taking on this whole thing. But yeah, I also didn’t want it to just end like, oh, nevermind that, too. I kind of wished that it could have gone on longer, but I’m like, you know what, that’s what a supporting character is, is trying to inject a little something, but it’s not really about you, too. So, I don’t know.

Jeff:

Contrary to the reviewer’s desire.

Josh:

Right. Yeah. They did do one Hallmark last year. I can’t remember her name. Maybe you know here. She was like, she won an Emmy, from Oklahoma.

Jeff:

I do. Ally.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Yep.

Josh:

Did you see that one? Because I never saw it.

Jeff:

I have not. I wanted to come to your film as a purist, so I actually am never going to watch another hallmark movie ever again.

Erika:

Save it.

Jeff:

Not because they’re bad, but because I’m a Josh Cassidy purist. So, Hallmark, if you want my money, you need more Josh Cassidy. That’s the deal.

Josh:

I mean, exactly.

Jeff:

Yeah. The Josh-verse, in the Hallmark world. Yeah, I think that Lennard Davis talks a lot about how, as soon as disability is in the film, there’s this mandatory explanation of it. Like, that disability can’t just exist. It has to be grounded, it has to be situated, and that tends to come in these sort of origin stories. And so, obviously your character gets an origin story, but we don’t really get an origin story from Reed. Was it… The only way we know that Reed is a soldier is because he uses soldier talk at the end of sentences sometimes.

Josh:

Like, I’m supposed to be… Those feel forced to me, these little soldier talk force-ins. And I’m like, I grew up in the military. I know people in the military, and there’s some things that are naturally a part of it, and there are other things that feel kind of forced. But agreed, there is backstory with him, but you’re trying to work it out through the whole film and piece it together. Because as a supporting actor to him and his best friend, I’m trying to piece together, oh, this line. So, this means he had a past relationship, and oh, he left the military at this stage. So it’s like, after it you kind of piece together who he is, rather than just getting it, right?

Jeff:

It’s a slower burn. Yeah, it’s a much slower burn.

Josh:

But I wanted to, yeah. I mean, what was your feeling on it, though? On me…

Erika:

We had a, definitely I think we had the experience. We watched the films together. And we definitely had the experience of trying to piece together the backstory of that character, and we had a theory running for a while that there was a plot coming with him having PTSD. And because we, against the backdrop of these hyper gender roles, he was showing a little more emotionality than might have been expected.

Josh:

Yeah, yeah.

Erika:

And so, we thought maybe that’s where that was going to foreshadow. And you know, maybe that was there. Maybe, I don’t know if you can…

Josh:

I mean, I feel like it was, but at the same time, that’s probably why they fell flat too. Like, oh no, Justin’s this perfectly chiseled, good-looking guy. But I mean, that would have made it more interesting if they actually side plotted a little bit to more like PTSD, because that’s what he was trying to show and put through a little bit, obviously, from these little tics and attitude and all of that, right?

Erika:

That’s the future Hollywood film though, right? That busts out of the Hallmark universe.

Josh:

Right, yeah. That’s too far. And also why the brush off at the end of my store. Like, yeah, my back got crushed, but anyways, back to our Christmas story, you know? This is emotional. Don’t get too emotional. We got it.

Jeff:

It was a really, yeah. I felt like, I was like, whoa, things just got hyper serious for a split second, and then was like, back on with the program. And I’m like, I get it. This is supposed to be a movie about love and romance, and kind of softcore, in some ways. You have this titillating dialogue back and forth, right?

Josh:

Yeah, agreed. It is kind of, it is rushed, but you just try and do what you can with it. I got… I mean, maybe it’s also just in our position, because I did get messages from other people that were like, this part, that was so good, or that was really convincing, and whatever, whatever. So, yeah, I know that we’re probably so much more hyperaware of it, too, in our positions.

Jeff:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the moral of the story is, if you’re on a date and the partner brings up travel, your best bet is to follow it up with how, on the last time you were traveling, your spine was crushed after an IED attack. Love is in the air. Now, I’ve got to know, was your character always intended to be a wheelchair user?

Josh:

Yes.

Jeff:

Or did you get the role, and they were like, oh, wheelchair user?

Josh:

No, no. It was intended, yeah.

Jeff:

Cool.

Josh:

And I mean, what I appreciated about the director too was, he’s telling me about one of his friends who also uses a wheelchair, and was describing him and who he is and mindset, and all that kind of stuff. And it was one of the early discussions that we had. I’m like, how recent did Mike get paralyzed? Because that changes how I would portray the character, as well. Like, is he still working through this? Is he whatever? And he’s like, no, no, this is done with. He’s dealt with it. He’s happy. He’s good. What you kind of brought just naturally in our first talk interview before even reading the script is the type of energy and mindset that I want to give this character. So, it wasn’t too much diving crazy. It was more of accentuating certain things for myself to try to bring to it, then. But yeah, so I mean, conversations like that, I appreciated, because that changes totally a character’s perception or how they’re portrayed.

Erika:

So, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the Fries test?

Josh:

No.

Erika:

Jeff most likely is, but for Josh, for the audience, and Jeff, correct me if I’ve got this wrong, but as I understand, the Fries test is testing essentially the quality of disability representation in media.

Jeff:

Yeah.

Erika:

So, it’s based on, I believe it’s based on a gender test.

Jeff:

Yeah, the Bechdel test.

Erika:

Bechdel test, okay, which the questions are basically like, does the work have, in the gender test, does the work have at least two women in it? Do they talk to each other? And if they talk to each other, do they talk about something other than a man?

Josh:

Right, right, right.

Erika:

Right? And so, the fries test, which I presume is named for Kenny Fries?

Jeff:

Kenny Fries, yeah.

Erika:

Asks, does the work have more than one disabled character? Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose, other than the profit of a non-disabled character? And is the character’s disability not eradicated by curing or killing? And this is why I would…

Jeff:

And this movie passes!!!

Erika:

It does! That’s where I was going with the PTSD trope, was that I think it’s implied enough that Reed has PTSD that we could say that we have two disabled characters, who are interacting, who have their own narrative purpose, and neither of them is cured or killed.

Josh:

Right. Wow.

Jeff:

Exactly. Absolutely. I honestly, like I said, from the very beginning, hat tip to Hallmark, I think, on this test.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

I mean, say what you will about Christmas movies, but I think this was a really progressive film, when it comes to disability representation. Not where I thought I would find it, but here we are.

Josh:

Yeah. No, it’s great. It’s great. Especially a company like that, that does so many movies and has so much pull, and is so mainstream. Like, I didn’t even realized how much it was playing in other countries until this year when it came out. So, it’s great, and I hope that, I know they’ll make another dozen or two dozen this year, so I hope they’re doing more that are continuing that trend and with other minorities, as well.

Erika:

I think you’ve already spoken to this a bit, but just to name the question and hear an answer, what do you think this film got right?

Josh:

Hmm. Okay. Well, on the production side, everyone was just fantastic. They did their best to accommodate, whether it was putting in ramps or figuring things out for accessibility, and where there wasn’t, they just constantly were like, if you need anything, let us know. If we’re doing something wrong, or you need something better or different, let us know. And then, the amendments with the script. They took my feedback. They amended that to keep accuracy. And I can’t remember what the other point was on sensitivity, so you know what, it was a great experience from that perspective.

Josh:

And then, yeah, from the film, I mean, I don’t know. People love it. It’s your typical Hallmark Christmas, light. I mean, that’s what it is. That’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s why people watch them so much. We’re in a time where there’s so much stress and so many weird, crazy, horrible things going on, and people turn this on to just have something that’s a feel-good movie. So, they obviously got that right, and had some good emotional little hooks and things that made it a cute little story. So, yeah, it was a good experience, and great to have that opportunity to be a part of.

Jeff:

Well, what would you say is something that you would hope that other productions could learn from this film? Were there any innovations in the way the you filmed it using the wheelchair, or things that you learned in the production process that you’re like, yeah, I hope that filmmakers actually carry this forward?

Josh:

You know, the same parallels to my childhood and school and gym class, with teachers that got it right, as they did with this work experience. It’s basically just people asking questions, what do you need? And being receptive and listening, and just trying to do whatever is possible to make things accessible, and just feel normal and smooth without any barriers. So, taking the initiative on the first part is appreciated, even if it’s gotten wrong. If there’s an intention and effort, that’s always appreciated. And it’s being receptive and checking in. Often, they checked in more than enough with me with things. It definitely makes you feel comfortable. You never have to really worry about anything, and that’s what’s fantastic.

Josh:

Some of the harder things are what’s in advance, a set to prove, and they haven’t quite thought of, oh, jeez, this is on the third flight of stairs, and we had to overcome something like that. But you also realize the position too, and things are going to be missed, because it’s not all about the supporting character per se either. So, when it comes up and it’s realized, what action do you take, and how do you adapt and try to amend it? So, as long as that’s the approach, I don’t think you can ever go wrong or be at really any fault.

Erika:

And maybe lastly, thinking back on some of your experiences and this move from athletics towards the big screen, do you have any advice for young disabled actors who are maybe trying to break into that industry?

Josh:

Jeez, I don’t know. I don’t really actively pursue too much. Like, I see casting calls, things come my way. I respond to them. Obviously, all these things about accessibility, I don’t think you need to go over again. Just voice if you need something. I think the general narrative for actors with disabilities is how they’re represented, and speaking up if there’s something that you feel is better changed. And otherwise, it’s just doing what you do. You don’t have to do anything different, just making sure that you’re being treated yourself with the role that you feel you should play.

Josh:

And I mean, hopefully I would just like to, like I said, see more where you know that obviously there’s going to be a lot of stories. I want to see stories more too where there’s people that go through some challenge or injury or disability with a hook, and that doesn’t just have to be a full, lifetime thing. That could be a like a sports injury. Those are stories about overcoming adversity and resiliency, but my life day to day every day isn’t constantly some of those major hurdles and challenges at this stage, either. I just want to go have fun and play a role with the character depth that’s obviously formed at its base from some experience, but there’s a lot more layers and a lot more things to be explored, where… I’m looking forward to the day where, yeah, we see some people in roles where there doesn’t actually have to be anything about their disability that needs to even be talked about, because there’s enough other depth there that’s brought to the character’s story.

Jeff:

Yeah. I think that’s so true. But unfortunately, on this podcast, you are not going to find those movies. That is not what we are in the business of, my friend.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

We’re here for the filth.

Josh:

Yeah, the filth. Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t have too much dirt to dish. I mean, the hiccups that happened were so minor, and so I’m grateful for my experience and the people I was with. But it’s obviously things like this podcast which helps bring light to it, and which has brought like to these things, which made my experience better. And there’s still a lot more out there where I hear of other experiences that are not the same. So, great to bring awareness, for sure.

Jeff:

Yeah. Shout out to Hallmark. We’re going to carry your water. I might actually watch another Hallmark Christmas movie in your honor.

Erika:

And I’m waiting for the Hallmark Hanukkah.

Josh:

Yes.

Jeff:

I will gladly watch a Hanukkah movie. Let’s do it, Hallmark.

Josh:

Good luck with that.

Jeff:

I mean…

Erika:

Why, Hallmark? Why are you allowing Adam Sandler to own this niche?

Josh:

Yeah.

[Outro music: folky punk riff with horns and guitars from Ramshackle Glory’s “War on Christmas”]

Jeff:

And thus concludes the first half of season one of Invalid Culture. I hope you have been enjoying your time with us. We have certainly enjoyed watching and talking about some horrible films. If you like us and you want to give us a little Christmas present, why don’t you head on down, give us a little like or a comment on Apple music, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. But perhaps most importantly, a heartfelt and legitimate happy holidays, best of luck, and just a moment of peace and quiet to all of you over the winter break. We will see you all back in the new year, January, with another great episode of Invalid Culture. Take care, and we will talk to you soon.