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Hipster Holy Grail: If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The blurb for people who don't like to read actual criticism:

Can you really call something a movie if it's not even a full hour long?  You can if you've been on vacation and have a deadline to meet for your movie blog.

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is a hilariously misinformed propaganda film that is so clueless it gives new meaning to the word "misguided." This is one of those rare treasures where an artist's sincere attempt at exposing "the truth" of a topic has revealed an inner ugliness and a depth of stupidity that cannot possibly be replicated by satirists, no matter how hard we try.  In just 50 minutes, it manages to cram in more non sequiturs, logical fallacies, misplaced rage, and pseudo-history than a triple feature of What the Bleep Do We Know?!, Loose Change, and The Secret.  While that might sound frustrating, its total ineptitude at dramatic tension turns this into one prolonged belly laugh.

My Rating (Weighted for ironic enjoyment):  4 / 5

The longer bits for people who like film discussion:

The Bit Wherein I Introduce Things

I've been focusing a lot on genuinely good movies as of late.  So much so, in fact, that you could easily forget that the Holy Grail has its roots in watching shitty movies for ironic enjoyment.  This week I wanted to push the pendulum in the other direction for a change, so I thought I'd switch it up with a good ol' fashioned propaganda movie.

Some brief back story.

Back in the '50s and '60s, there was this dude named Ron Ormond who produced, wrote, and directed B-movies.  A lot of them were cheesy, low-budget westerns and thrillers that would later go on to become sources of joy and inspiration for movie Hipsters all over the country.  Life was good.

Then, in 1968, disaster struck: Ormond was in a plane crash.  It was a devastating accident, but fortunately, Ormond survived.  Taking it as a sign from God, Ormond declared himself a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the word of Jesus.  He moved to Nashville, Tennessee and founded a new media group, the Ormond Organization, to specialize in creating and distributing Christian films.

Around this time, Ormond met a minister / psychopath named Estus Pirkle.  Pirkle was an extremist who wrote insane literature and spearheaded a movement not unlike the Westboro Baptist Church, only more boring and significantly less competent.  With the combined power of Pirkle's mindless teachings and Ormond's bad filmmaking, the duo would go on to produce several films together to spread some vague message about Jesus.  (I'm not sure what, exactly.  Something about worship?)

Anyway, in 1971 they released their debut feature together, the cumbersomely-titled If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, hereafter called "Footmen" because there's no fucking way I'm typing that out again.

The Bit Wherein I Describe the Movie's Plot

This being a propaganda film, it's a bit hard to discuss it in terms of plot, but I'll give it a try.

Estus Pirkle is giving a sermon to his peeps about Communism.  Then we cut away to one of his parishioners, a young woman named Judy, who has been hanging out with her boyfriend instead of going to church.  Judy sneaks into the sermon about halfway through.

Pirkle tells a bunch of stories about Communism, torture, death, and copious amounts of bullshit while Judy thinks about her Dead Mom.  Back when she was Alive Mom, she told Judy that all she wanted was for Judy to accept Jesus into her heart.

As Pirkle's sermon gets more violent and his stories of Communism grow more absurd, Judy grows increasingly uncomfortable.  Things finally come to a head (this is a pun but you don't know it yet) and Judy shrieks, "No!"  Then Pirkle asks Judy if she wants to follow Jesus.  Turns out she's into it now.

The Bit Wherein I Describe the Movie's Content

Rather than talking about plot, it's probably better to describe Footmen in terms of its content.  After all, propaganda is not usually plot-heavy; propaganda is more like a documentary of a fake world.  In the case of Footmen, the fake world in question is one where Communism is pitted against Christianity.

Now... okay, wait a minute.  I need to come back to this in a second.

The Bit Wherein I Discuss Logical Fallacies and Religion

Look, I'm sure that you're not expecting me to review a propaganda film and explain why it's wrong.  It's a propaganda film.  Of course it's wrong.

But Footmen fails at its message in a spectacular way.  It is so amazingly, bafflingly stupid that it could lead you to believe in Creationism - not because it provides compelling proof of God's existence, but because you'd rather believe that a man as ignorant as Pirkle came about through the shoddy workmanship of an omniscient being rather than the sum result of 200,000 years of human evolution.

The main issue is that the movie conflates a religious dispute with a sociopolitical one.  It's the same bullshit thing you hear about whenever some dumbass on the Internet wants to prove that "atheists" are responsible for mass murders, so they try to pin the Holocaust and various other genocides on us instead of the dictatorships that actually committed them.

I'd like to assume that you're an intelligent person and don't need this explained to you.  But just in case you're young or you're not sure what I'm talking about, let me emphasize it.  Religion has nothing to do with Communism.  Communism is not atheism and atheism is not Communism and Christianity is certainly not the "opposite" of Communism or vice-versa.  Communism is a political movement.  Christianity is a religious belief.  They're two completely different things and they're not mutually exclusive.

Pirkle's assertion is that America will be conquered by an indestructible Communist force unless all Americans strengthen their devotion to Christianity.  I... how... what?!

This is the kind of blather that will stop you cold in your tracks.  Have you ever engaged in a conversation with somebody who says something so dumb that your brain actually crashes and you have to reboot?  I call it a "Divide by Zero error."

Me: "I have to make sure we serve something without meat because my sister is a vegetarian...."

Zero Divider:  "A vegetarian?!  Doesn't she know that vegetarianism is how Muslims make money to buy guns?"

Me:  "I... how... what?!"

You really only have two options when somebody makes you Divide by Zero.  One is to walk away and recover.  The other is to laugh in their face so they realize they're a goddamn idiot.

The Bit Wherein I Describe the Movie's Content (For Real This Time)

Since this movie was made by goddamn idiots, there's plentiful nonsense for you to laugh at.  It ends up being a series of short sketches of life in an alternate reality America that has been overrun by dirty Communist stereotypes.

Frequently these sketches end with the Communists "shooting" some Americans who then "get hit by bullets" and "die."  Then Ormond will pan the camera across a pile of actors laying in a ditch with ketchup smeared all over their clothes.  Roughly 12% of the movie's run-time is dedicated to piles of dead Americans.

In between the sketches, Pirkle preaches directly to the camera.  This leads to one of the movie's greatest flaws as a film - since the movie keeps cutting to Pirkle, I'm not even sure what is actually happening in the reality of the movie itself.  I think it's just supposed to be that Pirkle is telling such vivid stories about Communism that his audience is able to visualize them in perfect detail, and that's what we're seeing - but then he will occasionally say something like, "Now look at this person...."  So is Pirkle screening a film for his audience?  Are the parishioners seeing the same footage that we are seeing?  Does he have a slide projector or something?

As I mentioned earlier, the film's ineptitude is the main reason why it is actually bearable to watch.  If this movie was made well, then its message might seem believable or remotely defensible.  It might have teeth.  This sort of lunacy would be terrifying if you thought anybody would take it seriously.  But when it's coming out of the mouth of a nutball cartoon character and paired with terrible accents, shitty acting, and a subpar Burt Reynolds impersonator, it just seems zany.

Pirkle comes across as a clueless old grouch who hasn't actually been outside of his own compound in 40+ years.  You get the impression that he wasn't even aware that Hawaii was a state in 1971 or that schools were integrated.

He keeps dropping bon mots and tidbits and trivia to keep you invested in his fantasy world.  There's no need to refute every specific "fact" that comes out of his mouth - nearly all of them are so brazenly false and unsupportable that you have no choice but to laugh.  (Again, it's the Divide by Zero error.)

One of my favorites is a moment when Pirkle looks straight at the camera and informs us, "Since its invention six years ago, Communism has converted 1.1 billion followers... half of the world's population!"  It's one of those statements where literally nothing about it is correct.  In fact, just to be sure that I'm not taking crazy pills, I looked up the world population in 1971 - 3.7 billion.  Even when you play by Pirkle's rules, he's still wrong.  How does one man manage to be so ignorant about so much?

The nonsense culminates in what is meant to be the movie's emotional climax in which the Lead Communist Stooge shoots up a church full of honest Christians and then threatens a little boy.  The boy looks at a picture of Jesus and says, "Jesus, you were willing to die for me.  Today I'm willing to die for you."  The Communist then shrieks and cuts the boy's head off.

Now, let's leave aside from the obvious cognitive dissonance at play where Pirkle/Ormond somehow find the brainwashed devotion of a little boy who is willing to be beheaded for his beliefs admirable whereas the love of Communism is a dirty shame.  The simple fact is that this boy's head coming off is one of the funniest things I've seen in years.

I have re-watched the scene half a dozen times now and it's never not funny.  I've tried to pretend that the little boy is my own son, but no... it's still funny.  When this year started, I would have never guessed that I'd see a scene of any beheading - much less a child - that would make me laugh as hard as Footmen did.  Propaganda or no, that takes a special kind of talent.

The Bit Wherein I Discuss Funny Lines

Wikipedia spoils one of the movie's greatest moments, wherein Pirkle gives an example of some of the brainwashing that Communists may try to inflict on poor, unsuspecting Americans: "Communism's good.  Christianity's stupid."

But that's really just the tip of the dumbass iceberg. This movie is crammed to the gills with quotable bits of nonsense.  A sampling:

"Do you realize what effect television has on a parent trying to read the Bible?"

"If Communism comes into America, our easygoing life of 40 hours of work a week and 2-3 weeks of paid vacation a year may soon be over."

"Boys and girls, as I have previously explained, I personally believe that premarital sex is necessary."

Ah... that's some good stuff.  I wish I could come up with this shit on my own.

The Bit Wherein I Conclude Things

I don't want to pull back the metaphorical curtain around my life too far, but I need to talk about my sister-in-law's family for a minute.

[Name Withheld]'s family lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Steph and I had the pleasure to visit Chattanooga last year and I thought it was a wonderful little city - a mix of quaint, quirk, and kitsch.  And although virtually everything we did during our visit was touristy crap that could barely give us a real glimpse into the culture of the area, we did have the time to sit down and have dinner with [Name Withheld]'s family.  They're a wonderful bunch of well-educated, well-spoken, successful professionals who have lived in Chattanooga for many years.  Although they may be atypical, I can honestly say that I've met "the locals."

In this particular case, the locals are Jewish.

I won't pretend that [Name Withheld]'s family is representative of Tennessee, or of Chattanooga, or even of the particular street they live on. (I'm sure they don't pretend that, either.)  But I will go so far as to say that anybody who is proud to live in Tennessee would - should - be proud to call them neighbors.

Mr. Pirkle's philosophy, as expressed in Footmen, necessarily would lump [Name Withheld] and her family in with the Communists.  They haven't taken Jesus into their hearts as their sole Lord and Savior, so they are - through some nebulous stretch of logic - corrupting the American way of life.

It's easy for me to sit back and think that a jackass like Pirkle is full of crap just based on my personal beliefs.  But to have actually met and had dinner with living proof that he's full of more shit than the New York sewer system?  That takes this from "misguided nut" territory to "certifiably insane."

I can't help but wonder what the esteemed Mr. Pirkle would have done if he was invited to a dinner at [Name Withheld]'s house.  Would his heart have exploded once he realized that he was eating with some J-J-J-J-Jews?!

It's this kind of personal connection to the source material that makes Footmen especially hilarious.  The same way that Reefer Madness is best watched right after you've smoked a fat one.

I guess if you're so isolated that my website is the first source of information you've ever found outside of your church's collection of interestingly-shaped Bibles, then maybe you'll find something shocking or meaningful about Footmen.  However, for everybody else on the planet, I recommend a fifth of moonshine and an hour to watch this on Youtube.  It's absolutely worth your time.