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Puppetmasters   |   06 October 2004

At a moment in history when America appears so deeply divided between right and left, red states and blue states, Trey Parker and Matt Stone stand united: They "fuckin' hate fuckin' puppets."

The problem is that these still young but rapidly aging mavericks who brought the world South Park and the 1999 feature South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut are trying desperately to finish Team America: World Police , a $32 million major motion picture starring a Special Forces unit of five puppets (Lisa, Chris, Sarah, Joe and Spottswoode) who battle terrorism and "put the 'f' back in 'freedom.' " The team also screws up regularly - shooting terrorists and non-terrorists alike, and using high-tech weapons that end up destroying the Egyptian pyramids and most of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower. That's when they recruit Gary, an actor, to infiltrate the hide-out of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, who aims to -- what else? -- obliterate the globe. Today Parker, 34, and Stone, 33, are really feeling the pressure. They were scheduled to blow up the miniature Louvre before lunchtime, but those damn marionettes kept getting their strings tangled.

True to South Park form, Team America features some real shock and awe, including puppet hero Gary (think of a substantially more wooden Tom Cruise or Ben Affleck) and puppet heroine Lisa ("Our hot 1986 Top Gun Kelly McGillis," reports Stone) actually, well, fucking. Parker and Stone aren't settling for mere missionary penetration. Team America is the Kama Sutra of puppet sex, including positions that invite splinters and redefine the term woody. Then there's the golden-shower sex scene, the first in the history of puppet cinema. No complaints, please. If two consenting twenty-two-inch puppets aren't free to urinate and defecate on each other in the context of a loving relationship, haven't the terrorists won?

Most of that scene may end up on the cutting-room floor -- a future DVD extra for enlightened degenerates. Blame the ratings board, which puts limits on what an R-rated movie can get away with even if the parties involved have no real flesh to bare. "It's a back-and-forth with the board," Parker says. "They said it can't be as many positions, so we cut out a couple of them. We love the golden shower, but I guess they said no to that. But I just love that they have to watch it. Seriously, can you imagine getting a videotape with just a close-up of a puppet asshole, and you have to watch it?"

Parker and Stone want out of puppet hell. "I am in more pain than I've ever been in my life," Stone says as he stands in a Culver City, California, soundstage on a hot August day. Parker appears no less miserable about pulling the strings. "We had the idea a while back it would be so fun to do a shitty little puppet movie," Parker says, mentioning his and Stone's affection for the 1964 British marionette cult favorite Thunderbirds . "But suddenly this turned into a gigantic puppet movie. If someone showed up now and said, 'Trey, you know, I'm a director and I will finish this film for you for $3 million,' he would so have $3 million in his pocket, like that."

Parker ponders his situation for a moment, then promises, "I'm going to find a director I really hate and say, 'Hey, you should do the sequel. It's really fun.'

"Basically, every single shot is a problem," adds Parker, as he looks toward the Battling Bush punching bag that a colleague has brought here as a gift. Also nearby are piles of DVDs of puppetless action flicks for reference, such as Top Gun . "Whatever we're supposed to do in a scene, we discover puppets absolutely cannot do that. Every day here is like a gigantic math problem, one after the other. You seriously get to the point where if someone comes up to you and says, 'Let me ask you a question about this,' you just want to fuckin' punch them in the face."

So let me ask you one more question: What do you think is harder -- running a war on terrorism or a running a movie with puppets about a war on terrorism?

"Oh, running a war on terrorism would be fucking cake," Parker says without hesitation, a sweet but mischievous grin appearing on his troublemaking baby face. "Tell a soldier to kill someone, and you know he will just go and do it. Tell a puppet to go kill someone, and it's going to be taking five fuckin' days."

WHITE HOUSE ANGER AT HOLLYWOOD ELECTION SURPRISE: PARAMONT PUPPET MOVIE TO MOCK TERROR WAR

So read the Drudge Report headline about Team America: World Police -- a grabber sure to bring more buzz than any ad ever could. A senior Bush adviser was quoted as saying, "I really do not think terrorism is funny, and I would suggest Paramount give respect to those fighting and sacrificing to keep America safe."

This is not the first time Parker and Stone have run afoul of the Bush White House, which was reportedly less than thrilled with their short-lived 2001 Comedy Central series, That's My Bush! But the true political persuasions of Parker and Stone remain somewhat unclear, possibly even to the guys themselves.

The two claim to split their vote so they don't actually have to go to the voting booth. As to how Team America will turn the political tides and decide our next president, they can only laugh.

"This movie will win the election for Nader," Stone says with an exhausted chuckle. "Everyone will be so confused, they'll just vote for Nader."

Parker and Stone insist they are making a movie less about weapons of mass destruction and more about what it feels like to be an American in the post-9/11 world. Team America makes fun of movies far more than it does of anything else. They offer that the film is not anti-Muslim but rather anti-actor. Indeed, in Team America , the forces of evil are personified by Kim Jong-Il and some familiar members of the Film Actors Guild (Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Tim Robbins) -- otherwise known as F.A.G.

Parker and Stone, who first met in a film class at the University of Colorado at Boulder, are sons of a less than radical environment. Stone -- who took his SATs at Columbine High School -- and Parker seem representative of a smart and smart-ass generation that's almost post-political, as instinctively suspicious of hippie arrogance as they are amused by rampant youthful ignorance. Team America is actually their twisted puppet take on every Jerry Bruckheimer action movie, from Armageddon to Pearl Harbor.

"That's what really guided us," says Stone. "You know those 'What would Jesus do?' bracelets? We wanted 'What would Jerry do?' bracelets. And the answer is, he would blow things up."

Parker and Stone are smarter than they like to let on. And so they create a world in which Kim Jong-Il tells famed weapons inspector Hans Blix, "Hans, Hans, you're breaking my balls," before feeding him to the sharks. . . . And where a puppet of Michael Moore -- who featured Stone in Bowling for Columbine -- blows up Team America's computer, which is named I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.

"What we are trying to do is represent the rest of America," Stone says, "basically those who believe that Bush is an idiot and that Michael Moore is an idiot too. We're kind of just in the middle going, 'I don't pretend to know this shit.' "

"That's always been the South Park thing," Parker says. " Team America is a political satire, but it's less about the politics and more about emotions Americans have gone through since 9/11, or even before."

A month later, in late September, Parker and Stone are still in the editing room, only a couple of weeks away from Team America 's optimistically scheduled October 15th release date. Stone describes the deadlines they now face as "insurmountable."

Tonight the matter at hand is how to handle a key scene in which Gary proves his dedication to Team America by servicing the member of his mentor, Spottswoode.

Some on the Parker-Stone team are worried that the scene will alienate the audience. The debate turns surprisingly high-minded when Stone tries to look up the issue of sucking dick in Joseph Campbell's book on the structure of myths, but he can't decide whether to look in the index under "s" for "suck" or "d" for "dick."

Team America , says Parker, "is about what it feels like to be an American when foreign people are like, 'Fuck you, for what your country does.' It's not an argument for or against that, but about the emotions -- like, should I feel ashamed or proud?"

Still, they have no desire to swing any state. "If anyone walks out of this movie, or a Michael Moore movie, thinking about voting a different way, then they're fucking stupid and shouldn't be voting," says Stone. "If this movie makes you think that much, you're too weak-kneed to vote."

Parker and Stone now seem officially tired of hearing how Team America might impact the election. In fact, they take perhaps their strongest stand yet -- firmly against P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign. "I think just saying 'Vote or Die' is a serious danger to democracy," Stone says, as Parker breaks into a Cartman-esque voice for a mocking public-service message: "Hey, nineteen-year-old who doesn't know anything -- you choose."

"If you don't know what you're talking about, there's no shame in not voting," Stone says finally. "They say if you don't vote, you can't bitch. But you can bitch all you want. This is America."

[ source: ROLLINGSTONE ]


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