Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Jeremy Kirk gets hungry for the ridiculous and listens to the commentary track for ‘Cannibal! The Musical.’
We weren’t really sure if last week’s Commentary Commentary was gross enough for the lot of you. So a poll was taken – it pretty much consisted of Brian Salisbury and myself – and it was decided the ante needed to be upped this week. Especially in honor of Fantastic Fest, we felt it was time to really turn on the gore and mindlessly fun commentary tracks. So we’re heading back with the South Park boys to Cannibal! The Musical, Trey Parker’s first feature film which was subsequently picked up by Lloyd Kaufman and the fine (?) people at Troma Entertainment.
What we got shocked and amazed even our gore-filled hearts and minds. A grotesque but absolutely hilarious look at the real-life trial of Alferd Packer, a 19th Century prospector who was accused of cannibalism in Colorado. The film isn’t the most accurate depiction of the events, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t entertaining. Equally entertaining is this commentary track featuring cast, crew, and ample amounts of consumed alcohol, something most commentary tracks are lacking in. Here’s what we found out. Note: it isn’t much.
Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Commentators: Trey Parker (writer, director, producer, actor), Dian Bachar (actor), Jason McHugh (producer, actor), Matt Stone (co-writer, executive producer, actor), Andy Kemler (executive producer, actor), scotch, wine, beer, and LOTS OF IT!
- Right off the top, during the first scene, Parker mentions it was one of the last things they shot. McHugh steps in and says it was one of the first things they shot. This will not be the first disagreement held between the commentators here, but we’ll get to more of that momentarily.
- About $4000 were spent on the special effects in this opening scene, one of the more expensive single moments of the film. The commentators note it all ended up on screen. “This is where production value comes right here,” says Parker as his Alferd Packer is beating Dian Bachar’s George Noon with an obviously fake arm.
- According to Parker, the courtroom scenes were shot in the actual courtroom where Alferd Packer was tried in in Lake City, Colorado. During their Spring Break, the cast and crew took a tour of actual locations where Packer had been and shot. Parker notes it didn’t really matter, because no one would know anyway, and the sound on this set was atrocious.
- The man playing the judge is actually Parker’s father, Randy Parker. The speech he gives later is from the actual letter the judge used when sentencing Packer.
- At 2:35, the commentators take their first announced swig of alcohol. It’s fair to note the times here, because this won’t be the last of these they do.
- Parker notes the “But that’s not the way it happened” bit of dialogue cutting into the opening credits is a reference to the Star Trek episode, “Court Martial,” where Captain Kirk says the same thing in the opening.
- Parker mentions how long and drawn out the opening credit sequence is. His goal was to mimic a Rodgers and Hammerstein opening that included an overture of all the songs that were to come. “It was before I knew that you really need to speed things up in a movie,” he notes.
- At 4:08 another swig of scotch is taken. Parker invites everyone at home to drink along with the commentary. The idea of a drinking game is broached, but Parker can’t think of any good moments where everyone needs to take a drink. Fair enough. Just drink when you want, I guess.
- Matt Stone is listed as Matthew Stone in the opening credits, and it’s pointed out that he changed his name to help get chicks. “Has it helped?” asks McHugh. “It hasn’t done shit for me,” replies Stone. Matt or Matthew. I think they both replied to that one.
- “We didn’t know a lot about filmmaking, and we didn’t know that you don’t start a film with a boring conversation,” Parker said. He mentions that, as they’ve learned with South Park, story isn’t really important.
- The exteriors of the town were filmed at Buckskin Joe Frontier Town & Railway in Canon City, Colorado. In fact, Parker notes during scenes shot later here that they couldn’t afford extras, so the town looks desolate. A number of westerns have been filmed here including the original True Grit, Cat Ballou, and Lightning Jack. This isn’t information taken from the commentary. I had to look this up, and I’m glad I did. It’s been years since I’ve thought of Lightning Jack or Paul Hogan. Thanks, IMDB!
- When we first see Alferd Packer in the jail cell, he is putting together a dollhouse. This was taken from true life, as Packer would put together dollhouses in his jail cell to pass the time. “What we thought was important was realism,” notes Parker, “And not that people would be like, ‘Why the hell is he building a dollhouse?’”.
- Parker mentions the worst experience filming Cannibal! was in wearing the fake beards, which, as he comments, are totally lifelike. The inexperienced makeup team used crepe hair and spirit gum. “It just immediately puts you in a bad mood as soon as you put them on,” says Parker who also notes he swore never to wear a crepe hair beard ever again. “Of course, now I do every day.” Evidently Crepe Hair Beard Day is huge around the South Park offices.
- Liane the horse was named after a girl Parker was engaged to for a year. As Parker notes, they were high school sweethearts, plans were made for the wedding, and a month before the wedding, Liane began sleeping with a guy in an Acappella group. “Because, you know, he had stuff going on,” says Parker. This broke Parker’s heart, and Cannibal! The Musical was, in fact, written for Liane. “Just so I could ridicule her,” says Parker. We’ll be hearing more about Liane later in the commentary after a few more shots of scotch. Stick around.
- For the song “Shpadoinkle,” Parker had written the lyric “The sky is blue and all the leaves are green/The sun is as warm as a baked potato/I think you know exactly what I mean/It’s a *blank* day.” He couldn’t figure out what word should be added there. They had to shoot something, and he figured he could just throw in a meaningless word then and there to be dubbed over later. He played it for the rest of the crew, and they agreed the nonsensical word worked.
- According to Parker, about 15 different horses were used for Liane, and they all look completely different from one another. If you pay close attention, the colors range from dark brown to very light tan as the film progresses. Also the horse gets much larger as the film goes on.
- All the film teachers the cast and crew had at the time are in the scene in the canyon. Among the actors is noted experimental director Stan Brakhage, who plays George Noon’s father in this scene. At 12:51, upon Brakhage’s exit from the film, the commentators give a cocktail clap and take another drink.
- “Just a bunch of gay miners,” says Stone kicking off a story from Parker about bringing the film to Hollywood in their early 20s. “Everyone was so sure we were all gay,” remembers Parker. “And, now that you see it, of course you would think we’re all gay.” This would come up again in subsequent songs.
- The actor playing the Voice of Doom the group comes across early in their trek is Aubrey Strafferd, the “official Alferd Packer look-alike.” Parker mentions what a horrible actor he is and actually went in afterwards to dub over the man’s lines.
- At 18:20 Parker notes the scotch is going to his head now. Good thing the movie’s almost over…oh, wait!
- During one scene, Ian Hardin is seen reading Homer’s “Odyssey,” a foreshadowing to the cyclops later in the film. In fact, Parker mentions there is a lot of unnecessary foreshadowing/setup to later scenes or lines of dialogue. When Matt Stone’s James Humphries mentions in the store that they have fudge, it’s a setup to the “fudge, Packer” line that would come later in the film. Parker notes they didn’t realize at the time they didn’t have to do that.
- Parker notes that if he were to change anything in the film, he would add Jabba the Hut. “We had a scene with Jabba the Hut, and it got cut.” He also mentions he would cut it down to a 12-minute long film.
- During the song “That’s All I’m Asking For” Jason McHugh mentions the “cans” on the boom girl. This is a long way from the only time she would be brought up, especially by McHugh, who evidently had an obsession. It’s a few minutes later before Parker mentions her name, Kimberly Kidder. She had just broken up with Andy Kemler before shooting had begun. “Now she must be 50 or 60,” notes Parker. “But at the time, she was the same age we were.” She also appears later in the film as the saloon girl who hits Parker over the head with a bottle.
- Also during the song “That’s All I’m Asking For,” when the group is singing and walking toward the camera, you can clearly see Parker say “Cut” at the end of the shot.
- At 24:43 Parker notes this will be the best director’s commentary track ever. Considering we’re only 25 minutes into the movie, and I’m starting to get Carpal Tunnel, I might be inclined to agree. It’s also here where Parker and McHugh mention they’ve tackled half a bottle of scotch. Just for those of you at home who are keeping tabs.
- At 27:00, Parker mentions the line coming up is the one he wanted his ex-fiance Liane to sit in a theater and hear. The line is, “She didn’t just take off. We’re friends. Friends don’t just take off.” Sick burn.
- The scene where the group fords the river was filmed at the Gunnison River. The cast just jumped into the river unnecessarily, which they realize now was pretty dangerous and quite stupid. The current was much stronger than they had anticipated, and, in the long shot from across the river, you can tell the river pulling them away. “We could have been right on the edge, but we really are fucked right here,” notes Parker.
- The song “When I Was On Top Of You,” the one where the commentators mention Parker looks like Paul Stanley, was Parker’s favorite. He mentions he wrote this for Liane. “Because I remember when I was on top of her.” It’s here where Parker and Jason discuss where Liane lives now. “You know we’re probably getting too specific here,” says Parker.
- And in come the Japanese Indians. They were students from the University of Grand Junction the crew met that morning. According to Jason McHugh, they were the only two Japanese people in Grand Junction. Masao Maki, who plays the Chief, is the owner of Sushi Zanmai in Boulder, Colorado. He also sings Karaoke every night. Parker says they put him in the movie, because they knew they would get a year’s worth of free sushi if they did.
- The green coat Parker wears throughout the film was his great grandfather’s coat from World War I, army issued. “It looks kind of Elton John,” says McHugh, who goes onto say it’s still in their warehouse, and, if he finds it, he’s selling it on eBay.
- When Matt Stone is speaking to the Japanese Indians, he signs when he translates back to the group. What he is signing says, “Jesus Christ is dead.” What the Japanese Indians are saying in certain parts, which was ADRed by Parker, was “I hate you. You’re stupid,” and “This is a really stupid movie.”
- If you listen closely, when Dian Bachar is turning away from talking to the Japanese Indian girl, you can hear him jiggle his keys in his pocket. “You fucking shithead!” yells Stone.
- During “Trapper Song,” the commentators debate whether or not E flat is the relative minor of F sharp. 30 seconds later of hearing about “quarter steps” and “the Mixolydian scale” and McHugh’s cry of “That’s fucking bullshit, dude” I still don’t know. It’s right after this Parker mentions they haven’t been keeping track of when they were drinking. Naturally, a drink follows. It should also be noted everyone is sounding well into inebriation at this point.
- At 48:55, someone off mic mentions it being 11:00. There’s clearly a cut in the commentary, and everyone comes back with McHugh questioning if this was where they left off. Not sure if it was a beer run, if someone had to feed the meter, or what. Where are the tapes for those missing minutes? Conspiracy!
- Parker during the “This Side of Me” scene: “See, if this was a Sting song, everyone would be like, ‘Wow. What a great fucking song’, but because it was me no one fucking gave a shit. If this were fucking Sting…fuck you, Sting.” He then drinks more scotch.
- Between 53:47 and 56:18, the commentators banter and argue back and forth about where each shot in a few scenes were filmed. I still don’t know what was filmed in Loveland and what was filmed in Flagstaff, but it’s hilarious to hear a bunch of drunks argue about it. Punches were close to being thrown. “This is why we didn’t make a sequel,” says Parker. McHugh mentions a sequel was planned, Alferd Packer: Trouble in Jamaica.
- Edward Henwood, who plays one of the trappers, also plays the Cyclops. The puss shot out of the Cyclops’ eye was cream soda.
- There are a number of alien heads hidden throughout Cannibal: The Musical. When Israel Swan is singing “Let’s Build a Snowman,” one of the shots of the snowman has an alien head, but it’s seen for only a split second.
- At 1:00:28, the commentary disappears and the film’s full volume comes in. The commentary comes back at 1:04:06. Parker says they had a technical malfunction. Some say “technical malfunction.” Others say “beer run.” Conspiracy!
- And at 1:05:28 the literal farting into the microphone begins.
- While shooting Cannibal!, Parker watched Alive, the drama from 1993 about a ruby team trapped in the mountains. He noticed the characters in that film had a problem with eating one another for sustenance, but once they do they cut right into a dead man’s ass. This inspired Parker in the scene where the group decide to eat Jon Hegel’s character. They then go around the room asking what part of a body they would eat first.
- Parker took the idea of the dream sequence from Oklahoma!, and is quite proud of his stand-in’s bulge while wearing tights. “Oh, he stabs me, but he really didn’t, because it’s a dream,” notes Parker, slurring most of that to the point of being near unrecognizable.
- When Packer wakes from this dream, he scream, “Ike!” This was taken from the 1980 film, The Legend of Alfred Packer, wherein the character awakes from a dream screaming, “Ike!” for no discernible reason. Parker carried it over as a joke.
- Parker at 1:11:07 recollecting on Liane: “Because Liane wasn’t really with a dirty trapper. She was with a dirty fucking Acappella singer guy, and now she’s with the manager of Foley’s. Ooh! Hi, I’m worth $7 million, and she’s with the manager of Foley’s. Whoops!”
- When Ian Hardin’s character is hit in the face with the clever, he turns and mutters, “Children,” for no apparent reason. This was the beginning of Parker and Stone developing Chef for South Park.
- Parker at 1:17:32: “By the way everyone, a scotch buzz is the best buzz in the world.”
- Marty Leeper, who plays the Sheriff of Saguache, was incredibly hung over in his scene. Everyone agrees he was a little bit of a juicer, and even forgot one of his lines. The line was supposed to be, “You know what they say about sunrise, that’s when there aren’t any fish.” He couldn’t remember the end part about the fish. This take was used, and you can clearly tell he gets lost before walking out of frame.
- Parker out of nowhere and with no provocation: “He manages Foley’s. The guy she dumped me for that was in the Acappella group. You know what he does now? Guess what he does now. He sells insurance. Hello! He sells insurance in Denver. Thanks. Whoops!”
- At the opening of the scene at the saloon near the end, the sound had been lost. When they went into ADR the scene, they didn’t know what everyone had said and had to improvise. “Drink-ee-poo” came out of this improvisation.
- In the saloon scene, out of all the ADR work they did on this film, they actually had Ted Henwood suck helium between takes. According to Parker he was about to pass out a number of times.
- At 1:26:24 the conversation turns to what the commentators will do after they finish recording. Evidently a place called 4Play was open for two more hours.
- During a shot in the hanging scene, Matt Stone is dressed as a woman sitting on the porch of the lawyer’s office. He wanted to dress as a woman in the movie, and they found this one scene where he could.
- According to Parker, Liane was a dance choreographer. He had her choreograph the dance sequence in the hanging scene. He still doesn’t know why he did that other than to show her he was making a feature film. MTV was on set that day. You can see her in the front of a few big group shots. “She made a habit out of putting herself in the front,” digs Parker.
- Over the closing credits, Jason McHugh actually gives out Dian Bachar’s phone number, but it’s been distorted beyond recognition.
- The last thing we hear before the commentary ends is, “Hey, Dave, you know what? You want a piece of me? Fuck you, man!” And scene!
Best in Commentary
“Dude, this is gonna be the best director’s track ever.” – Trey Parker
“I’m so fucked up, you guys.” – Trey Parker
Such a crazy commentary for an insane movie. Only Trey Parker and his crew could get away with drinking an exuberant amount of alcohol while recording a commentary, but so many more commentaries should take this same angle. It’ll provide a lot less insight, something the people doing this commentary were still capable of, but a whole lot more farting into the mic. Just look at the amount of items picked up during this commentary.
Sure, most of them are one lines, not exactly deep analysis, but this isn’t exactly Christopher Nolan we’re talking about here. Not much more can be said here that wasn’t said in the body of the article. Now who wants a drink?
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