Rudy Schwartz's Reviews

My parents moved us around a lot when I was a boy, and for a couple of years we lived in a small town in Ohio, where I befriended another kid named Wyman. My friends were usually a bit weird, but Wyman's principle claim to abnormality was his father. About a couple of months after I met Wyman, I spent an afternoon that seemed like a geochronological eon listening to his Dad talk about his recent interest in a 19th century Polish opthalmologist named L. L. Zamenhof.

Zamenhof was the guy who invented Esperanto, a language which he intended to be a universal communicative bridge for helping mankind achieve mutual understanding. Even in my youth this seemed a bit of a reach, but I felt pressured to hear out the full sales pitch. Wyman's Dad always wore a turtleneck and glasses with thick, black frames. He'd puff on his pipe, blowing rancid tobacco smoke over us while aimlessly muttering in a low, reverential tone about his new idol. I was too young to pick up on the depth and breadth of the weirdness, but a few weeks later Wyman gave me some news that finally registered on my fruitcake meter.

Wyman's Dad had decided to create his own language, and Wyman told me that from then on, he wouldn't be able to talk to me unless I learned to use it. He told me it was going to be called Uvantitian, and that it would be based loosely on Romanian, and some alien shit that Wyman's Dad heard one time on The Outer Limits. I kind of liked Wyman, but there was no way in hell I was going to waste time learning his Dad's goofy language just so we could hang out at the drug store and look at smut magazines together, so I stopped going over to his house.

The next time I saw him was at the monthly neighborhood pot luck dinner. Wyman's Dad walked up with his smelly pipe sticking out of a broad grin, and a styrofoam cooler full of ice cold root beer. He set down the cooler and immediately started babbling some incoherent shit that nobody understood, then made eye contact with as many people as possible, as if anticipating a lively rebuttal. Everyone just looked around awkwardly for a few seconds, then began talking to each other as if they hadn't been listening. Pretty soon, some older guy with gray hair and a red flannel shirt walked up and introduced himself as Wyman's uncle, and told us that he was there to translate for Wyman's family so that we could carry on a conversation. About half of the people began moving to some picnic tables closer to the park exit, but my Mom was in an adventurous mood, so we had to stay there and strike up some banter. The first thing we noticed was that Wyman's Dad was only speaking in sentence fragments. He'd say something to Wyman's uncle, and Wyman's uncle would chew on it for a few seconds and then look at us and say "that blue car over there," or "hot charcoals," or "horse shoes," then wait for us to respond. It took her a few minutes, but eventually my Mom figured out that Wyman's Dad had forgotten to invent any verbs with his new language. When she told him this, he looked really pissed off, pretended to not understand what she was saying, and looked over at his uncle to interpret for him. But his uncle wasn't particularly bright, and wasn't even sure what a verb was, so he started mixing English with his Uvantitian, which only made Wyman's Dad even more furious. Pretty soon all of the other families started walking back over to our table and laughing at Wyman's family, and it all ended with Wyman's Dad throwing a bottle of root beer at one of our neighbors, and the high school English teacher yelling jokes about Uvantitian not having a subjunctive mood.

Wyman's family moved away to a suburb shortly after the lamentable pot luck episode, and I rarely thought about it again until by chance I ran into him at a hardware store when we were both teenagers. He confided that his Dad never really gave up his dream, but eventually loosened the familial prohibition against English. He also told me that his Dad had begrudgingly added verbs for mowing the lawn and telling the paper boy to not throw the newspaper in the bushes, but he refused to acknowledge that these were verbs and considered the matter closed.

But what about Esperanto? Would it be fair to judge it based on the fact that someone inspired by it ended up throwing a root beer bottle at one my neighbors? Of course not. That would be like blaming accordions for The Lawrence Welk show. And for that matter, The Lawrence Welk Show is pretty goddamned hilarious if you're drunk or stoned enough. Let he who is without embarrassing personal associations cast the first sxtono, as L. L. Zamenhof might have warned us.

Besides, there's really no need to make excuses for Esperanto. First of all, it has verbs for any occasion. For example, "Des gnomo glutas des gulasxon" means "The gnome swallows the goulash." But it doesn't stop there. You can also say "Mi fikis des gubernatoron", which means "I fucked the governor." With just those two sentences, you could probably get through a job interview at CNN.

The second thing that sets Esperanto apart from Uvantitian is that it has its own William Shatner movie, which is a claim that not even Chinese or German can make. And to be honest, it's not bad. Somehow they managed to get some actors to learn a script in a language that damn near nobody speaks, then drove them up to Big Sur to shoot it, and what popped out is actually kind of creepy in its own way, once you get past the obvious frivolity of Shatner speaking in Esperanto. On top of that, the camera work is inventive, and the score is better than most films being barfed out of Hollywood these days. Maybe the "Evil Has Never Been So Seductive" tagline is a reach, particularly for anyone who ever saw Julie Newmar on the old Batman TV series, but that's a minor quibble.

Given the subject matter, an obvious comparison would be with a later Shatner film, The Devil's Rain, but this is much more watchable despite being much less over the top. As in The Devil's Rain, The Shatmeister represents purity and goodness locking horns with the forces of evil, in this case personified by Milos Milos as The Incubus, and a blonde seductress who wants Shatner to get naked with her on the beach. Milos Milos turned out to be a good choice, because in real life he would later be involved in an adulterous murder/suicide with Mickey Rooney's wife.

By the way, do you know what Mi fikis Mickey Rooney means? That's okay, because his wife didn't know either.

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