Thursday, February 19, 2009

"I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob" - 10 Years of OFFICE SPACE

Like most people, I bypassed Mike Judge’s OFFICE SPACE in theaters when it opened ten years ago today. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t really strike me as something I felt I should see theatrically, so I never saw it. I’m not really one to “wait for the DVD” – if I don’t see something in theaters, I usually don’t see it at all – but when OFFICE SPACE hit video in July of ’99, I did feel far more compelled to check it out than I did before. What had changed was that the subject mattered had suddenly become of interest to me, because for the first time in my life, I was doing office work, as opposed to working retail or at the old HQ 10 theaters. I had been working for a subsidiary of Image Entertainment up until the previous summer, but they shut us down and I was out of a job for several months. I took this as an opportunity to take up some job training, learning Microsoft Office (which was new enough at the time that you had to take a class to learn it) and getting a job as a temp in offices throughout Morris County, NJ. It was then that I learned that a lot of the workplace clichés of sitcoms and movies actually had a ring of truth to them, and the truer the gag was, the funnier it got, which is part of why people love OFFICE SPACE so. Had I seen OFFICE SPACE in February of that year I probably would have just looked at it as a comedy, whereas by July of ’99, it became a social satire, one that I was starting to live in myself and would pop in and out of over the last decade, and one that would become more and more identifiable as time would go on, frighteningly so, in some cases.

One doesn’t necessarily have to have worked in an office setting to have liked (or loved) OFFICE SPACE, though that’s clearly why so many people identify with it. To anyone who works in a soulless office environment, fantasizing of getting out of it and doing something more meaningful (and fun) with your time is the real goal, with the office life becoming a trap that can suck you in and take away your personality and ambition. Sure, OFFICE SPACE is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy with groundings in reality; beyond just the mundane day-to-day stuff like TPS Reports and broken fax machines, the reality of layoffs and efficiency experts (not to mention asshole bosses) helps to make it a social satire that will (sadly) probably always remain relevant. That’s what’s especially interesting about looking at OFFICE SPACE in 2009, because corporate America, for all of the massive changes on the financial and technological landscape, is still as controlling and dispiriting as it ever was, like it’s another level of high school with a template design that is impossible to stray from. All the credit must go to Judge for putting all of this into a context that captures this essence so very well while still making it fresh and funny. THE APARTMENT excepted, it almost feels as if no one had ever made a proper workplace comedy before OFFICE SPACE, like no one got it as right as Judge did, to the extent that the film has lived on like it has in a way that no was would have ever expected.

What I’ve found especially interesting about the OFFICE SPACE phenomenon – and the film’s effect on people – is to have seen it in action back on February 8 at a 10th anniversary reunion screening here in Austin that just happened to have been put together by we Alamo Drafthouse/Fantastic Fest folk. When the show was initially suggested (I can’t remember by whom; might have been me), the idea was to simply bring Judge in for a show or two (he lives in Austin) and that was it. But when we thought about it a bit more, we knew we had an opportunity to make it special, and we certainly did, renting out the Paramount Theater, Austin’s biggest theater, and bringing in as many of the cast members as we could get (Notable absences were Ron Livingston, who had prior work commitments, and Jennifer Aniston, whose people probably never told her about it). We always figured that it was going to be a successful show (wouldn’t have suggested it, otherwise), but when we sold out the 1,200 seat venue two weeks before the show began, we knew it was going to be special. And it was.

Aside from a projector glitch that denied us a clip from EXTRACT, Judge’s new film, the entire event went off like a dream. The cast were all great to deal with and quite friendly, everything went on schedule, and the whole thing as recorded for posterity by the great folks at G4’s “Attack of the Show”. But was the real surprise for me was in how the film played to this mass audience, no doubt the largest the film has ever played to. Like a crowd of Python fans watching HOLY GRAIL, they knew the film inside and out, so the first time someone said, “Seems like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays”, half the crowd spoke it back. It wasn’t quite like ROCKY HORROR and it wasn’t raging fanboy enthusiasm, either; it was all from the heart, like when even minor characters would get applause by their first appearance, and proved how special the film was to so many people. More than just a comedy, more than just a movie, it was something they could all identify with and relate to, something that spoke to them and for them, an acknowledgement of what everyone goes through on a daily basis in their struggle to get by. That may be overstating things somewhat, but the fan reaction really felt that way to me. People love this movie as more than just a mere comedy, but as a representation of the way they feel, and 10 years later OFFICE SPACE still resonates. I can understand why it’s become a modern classic.

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