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 Time Out New York 

Trey magnifique!

With Cannibal! The Musical, writer-director (-singer!) Trey Parker makes bad taste utterly toothsome

By Andrew Johnson

Trey Parker may not be as recognizable as the characters on South Park, the hugely popular cartoon he created with his college pal Matt Stone, but that may be about to change: This week, Cannibal! The Musical, a movie Parker wrote, directed and starred in (on top of penning the lyrics and cocomposing the score) begins a two-week run at Cinema Village. Parker made Cannibal! while he was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado; it's the true story of Alferd Packer, a 19th-century mountain man with the dubious distinctions of being the only convicted cannibal in U.S. history. Next week, David Zucker's BASEketball, starring Parker and Stone, opens nationwide, and September brings Orgazmo, another feature Parker wrote and directed, in which he plays a Mormon missionary-turned-porn star. Parker recently took a break from his hectic South Park duties to talk with TONY about the movie that started it all.

Time Out New York: What led you to make Cannibal!?

Trey Parker: When I was growing up in Colorado, all the folktales I heard were either things that happened in South Park - 'cause that's where all the weird shit happened - or tales of Alferd Packer. I grew up near the places where all this happened, and we'd be driving around with my folks and they'd say "Here's where Alferd Packer did this ...," so he became this folklore hero to me. I went to CU Boulder, which was totally infatuated with Alferd Packer as well. The restaurant in the student center is called the Alferd Packer Grill, they have Alferd Packer Day every year. While I was there, they dug up the remains of the bodies [of Packer's alleged meals] and did tests on them to try and find out what really happened. I made the film for the school, thinking it would be something they could show on Alferd Packer Day every year.

TONY: Did you have much of a musical background?

TP: Music has always been my major thing. I started playing the piano when I was about 12, and by the time I was 17, I was giving lessons and playing in bands. In college, I was studying classical piano, composition, stuff like that, thinking I'd move into scoring films. I took film classes just because I figured I'd learn that side of it as well ... and then we started making cartoons.

TONY: Cannibal! looks amazing for such a cheap movie, especially the gore effects in the opening scene. Did it really just cost $100,000?

TP: Yeah. The benefit of being somewhere like Colorado was, we could tell people, "Hey, we're gonna make a movie," and people were like, "Wow, really? That's cool! I wanna help!" Out here in L.A., if you tell people that, they're like, "Yeah, yeah, shut up, fuck you." We got so much support from people that just wanted the experience of making a movie, and none of us, including myself, knew what we were doing. We just did it a weekend at a time, because we were all in school.

TONY: Was it kind of a vindication to get that midnight showing of Orgazmo at Sundance after they turned down Cannibal! a few years ago?

TP: The real vindication for me would have been for them to have wanted it and to have said, "No, fuck you." But you start doing real productions with other people's money, and you don't really have that say anymore. I don't have it out for them, but it is ironic, and it was nice. But the whole independent film festival thing is a joke; it's just a microcosm of Hollywood.

TONY: What's spedoinkle mean?

TP: The truth is, a lot of the time when I write songs, I'll make up some stupid word to fill a gap, knowing how many syllables it needs to be, and when we record it, we'll replace it with a real word. I did this song for Cannibal!, and I knew it needed to be "It's a 'something' day", and it had to be three syllables. We recorded it that way 'cause I couldn't think of something, and everyone thought it was great. So I decided, we should just have people say it all the time. People in the movie say it out of happiness, out of sadness, out of anger - it's a completely meaningless word.

TONY: Was that actually [avant-garde filmmaker] Stan Brakhage in a cameo?

TP: Yeah, Stan was great. He was one of my favorite people at the film school [at UC Boulder]. He's been teaching there for years. He was one of the few people there that was completely supportive of going out and fucking around. A lot of the other film people there were like, "You're wasting your time making a movie; you should be studying theory," and Stan was like, "Fuck it, go fuck around."

TONY: Why did you credit yourself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast list?

TP: I did the same thing in Orgazmo - well, I didn't use "Juan Schwartz," but I left myself out of the opening credits. When you're watching something and you know the filmmaker is "that guy," you start watching it with a different eye.

TONY: Well, you South Park notoriety sort of defeats that now ...

TP: Yeah, that's what gets stamped on it. Things we did eight years ago get "From the creators of South Park" put on 'em. It's hard because both Cannibal! and Orgazmo are coming out, and people are getting this misconception that we went out and made these movies just now, and that between those two and BASEketball, that we've completely bastardized ourselves and made three movies in three months, which isn't the case, obviously.

TONY: You're doing a South Park movie for Paramount. Will it be further out-there than the TV show?

TP: Contractually, it has to be R-rated. We wouldn't do it otherwise. We just handed in the script, and it is so hard-core, dude. The script, as it is now, is easily NC-17. Right about now, Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount, is reading it, and she's probably scratching her eyes out.