A Little Less Mirth, Music, and Mayhem

Best Show Poster

So my favorite radio show ended last night. Yes, you read that correctly, radio show. Not a podcast, not a YouTube channel, an absurdly old-fashioned medium wherein the human voice provides the bulk of the entertainment, whether it be drama, pathos, or comedy. In this case, we’re talking about comedy. An odd kind of comedy to be sure, but once the rhythms and pacing were able to fall into place and the tone was adjusted to, a brilliant kind of surreal, satirical madness… and all without the aid of obscenity (which is an accomplishment in this writer’s book, as he happens to be a big fucking fan). Tom Scharpling finally finished his 13-plus year run on WFMU, an independent, free-form radio station in Jersey City, New Jersey and the gushing accolades are pouring in, an irony both predictable and biting, as one of Tom’s many bête noires was the lack of appreciation and respect he gained toiling away for no pay. Well, as tardy as the praise may be, it’s certainly deserving. Here are some links to help journey into the world of Newbridge:

  • The Best Show Gems Archives may be the easiest place to start. These are edited, bite-sized chunks of the best routines (usually over the phone) between Tom and his foil, Jon Wurster, funniest drummer alive. There are a few exceptions sprinkled throughout, one of note: a back-and-forth between Tom and a Smirnoff Ice Regional Sales Rep played to perfection by H. Jon Benjamin.
  • The Best Show Archives are, obviously, archives of the 3-hour show in its entirety. They go all the way back to 2000, but you’ll need RealAudio to listen to the earlier episodes. It’s worth it.
  • Paste Magazine put together a decent list of the 10 best fake callers (all voiced by Wurster).
  • New York Magazine’s Vulture blog had a candid interview with Scharpling about his favorite Best Show moments.
  • Finally, The Awl assembled a comprehensive tribute soon after Tom announced the show’s final run of episodes.

There are rumors that Scharpling is planning to put together a similar show in podcast form, with an eye toward actually generating some revenue from the endeavor, which will clearly come as welcome news to listeners all over “radioland”.

Kind Words

Fortunately, there are a few film people on the collection of tubes that we call the internet who are actually thoughtful and conscientious about what they write. They were able to watch Broken and resist the trap of evaluating it on what it wasn’t, rather than what it was. Here are some of their comments:

“One interesting piece of filmmaking. The story unfolds as the fragmented memories of Todd Kellogg, played by Paul Phipps, as he hops through various thoughts and situations, the sum of which add up to his life at the moment. The film was shot on beautiful 16mm and, when it is shown in its pristine state, is something beautiful.”
Pete Bauer, MicroCinema Scene

“To really appreciate this movie you have to abandon the comparisons to “edgy” Hollywood fare like Donnie Darko and The Butterfly Effect. You’d be much better off thinking of it as a visual equivalent of the lo-fi indie rock of bands like Sentridoh and Smog. Much like that music, it can be difficult, technologically fuzzy, and often embarrassingly solipsistic. If that sounds like it’s down your alley, go for it.”
Matthew Hrachovec, Pixelzine

Broken is a great showcase for Phipps and Boland, who should go on to good indie acting careers like Martin Donovan (star of Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth and Trust), if they choose to. Meanwhile, Hollinsworth proves to be a creative filmmaker when he doesn’t have too much to work with: A creative script, two actors, a few simple locations (mainly one) and the rest created digitally. Nice.”
Mike Everleth, Underground Film Journal

“Think about the dreams you have at night. Generally they’re lacking in coherence as they jump from scene to scene, often containing imagery and events that make little sense to a waking consciousness, but while observed in a dreamstate, everything seems normal, no matter how absurd it is. Among the dream imagery we all experience from time to time, we also have bits mixed in with people we know and even dreams that relate to events we may have experienced with them or that we wish we could have experienced with them. Well that’s this movie in a nutshell. It’s a dream with much of its foundations in events that actually happened, yet peppered with surreal imagery and events that actually didn’t.”
Duane L. Martin, Rogue Cinema


BrokenWhile I’m admittedly behind the curve on this, my first feature Broken is finally available for viewing on demand: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/broken

I’ll post some reviews soon. In the meantime, here’s a blurb from our press release…

Broken wasn’t supposed to be Jay Hollinsworth’s first feature. He had just completed the cult favorite Circuit and he and Michael Mongillo had intended to shoot a low budget road movie over the summer of ’96. One lost job, new apartment, and broken-down car later, they found themselves with little money to get anything off the ground, let alone a film requiring travel, multiple locations, and car rigs. So Dairi Quick, a script Hollinsworth originally intended for a thirty minute short, was adapted and the two blindly dove in head first. What neither could foresee is how the crazed disorder on the page could so easily infect the actual making of the film. In several so-ironic-it’s-not-ironic-anymore occurrences, real life began to conspire against the forward progress of filmmaking, causing the actual production of the film to encompass over six years of the filmmakers’ lives. With the completion of the film and the benefit of hindsight, it’s actually rather difficult to view the footage now without a certain amount of art/life edge blurring. As if the intended goal was some twisted reality show from the frayed consciousness of an overmedicated frontal lobe patient. Hmmm. Well, actually…

It’s Called Gratitude

Thank You!

A word of thanks that may be late, but no less sincere… last week, we managed to reach our Kickstarter goal for funding post-production on From the Gut. It’s with a profound sense of appreciation that I post the link to a brief, but penetrating, interview with cast members Bill Wise, Jennymarie Jemison and Chris Doubek.

Also, it’s worth noting that several other campaigns for local Austin productions also managed to reach their Kickstarter goals, most notably Intramural The Movie and John Bryant’s John 3:16. Maybe Moviemaker was right.

Beautiful Untrue Things

Tribulation 99

I’ve already stated my lack of affection for the mockumentary as a genre, but as I poured through some of the films that directly inspired From the Gut, I started to realize that it wasn’t necessarily the mockumentary itself but rather the bland, TV-sitcom aesthetic that it’s spawned. It’s difficult to get through an evening of broadcast television without having to withstand the usual cardboard-cutout stereotypes that the medium has always perpetuated, but now accompanied by knowing glances at the camera and snippets of ersatz interview. There’s nothing that makes an already boring medium more insufferable than self-consciousness. It’s like having dinner with your uncle after he’s just discovered The Strokes.

It’s entirely likely that Orson Welles got this whole mockumentary thing started when he directed a radio play of War of the Worlds on Oct. 30, 1938. Clearly a fan of misinformation and ideas of authenticity, as evidenced in his final film, F is for Fake, Welles literally generated a national panic with his Mercury Radio broadcast. It’s a testament to the sophistication of the modern audience, and more importantly, the cynicism that pervades contemporary culture, that widespread hoaxes like Welles’ are few and far between. Below are ten of my favorite (in no particular order) mockumentaries. The noticeable absence of Christopher Guest and/or Spinal Tap is probably pretty glaring. Rob Reiner’s movie is brilliant and hilarious and much of what it morphed into, in the filmography of Guest, has distinctly funny moments, but it’s that self-congratulatory, pseudo-improvised schtick that has become so stale as to make it perfectly palatable for the aforementioned sitcoms, online webisodic banalities, and Sonic commercials. I decided to leave it all out completely.

  • Punishment Park – Shot during the Kent State riots, a scathing account of a Nixonian dissent-suppression program where political prisoners compete in a deadly game of Capture the Flag in a dry lake bed somewhere in the Mojave. Paranoid and hysterical until you realize things like this are done all the time. By our own government.
  • Forgotten Silver – Peter Jackson’s made-for-TV biography of unknown silent film genius and Kiwi Colin McKenzie and his costly, heartbreaking attempts to mount an epic production of Salome deep in the mountains of New Zealand. Features a great performance by Leonard Maltin… as Leonard Maltin.
  • Zelig – One of Woody Allen’s best, if most unappreciated, films. In a pastiche of black-and-white newsreels and historical re-enactments, it tells the story of human chameleon Leonard Zelig, an odd, little man who possesses the ability to take on the characteristics of any personality that surrounds him.
  • Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America – A crazed, fever dream as satire. Craig Baldwin’s rapid-fire epic digs deep into the forcible intervention of the CIA into developing Latin American countries even as it critiques conspiracy theories and crackpot paranoia. This is what Alex Jones sounds like after he’s smoked a bowl.
  • Hard Core Logo – Bruce McDonald gets a pair of brilliant performances from Callum Keith Rennie as Billy Tallent and Hugh Dillon as Joe Dick in this ultimately sad, always angry ode to the early days of punk. McDonald completed a sequel in 2010 in which Joe Dick is reincarnated as the lead singer of Die Mannequin. Oops, spoiler alert.
  • David Holzman’s Diary – Pretty remarkable that in 1967, Jim McBride could perfectly foreshadow our current vainglorious love of reality TV, iPhone video, and selfies. His film is a meandering, autobiographical intrusion into the life of an exhibitionist and those closest to the exhibitionist, which calls into question both the “auto” and the “biographical” parts of that word.
  • Real Life – Albert Brooks had directed several shorts for Saturday Night Live in the 70’s, all focused on his self-absorbed persona. This is exactly where Real Life, a direct sendup of PBS’s An American Family, picks up. Brooks plays himself as a hopelessly out-of-his-depth narcissist, saddled with an increasingly complicated documentary project.
  • The Rutles: All You Need is Cash – The omission of This is Spinal Tap is softened by the inclusion of the film that clearly beget it. Created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes, The Rutles (The Prefab Four) were a specific parody of the Beatles, all the way down to their songs and albums, and the film is a “behind the music” profile of the fictional band.
  • The Falls – The best thing about seeing Peter Greenaway’s The Falls—a 3-hour excerpt of entries from a directory of victims of the (unexplained) Violent Unknown Event—live in a theater is watching the weeding-out process as viewers suddenly realize what they’re in for. It takes some endurance but it’s worth it.
  • Incident at Loch Ness – The film has Werner Herzog, another filmmaker fond of notions of authenticity, playing himself in a clumsy, comical search for the Loch Ness Monster. Maybe it’s because Herzog is the subject, but it’s impossible to watch without at some point thinking of Burden of Dreams, the “real” documentary Les Blank made about the making of Fitzcarraldo.

And some honorable mentions…

  • Society of the Spectacle – Guy Debord’s part treatise/part pop culture mashup.
  • Man Bites Dog – A fly-on-the-wall glimpse of a Belgian serial killer’s daily life.
  • Stereo – Cronenberg’s first feature, which I have yet to see it in its entirety.
  • My Winnipeg – More of a “docu-fantasia,” according to Guy Maddin.
  • Being Michael Madsen – Was Madsen responsible for the death of an actress?

Sure to be a divisive list but what list isn’t? Also, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a shameless self-promoter if I neglected to mention that the Kickstarter campaign for From the Gut is still going strong and still needs your help. Please contribute here.

From the Gut

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for the Sky Mall catalogue. It hits me in a weird, atavistic place that was clearly born and bred in my mundane, Reagan-polluted, suburban adolescence. In what can only be described as a materialistic blackout, I’ll flip through page after page, convincing myself that I can’t live without that canine genealogy kit or the pith helmet with the built-in fan or any of the other trinkets that are essentially 21st century pet rocks. With some distance (once the flight has landed), I come to the embarrassing realization that it’s all worthless. Actually, let’s be honest, it’s shit. It’s the excrement of a culture deadened by spectacle and removed from any semblance of true human need. Yes, this was the high-minded inspiration that beget the general theme of a movie about a man who mysteriously vomits objects out of thin air: From the Gut, a short film I’m currently taking into post-production.

A mock documentary, From the Gut profiles Gerald Lindsay, an average American guy who possesses the aforementioned, possibly metaphysical ability. Throughout the narrative, the people in Gerald’s life are interviewed and, while an attempt to shape a likeness of the soft-spoken man of mystery is undertaken, all that ultimately results is more obfuscation. It’s a satire, something that the mockumenary—not a genre I’m particularly fond of—is perfectly suited for.

We shot the practical photography several weekends ago at Arts + Labor in Austin, Texas with Clay Liford, a brilliant filmmaker in his own right, taking on the responsibility of shooting the green screen footage. Playing the contingent of unique characters are some of the best actors in the state: Byron Brown, Chris Doubek, Bill Wise, Kelli Bland, and Jennymarie Jemison (from the Foo Fighters video I directed two years ago) to name a few.

Some would say that the reason for the green screen is because I insist on making every project that I tackle as difficult as possible, and that could very well be. But more than anything, it has to do with that godforsaken Sky Mall catalogue and the sour, falling-off-the-wagon resentment it fills me with. For me, the visual representation of resentment and anger has always fit into a comfortable groove right alongside the music of my angry, disaffected youth… youth, of course, being a relative term: that of my old punk vinyl. For me, the opening guitar salvo and Johnny Rotten’s malevolent cackle at the beginning of Anarchy in the U.K. were accompanied perfectly by the cut and paste anarchy of Sex Pistols graphic designer Jamie Reid. And those Dead Kennedys records wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact without the surreal photo juxtapositions of Winston Smith. All the background plates in From the Gut will be created from scratch in Photoshop and After Effects to resemble those X-acto knife collages or photomontages that were an integral part of the aesthetics of early punk rock… and the Situationists before them.

It will undeniably be a challenging task, and that’s why I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to try and raise some funds for post-production. Stock footage is almost laughably expensive but it’s going to be integral to the film’s theme of détournement. The campaign will launch next Tuesday, July 16th, and any contribution, no matter how small, will be hugely appreciated. A post will be forthcoming with more details.

From the Gut