MicroCineFest III By Mike White. Coming out swinging like Clubber Lang, the third annual MicroCineFest hit Baltimore with monster truck force. Festival Director Skizz Cyzyk and his illustrious MCF staff had the eye of the tiger when picking out their selections for this big little festival of underground and unusual movie mania...
Coming out swinging like Clubber Lang, the third annual MicroCineFest hit Baltimore with monster truck force. Festival Director Skizz Cyzyk and his illustrious MCF staff had the eye of the tiger when picking out their selections for this big little festival of underground and unusual movie mania.
Bookending the fest at the Charles Theater in downtown Baltimore (former HQ of B-more’s favorite son, John Waters) was an opening night featuring Suki Hawley & Michael Galinsky’s stunning Radiation, and Mike J. Roush’s questionable Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels. The long weekend closed with Coke Sams’s outrageous musical Existo. The nights in between were spent just off Hamden’s hip avenue at The G-Spot-a former mill-turned-loft space. The industrial-themed venue proved ideal for the MCF events.
Motifs of the festival included monkeys, underwear, bread, and an odd practice best described as “swinging the bishop.”
Asked to judge the fest again (see CdC #9), my job was particularly difficult this time around due to the tremendous crop of flicks. Luckily, my fellow judges Gabe Wardell (Maryland Film Festival), Genevieve McGillicuddy (Atlanta Film & Video Festival), and I didn’t shy away from devising awards for movies that deserved special recognition. Sure, a few films that I really dug were left out in the cold, but the same goes for a couple of Gabe and Genevieve’s choices as well. Avoiding broken hearts and broken noses, we diligently deliberated and delivered a list of winners that suited all of our tastes to near perfection. Those (along with some other notable titles) follow...
Monkey Vs Robot (dir. Geoff Marslett)
I don’t know better how to describe this fine animated music video than to say that it’s something I’d like to start my mornings with every day for the rest of my life. It is hilarious. Set to a song by comic artist/musician/jack-of-all-trades James Kochalka Superstar, Geoff Marslett’s Monkey Vs Robot presents its audience with an eternal struggle between primitivism and modernism. Or, simply stated, “Monkey hate technology! Robot hate the monkey!”
Ironically, the video itself was a mix of old school hand drawings (scanned in, cleaned up, and colored in Photoshop) and computer animation. Director Marslett didn’t marry the visuals to the music until everything was laid to tape, counting out frames in order to time them with the events depicted in the song. The end result is a damn catchy tune with terrific visuals. Monkey Vs Robot swung away with the Best Animation award.
It should be noted that there’s also a live action adaptation of Kochalka’s song by filmmaker Nathan Pommer. This opened the 2000 New York Underground Film Festival.
The Collegians Are Go!! (dir. Dean Collegian, PhD & Chuck Collegian, MA)
I caught The Collegians Are Go!! early in the week and phrases from it quickly found their way into my vernacular. Frequently I was heard to say, “Zombies are bullshit!” By the time I caught TCAG a second time, I was roaring with laughter at the Super-8 spectacular. Set in Texas in the ’60s, The Collegians Are Go!! is the story of a Scientist (Chuck Collegian, MA), Educator (Dean Collegian, PHD), and a trouble-maker (Tad Collegian, BA) who face off against John F. Kennedy’s undead corpse.
Filmed in Gerald Ford-o-vision, the low-budget black & white lunacy (“Just as I suspected; that’s not beer, that’s molecular acid!”) is occasionally interrupted with damn catchy rock & roll tunes by the Collegians and their archrivals, the sinister Los Tigres Guapos.
Knowing that a pox would be upon us if we didn’t do something special for The Collegians, this film was the recipient of a Special Super-8 recognition award.
Swingers’ Serenade (dir. Danny Plotnik)
Super-8 maestro Danny Plotnik (I’m Not Fascinating: The Movie) switches gears and gauges with the beautifully shot, deliciously titillating, and educational short 16mm film Swingers’ Serenade. The premise (explained by the painfully/playfully pedantic narrator) is that in the 1950s, amateur movie-makers whose creative wells ran dry would turn to magazines tailored to their hobby. These often provided sin-sational scripts to, um, inspire at-home auteurs. Director Plotnik and his co-creator/wife/lead actress, Alison Levy (who also helped provide the terrifically lurid go-go soundtrack) use one such script as a blueprint and the result is a hilarious soft core tale of domestic duplicity and paddling pulchritude. Mixing self-reflexive absurdity with lascivious visuals, Swingers’ Serenade sauced our sensibilities and easily won the Randiest Film award. This and other Plotnik films are available at www.dannyplotnick.com. For information about the terrific score, surf over to www.loudfamily.com
Billy’s Balloon (dir. Don Hertzfeld)
Not every film at the MicroCineFest was as great as those I’m attempting to highlight here. In fact, it was difficult to sit through a few pieces (such as Eric Cheevers’s The Jenny James Story) but, of any film, I think Billy’s Balloon was the oddest to have a walk-out. The patron reportedly claimed that Don Hertzfeldt’s short animated piece about an insidious balloon was “too disturbing.” Granted, seeing a beloved childhood object portrayed as a malicious bully of little kids might make one verklempt but, along with that uneasiness should come the raucous bout of laughter from the incredibly dark humor of the situation!
As with all of the work I’ve seen by Hertzfeldt, his comic timing is perfect and his seemingly simple animation style makes the situations which he depicts even funnier. Billy’s Balloon floated off with the Way Cool Animation award. For more info check www.bitterfilms.com
Titler (dir. Jonathan Bekemeier)
Okay, what the hell was going on here? Witness a guy with a strong resemblance to Adolph Hitler, singing off-colour showtunes a cappella, dressed to the nines in an evening gown! Beautifully shot in 35mm, Titler is introspective, moody, dynamic and toe-tappingly catchy as he wanders the grounds of an industrial complex going through his various emotions and singing his little Teutonic heart out all the while. Agreeing that Titler’s legs looked damn good in that dress, Jonathan Bekemeier’s short sashayed away with the Way Cool Wardrobe award.
The Swinger (dir. Jason Affolder)
Just as I’d like to start off each day with Monkey Vs Robot in order to remind myself of the eternal struggle to attain harmony with one’s environment, The Swinger is the perfect way to relax after a long stressful day. What a better way to relieve tension than listening to a snappy tune while watching guys dance around without a care in the world and without the constricting presence of pants. Yes, it’s tighty-whitey time as these fellows bop to the beat on this seemingly simple, joyously uplifting three-minute Super-8 outing. Jason Affolder doffing of his drawers earned him the Way Cool Low Budget Film award.
Diet Pink Lemonade (dir. Andrew Betzer)
Reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Andrew Betzer’s single-take film is a shocking and cathartic portrayal of consumer frustration. The seemingly simplistic storyline of a young entrepreneur and her discontented patron embodies the anxiety we all face in the workaday world of materialism where the rights of the purchaser are violated for the sole purpose of easing production costs. Betzer’s cinematography is brutally frank and in fifty-eight seconds, he manages to say more about the struggle of the proletariat than a thousand so-called Marxist scholars. Our comrade triumphed with the award for Best Low-Budget Film.
Knuckleface Jones (dir. Todd Rohal)
Playing with the messianic myths found in most cultures, director Todd Rohal pits the protagonist of Knuckleface Jonesan aggrieved trombone player-against incarnations of evil (Boy Scouts working at a merit badge in “whup ass,” white rappers in underwear, and a psychotic ex-girlfriend). If he can overcome these bizarre forms of adversity he might grasp the mantle of manhood and live in the world as the reincarnation of the virile and legendary Knuckleface Jones.
Shot in 16mm, the world of Knuckleface Jones is filled with unnaturally sharp primary colours that emphasize the surreal subtext of the story. Filled with wonderful performances and music, Knuckleface Jones sauntered off with the award for Best Short Film.
Project: Tiki Puka Puka (dir. Jay Edwards)
Utilizing low budget video, creative props and intentional cheesiness, Project: Tiki Puka Puka is a highly self-aware (but not egocentric) homage to works as disparate as Apolcalyps Now and Robert Monster. With a immense cast retrofitted to 1950’s garb and sensibilities, director Jay Edwards creates a twenty minute hedonistic hullabaloo with a fluid, all-too-familiar narrative.
After seeing Project: Tiki Puka Puka, I want to move to Atlanta, befriend Jay Edwards and get cast in one of his videos because if being in one is half as fun as watching one, it’d be a hoot! P:TPP made off with the Way Cool Short Video award.
Fire Ant Ad (dir. Andrew Wardlaw)
A simple idea pulled off beautifully. Fire Ant Ad combines footage from Paul Verhoven’s Starship Troopers with the audio of a commercial promoting a product to rid one’s household of pesky fire ants. Director/editor Wardlaw admits that the project was the result of trying his hand at his school’s editing equipment. In other words, he wasn’t trying too hard to make some sort of overt politically-motivated statement but, instead, cleverly marrying disparate audio and video sources to make a quick and fun video.
What’s Up (dir. Chris Clements, Julie Goldman, Mich Giancola & Maria Bowen)
Not a documentary about the Budweiser commercial, What’s Up taps into an undeniable, albeit unpleasant, part of our collective unconscious. The creative team at Central Films have successfully created a tasteful (and not too tasty) documentary about the experience of vomiting. Just like “drinking stories,” most folks have a least one good “puke story” in their personal repertoire and What’s Up is a fine sampling of several such tales.
While the stories may be inherently gross, nevertheless, they’re entertaining. This Way Cool Documentary is well edited, fun to watch, and sure to spark conversation at your next group gathering!
Parting Words (dir. Karl Slovin)
When the words “Low Budget” preface most of the awards at the MicroCineFest, that tends to eliminate at least a few films from competition just on the basis of their production values. There were at least three films at MCF ’99 that were wonderful but too darn “big” for any low budget recognition. Competition, then, was fierce between Jay Lowi’s 12 Stops on the Road to Nowhere, Mike Mitchell’s Herd and Karl Slovin’s Parting Words. Without a doubt, however, Slovin’s work was the most subversive.
Set as a shot-on-video suicide note, we get to witness a poor slob pouring his heart out with a loaded pistol in his hand while, unbeknownst to him, his roommate demonstrates some ill-timed creativity. Parting Words shuffled off with a Way Cool Short Film award.
A Primers for Dental Extraction (dir. Carl Wiedemann)
Bizarre and beautiful, Wiedemann’s work answers the question, “What would I do if I had a steadi-cam and a stillsuit?” Stunning black & white visuals, accompanied by a throbbing music track make Primer a fascinating viewing experience. Wonderfully composed and executed, Wiedemann’s striking film was a shoo-in for the Way Cool Experimental award.
I Created Lancelot Link (dir. Jeff Krulik & Diane Bernard)
In all of my years of television viewing I never caught an episode of Lancelot Link but yet this simian supersleuth and his band, The Evolution Revolution, have definitely been ingrained in my pop culture collective unconscious. Jeff Krulik, the documentarian that has brought the world works like Heavy Metal Parking Lot and Ernest Borgnine on the Bus (see CdC #8) has returned with a wonderful look at the creators of “Lancelot Link”. Using the reunion of Stan Burns and Mike Marmer (who haven’t seen each other in a decade) as the impetus of the video, Krulik captures the delight expressed by these two classic TV men who don’t hesitate to give detailed accounts of the behind the scenes antics of a show completely cast with chimpanzees. For more information, visit www.jeffkrulik.com.
TV Ministry (dir. Mark Hejnar)
Yes, I have a useless degree. Along with Film/Video, I completed my double major with a study of Communications. The major of champions. Studying television programs and commercials can be as fun and/or insightful as one chooses to make it, I suppose, and something tells me that I managed to get more bang for my buck that some of the folks in my low-level Comm. classes. While a lot of them were tickled pink to be watching TV in class, I tried to pay attention to the study of my mental teat.
I was raised in the pale glow of the cathode ray. When time came to fill out our standardized tests in elementary school, I always had to admit that my television viewing habits exceeded those numbers associated with the last empty dot. As I filled in that question’s answer with my sharp number two pencil, I felt an odd sense of pride; as if I were getting away with something. My parents weren’t denying me of my precious television! If I wanted, I could go home and watch TV from the time I arrived until I went to bed. If I wasn’t getting enough TV, I could fake a stomach-ache and feast my eyes on precious daytime programming like “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “3-2-1 Contact.” How could school be so irresponsible as to deny students those valuable learning experiences found in “The Lucy Show”?
By the time I reached the age of majority, I had just about broken the stranglehold that TV seemed to have on my mind. In college, I just about went cold turkey. Certainly, I found pleasure in “The Price Is Right” and Twin Peaks but, otherwise, I couldn’t subject myself to my roommate’s tiny black and white TV for too long. After all, what fun is it seeing Rod Roddy’s outfits in monochrome?
I suppose that communications was a natural choice for me as I could put all those years of TV “experience” to use. For, more than contemporary shows, I was a fan of older television shows like “The Jackie Gleason Show” and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”
Yet, for all my former allegiance and love of television, I could only find the folks of the TV Ministry-an organization for Calumet City, Illinois-to be complete losers and crackpots. It may not take a village to raise a child, but it takes more than television to provide proper parenting or spiritual fulfillment.
Luckily, Mark Hejnar doesn’t miss this opportunity for irony. Hejnar shows the Ministry’s slack-jawed burn-outs rambling about the merits of long-term television viewing (with some endorsements for viewing aids such as pot and booze along the way). These interviews are an argument against the messages that have been absorbed by TV viewers. Interspersed with these talking chowderheads are concise and wonderfully-edited found footage segements. Using everything from hygiene films from the ’50s to footage of Hillary Clinton getting the shit scared out of her courtesy of a falling light fixture, Hejnar employs seconds and frames of footage to create a lyrical assessment of the insidious nature of the “boob tube.”
Upon winning the award for Best Low-Budget Video, Hejnar revealed that the members of the TV Ministry have completely missed the irony of his work. This, more than anything, is a testament to the success of his work!
Big Hand, Big Head (dir. Bradley Wind & Eric Prykowski)
More than “odd” or “surreal,” Gubbi Gubbi surpasses “off beat.” I don’t use this word too liberally- but Gubbi Gubbi is down-right “twisted.” A shot-on-video voyage into the minds of its creators, Bradley Wind and Eric Prykowski, Gubbi Gubbi is a ten-chapter exploration of the weird. Along the way, intrepid viewers are introduced to a host of fully-realized characters like Bannana Boya lad a little too fond of potassium-rich fruit and in dire need of a new pair of underwear.
Audiences at the MicroCineFest were treated to four chapters of luncacy. My favorite had to be “Big Head, Big Hand,” a morality play involving gigantism. A man with a big head (my boy doesn’t have a fore head, he’s got a sixteen head) inadvertantly eats a big cricket belonging to a fisherman with a big hand. A huge battle ensues.
With Gubbi Gubbi, Wind and Prykowski show an amazing knack for creating terrifically strange characters perfectly matched for the world around them.
The Works of Huck Botko
Documentarian Huck Botko has managed to carve out quite a unique niche in today’s cinema. Huck has become a specialist in the “revenge film.” Though none of the five videos shown at MicroCineFest ’99 had a running time of more than thirteen minutes, each contains fleshed-out narratives that are excruciating to bear despite their brevity. In his work, Botko makes the audience privy to his vindictive intentions. How, though, will Botko have his vengeance? Will he succeed? And, will there be any consequences?
In his early work, Botko sugar-coats his retribution, implementing items such as fruitcake, baked Alaska, cheesecake, and graham cracker cream pie against a family he feels didn’t love him enough. By introducing foreign and oftentimes disgusting elements into foodstuffs, Botko feels his family is finally getting their just desserts. Watching well-documented preparation of these disgusting (if not potentially dangerous) aliments is a painful experience. Many an audience member (especially myself) were heard groaning not only as Botko cooked up his plot but, moreover, while his family unsuspectingly digested the fruits of his nefarious labor.
Botko’s latest work, Julie, seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead of Botko playing foul against his kin, he has turned his camera to tw% (Percent)o chaps who feel they’ve been wronged by a woman. In order to defend the “Brotherhood of Men,” two losers devise a plan where one will try to bed the title character in order to give her a venereal disease. Yet, the odds are against them as the infected guy has less sex appeal than a eunuch. He’s Cashiers du Cinemart’s old friend, Andrew Gurland, formerly one of the directors of the New York Underground Film Festival (see CdC #3). Knowing that Gurland is a consummate liar and that he’s starred in the mock-you-mentary, Frat House, his presence in the film not only undermines the credibility of this Botko piece but all of the documentarian’s prior work. The jig appears to be up. For his culinary chaos, Botko garnered the MCF’s Martha Stewart Award.
Other Kewl Flix
Swing Blade (dir. Steve Stein)
I recently caught Nicholas Goodman’s film Swing Blade online. Finding it hilarious, I sent the URL to a good number of my friends only to find that quite a few of them didn’t understand what I found so humorous. The main reason for this turned out to be that folks had either seen Swingers or Sling Blade but not both. I would propose that in order to be a successful parody, one must be at least passingly familiar with its subject matter. I mean, I know the general gist of Shakespeare in Love and am intimate with Star Wars so George Lucas in Love was no big stretch of the imagination.
However, % (Percent) works as a short film but fails as a parody. Not enough people have seen Pi in order to “get the joke” of %. Being a big fan of Pi (see CdC #9), though, I was rolling with laughter at this story of a working stiff working desperately to solve the problem of how much money to invest from his weekly wages. Complete with a half-pedantic, half-incomprehensible voice-over narration, an overzealous religious sect, uncomfortably extreme close-ups, and rhythmic editing patterns, director Stein captures the essence of Pi and does a terrific job of poking fun at it!
Conspiracy J (dir. Steve Wood)
Amazing editing to an effective electronic music track, Steve Wood’s Conspiracy J is a monumental mixed-media montage. With lightning-fast cuts, Wood articulately weaves a wacky, wordless tale of trench-coated agents and Atari joysticks.
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