Art House Films for the Compleat Idiot

art house films

art house filmsBefore we discuss art house films, we must take a stroll: Long before the “Dummies” guides, there was How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual Of Step By Step Procedures For the Compleat Idiot. For a time in the early 80s, our family vehicle was a Volkswagen microbus and my father kept an edition of the manual in the den. As a nine-year-old, newly-minted Monty Python fan (thanks PBS), the punchy title — with its archaic British spelling of “complete” and R. Crumb-style cover art — appealed to the subversive spirit then awakening in me.  I knew nothing of Volkswagens or auto repair but the book sparked in me a lifelong love for guides of all stripes. Later, in the 80s, I discovered the Bluffer’s Guides, which helped stoke my budding cinematic and literary pretensions. Fake it ’til you make it (or make it up).

Still with me? Okay — so, all of this, of course, was long before Wikipedia and smartphones made the ultimate, if fictitious bluffer’s guide, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, something of a reality. Now that it is, I submit to you that its entry for “art house cinema” would go something like A Beginner’s Guide to Art House Cinema, a new video essay by a YouTuber with the auspicious handle “kubricklynch.” It’s a mere gloss along the surface but a handy toe-dip nonetheless.

I could’ve used this video during pre-production for our own art house cinema effort Pill Head  (now in post-production!) when I was trying — and often failing — to define what an art house film is (and why we were making one) to the cast and crew. I’m not the first to bump up against this issue. The jacket copy to David Andrews’ Theorizing Art Cinemas: Foreign, Cult, Avant-Garde, and Beyond succinctly underscores the difficulty of using the term “art cinema” as if it were a genre unto itself, which is a confusing habit of mine:

The term “art cinema” has been applied to many cinematic projects, including the film d’art movement, the postwar avant-gardes, various Asian new waves, the New Hollywood, and American indie films, but until now no one has actually defined what “art cinema” is. Turning the traditional, highbrow notion of art cinema on its head, Theorizing Art Cinema takes a flexible, inclusive approach that views art cinema as a predictable way of valuing movies as “art” movies—an activity that has occurred across film history and across film subcultures—rather than as a traditional genre in the sense of a distinct set of forms or a closed historical period or movement.

I think the “flexible inclusive approach” is where it’s at in this regard but it also makes creating — forgive the oxymoron — a comprehensive guide to art house cinema impossible. Depending on one’s flexibility and inclusivity, everything and nothing is art house cinema. It’s like some Fluxus thought experiment —  or better, a Fluxus film — a length of celluloid twisted into a Möbius Strip. I suppose it’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s observation on defining porn: “I know it when I see it.” But a guide can at least get you close enough to see it. So, kudos to kubricklynch and his video. Perhaps it will inspire someone to watch Kubrick and Lynch and maybe someday Howell (then they can create The Compleat Idiot’s Guide to Daedalus Howell and my ghost will finally rest).

Happy Easter: How to Kill a Chocolate Bunny and Other Sunday Fun

How to Kill a Chocolate Bunny

Of the many chocolate bunny torture-porn videos available on YouTube (and be assured, there are many), by far the most aesthetically realized is How to Kill a Chocolate Bunny. With no fewer than three Leporidae-cacao executions (each achieved with heat-generating household appliances), How to Kill a Chocolate Bunny might be the Bambi vs. Godzilla of its time.

How to Kill a Chocolate Bunny
Hare today…

Chocolate bunny humor isn’t only an online video venture. The fine minds behind the above meme are nibbling at the market with their own comedic confection. But, the grandfather of chocolate bunny humor is, of course, ectomorphic comedian Emo Philips, whose early 80s standup routine included a gag in which a chocolate bunny is used as a means of psychological assessment:

“And [the psychologist] gives me a chocolate Easter bunny. And this shows how tricky those guys are. I eat the chocolate and I think, wait a second… this isn’t around Easter. “Was this a test?” He said, “Yes.” “And what does it mean?” He said, “Well, had you eaten the ears first you would have been normal; had you eaten the feet first you would have had an inferiority complex; had you eaten the tail first you would have had latent homosexual tendencies; and had you eaten the breasts first you would have had a latent oedipal complex.” I said, “Well, go on. What does it mean when you bite out the eyes and scream, ‘Stop staring at me!’?'” He says, “It shows you’ve a tendency towards self-destruction.” I said, “What do you recommend?” He says, “Go for it!”

Emo Philips

If you can’t stomach killing a chocolate bunny, there’s always the carob option…

NYTimes: Garlington and Bertotti’s Paper Arch at the Smithsonian

Paper Arch

Congrats to pals Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti whose collaboration, “Paper Arch,” figures prominently in “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. This is its first major national showcase. And, thanks to the artists’ generosity, a version of the arch also figures prominently in our film Pill Head, which we shot in their studio off hours. Elements of the proto-“Paper Arch” became incorporated into the film’s mise en scène and it leads to quite a third act plot point. We remain eternally grateful and cheer on our fellow Lumavillains!

Paper Arch
The completed Paper Arch as seen in the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian.

Per the New York Times:

The 15-foot-tall ‘Paper Arch,’ which the Renwick commissioned, is made of wood, paper, fabric and found objects and conceals two peepholes in its base. It is covered in photos of people (including Susan Sarandon and Willem Dafoe), flora and fauna, and repeated prints of an eye — his mother’s — that Mr. Garlington has tattooed on his forearm. ‘Our tag line is ‘the horror and the wonder,’ he said. But for the arch, they decided, ‘let’s just put the wonder in.”

Paper Arch
This snap of the artists installing the Paper Arch at the Smithsonian provides a sense of the project’s scale.

Below are some screen grabs from the rough cut of Pill Head that include the artists’ work-in-progress.

paper arch
Top: Theda (Emily Ahrens) enters a support group, a scene which features an early column of the arch. Bottom: The Journo (Daedalus Howell) explains the multiverse with a schematic of the “Paper Arch” in the background.
Paper Arch
Dion and Theda (Christophe Parker and Emily Ahrens) share a moment under the watchful eye of Michael Garlington’s mother. Photo by Karen Hess.

How to Celebrate Pi Day Like Dr. Strangelove

Pi Day

In honor of Pi Day, the annual commemoration of the mathematical constant pi, or 3.14 (hence, March 14), below are images from perhaps the most infamous pie fights ever filmed – then never screened.

Die-hard Stanley Kubrick fans have long known about the pie fight which was to conclude Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb but was inevitably cut (the reasons for the edit span studio pressure to various observations that it just didn’t play). It’s unclear whether the footage still exists, which may be why it has yet to appear as a DVD extra. What does exist are various, grainy stills that show Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and anyone else who happened to be in the War Room, covered in curd, crust and whip cream.

A page at recounts the missing scene in the screenwriter’s own words:

This footage began at a point in the War Room where the Russian ambassador is seen, for the second time, surreptitiously taking photographs of the Big Board, using six or seven tiny spy-cameras disguised as a wristwatch, a diamond ring, a cigarette lighter, and cufflinks. The head of the joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) catches him in flagrante and, as before, tackles him and throws him to the floor. They fight furiously until…

President Merkin Muffley famously intervenes:

“This is the War Room, gentlemen! How dare you fight in here!”

Then Turgidson insists that the ambassador is searched, including all “seven bodily orifices.” The ambassador will have none of it:

“Why you capitalist swine!” he roars, and reaches out of the frame to the huge three-tiered table that was wheeled in earlier. Then he turns back to General Turgidson, who now has a look of apprehension on his face as he ducks aside, managing to evade a custard pie that the ambassador is throwing at him. President Muffley has been standing directly behind the general, so that when he ducks, the president is hit directly in the face with the pie. He is so overwhelmed by the sheer indignity of being struck with a pie that he simply blacks out. General Turgidson catches him as he collapses.

Chaos ensues. Film history is made, then erased. Sigh. Happy Pi Day.