What’s scarier than the exploitation of capitalist culture, our societal collapse into a dystopian nightmare, and our inexorable march into cosmic obliteration? Answer: Nothing. And so MMC! celebrates this All Hallow’s Eve with a trio of animated mind-melters from Canadian animator Nick Cross. First up is The Pig Farmer (2010) – “a simple tale of a wayward soul, awash in an ocean of tragedy and regret.” Well, that and various pork-related gags. Don’t be fooled by the fairy tale-vibe and cutesy look; this short ain’t for the kids!
Next up is Perihelion (2013), “a sort of animated tone poem” inspired by German Expressionist and Surrealist painters of the early 20th Century like Otto Dix, Richard Oelze, Ingrid Griebel-Zietlow, Rudolf Schlichter, and Max Ernst, as well as Francisco Goya. The short operates as something of a Möbius strip tracking a cycle of human downfalls. The effect is amazing in execution and awful in vision. You’re welcome!
Lastly, we wrap up this dispiriting tribute to Nick Cross with The Clockwork Elves (2020). Cross’s summary of the short is questionable: “The Clockwork Elves could be a pyschotropic exploration of spirituality and death – or it could be a tale of a little goofball hopped up on goofballs. Either way — it’s a cartoon.” Made single-handedly over seven years, the short takes the animator’s critiques of late capitalism deeper into the psychedelic nightmare than ever before, creating a vision quest montage that is amazingly spectacular, shockingly vibrant, and exceptionally apocalyptic. This is the squished and squashed, cutesy-pie version of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video and it’s just as bracing.
If all of this is a bit too nightmarishly heavy for you, then MMC! recommends revisiting Over the Garden Wall (2014), a modern Halloween classic that perfectly celebrates American colonial folklore, historical commercial art, and East Coast animation. Cross worked as the series’ art director and it should be required viewing for any Halloween fanatic.
I met Dave at a get-together hosted by a mutual friend eight years ago. Attended by professional, semi-professional, and amateur pop culture nerds, we were invited to share lists of our favourite films and Dave’s list expressed his love of music as well as his love of cinema at its biggest and most minute.
In the years that followed, we would watch movies together when we ran into each other at a screening, we would text about programming ideas and other movie stuff, and we would share festival discoveries. I would give him rides home when he needed them, he would hook my son up with Godzilla stuff, and my wife would restrain her urge to make him a sandwich. When I discovered he was in the hospital, I sent him a message wishing him well and asking him to reach out once he recovered, hoping he would find the message once he was discharged. Sadly that won’t happen, but I’m very grateful for the time I got to spend with Dave and I wish him the best on whatever new project he’s now moved on to.
In celebration of Dave, MMC! offers this brief tribute to the man on screen and there’s no better place to start than Dave’s 2014 short film Will the Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up?, a hilarious account of Dave being awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.
The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.
A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.
Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.
After packing in 200 or so people for the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second annual Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, Day 5 was all about director Joe Dante, actress Belinda Balaski, and a trio of features film celebrating their work. Screenings of The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins (1984), and The Howling (1981) were each introduced by Dante and followed by a Q&A session. All three films looked great on the big screen and Dante and Balaski were open and affable with the SFFF audience, answering questions and recounting stories. Dante discussed working as a consultant to an upcoming animated Gremlins prequel and briefly acknowledged that his long desired project about Roger Corman, The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, was being produced by SpectreVision and should see production in 2020. Balaski recounted a popular story about how the designers of Gremlins’ Gizmo obtained Steven Spielberg’s elusive approval of the creature when she recommended that they take inspiration from the King Charles Cavalier Spaniels Spielberg had recently acquired. When asked which of their films they felt deep-diving fans should explore, Balaski cited Mark L. Lester’s youth culture/crime drama movie Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976) while Dante nodded at his under-seen (and unfortunately prescient) political satire The Second Civil War (1997). The pair were generous with their time, even sitting down on the Broadway Theatre’s stage floor to sign programs and badges for remaining diehards, and they proved to be excellent guests for the SFFF’s landmark 10th year.
The banner event for Day 4 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was the Drunken Cinema screening of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), described by Drunken Cinema‘s attending creator Serena Whitney as “the scary one.” Audience members had rules to follow, glow sticks to shake, and themed cards with personalized drinking rules to enhance their interaction and to get soused in the process. The event seemed an ironic success considering that nearly all the screenings at the SFFF are licensed and the Broadway Theatre’s concession stand was ready to make every screening drunken if patrons were so inclined. Still, the appeal of endorsed booze and rowdiness cannot be underestimated and Saskatoon movie fans can expect to seen more Drunken Cinema events between now and the next SFFF.
Short films led the charge on the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s third day with an eight film block of female focused shorts and another two short films that could have probably fit into the same section. Readers of last year’s coverage might recall my frustration with shorts that offer little more than spooky premises or creepy contexts, however you’ll find few such complaints amongst Day 3’s titles. Yfke van Berckelaer’s Lili (2019), an MMC! favourite at this year’s Buried Alive Film Festival, was screened, as did the Chattanooga Film Festival short, Sydney Clara Brafman’s gory and brief The Only Thing I Love More Than You is Ranch Dressing (2018). Adele Vuko’s The Hitchhiker (2018) was an entertaining blend of female road trip goodwill, real world violence, and well-timed supernatural intervention and was probably the easiest short to enjoy on Day 3. Valerie Barnhart’s Girl in the Hallway (2019) offered a true crime tragedy that powerfully wrestled with guilt, grief, and inaction through pained and worn stop-motion animation. Daniel DelPurgatorio returned to the SFFF with In Sound, We Live Forever (2019), a beautiful short in the agrarian horror mode that finds two young lovers beset by a monstrous killer in the rural American heartland. The short looks gorgeous, contrasting the serenity of its pastoral present against the intimacy and then terror of its past tense soundtrack, and it elegantly pivots into the full present tense to depict a desperate escape and a grim conclusion that posits the monstrous violence of the genre but also a kind of existential smallness that makes its horror seem almost meaningless.