Friday, August 13, 2010

First Friday Shorts, August 6th, 2010 - Howard Salmon

This was a looong First Friday shorts. I must have been in the theater for over three hours. There were that many films. Tonight’s fest was a packed house, and marked the return of local cartoonist Max Cannon as MC. He started off great; he has a great repoire with the crowd, and Max seems to relish it, extending his role as MC into a sort of impromptu comedy routine that sometimes goes on a bit long. He likes to bait the crowd, and get them all riled up, which is a lot of fun…until he violates the rules of the road. As with every First Friday shorts, the rules are explained at the beginning: a film is given a chance for three minutes, and after that point, the audience can demand that it be gonged. In explaining the rules, Max made the point that The Loft is the “last bastion of democracy”, since the fate of each film rests upon the direct vote of the audience. Tonight that didn’t happen.

The first sign that something was amiss was with Daniel Haye’s film called “Fruitcake”, which is a disgusting movie where the filmmaker has about 30 bums from the bowels of New York spit loogies into a bowl of fruitcake batter. The filmmaker explained, on camera, that he was going to cook up the result, and bake it for his father (it reminded me of last month’s equally gross movie “Baked Alaska”). Well, the audience booed loud and hard for this gross disgusting movie be gonged…but the MC wouldn’t have any of it. He wanted to see Mr. Hayes’ father eat the logy-filled fruitcake (which he did). Four people in the row ahead of me got up and walked out, noticeably angry (they later returned). The crowd voted to have “Fruit Cake” gonged…but votes calls were overrided and it was let to run it’s full course! Although the ideal of pure democracy was promised here tonight, it was subverted well before intermission.

Max once again stayed the Executioner’s Gong by intervening to save the retro-styled black & white computer animated surrealist film called “Danger Elf” by filmmaker Peter Linn. The audience roared with disapproval, at length, that this brilliant film be gonged, but Max ignored the audience and let it run in its entirety “for esthetic reasons”. The filmmaker obviously impressed Max because it out-did Red Meat with the Red Meat esthetic. It was as if Max had the rug yanked out from under him in the department of weird retro computer drawn cartoons. Imagine Salvidor Dali taking over Max’s Red Meat strip and turning it into a multilayered, multivalent dream sequence that just would not stop. It evoked the originality and bizarre quality of old surrealist art without recycling any of it’s clichés: it felt very original and it went on and on and on, never getting tired, always staying interesting. It really was quite amazing. It obviously took a lot of work, but the audience hated it. The audience’s cry to gong this film was loud, long, and sustained. but Max let it play because I think he felt respect for it (as did I). However, ignoring the loud chorus of jeers was a bad call, for it was unfair to the audience.

During the latter half of this short film marathon, we were treated to something very unusual: a serious documentary (“Plaza Entraga” by Cesar Luitron), which is about photojournalists who endanger their lives when covering the drug war in Mexico. The audience sat respectfully for the entire during of the film, and when it was over, the whole theater gave it an enthusiastic round of applause! Surely this film would win the coveted $200! (‘Fraid not) In a night filled with graphic violence, sadism, rudeness, and gore, it was really nice to see someone submit a film that took life seriously.

Derek Waters gave us “Deep Waters”, which is basically a claymation video where a beach bum meets various cartoon clay-animated sea-creatures. This was good enough for national TV (on “Adult Swim”).

Stan Brown submitted “Sheep Chingon” (sp?), which was about two guys acting out an intense drug bust confrontation…in a really nice house with a swimming pool. This was all about story (and no costumes of props), and appear to be a spoof of a certain genre of tough-guy films. However, tonight the filmmaker was at a baseball game, leaving his buddy to hopefully collect the $200 prize money. Max did not speak too kindly of that stunt, and encouraged all filmmakers to who submit movies to First Fridays, to actually show up; no stand-ins.

Connor Pepper gave us “The Tea Man and the Ruffian”, which he described as “an ancient Zen tale retold”. Had the feel of an old ‘70’s styled TV show, great old ‘60’s Motown-styled music, and close-ups of people pouring tea. Maybe it was some weird story about politics today. Who knows, for it was gonged! (one of the few)

Next was Chris Keaton’s “Gathering Souls”, which was an incredibly violent and sadistic film that was hard to watch; violent and tasteless (that is, it wasn’t my cup of, blood)…except that it contained some very creative camera work, utilizing slow motion, and layered imaging effects. And to top it all off, it became a ghoul-fest, with characters chomping on each other’s necks. It goes to show you that good camera-work can save a horrible script and difficult imagery.

Daniel Geoffrey’s “The True Meaning of Life” is about a guy who spends all his money so he can watch TV for two years straight. He also pays other people to watch TV for him so he won’t miss anything. Toward the end of this movie, the filmmaker addressed the camera, saying that he doesn’t care what happens to him, for his life means nothing, so he might as well watch all the TV he can. It makes you wonder how his life would change if he turned his TV off (Oh yeah! He’d submit a film about watching TV to First Fridays!)

Bianca Rudiker entered “Zombie Guest”, which she described as a “zombie comedy with blood and guts”. Surprisingly, this was very well acted (in a campy sense), and was made with professional actors. This movie was just as good as any of John Waters’ early movies. It had the feel of “Leave it to Beaver”, but with a zombie vibe. There are a lot of very well-made movies submitted to the Loft’s “First Fridays”, but obviously, only one can get picked as the $200 prizes winner. Good job on this one, Bianca, even though it got overlooked.

Other films were, “Arizona Chainsaw Massacre” (more gore); and a very violent piece called “Payment Due” which showed some macho guy shouting and strutting around shirtless around a battered and gagged woman who was tied to a chair. When the red light shown on the gong, the audience once again roared its disapproval, and demanded the gong…but Max again grew a deaf ear. Tempers flared! People in the theater shouted remarks such as “hey bald guy!”, “gong the MC!” , and “what about democracy?!” Amidst all of the noise, I can’t even recall if the movie was even gonged.

Some guy who called himself Joke Harmonica showed a movie called “Homage” which had blurring visuals run through a “watercolor” filter, while we listened to a female voice read shameful memories, all while Joke Harmonica strummed along with a guitar. The audience listened respectfully.

The last piece was called “Reinstate the Constitution”, which was just some simple movie clips of the sky: some with clouds, some with rain, some with fireworks. It looked like it could’ve been shot on a cell phone camera. The best part of the movie, however, was the title, for it summarized the struggles between the audience and Max to decide the fate of each film. The power struggles for gonging rights can be a fearsome thing to behold.

The winning film, “The Death of My Father” (“continuing in the patricide theme” said Max) by Ari Grabb, was a black and white film that started with a kid shaving…and ended with some guys saying, over a bloody dinner, “The hamburger was my son!!”) I wish that I had more to report on this movie, but I’d dozed off for about a 30 seconds…and missed half the movie! And that was the movie that won? Ha!

Howard Salmon is the author of “Al Perry Comix”, and is the publisher of “SLIT” music & art magazine. The 30th anniversary issue come out next month. His website is


  1. Thanks, Howard. I would like to add that "Fruitcake" was indeed gonged, after which Max had the projectionist skip to the ending out of morbid curiousity. And the mesmorizing monochromatic animation, "Danger Elf," was actually retroactively gonged and taken out of the running. It was indeed a long and unique night in the annals of FFshorts many successful years of providing a venue for local filmmakers to display their art.

  2. I like Al Perry. Thanks Howard. Knowing is half the battle the other half is killing.

  3. oh by the way I a pleased you did not get to reconize all the pornographic images i blurred of Kay Parker and Honey Wilder. No Shame. FFshorts is a complete win win situation and I a so pleased to get a review for expression rather than indifference. and P.S. my friends and i walked out of the torture and rape movie. People can make that stuff but I don't have to watch it. Did you count how many films displayed violence or cruelty in a fun and interesting way. OK i need to start breathing slower again. The documentary done in Mexico was something I was happy to see get attention. There was a couple shorts in the begining of the cartoon of the underwater and its loveliness. One person said it was a waste of time and energy. I sometimes make crude animations so I know how much it takes indifferent statements like that in the beginning may have also triggered the Max Cannon fire of compassion for craft. Cheers!