For those of you who don’t know me, American Beauty is my favorite movie. There’s a character in it named Ricky Fitts whom I was constantly compared to in high school due to the fact that he and I shared this compulsion to take a video camera everywhere. While his goal was to capture beauty, mine was to eventually make movies. Unfortunately, due to economic constraints, I didn’t end up doing this for about four years.
In 2005, I enrolled in Video Art 1 class at Oakland University under the direction of Vagner Whitehead, a class I came to call Vagner’s Army. He armed us all with cameras and, with simple subject guidelines leaving much open to interpretation, turned us loose to channel our muse. These five projects would come to be the first five films I’d ever make. Here they are.
Project One: Dreamscape – Mobius
This one is a perfect example of what a filmmaker says when they assert that some films are written in the editing room. It’s a never-ending nightmare that cycles and repeats, exploring repressed memories of domineering parents, the repercussions of which can stretch far into adulthood, leaving some people wounded children the rest of their lives. At least that’s what it ended up being about. When I first made it, I basically just thought of the most screwed up images I could think of and shot them all. I’m amazed this makes any sort of sense in hindsight.
Project Two: Appropriation – Last Refuge
Actually the last film to be finished for the class, Last Refuge was a second-chance effort at this project due to the fact that I basically misunderstood the objective of the whole thing haha! This is essentially political and media satire on no budget, as you can clearly tell from how murky the camerawork is and whatnot. It gets the message across though, even if Justin and Kate really did have no clue how to correctly fold a flag.
Project Three: Surveillance – Bananas
This movie is a miracle. And I don’t say that as a stroke to my ego or anything of the sort. It’s a miracle for a few reasons: 1) This was not what I set out to do at all. 2) Because I originally had another project scripted and ready to go, we had to miserably fail at making that one over the course of many hours before agreeing we needed to go another route. 3) This idea came to fruition out of desperation and alcohol. 4) It was done in a single take and managed to win the Best Story award at OU’s first student film festival. All this being said, I still enjoy this little trifle of a short, and I hope you do too. It’s Justin Rowell physical comedy at its finest. (Contains profanity and suggestive imagery.)
Project Four: Juxtaposition – Fetishism
This is about as wrong as it gets. It’s a film about a cult of people who get off on faking murders while the watchers and killers are being recorded and broadcast on televisions in adjacent rooms. Don’t ask how I come up with this stuff. In all honesty, I really don’t understand where I came up with it myself. There’s little clues along the way as to the fakery of the event and that it’s all for show. It also features the infamous “popcorn money shot,” so on that note, I’m gonna put the disclaimer in here now that this is certainly NSFW and contains all manner of messed up imagery. Enjoy!
Project Five: Performance – I Am What You Make Me
The final project for Vagner’s Army is easily the weakest of the five, but is still fun to watch just because it shows five of my friends dressing me up like a complete jackass for the camera. The objective was to see how each person’s artistic nature, sense of humor, and comfort level with manipulating the human body would manifest itself in a sort of living sculpture. There’s some funny stuff in here.
So those are my first five films I ever made. I hope you enjoyed some of them and please feel free to comment to let me know what you think. At some point in the future, I’m hoping to repost these with retrospective commentaries from myself as well as my collaborators on each film. Considering how few of them I’m still in touch with, I’m guessing it’ll just be a whole lot of me and Justin Rowell. And if you don’t know Justin, he’s the guy in Bananas doing pelvic thrusts with a banana poking out his zipper… and if that didn’t make you wanna watch Bananas, then I’m guessing you have no sense of humor. Rofflewaffles.