JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Guns on the Clackamas (Director: Bill Plympton) - September 29, 2009
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Guns on the Clackamas

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4 4
80 min.

(Originally produced and released in 1995)
Dying all the way to completion

From the ever-inventive mind of Bill Plympton (last seen in these pages as an animator, cross-reference below) comes the release on DVD of a mockumentary that is a hilarious feast for the senses.

With the well-worn conceit of shooting a film within-the-film, Guns on the Clackamas comes to cinematic life as both a doomed Western of deadly proportions and a can’t-get-a-shot documentary centring on intrepid filmmaker Nigel Nado’s (Keith Scales) miserable attempts to interview the prolific producer of cowboy features, Holton Jeffers (Ed Townley), much less get on the set.

For the eye, there’s a pair of leading ladies: Crystal Green is a stuttering hoot as the executive producer’s “must-have-or-no-cash” choice to play Helen (the inventive ways of getting around her severe speech impediment climax with a stint of yodeling and a barnyard voiceover which grab the funny bone and won’t let go); Britton Chapman gets all of her lines out as the replacement but is a couple of cup sizes smaller, which only adds to a marvellous send-up of continuity perils when she’s literally spliced into the ongoing action (by now, after it’s been revealed that Jeffers has gotten far too up-close-and-personal with Peppy the dog, the financing is vanishing faster than his reputation so none of the earlier scenes can be reshot). Eye candy comes in the form of Lucas Longo (James Grimes) who largely stands and looks pretty (and hugely contented exiting the outdoor latrine). Continuity of the actual variety sees the young actor’s “soiled” briefs being surreptiously displayed when we already know he’s a boxer devotee.

The original music (Maureen McElheron and Hank Bones) is high on the guitar-rich tunes that accompany the “action”; the snippets from Beethoven’s mighty Fifth Symphony cheapen the otherwise brilliant depiction of a casting call from hell, where the line “dust storm of destiny” can’t fail to find its way into the cult-classic hall of fame.

The sense of smell is repugnantly represented by Longo’s chronic “mouth rot,” requiring a grossly illustrated excursion to the dentist. Still, once the cure has been rendered, the long-awaited kiss becomes a face inhalation that chooses not to hear director James X’s (Michael Thomas Parks) calls to “cut.” The heady odours of a dill pickle, thick-skinned bratwurst and “four hundred pounds of human waste and toxins” are at one with X’s courageously personal early short, Orifice.

Taste buds play a very important role in the life-and-death situations that begin to send cast and crew to a premature wrap to the point that the public relations unit brings out a corpse to the media scrum. (Anyone who has ever tried to interview an unhelpful or near comatose actor will revel in the reality of this brilliant satire.) Spoiled macaroni salad, chased with equally “infected” red peppers (not to mention a “roll camera” that more than lives up to its name) are complemented with vinegar-injected watermelon to complete the stench of the gastronomical buffet.

Touch is brought into play on two different planes. Safety supervisor Carl “Safety First” Huggins (John Bader employing a style not out of step with Eugene Levy), is the epitome of “Do as I say not as I do,” managing to stab and electrocute himself with abandon (his turn on the tainted-pasta gag is just a bit too obvious to swallow).

Bringing together all of the zany components, scenes and situations is the deft touch of Plympton who gamely skewers so many issues, mores and taboos (watch the credits closely for the animal lampoon) that no one will leave this film without at least one belly laugh. JWR

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