Raw Mudland Killers, 1989. Directed by Mark Allen and Eddie Holland. Written by Mark Allen. Starring Thomas Vasquez, Michelle Simmons, Cary Adams, David Lamb, Eddie Holland, Mark Allen. 1/2 inch VHS; 5 minutes, 58 seconds; color; sound.
Here is a piece of video art (really a short film, shot on video) that I did in 1989. It was written and directed by me, with tons of assistance from my whiz-kid college friend Eddie Holland. It stars my friends Thomas Vasquez, Michelle Simmons, Cary Adams, David Lamb, Eddie Holland and me (there’s even a partially-obscured cameo by Trey Angles). PLOT: two filmmakers begin arguing over the aesthetics of their latest collaborative project, and a violent crime is committed.
The film itself—a strange spoof in the worst taste imaginable—is an osmosis of the mindsets of me and my friends at the time. All of us were art and film students at the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, and spent a lot of time bantering about art theory, philosophy and the omnipresence of pop culture. Although I’d hate to think this film represents our brains. The results here aren’t exactly Artforum critical theory…more like Cracked.
The film-within-a-film-within-a-film opening is a homage to Jean-Luc Godard (subtitles…get it? Haha?), particularly his film Weekend, with me as the bossy director and my friends Cary and David playing hapless actors blinded by cartoon eyes I’d taped to their faces (a reference to Annie, the musical Broadway version). Thomas and Michelle play the filmmakers who are arguing over the pre-edited dailies of said film and, when they run out of hackneyed crit-quote catch-phrases to use, just resort to violence.
The too-much Madonna reference is supposed to be a joke about the too-much use of rock music in films and television at the time (a lazy way for directors to get emotional mileage with audiences, instead of plot or character development), as well as the still-peaking influence of MTV in the late 80’s. The joke was that, instead of the rock music eventually drowning out the film, wouldn’t it be funny if the rock video itself just started to replace the action on screen? Haha? Get it? Like a lot of irony-infused, dripping-in-quotation-mark concepts of the era, the results don’t exactly communicate well (it’s not that we weren’t bri-i-i-i-i-illiant). A few of us also had a Warhol-ish Madonna obsession at the time, aided immeasurably by Sonic Youth’s Ciccone Youth project that came out the year before.
The cultural value of “appropriation” was also a hot topic for us. We were fascinated with the plagaristic pranks of artist like Sherri Levine and Michael Bidlo (although unlike them, when I submitted this film to a festival that year I obediently went through the proper channels at Warner Brothers to obtain a lawyer’s written permission to include the rock video footage for non-profit exhibition only—Viva la Revolucion!). There’s also a stack of Pepsi cans that Michelle knocks into like a bowling ball—that was supposed to be a jab at commercial product placement (again…haha?). The mood of the film was also influenced by Raymond Pettibon’s shot-on-VHS film Weatherman ‘69, which had just begun circulating around on shared VHS tapes.
I love looking at this now because it’s really flavored by the town of Denton, Texas (even if just barely) and shows one of the many rambling old ranch-style houses with crooked tile floors and fake wood paneled walls that I lived in with my friends, some of who are in this cast. This was the first video project I ever did that I got to edit on a real video editing deck (UNT’s facilities), the mechanics of which Eddie helped with greatly. Our original idea for the story was supposed to be much longer (the additional footage can be seen in the fake dailies scenes), but when we ran out of time and money, Eddie and I wrapped everything up with cheap plot tricks, in the true B-movie tradition. Then, the whole thing was flippantly given the nonsensical title Raw Mudland Killers, to give it pointless camp cache.
*Ugh!* What a post-modern mess!
I submitted this film to a Dallas festival that year, and I remember being surprised it didn’t make it in (especially since I had a few friends on the judge panel, *wink wink*). My friends later told me that some of the women on the panel thought the film was “horribly misogynistic” (gee, I wonder why?) and refused to allow it. My friends at school, male and female (and some that were in the film), didn’t have that opinion. Even deep in the heart of Texas, we all slavishly followed the bombastically humorous films of artists like Herschel Gordon Lewis, Richard Kern and Russ Meyer with great enthusiasm, obviously, and pretty much viewed criticisms of that nature as road blocks to great work. Oh well…I guess bohemia is a bubble, at least it used to be.