This still by Dick Blau [Milwaukee, WI 1995 ] is a peak into the stop-motion animation process of “The Twinkie Movie”, a film by Chris Smith (in the foreground, to the right, by the 16mm Bolex). I [Daniel Aleg] am the head on the top left, moving the conveyor belt in the back, through a wall of Twinkie boxes. Chris’s awesome idea was this: Twinkies have souls, and they try escaping from the distribution chain in a quest to return to Twinkie-Land, far away in the desert. The story had won a funding competition from Hostess and became the official celebration of the 60th product anniversary. The shoot took place in the glorious Kenilworth building in Milwaukee. It was my first week in town.
Watch the Twinkie Movie here
The final product shows why Chris Smith later emerged as a unique cult-filmmaker: he is a cinematic wonder, a Mozart of film. His working is like thinking directly in film form, ideas in action without language or symbolic translation. He often skips the script phase all together to shoot simple stories, using simple story structures but extraordinary characters. One example of his risky but inimitable low-budget approach is his first live action feature “American Job” –http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112345/ – Shot during one summer mostly as a solo-crew, the story was a simple masterpiece: a midwestern kid needs a job, but he can’t keep a job for the life of it. So he tries a sequence of low-level repetitive, demeaning, mind-numbing jobs (the ones that require “teamwork”).
I was happy to find “American Job” on several “best ever” lists. But the most famous cult-film Chris made, he made with Sarah Price – also from our UWM Film class: “American Movie” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0181288/?ref_=sr_1 with Mark Borchardt and assorted other Midwest phenoms. American Movie won Sundance (as a doc) and was picked by Sony Classics for theatrical and DVD release. It has become the narrative of record in the meta-cinema doc genre (films about people making films). Mark Borchardt – who went on to more “Late night with David Letterman” fame, had – during the shooting of “American Movie” a brief part in my own meta-cinema film “Czar Of Make Believe”, in which he played himself, a cinematographer on a low budget set, and on which Chris graciously helped with some lighting.
So this picture from my mentor Dick Blau means a lot to me. Dick and the filmmakers on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) faculty made our Film Department the best “worst-kept” secret among small film schools in the country. And the motto “we keep the school out of your filmmaking” is unforgettable. It was life-changing to be part off our graduate-school class at UWM. The name Milwaukee-Wood was coined by an indie magazine after “American Movie” won best doc at the Sundance Festival. You look up what year…