Evan Mather

[T]hanks to the increase and greater accessibility of technological tools, thanks to the diversity of artistic models, because of the spreading need for images, production is exploding. First phenomenon: like a painter or a writer, a director can find a studio in his own room and create a magnificent oeuvre all alone and in complete freedom …

– Nicole Brenez (1)

A lot of attention has been garnered as of late by Jonathan Caouette’s 120-something dollar magnum opus, Tarnation (2003), which he cut together from a miasma of his own home movies using Apple’s consumer-level iMovie program. I’ve not seen Caouette’s film as yet, and so am not really in the place to talk about it (although these comments have less to do with the film’s supposedly remarkable content than they do with its “revolutionary” production methods anyway), but I can’t help but feel slightly jaded to think that Caouette’s been garnering so much attention when, for years now (at least since 1997 and most definitely since 1999), another filmmaker has been doing almost exactly the same thing in terms of a consumer-level low/no-budget methodology from his studio in Los Angeles. If Caouette has made a masterpiece using little more than his computer’s iMovie software, then the poet laureate of “cyber-cinema”, Evan Mather, has truly delivered the “magnificent œuvre” suggested by Brenez and made possible by the DIY-moviemaking boom and the internet.

Certainly, Mather’s filmography runs the gamut: animation (Fansom the Lizard, 2000), music videos (Aimee Mann’s “Red Vines”, 2001, and “Pavlov’s Bell”, 2003), live-action narrative films (“The Trilogy of Tragedy”, 1999–2003), documentaries (A Fool’s Errand, 2004), bizarre portraits of both himself and his collaborators (Clowntime is Over, 2003), open source projects (Agave, 2001–present), fan films (Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars, 1998, et al.) and even a digital take on the Dogme95 manifesto (entitled Dogma 2.0) can all be found within the ever-expanding borders of his bizarre, irreverent and strangely intoxicating cinema.

What’s more, while Caouette has only seized the means of production, Mather has upped the ante by seizing (to some extent) the means of distribution as well; what makes his method so interesting (and his films so hard to come by on the big screen or even on television (2)) is that his “handcrafted short films” are unquestionably “made-for-internet” movies (3), and the pixilated QuickTime windows in which they appear have in some respects dictated his æsthetic. And yet despite the apparent limitations of his cyber-cinematic medium (or more likely because of them), Mather’s films are truly the work of an artist with a very precise, singular and personal vision.

Alternative Universes and Re-imagined Realities

In the same way that Guy Maddin is “travelling a pretty ramified path up through the reconfiguration of film history” (4), it could be argued that Mather’s films – again like Caouette’s Tarnation – are an attempt to rewrite and reconfigure (if not always understand) his own personal history by dragging it kicking and screaming into the age of both digital video and the internet; a personal history that begins in the mid-1960s. Where Maddin’s films are hell-bent on reconfiguring the early years of cinema, Mather’s are far more concerned with those of his own lifetime, and, if Maddin borrows from the great film movements of yesteryear, Mather borrows instead from the popular culture that surrounded him as he grew up and his own personal experiences (as in Fansom the Lizard, which is supposedly based on “family folklore”).

In and of itself, this (like the conceited comparison to Maddin) is interesting but unremarkable. After all, borrowing from pop culture – even that of the past – is hardly a revolutionary cinematic act. To cite the most obvious examples, Quentin Tarantino “borrows” (to be polite) almost exclusively from the pop culture of his formative years, and the recent string of films that can trace their lineage back to the same 1970s milieu that Mather’s can – Starsky and Hutch (Todd Phillips, 2004), Austin Powers in Goldmember (Jay Roach, 2002), Undercover Brother (Malcolm D. Lee, 2002) – is as exhaustive as the day is long. The autobiographical nature of Mather’s filmmaking, too, is not necessarily anything to write home about: there’s nothing particularly appealing about seeing Armacord (Federico Fellini, 1973) in a QuickTime window.

No, what makes Mather so interesting is the manner in which the means of production and distribution so actively transform the content of the films themselves. These are not merely films that chart a personal or pop cultural history – they’re not just home video self-portraits or Tarantino-esque works of homage – but re-imagined realties; the past as might it have been were it subject to modern, digital technologies. Like Maddin’s, Mather’s films constitute an alternative history or parallel universe – a universe in which Star Wars (George Lucas) belonged to the blaxploitation and disco/dance-film subgenres; the moon landings were faked; Dogme95 films had to have intentionally pretentious French subtitles; the war in Iraq was fought to increase bodybag sales; and in which he himself was forced to murder his key collaborator, Kirk Hostetter, after the two experienced unresolvable creative differences (5). The key to this œuvre is the digital means by which Mather has been able to create this alternative reality. In awarding Fansom the Lizard the Best Animation prize at the Northwest Film Festival in 2000, Todd Haynes noted that “[the film] uses digital animation to celebrate the lost charms of projected celluloid”, mentioning in particular its “lo-fi look and hi-fi past” (6). A contradiction in terms, perhaps, but nevertheless a telling one. The past in question is not genuine, but built (and then, as Haynes correctly noted, celebrated). These films, importantly, are not the past. They’re digital recreations (and manipulations) of it instead.

Instead of looking at Mather’s filmography in a chronological fashion, it makes more sense (in my opinion) to approach it in a more disjointed and associative one. Ultimately, Mather’s films can be broken down into two major strands (the personal and the pop cultural), with a minor, relatively unproblematic third group (the less easily definable) bringing up the rear.

Histoire(s) du Mather Part 1a: The Personal

Fansom the Lizard
• “The Trilogy of Tragedy”
Clowntime is Over

Mather’s personal films – his reconfigurations of private histories (both his own and those of a fictional family, the McNallys (7)) – make up the bulk of his more recent work, although, of course, these private histories are not always exclusively so. In some cases – such as with the Apollo moon landings in Airplane Glue (2001) and the Iraqi war in Bodybags (2003) – public events and their effect on individuals (usually “tragic”) are very much brought to the fore.

Fansom the Lizard

As mentioned previously, Fansom the Lizard, an animated fable about “a pet lizard who travels from his home in Louisiana to Las Vegas in search of adventure” (8), is a bizarre hybrid of Mather’s own past (the film’s content and style) and his present as a digital filmmaker (the creation of that style). Fansom is arguably Mather’s best film for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s here that the lines between past and present, fact and fiction, and digital video and film are at their most blurred, indistinguishable and ephemerally unimportant.

The film (as Hostetter points out in the only near-study of Mather’s work that I know of) is based on a family folktale about a false story of a true event (9), the false story being a child’s dreamed explanation for his pet lizard’s disappearance (all that stuff about Las Vegas) and the true event being the real explanation (he gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner). If this wasn’t already hyperbolic enough, Fansom looks like a good ol’ fashioned 2D animation (and on grainy, “handheld” Super8, no less!) but in actual fact was created entirely within a computer. A few Adobe programs, some Cinelook filters, an Apple Mac G4 and voila: a digital recreation of Mather’s own past, real or imagined or (more likely) somewhere in between. (Notable, too, is the film’s score, a bizarre musical mongrel that would feel just as at home in the past as it seems to in the present and which is supported by the conspicuous sound of a film projector on the soundtrack.)

So, here we have a very personal story about a dream from one’s childhood, told by the dreamer as an adult (and thus with the clarity of retrospect), using modern means and methods to recreate the style of his past, and all the strings have been hidden to a degree that nothing – not even the story’s family folktale status – can really be taken as a given. As we’re told in Mather’s (very primitive) Sightings: The Ganja Incident (1993), what we’re seeing is a “dramatisation” that’s “based on a true story”, but then the characters tell us explicitly, “We are not actors. We are real people.” We are constantly aware that Fansom the Lizard is a digital film (we’re watching it on the internet, after all) but its style keeps trying to convince us that it was really shot on Super8 in 1972. And in the end, it may as well have been, in the same way that Maddin’s The Heart of the World (2000) may as well have been made at some point in the early 1920s, if only in a parallel universe.

Similarly, “The Trilogy of Tragedy” (10) is very much concerned with blurring the aforementioned lines in regards to private histories. The films, co-directed by Hostetter, are obviously mockumentaries (although, by the time we get to Icarus of Pittsburgh, 2002, there’s far less mocking going on), but even though we’re more aware of what is fact and what is fiction than we are while watching Fansom, the mockumentary format does allow Mather the opportunity to play with the idea of family heirlooms and artefacts (such photographs, home movies and the like), to a point where (unlike almost all of his other work) the “Trilogy” becomes more about the creation of history than about a reconfiguration of it (11). At the same time, in films such as Airplane Glue (which suggests that the moon landings were faked), a certain amount of reconfiguration on a somewhat larger and more public scale is still going on. Once again, be it the Super8 home movies of young Kirk throwing rocks into the ocean in Vert (1999) (“Skipping rocks was just too empirical …”), the government’s surveillance footage in Airplane Glue (not to mention its bizarre recreation of the false moon landing using Lego men), Archie’s tragic (and completely animated) flight towards Heaven to visit his dead father in Icarus, or even Merle’s increasingly psychotic dreams of war in Bodybags (2003), the digital realm and all that it offers plays a significant role in the creation and reconfiguration of these histories. Unlike in Fansom, the blurring of the lines is not so integral to the success of the films that make up the “Trilogy”, but the ability to manipulate pixels is as pertinent as ever. The McNally family and the world they live in – what with its conspiracy theories, cartoon football players, unheard of childhood games and crazy motivations for war (well …) – isn’t our world, but it’s doppelganger.

The only film of this personal and private histories bracket that doesn’t particularly rely on digital methods (other than handheld DV and its pseudo-realistic “home movie-ness”) is Clowntime is Over, Mather’s abstracted portrait of his creative relationship with Hostetter. Despite this fact, the general idea of the film (of a biographical portrait that’s exaggerated and contorted beyond the point of believability) (12) is very much in sync with the idea of historical reconfiguration that lies at the heart of his work, and suggests that his ultimate project – slightly grander in scope, perhaps, than that of Maddin – is to reconfigure not only cinematic history, but that of every single aspect of the world as he’s seen it thus far, in public and in private, up to and including his own life and films.

And this brings us to the second major part of his filmography.

Histoire(s) du Mather Part 1b: The Pop Cultural

• The Star Wars Fan Films
• The Aimee Mann Videos
Buena Vista Fight Club

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …”

We now move backwards in time (and technique) to a far more primordial internet that, for some strange reason, just happened, in 1997, to fall in love with a thirty-second short animation entitled Kung Fu Kenobi (1997), in which a Kenner action figure bearing a striking resemblance to Alec Guinness basically kicks and chops its way through a cast of Star Wars characters to the strains of Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting”. And thus began Evan Mather’s complete and utter reinvention of the Star Wars universe, a reinvention of the saga that would ultimately spawn nine short films (13) and that, personally, I’ve always enjoyed a whole lot more than I ever have George Lucas’.

Les Pantless Menace

Arguably, the most emblematic piece of Mather’s Star Wars period is the final (and most bizarre) film in the cycle, Les Pantless Menace (1999), which continues and concludes (to some extent) his reconfiguration of Star Wars iconography in general, while also attacking, specifically, in all its commercial grotesqueness, the utter crassness of Lucas’ artistically pointless trilogy of prologues. Tellingly, in one key sequence, Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker, Jar Jar Binks and Boss Nass – all of whom, in the “real” films, appear for the first time in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999) – leap into a conveniently placed toilet bowl (they’re in the middle of a forest) in order to escape a group of naked, rampaging Barbie dolls. As if this wasn’t already enough to suggest that The Phantom Menace and its characters were unworthy of the Star Wars name, Mather proceeds to have characters from the original trilogy (and, yes, another naked Barbie doll …) defecate and vomit into toilet bowls above the surface, which, needless to say, lead directly to the sewers in which the foursome are now swimming. Admittedly, we never see these substances touch any of them directly, although Jar Jar does get by decapitated by a rather large fish moments later. Mather’s distaste, it seems, is rather explicit – in fact, he has even gone as far as to call the film “a means of giving lunatic Star Wars fans the finger” (14).

What’s interesting about Mather’s Star Wars work in general (and Les Pantless Menace in particular) is again the way in which content, form and distribution methods all come together so perfectly to inform and influence one another. For example, in Godzilla Versus Disco Lando (1998), the film in which Mather most successfully subverts the traditional iconography of the Star Wars universe (in terms of the characters and their functions, at least), Obi-Wan Kenobi and “Disco” Lando come ever-so-close to making out, and Yoda (arguably the most iconic and revered of the Star Wars characters next to Darth Vader) is transformed, in no uncertain terms, into an involuntary suicide bomber. Firstly, no canvas but the consumer-level digital one could ever allow such a distortion to take place in the hands of anyone other than George Lucas (who’d simply never do it); and secondly, no means of distribution but underground methods of distribution could ever allow such distortions (and, in the case of Les Pantless Menace, such unbridled bitchniess towards the franchise) to see the light of day without Lucas and his lawyers going nuts (as was the case with the Australian-made The Dark Redemption, directed by Peter Mether, 1999) (15).

Notably, unlike Mather’s earlier Star Wars films, which generally concern themselves with the iconography and history of the original trilogy, Les Pantless Menace achieves a sort of temporal parallelism with the film that it’s spoofing (or the history that it’s reconfiguring), The Phantom Menace. Clearly, this is a key moment in the Mather filmography – the moment that history and its digital reconfiguration “occur” almost simultaneously – and it gives birth to other pop cultural reconfigurations of relative immediacy or simultaneity: Buena Vista Fight Club (2000), which digitally fuses, however obliquely, Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) and Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999), and the Aimee Mann music videos, which work to create an alternative identity for Mann and (admittedly at more of a stretch) an alternative, fully animated form for the music video in general – an identity and a form, needless to say, that could only be created digitally and, given the realities of the music industry, distributed online.

Of course, this parallelism between history and Mather’s reconfiguration of it is by no means limited to the pop cultural category of his work. It can, in fact, be traced, after 1999, through a number of his films; if not Fansom the Lizard and “The Trilogy of Tragedy”, then at least Clowntime is Over and his most recent film, the “is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-documentary?” documentary, A Fool’s Errand.

Histoire(s) du Mather Part 2: The Less Easily Definable

• The Open Source Agave Project
• Early Works (the “Sodapop Cycle”)

Like any filmmaker, of course, Mather has his fair share of so-called “minor” works; the films of one’s filmography that usually avoid serious discussion, however relevant or telling they may be. It seems to me, however, that the “less easily definable” work of Mather’s oeuvre – especially the open source Agave project and a number of his early works (the “Sodapop Cycle”, 1991 – 1997; Sightings: The Ganja Incident) – are important examples of the historical reconfiguration (and the constant “blurring of lines”) that I’ve been talking about.

Take, for example, the open source Agave Project (which is in itself a Dogma 2.0 experiment), which allows filmmakers to take footage shot by Mather and collaborator Jason Wishnow in Joshua Tree National Park (“where it was 106 degrees in the shade”) and cut together a commercial for tequila. At the time of writing, five versions of the film have been cut (16), five alternative interpretations of the same “history” – that day in Joshua Tree National Park – made possible, like all of Mather’s reconfigured histories, by consumer-level video editing equipment and the wonders of the internet.

Take, also, the Sodapop films of Mather’s formative years (which I generally define as being pre-1997), which quite obviously precede the reconfigurations of pop culture – Star Wars, Fight Club, Aimee Mann and the music video – that would so notably mark his post-Kung Fu Kenobi work. Hyperbolically described by Mather as “our grand cinema experiment [in which] we filmed an ordinary […] event – someone drinking a soda – in the style of several directors” (17), the “Sodapop Cycle”, in its own Mather/Maddin-esque way, reconfigures cinema history, however trivially or slightly, by “adding” films (with an average length of about 30 seconds a piece) to the filmographies of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen (the titles identify the film as “A Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Production”) and David Lynch (18).

Indeed, the majority of Mather’s “minor” work is ultimately precursory; it points – and often quite tellingly – towards Mather’s future output. Just as the “Sodapop Cycle” prefigures the Star Wars fan films and Buena Vista Fight Club, Sightings: The Ganja Incident clearly informs the “blurring of the lines” that takes place in Fansom and A Fool’s Errand (not to mention the mockumentary nature of “The Trilogy of Tragedy”), while the “quintessential film-student performance piece” (19), Cursing the Gulls (2000), prefigures the ambiguous pretension of A Fool’s Errand. (Is the film pretentious or is it making fun of pretension? Stina Chyn, reviewing the film in Film Threat – which, along with The Guardian, is one of the best online sources for cyber-cinema reviews – opted for the latter. (20))

Mather’s filmography, due largely to the fact that it’s almost completely available for download, is a remarkably malleable thing to study; major and minor works sit side by side, instantly accessible, allowing comparisons to be drawn and connections made across the board in a manner that’s simply impossible with directors whose works are available only on film prints or even DVDs. What’s more, because Mather himself maintains the website, one can (for the most part) trust that the filmography is complete and uncensored, even if many of the earlier works (which, in all fairness to Mather, originated on non-digital formats and probably haven’t been converted as yet) are still unavailable to the public.

Of course, this is not to say, all of a sudden, that the “instant access” nature of Mather’s work is in any way “better” than film projection or DVD, merely that it’s “different” (and arguably more efficient when it comes to study; I have five of his films open right now). However, it does raise some important issues about how we are to view and experience Mather’s work – and cinema in general as we move into the future.

A Question of How We See and How We Experience Cinema

I’ve been e-mailing Evan Mather on and off since I was about 16 or 17 years old, and have often found myself asking him (a) how one goes about making a film specifically for the internet and (b) how conscious he is of this distribution method while preparing and making his films (clearly, there are some telltale signs that point towards a film that’s been made for online distribution (21))? Mather’s ever-elusive answers to these questions, however, have often reminded me of John Ford’s in Peter Bogdanovich’s Directed by John Ford (1971); more often than not, the filmmaker claims to be making films for the big screen first and foremost, only becoming aware of the internet when he absolutely has to – which, in other words, at least at this point in his career, is pretty much all the time.

Icarus of Pittsburgh

Maybe I’m just being sceptical, however; maybe Mather’s films are ideal for the big screen and it’s just I can’t fathom it yet – for me, the mere idea of seeing Fansom on the big screen induces epileptic fits. Mather’s privileged position as the artist aside, I’m far more inclined to agree with the writer in Sight & Sound who wrote after seeing Icarus of Pittsburgh that “[Mather’s] films seem made to be watched intently, in isolation and cocooned by headphones.” (22) Indeed, these are films that are not, by design, supposed to be seen by more than one viewer at any given time (unless someone happens to be looking over someone else’s shoulder), and what’s more, that viewing, in my opinion, should most probably take place on as small a screen as possible – as small as Mather deems appropriate, in fact (some QuickTime windows are smaller than others) – or, at the very least (or the very most, as it were), on a television.

What questions do such films pose about how we see and experience cinema at present, and how we might do so in the future? Film should be projected, of course – this much we generally agree on – but when so much of what we see now has originated on digital video, one can’t help but ask whether or not, in actual fact, video is to be the preferred means of seeing pictures like Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity (2002) and Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002)? Similar questions must be asked about the actual experience of cinemagoing as well. There’s a profound difference, for example, between sitting alone in your study and seeing Icarus of Pittsburgh play in a QuickTime window the size of a large postage stamp and seeing it projected onto a screen at the Sundance Online Film Festival in Park City (“projected onto” as opposed to “beaming out from”, as video is technically “supposed” to do). At least, I assume that there’s a profound difference between these two experiences, and this is ultimately why I’m asking. I wouldn’t know what that difference is: I’ve never experienced an Evan Mather film on a screen larger than the one he himself provides me (and the rest of the internet) with, and nor have I experienced one in the presence of an audience. So, am I missing out or are they?

In the case of Mather’s work, the answer isn’t necessarily an obvious one. I saw Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967), Faces (John Cassavetes, 1962) and Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy, 1964) all for the first time last year. I also happened to see each of them on DVD (on my laptop computer no less!), alone in my room at University. Needless to say, I loved each of them with all my cinéphilic heart (as one does), although that’s ultimately beside the point. I wonder: are my reasons for loving these films in some way different to the reasons that others have for loving them – those who have seem them projected onto the big screen in the presence of an audience, I mean? Certainly, my experience is different; is what I notice, react to and take away from the picture as well?

This is a question that can be just as easily asked in regards to the films of Mather – and indeed of any filmmaker who chooses to distribute their work in an independent and underground fashion – although, maybe, the question should perhaps be inversed. Playtime was made for a gargantuan screen; Les Pantless Menace was not. Les Pantless Menace, in fact, was made to be seen by someone sitting in an ergonomic office chair while on their coffee break at work; it’s an intimate, individual experience. Is it possible that, in this case, those who are having the “traditional” cinema experience are the ones who are missing out? Is what they notice, react to and take away from the picture different to what I do when I see it in a QuickTime window? And on this haziest of lines, which experience is to be “preferred”? Is it possible that, with the films of Evan Mather, the pixilated box and tinny sound are part of the appeal, integral to the overall effect? To be completely honest, I don’t yet know.

Beyond the WWW

Alternate realities come easy to children, and perhaps here lies the true reason for the toy action figures, the young boy’s dreams of what Fansom might be doing in Las Vegas, and the accomplished handmade aesthetic …

– Kirk Hostetter (23)

I accidentally “discovered” the films of Evan Mather exactly five years ago and have been an avid follower and supporter of his work ever since, wanting – for at least the last year-and-a-half of these five – to write at length about his films (24). Until now, however, as his work begins to take a clear (and I would say conscious) turn – at least in terms of form and narrative content, if not at all in terms of it reconfiguration of histories – the time had never seemed quite right to do so. But the times, they are a’changing; if A Fool’s Errand and his new “documentary-[travelogue]-exposé-poem-hatchet job” (25), Scenic Highway (26), are anything to go by, Mather is clearly on the cusp of a brand new phase in his work. He’s also working on a début feature and looks to be preparing to step away from both the short film and the internet, even if his presence there continues as it undoubtedly will do. It is for this reason that I hope to bring “early Mather” to people’s attention now – or rather, why now is as good a time as any.

A Fool's Errand

A Fool’s Errand, which explores “the Korean penchant for elaborate public art” (27), marks the beginning, perhaps, of a more muted, ambiguous and subtle Mather (though I don’t doubt for a moment that the over-the-top incarnation is at work on something somewhere as well). Indeed, the film seems like the perfect, if slightly inaccessible, convergence of Mather’s grand project and its various elements to date (with the exception, perhaps, of its limited reliance on consumer-level digital technologies and internet distribution; another sign of Mather’s increasing desire to move beyond the Web). The blurring of the line between fact and fiction – in this case between documentary and mockumentary– is so masterfully executed in A Fool’s Errand that, by the end, what is real (as some elements of the film surely are) and what is not (one can’t help but question the likelihood of “Untitled Refuse No. 7” and “The Ringing Phone” being considered art) is completely indistinguishable, whereas, in the earlier work, the audience was afforded at least some vague (or not-so-vague) idea.

If aspects of the film have indeed invented (and I can’t find anything about so-called “fool’s gardens” online, which I suppose makes me the fool in question …), then Mather’s penchant for historical reconfiguration is alive and kicking as well – and this time, the reconfiguration in question is huge. Mather, going beyond the personal and pop cultural of his earlier work, has somehow found his way to the behemoths that are national and religious histories (in effect, he creates an entire religious ritual for the French aristocracy from scratch). At the same time as it reconfigures history past, the film also reconfigures history “as it happens”, the practice of simultaneous or parallel reconfiguration – that of Les Pantless Menace, Buena Vista Fight Club and Clowntime is Over – coming through in the film’s second half (the half that feels closer to “actual” documentary) in which artist Naomi Wong Mai-Xing creates a temporary “fool’s garden”. Importantly, the name “Naomi Wong Mai-Xing” doesn’t bring up anything on Google but references to A Fool’s Errand; the film’s so-called “subtitle translation”, according to the credits, was performed by Hostetter (who I’d wager can’t speak Korean), and the “Ministry of Public Artworks, Republic of South Korea” is credited with a special thanks when, needless to say, there is no “Ministry of Public Artworks” in South Korea. As with the McNally family in “The Trilogy of Tragedy”, Mather has created a character from nothing and now claims (in the credits) that she is real; and what’s more, he does so while simultaneously attempting to reconfigure the present day history of Korean “public art” (as it happens) and the history proper of the French aristocracy and the Church! But unlike “The Trilogy of Tragedy”, which uses the mockumentary form for (mostly) comic effect, A Fool’s Errand isn’t funny at all (not until you’ve done the research); historical reconfiguration and the blurring of the line have finally become both the means and an end unto themselves.

As Evan Mather’s work becomes more and more concerned with taking the world in its various historical incarnations and reconfiguring it to suit his singularly idiosyncratic vision, what’s certain is that, regardless of whether or not he remains a primarily internet-based filmmaker, he has already produced an œuvre of striking originality and remarkable coherence – an œuvre that, let’s not forget, is instantly accessible to those us of with a mouse and a modem. One can only hope that in this rapidly changing cinematic landscape of ours, significant web-based filmmakers like Mather (28) might finally get their work seen and appreciated despite (or perhaps even because of) the little QuickTime windows and tinny sound that characterises it. Because the way that we see and experience the cinema is necessarily changing, and hopefully, filmmakers like Evan Mather will be the first to benefit from this evolution.

Endnotes

  1. Nicole Brenez in Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin (Eds), Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinéphilia (London: bfi, 2003), p. 176.
  2. Mather’s films do, however, get a lot of festival exposure, and Fansom the Lizard was recently acquired by the Sundance Channel in the US.
  3. And they can all be downloaded from Mather’s website, Evanmather.com, accessed October 2004.
  4. Jonathan Marlow, “The Reconfiguration of Film History: Guy Maddin”.
  5. To be fair, Kirk killed him first – in Prolifique (2002), the pair’s artist profile for the 2002 Sundance Online Film Festival.
  6. Todd Haynes at the Northwest Film Festival, November 2000.
  7. It’s important to note that, in the case of “The Trilogy of Tragedy”, Kirk Hostetter’s past (and the reconfiguration of it) must also come into question. Hostetter is not only the co-writer/director of the series, but it’s he who actually plays the McNally family as well.
  8. http://www.evanmather.com/page3.html#fansom.
  9. Kirk Hostetter, “Why Would a Grown Man Play With Action Figures?”.
  10. Hostetter, http://www.evanmather.com/page4.html#essay.
  11. However, this hypothesis, and others like it, depend almost entirely on how much one knows about Mather as a person (not to mention Hostetter). After seeing Icarus of Pittsburgh (which concerns itself with a son’s love for his dead father) for the first time in 2002, I asked Mather whether or not the film had been inspired by his own personal experiences and feelings, to which he had answered yes. If this is the case, Icarus can indeed be seen as a reconfiguration of Mather’s private history as well as a further addition to fictional history of the McNally family.
  12. After a falling out shooting what appears to be a sequel to Airplane Glue, “Evan” draws a gun and shoots “Kirk” at point blank range.
  13. This cycle of fan films includes: Kung Fu Kenobi (1997), Another (1997), Lando’s (1997), Mace Windu Theatre: Getting’ Medieval (1998), Godzilla Versus Disco Lando (1998), Kung Fu Kenobi’s Big Adventure (1999), The Qui-Gon Show (1999) and Les Pantless Menace (1999).
  14. http://www.evanmather.com/page2.html#lpm.
  15. Jesse Walker, “Copy Catfight: How intellectual property laws stifle popular culture”.
  16. Agave #1: Fear (Mather, 2001), Agave #2: Mirage (Jason Wishnow, 2001), Agave #3: Fate (Hostetter, 2002), Agave #4: Contrast (Matthew Clayfield, 2002), Agave #5: Good and Evil (Mark Boszko, 2004).
  17. http://www.evanmather.com/page1.html#scorsese.
  18. Notably, the Scorsese and Allen films (both 1991) were shot on Super8 film stock roughly three years before Mather made the leap to the digital realm (his first digital film was a music video for Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”, 1994). One can’t help but wonder how far his reconfiguration of histories – both pop cultural and personal – would have been able to go, practically speaking, had he continued making films (and then somehow distributing them!) without the aid of the computer.
  19. http://www.evanmather.com/page3.html#gulls.
  20. Stina Chyn, “A Fool’s Errand”.
  21. A lack of complex transitions; larger-than-average titles and subtitles; nothing that will increase file sizes by too much; among other things …
  22. Eat My Shorts”.
  23. Hostetter, http://www.evanmather.com/page4.html#essay.
  24. I originally planned on writing a piece on the original three films of “The Trilogy of Tragedy” (but the ‘trilogy’, of course, kept growing …) and then Mather himself suggested that I write a piece exploring the similarities between Buena Vista Fight Club and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), a piece that obviously never eventuated.
  25. http://www.evanmather.com.
  26. I’ve unfortunately not been able to see Scenic Highway in time for its inclusion in this study, but have heard enough about to make some pre-emptive assumptions. Mather himself tells me (in an e-mail dated 18/11/2004) that “Scenic Highway is gonna amp up your theory considerably!”
  27. http://www.evanmather.com/page3.html#foolserrand.
  28. Another web-based filmmaker in dire need of wider attention is the Flash animator, “Billy Blob”.

About The Author

Matthew Clayfield is a journalist, screenwriter and critic currently based in Sydney, Australia.