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Experimental filmmaker Danny Perez and Maryland-amphitheater enthusiasts Animal Collective make an inspired pairing. The band’s first collaboration with Perez came in 2004 with the video for “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” The clip’s elaborate costumes and splashes of color, coupled with its genuinely macabre sense of humor, hinted at what has become a consistent and fruitful partnership. Just last month the two unveiled a “site-specific performance piece” at the Guggenheim entitledTransverse Temporal Gyrus, an event the New York Times described as “crashes, splashes, doomy altered voices, a quick Middle Eastern-tinged string-instrument phrase and bits of Gregorian chant.” Depending on your temperament, it was an enticing multisensory thrill or an excruciating nightmare.
Both descriptors reflect the early responses to ODDSAC, a self-described “visual album” both parties collaborated on for over four years. Its terrifying trailer below:
City Paper chatted with D.C. expat (now residing in Philly) Perez last week in anticipation of two ODDSAC screenings at the AFI Silver Wednesday (tomorrow) night. (Unspecified members of Animal Collective will be in attendance.) Perez spoke about the prescient nature of screensavers, dogged David Lynch comparisons, and the embarrassment of his parents reading his press clippings.
I read that you view a film like The Monkees’ Head as distant relative of ODDSAC, not so much in style but its spirit. Yeah, it’s the spirit of it all. It’s in the tradition of these `60s and `70s surrealist romps. Heavily surreal and somewhat fantastical and, though they have some narrative elements, for the most part they are still very tongue-in-cheek. I like those movies because with something like Head and Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, you get the sense that you’re watching something where people are having fun even when it’s sloppy. I almost appreciate arbitrary surrealism over technical craft because it’s more indicative of a human spirit or a human being. [Laughs.] When you compare that to something that has a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, those seem soulless in comparison.
I think that once you get past the standard three-act structure, it allows the filmmaker to have a lot more fun and experiment. People often use the phrase “experimental film” as a means of dismissing it—to mean, like, “oh, it’s just weird.” Well, it is an experiment because it pushes boundaries. By design, some experiments are not successful, but again, because of that spirit and that human element, I can always appreciate it more even if it doesn’t succeed.
On the film’s Facebook page, there’s a picture of cat describing the film in LOLspeak as “too Lynch.” Is that a response that keeps coming up at screenings? I’m certainly a fan of David Lynch and when I was growing up in D.C., I remember going to see those movies and being really psyched. I honestly see very little similarity between my work now and David Lynch’s. I think, like you said, it’s people’s most obvious reference point, and that’s fine. I would also argue that ODDSAC could provide young people, who aren’t necessarily as well-versed in experimental cinema, a new standard because it is a weird 21st-century hodgepodge. I could easily off the top of my head name a handful of other experimental filmmakers that you’d be able to see the influence from but yeah, that gets old. [Laughs.]
It’s interesting that an audience willing to indulge in the experimental sides of Animal Collective’s music would balk at a film that’s equally as adventurous. That’s a good point. Maybe it’s because music is so personalized that you can listen to the same Animal Collective song or Lil Wayne song over and over again and get a different reaction every time. Or it could just be that people listen to something because “this song gets me psyched” or “this song gets me happy.” Whereas a visual medium, whether it be advertising or the Twilight movies, what it can do for you is finite. People are not used to having to work so hard when watching or visually digesting these materials. It’s funny though, because I have a big gripe with constantly being bombarded by commercials and advertisements—but in 30 years, stuff from ODDSAC and other similar kinds of work will be on billboards and screen savers. There is a long history of the avant-garde, in all mediums, eventually being co-opted and becoming standard. Whatever’s on your screensaver, chances are that was an experimental optical print from San Francisco in the `60s…but now it’s totally normal. People will catch up and dig it, hopefully.
Journalists can’t seem to write about psychedelic bands without excessive reference to drugs. Almost all reviews of ODDSAC thus far also make mention of some kind of hallucinogen. To be fair, I’m not unaware of the drug movie genre and I’ve certainly enjoyed movies like that in the past. At the same time, it is a little irksome because it is an easy way to place something into a bubble that doesn’t allow for much other discussion. For example, take Animal Collective’s music. It’s always “drug music blah blah blah.” When it comes down to though, what we’re talking about is escape, whether it’s crack or someone who drinks coffee every morning. That’s what artistic media are—it’s all just a form of escape. And yeah, I agree. Every time I see these quotes and say “oh my God, my parents have to read this!” [Laughs.] I’m a grown man and I’m still mortified of my parents reading this stuff.
Are you planning any extras for the DVD? There will be a handful of special features, including a brief making-of feature. We’re trying to think about manipulating some of the abstract sequences, so if you like a certain part of the movie, you can just have it running perpetually on your TV. If you’re having a party, and just want something cool running, I’m into that. We’re also working on a book with all original artwork, including sketches and drawings that were used to make everything in the movie.
What projects are you currently working on? I saw that you’re developing a horror movie? I’ve got a lot of stuff cooking. I’m working on a film that’s a little more conventional and straightforward that would be considered a spiritual horror film influenced by my time in D.C. I’m also doing a lot of visuals for [Animal Collective contributor] Panda Bear’s new album and his upcoming tour. After the Guggenheim event, we got an offer for a similar event from other places, so I might try to engage some more in that stuff. I’m pretty fortunate that these guys keep me busy.
Were you satisfied with Transverse Temporal Gyrus at the Guggenheim? I was happy with it. It was a really intense experience in terms of how much time we had to put it together and how much it changed, but it was a worthwhile experiment.
Do you have a favorite theater in D.C?. It probably doesn’t exist anymore, but The Key on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. I used to go there all of the time. It was one of the few places showing reportorial arthouse movies. I have to give a shout-out to the theater where I worked projection all through high school and even a little bit of college—The Shirlington 7 in Arlington. That’s my favorite theater.
Tickets for ODDSAC can be purchased at oddsac.com, not the AFI box office. The screenings are at 8 & 10 pm.