Eating Brains

Several days ago, my friend Pete Tarkulich, best known for his long-running, often hilarious, and always cookie-filled web comic Bardsworth,  got over some laziness, and posted a film that he made shortly after graduation called The Heart of Xmas. Little known to Pete, I had been tinkering with resurrecting (breathing new life? exhuming?) and dusting off my own early film “Gift of the Zombi”, just before he announced this new release. I was struck by the coincidence, and because it seemed like zombies were coming back from the dead, in the form of our old films.

When I was still in college, I used to have conversations about what I would do if I had the opportunity to teach a film class.  Getting jaded early, my suggestion was to burn everyone’s first project in front of them.  I imagined a large celluloid fire erupting in front of us, on the shore of the small lake behind the CFA.  There would be tears, probably complaints, but the lesson would be obvious and clear: your work is nothing, and it is no better than fuel for the fire.  I held onto this belief for the remaining days (at least two semesters) of study at the university.

“I think my film and video experiences altogether influenced me.  It trains to you think ahead and to think visually,” Pete explained to me when I asked him how this, and his other early films influenced his current work. It took a while to realize that you don’t learn much from a fire like that.  I agree with Pete, but I think there’s a little more to be dug up from those early films.  At least for me, the coincidental reoccurrence of our films speaks to a restlessness from beyond the depths where brains put the work we’re too disappointed, and/or embarrassed to accept.

Pete has been full going throttle with Bardsworth for a while now, doing a great job expanding his talents while doing something he loves. Its clear in the quality of the comic, that he’s enjoying this story, and that his devoted readers are too. I had to ask, however, if he would ever return to filmmaking.  “I’d like to someday, but on my terms,” he said. “I’d love to be a part of the independent scene and work with people who have a clue as to how human beings are supposed to act.”

I’ve kept Gift of the Zombi under lock and key showing it on rare occasions, mostly because I could not bring myself to burn what I considered an embarrassing piece of work. Something had made me a hypocrite to my determination as a younger man. As I’ve reviewed it, and slowly shown it to more people, I’m still seeing it as an embarrassing film. However, that embarrassment now drives me to grow, and make better films rather than just pretend the experience never happened. I thought creative work could be achieved without work. You need mistakes, and you need to make a lot of them, and the only way to do that is to make work, no matter what the quality. This was a revelation for me; gears clicked in my head and I realized why I got so many strange looks when I brought up my imagined syllabus years ago. If I taught a film class now, the only fire I’d hope to light, would be the one under everyone’s ass to get as much work done as they could, mistakes and all.

“Gift of the Zombi” will be on YouTube soon, and I’ll be tinkering with a special edition. I envision this to be a small book-like version, filled with notes, scripts, stills, and additional materials from the shoot. I’ll put it up on my shelf then, without fear of it demanding anymore from my brain.

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