[3 February 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s a sentence that strikes fear into the hearts of many a lover of independent art. “We are on hiatus” the simple phrase states, the only indication that Giuseppe Andrews is still around, making anything remotely resembling movies. This stark welcome to his current website could mean many things - the cinematic savant is truly taking a break from creating his brilliant homemade masterworks to concentrate on his many other talents: acting; music; literature. It could be something more personal, areas of interest only to the sleaze mongers and tawdry TMZ crowd. It could be technological. It could be something more sinister.
Whatever the case, it’s depressing to think that one of the most original voices in outsider creativity could be taking an indefinite leave - or worse, a more permanent one. If his latest effort Esoterica is indeed his swansong (at least temporarily) it shows that Andrews is still at the top of his game. A brilliant 27 minute short bubbling with enough volatile wordplay to give the corpse of William Burroughs fits, the Truffaut of the trailer park is definitely channeling his own personal beat poet here.
In this vignette oriented piece, a group of people discuss their own often unique perspective on life. Unlike other titles in his canon, Esoterica is completely apropos. Each sequence suggests the inner psychological struggles of seemingly normal people, the whole “private conversation in their head” thing given new and startling voice over reality. They are talking to themselves - and responding. All the standard players are here - icons from the past (Vietnam Ron, Walt Dongo) as well as new faces (Nolan Ballin, Sara Flanders) fresh and buoyant with the boy genius’s love of language. Together, their paint a stunning portrait of human frailty and mental mania.
This is one of Andrews most talk intensive films, the constant patter a window into a world few ever venture toward or may even know exists. This is the space between lucidity, the line in the psychic sand between staying within the social order and straying far from the maddening crowd. Some of the scenes are simple (an old man discusses his love of feeding birds), others seem normal until a surreal turn twists things up (Dongo is harassed by a flock of…laughing rubber duckies). And then there are moments which only make sense to the director and his muse - conversations that careen wilding between nonsense and the knowing ability to use words to create mood and emotion.
Indeed, what Esoterica proves over and over again is that nothing Andrews does is accidental. Sure, a dirty limerick like sequence featuring a Hispanic man and a plunger has all the making of a bad adolescent lament, but the truth turns out to be far more poignant. Similarly, long time Andrews associate Walt Patterson plays with dog flops during a particularly disturbing sequence, his recitation rife with the kind of pleas for attention that lead some to suicide - or something far more serial.
As with all his work, Andrews is still offering snapshots of the fringe, finding even the most ludicrous exchange worth of Day for Night consideration. In one of the few interpersonal moments, a couple discusses the man’s fledgling acting career. Failed sitcoms and headshots are considered, while other options are offered including “running snails to Mexico”. As he did with such outright classics as Trailer Town and Touch Me in the Morning, Andrews uses the mundane to magnify the differences between people. Esoterica finds the grace and gravitas in easy pleasures, offering piercing insights while ascribing significance to elements both typical and trite.
It’s also important to remember, Andrews does not use actors. These are real members of a small Southern California mobile home community who carry with them a universe of personal demons. Dongo in particular looks like he’s losing his battle with alcohol while age has taken the fire out of several standouts. Also missing from this mix is Andrews’ unusual musical backing. While there’s a random rap interlude and a couple of instrumental tinklings, the lack of a real strong song or two is palpable. Finally, some might find the lack of a threading narrative concerning, especially since Andrews has been flirting with such big picture ideas like science fiction (Schoof) and vegetarianism (Garbanzo Gas).
Yet it’s sad to think that this might be the last Andrews effort for a while. When someone spends their life in service of a particular artistic point of view, especially one that will be constantly misunderstood as eccentric or purposefully weird, they are bound to feel more rejection than reverie. In Andrews’ case, however, he has plugged along like a champion, challenging the Establishment to accept his vision of filmmaking as found art, or ignore it as hopelessly over one’s head. Perhaps one day we will learn the reason for such a creative reprieve. Until then, Esoterica will have to be the last word. Luckily, as with all of Giuseppe Andrews’ work, it’s a lovely bit of filmic literacy.