[23 June 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
“Garbanzo Gas is either the most brilliant pro-vegetarian film ever made, or the most maddening deconstruction of meat’s magical allure since the Sawyer clan discovered the value in human hamburger. Centering on the mythical, mouthwatering promise of steak (and a fully dressed baked potato side dish), and using the actual source of such succulence as the pro/con catalyst, (Giuseppe) Andrews expands outward, taking on suicidal tendencies, homicidal madness, insanity, and fixation. Overflowing with the filmmaker’s trademark deranged dialogue, and incorporating a tender performance from Andrews’ staple Vietnam Ron, this well-meaning message movie is far more effective than a perverse PETA rally in reiterating the value of animal life, and the uselessness of human existence.”
That’s what I had to say, way back in 2008, about Giuseppe Andrews’ latest homemade opus, Garbanzo Gas (”Giuseppe Andrews: Two More from the Trailer Park”. As the reigning auteur of the trailer park, the then still slightly unknown filmmaker (who had early success as a child star in Hollywood, with roles in Unstrung Heroes, Independence Day, and Detroit Rock City) had just announced his movement from the mobile home to more solid backdrops and settings. This meant venturing beyond the confines of his residential RV village to shoot in hotels, apartments, and actual exteriors.
Nothing about his artistic approach changed. Fast and loose, with dialogue driving almost every single dramatic or comic moment, he became the new Godard, deconstructive cinema into its more engaging and entertaining basic elements. That most of his cast were found among the dive bars and rehab/homeless shelters of Ventura, California, simply added to his European New Wave vibe.
As with almost everyone of one his subsequent and previous films, Garbanzo Gas became a masterpiece of making, another gem to add to an increasingly large treasure chest of accidental genius. Granted, Andrews himself is awesome, a kind of one man crusade against anything remotely current or commercial, but he is working with untrained amateurs, with budgets less than $1,000, and usually creating his brilliance in breakneck, two-day shoots. That the results come together with anything remotely close to competence, let alone sublimity, speaks volumes for his aesthetic and talent.
For a while now there’s been talk of a documentary outlining his unusual moviemaking mannerisms. While Adam Rifkin’s Giuseppe Makes a Movie may not be the definitive behind the scenes look at Andrews and his act, it is a telling portrait of the people he works with and the main man himself.
Even for someone like yours truly, whose known his work since the very beginning, there are revelations everywhere. As he prepares to film Garbanzo Gas, Andrews’ dad Ed (?) discusses the ins and outs of the process. We learn of the cheap rates (some actors gladly deliver their proudly profane lines for little more than $20 and a few bottles of malt liquor), the personal pitfalls (his performers sometimes are too drunk, sick, or indebted thanks to gambling or other addictions, to show up on time), and the surreal creative conceits the filmmaker works under.
We learn that Andrews often threw his works away, believing that once they were done, they had lost their allure. He does discard the various props and costumes he buys, leading Ed to argue that, with a little care, they would by now have an entire shed of items to work with, for free.
But that’s not art, at least, not to Giuseppe. For him, everything he uses, from a cheap party store wig to a song specifically written for a movie, are part of that particular piece. Once utilized, they no longer serve a purpose beyond making that specific project better. They won’t—or better yet, can’t—go on to enliven something else. Therefore, they are tossed aside to make room for whatever’s fresh, new, and artistically invigorating.
What’s constant are his casting choices, and we get to meet several of his “stars” up close and personal. For someone like Andrews’ superstar Vietnam Ron, the reality of making movies is far more fun than the truth of his life. After 36 months off and on in that notorious war in South Pacific, he came home to very little. After a car accident which resulted in half his face ripped open, seven ribs crushed, and 250 stitches total, he decided to drop out from society and live the way he really wanted.
Similarly, Tiffany is a lost soul whose organic beauty seems to be hiding something very sad and very tragic. Ed describes her as the perennial victim (“one asshole boyfriend after another giving her nothing but crap”) but she seems really relaxed and thankful for her chances to work with Andrews. At the end of her interview, she sings a self-penned song that mirrors the kind of optimistic melancholy she exists in.
Other personalities aren’t quite so fragile. Aging alcoholic Tyree spends most of his time cracking jokes and shitting his pants, literally. Walt Dongo describes living in a tent with his son while enjoying a liquid breakfast as Sir “Bigfoot” George begs off a career in film, stating it’s something “he’s not interested in.” By the time Andrews’ wraps up Garbanzo Gas, we’ve come to discover the real humanity that exists along the fringes of our communities, of how these people look at their lives a whole lot differently than the media or well-meaning organizations portray them.
We also discover what an astonishing man Andrews is. When Tyree has his “accidents”, he gladly cleans him up, arguing that he loves the man and would do anything for him. When another actor fails to show up for his scene, the filmmaker instantly hits the various homeless hangouts, looking to give anyone a chance at quick “stardom” for some much needed cash. He makes sure to feed and fend for his cast, creating a kind of family in the process.
Even in some of his own story—living in a van, setting up a shed behind his father’s trailer as a kind of makeshift studio, his daily eating regiment—we see less an eccentric and more of a maverick, a man determined to get his vision out to the world by whatever means necessary. Or in his case, by a digital camera and a cast of legitimate characters.
Taken together, all this turns Giuseppe Makes a Movie into an awesome documentary. Why? Because it does what the genre does best: it highlights an unknown subject that few would normally know about in a way that makes its exclusion our loss, and its discovery more than a delight.