WHY WOULD A GROWN MAN PLAY WITH ACTION FIGURES?

by Kirk Hostetter, 4/13/02

Many of us love movies, we love to watch them and talk about them and even write about them. A few of us love to make them too. But not many live to make them – Evan is one of those not many. He’s constantly working on something, and constantly coming up with ideas of what to do next. Read a newspaper article? Turn it into a movie. See a wacky guy on the street? Turn it into a movie. Take a trip to the desert? Turn it into a movie. Hear a story? Turn it into a movie. See a movie? Turn it into another movie. Evan made Super 8 movies as a kid (the earliest in his filmography is from 1981 when he was 12 years old), but it was this impetus – to turn a movie into another movie – coupled with the onset of the ongoing digital revolution, that allowed him to combine two of his passions, Star Wars and animation.

With these original digital parodies, stop action, illustration, action figures, and sampled and original dialogue and sounds, were downloaded, scanned, composed, and merged in the virtual computer world. And, most significantly, distributed, via the Internet, to all seven continents. These are concept movies, and none are going to change the world. But so what? Even those critical of these creations must recognize moments of inspired originality: naked Barbie dolls floating through space; a boxing nun kicking Godzilla’s ass; and a television station dedicated to showing two men slapping one another 24 hours a day. With these Star Wars shorts Evan gathered a bit of a following, had a lot of fun, but more importantly mastered his technical tools, in this case his video camera and his software, to put himself in position to create animation work that has been progressively more accomplished. Buena Vista Fight Club, Fansom the Lizard, and a music video for Aimee Mann’s Red Vines, all truly original animated short digital films, utilize a hand-created aesthetic, keep one foot in that 8mm past, and refine Evan’s world of whimsy, unpredictability and charming absurdity.

The absurdity has been there since the beginning. Pinecone from 1991, tells the brief story of a young man who’s told, indirectly, by a pinecone with the voice of Ronald Reagan, to run over everyone he sees with his VW Bug. It’s stupid, clever, and its fun to watch. It’s another pre-Star Wars piece, though, that to me represents the most interesting thread that passes through Evan’s work.

Sightings is a 25 second dramatization, or not, that documents two men who have witnessed a UFO, or not. It’s a dramatization because the title text tells us so, but it’s not because one man tells us: “we are not actors, we are real people.” This blurring of the line between the real and the unreal, the navigation through layers of truth and fiction and back again, is intrinsic to the cinema, especially that which is digital and liquid, but with Evan it’s always a question, always part of the subtext, and it takes on many faces. It can be blunt and simple, as it is in Sightings; reflexive, as it is in the Star Wars parodies; literal as it is in Buena Vista Fight Club (those are real cartoons beating unreal humans to pieces that re-form into a virtual Frankenstein); indistinguishable and wandering as it is in Fansom the Lizard (it’s the story of a false story of a true event); misleading as it is in Vert, Airplane Glue and Icarus of Pittsburgh; and it can be, well … are Aimee Mann’s eyebrows really like that?

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: these subjects and methods offer a natural connection to a place, a past where making up stories and playing out fantasies is not only accepted, but condoned. This fascination with looking back, with mining the past, is something that I have come to realize the two of us have in common. The three shorts that Evan and I have made together (Vert, Airplane Glue, and Icarus of Pittsburgh), each include characters that in some fashion feel the need to retrace old tracks, to regain something lost, to somehow make tangible a memory they still own, or a person they can no longer talk to.

But capturing images is fighting time, so, whether by way of snapshots or home movies, we all do it. Only with Evan’s work it’s about fighting both time and what it inevitably steals from our adult sensibilities.

Co-creator of the “Trilogy of Tragedy” (Vert, Airplane Glue, Icarus of Pittsburgh), Kirk Hostetter is a Seattle architect and movie lover who also runs 24framespersecond.com draws architectures.

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