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Bushwacked: Embrace your pain

Jean Poole

"If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him."
The Google Buddha.

Resfest, the sexy Brazilian wax of the film festival world, has pores that bleed. These were evident in the clips curated for Bushwhacked, Resfest’s compilation of mostly animated George Bush Jnr pisstakes, but the selection also served to spotlight pain in ways the selectors might not have expected.

Eat my shorts

A month after Bush’s re-election was never going be a good time to dissect his bad points. Given the amount of US influence on our country, it is bad enough that we don’t get a vote. Watching another country make the collective decision to reinstate him was gruesome on another level entirely. Granted Resfest have a busy globetrotting calendar, but during pre-US election cocktails, surely they could’ve pencilled in some provocative clips for the post-election audiences that went beyond the ‘Bush-bad’ genre, if only to dull the pain, or help map other potential universes.

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey."
Kenji Miyazawa

In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, US President Eisenhower warned about the dangers of “unwarranted the Military Industrial Complex.” Post World War II, it was still possible to smell the approach of a machine that might eat up governance and civic society. That machine is so well oiled these days, machine-fearers instead call it the ‘Military-Petroleum Complex’, or in reference to the heroic PR machinations involved in maintaining any such enterprise, the ‘Military-Entertainment Complex’.

While Bushwhacked piled on the potshots at the monkey dangling atop that complex, precious few of the clips aimed below the monkey veneer. Pirates and Emperors was probably the best of those with fangs. It was directed by Eric Henry, best known for his co-direction/animation of Wave Twister, the revered hip hop animation feature for Q-Bert’s album of the same name. Opting this time for a simple 2D cut-out animation style, Henry managed to provide a sharp and nimbly visual analysis of current ‘freedom fighting’, tracing aggressive US foreign policy from contemporary assaults, back through Nicaraguan conflicts and linking it to Alexander the Great. Snappy as a soft drink commercial yet a little more illuminating than many of the films on offer.

What Barry Says by Simon Robson (UK) similarly combined inventive lateral visualisations with critique of US foreign policy to great effect, though it was the filmmaker’s succinct condensation of ideas through motion graphics that really made the piece sing. With a heroic effort in Adobe After Effects, Robson delivered persistently sublime vector transitions—the oil, it flows from Middle East pipes, across the Atlantic, then up the Statue of Liberty until bursting into flame, you know? All with a rumbling soundtrack underbelly detailing the Neo-cons’ ‘Project for a New American Century’. Google and debate amongst fellow conspirators.

The Horribly Stupid Stunt (Which Has Resulted In His Untimely Death) found another Yes Men prank stretched across 25 minutes, with typically absurd anti-World Trade Organisation punchlines, and a WTO audience passively accepting a Yes Men proposal to let the market place buy votes from disenchanted voters (the Yes Men had received another conference invitation sent to their fake WTO website, and accepted). Alt-doco pin-up boy of the month, Michael Moore, also got a leg in with an edited clip for System of a Down, cutting together charged scenes of anti-war rallies around the world. Warming, if not revelatory.

Careful listening in most Melbourne cinemas can often reveal collective pain—the whisperings of film graduates, buffs and camcorder owners: “I could do better than that.” Another burden carried by such creative audiences is balancing the hope that their skills might bring about change with the knowledge that a monster the size of Fahrenheit 9/11 failed to make a sufficient splash. Rubbing their noses in the even dimmer impact of a range of Flash-animations and 30-second nobody clips was probably a case of too cruel, too soon.

"Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain."
Charlie Chaplin

Seen the site that jockeys uncannily resemblant monkey photos beside 20 different George Bush facial expressions? If anything, it demonstrates the almost too obvious ease with which monkey-boy is satirised, which was part of the problem with Bushwhacked; the appeal wanes once you dip into the exhaustive catalogue of audiovisual collage techniques and realise each has the same cartoon punch-line of ‘bush=bad/absurd/evil’. Johan Soderberg’s guerrilla lip-syncs probably deserve some accolade, but even re-animated lips inevitably wear thin.

Exhibiting a wide range of techniques would seem to be where Resfest finds its niche, rather than in ‘ideas’ as Jeremy Boxer, the Res-boy argued. Or if they really do plan on running the gauntlet with ‘ideas’, now that ‘digital DIY’ ain’t novel no more, let’s hope next year’s selection offers up a platter of world-changing insights and possibilities as Res wrestles with the rest of the Bush presidency. As it stands, the festival’s breadth of audiovisual exploration seems to draw in the curious creatives who in turn lure the uber-brands (eager to prey on ‘tastemakers’) and soon enough, there’s the Branded (or was that branding?) Session, where audiences pay money to see Brand-funded flicks resonating with corporate identities. Knowing I wasn’t in that session at least soothed some of the pain.

Bushwacked, Resfest Digital Film Festival, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Dec 3-7, 2004

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 20-

© Jean (Sean) Poole (Healy); for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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