CAPSULE: This is an over-the-top mock documentary. GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS: A DOCUMENTARY covers the making of an epic western film. It is being made in spite of the bad luck of having several actors die before the film is complete while the director has to work around the problem. Co-written and directed by animator Bill Plympton, this film is uneven both in its humor and in its appeal. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Bill Plympton is in a class by himself with his imaginative, anarchic animation. He will show people going through transformations that can best be described as "topological". People's smiles will turn them inside out or a woman's breasts will transform into hot-air balloons and carry her off into the sky. His films are visually creative and rarely have a lot of story. That makes it ironic that he would try his hand at a live- action film that limits him mostly to verbal humor. He did, however, attempt crossing over in 1995 when he co-wrote and directed his second live-action comedy. To be more specific, GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS is a mockumentary following the problems encountered in trying to make an epic western called GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS. There have been some very good comedies about Hollywood and film production. Among them are DAY FOR NIGHT, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, and LIVING IN OBLIVION. Plympton has a lot of competition and does not really come off a winner.
In the film we follow an adoring British filmmaker following the shooting of a new film by the "Producer/Genius" Holton P. Jeffers. Of course, to the viewer Jeffers seems to be making every possible mistake, including some mistakes nobody has ever made before. The production of the film is plagued with the sort of bizarre problem that one rarely thinks about with filmmaking. One actress talks normally off-stage, but in front of the camera she is reduced to severe stuttering. Sadly, she is the girlfriend of the executive producer and cannot be fired. Another actor has breath bad enough to fell the leading lady. The film has a barrage of problems that would intimidate a Terry Gilliam.
Plympton's style is to show some odd feature of the story and just keep shaking it in the viewer's face in the hopes that if it was funny at first it will remain so, and if it was not funny it will eventually seem funny. There are extended gags about an associate producer who is in love with kitsch popular paintings of children and animals with very large eyes. We see much more than we need to of this art and the gag seems borrowed from Arthur Hiller's THE IN-LAWS. We hear about the stuttering problem in clinical detail, which does not make it any funnier.
The film is shot so it seems like a grainy, low-budget affair. But what we are seeing is intended to be a cheap documentary with a rather arrogant, pretentious narrator/host. The film might work better if this narrator at least showed some surprise at the incompetence of what he is seeing. But none of the characters in the film are very believable and the film might have worked better as a farce not quite so exaggerated.
Humor is, of course, very subjective. Judging from other reviews of this comedy, some critics found GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS hilarious and some were on a completely different wavelength from the film. I found some if the ideas amusing, though lacking in their execution. They might have been better illustrated with Plympton's surreal cartoons than with the flat performances Plympton gets in live action. Particular fans of Plympton may find the film more rewarding than the typical film fan. I rate GUNS ON THE CLACKAMAS: A DOCUMENTARY a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0113239
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Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper