Guns On The Clackamas
directed by Bill Plympton
starring Ed Townley, James Grimes, John Badder, Keith Scales
If you’ve ever been to an animation festival, you’ve seen Bill Plympton’s scratchy surrealist pencil-animated cartoons. What you may not have seen is the live action film he shot in 1996 that now rests in well-deserved obscurity. Guns on the Clackamas just came out on DVD, and while the cover art claims “cult classic” you’d be hard-pressed to watch this more than once.
Here’s the premise: Low-budget filmmaker Holton P. Jeffers (Ed Townley) shoots a potboiler cowboy flick with disastrous results. Pretty Boy Lucas Lonzo (James Grimes) can’t out-act his horse, large-breasted Bambi Star (Christy Green) stutters and is replaced half way through with only slightly more competent Selena Randall (Britton Chapman) while nerdish Nigel Nado (Keith Scales) is called upon to make a documentary about the shoot, only to have Jeffers refuse to speak with him. After Carl “Safety First” Huggins (John Badder) is fired, food poisoning kills the entire cast, and the film wraps up with lifeless bodies posed and production assistants beating off flies. Sounds like a hoot, right?
Wrong. While there are occasional laughs in this pseudo-documentary, they are few and far between as the script telegraphs its punches and the cast of unknown actors repeatedly demonstrates why they remain unknown. We circulate between several points of view — James X (Michael Thomas Parks) makes the sort of art films that Warhol beat to death in the ’60s and analyzes subtext, Nigel Nado gets excited about the discovery of a cigarette butt, and bitchy Associate Producer Angela Wadsworth (Louanne Moldovan) dishes the dirt on the cast but fails to garner sympathy. The plot plods along slower than the horse opera it parodies and clunky editing slows it down even further. Plympton’s script would have been funnier if he had tried to do a serious western.
The DVD has a few special features, including a TV interview with Mary Starrett from a Portland morning show, a perky yet snippy host who has obviously not seen Clackamas and has no interest in it. She repeatedly cuts Plympton off, hoping to get to a commercial as soon as possible. She may be the funniest person on this disc. There’s an audio commentary that’s also better than the film. Wrapping up the extras is a set of production stills and a few “man walks into a bar” jokes. The jokes were cute.
Plympton is a brilliant animator and more than capable of creating surreal environments with the stroke of his pencil, but he fell short with live action. This disc is only for the obsessive collector who needs every single piece of work from a famous artist, and not something the average viewer would find entertaining.