You may not think you'd be interested in watching films about other people's bachelor parties, weddings, folf outings and parties. And if you're not part of Missoula's Jay's Upstairs generation, your instincts could be right. But for those who were there during the heyday of that particular scene - the bands and buds who made the now-defunct dive bar on Main Street their second living room around the turn of the millennium - Saturday's screening of short films by Andy Smetanka will likely offer a nostalgic, at times bittersweet reminiscence peppered with some fun surprises.
Smetanka, whose writings on film occasionally appear in the Missoula Independent, has in recent years established himself as a talented filmmaker through his work as a low-tech animator of films and music videos. Employing a glitchy old Super-8 film camera, his stop-action animations of cut-out silhouettes have been featured in music videos by the Decemberists and Volumen, as well as Canadian filmmaker Guy Madden's "My Winnipeg" (which Roger Ebert called one of the 10 best films of the past decade).
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This new set of films begins with another of those animations, this one a haunting fantasia called "Aurora," which Smetanka describes as "the last lonely moments of the 1928 Soviet space program." Built around a soundtrack of ethereal music played by people whirling corrugated tubes, the five-minute film depicts a lost spacecraft (which looks more like a Naval warship) drifting through space, its one lone occupant tumbling weightlessly inside. Even lacking a narrative of any substance, it's a beautiful film.
Elsewhere on the program, Smetanka unveils new animations that jettison the silhouette cut-outs for other techniques. For a music video to a Joggers tune called "Every Other Word," Smetanka experimented - successfully, if literally monochromatically - with scratching the emulsion on blank film, creating an appropriately chaotic barrage of imagery to go with the music. There's also a compilation of hand-drawn animations made by Smetanka and friends during a night of play.
Otherwise, the bulk of Sunday's 15-film program focuses on short films built out of footage from Smetanka's wedding and honeymoon, a series of parties, beer blasts by the river, and so-on. It's clear that filmmaker and friends alike are having a blast during all of it, occasionally donning goofy costumes and carrying out goofy skits that might have been soon forgotten in the beer haze of the moment, were Smetanka not there with his camera. As I understand it, much of this has never been seen before by those featured in the films; I imagine it'll be fun to finally have those memories jogged.
Whether any of it is of interest to those of us who weren't around when Smetanka pulled out his camera is a legitimate question. The answer is surprisingly elusive.
While the raw footage of many of the films is hardly riveting, his handling of it as an editor keeps the pace rolling fast - and, indeed, the film rolling fast, with many scenes presented at an artificially amped-up speed.
What's more, the lack of an intact audio track and the grainy, at times out-of-focus, often black-and-white imagery serves the material surprisingly well, creating a mood of distance that commiserates with the uninvited. One might expect a film shot during Smetanka's honeymoon in Polebridge to be too intimate; the truth is the opposite, to dreamy effect.
Some of the program nevertheless becomes repetitive; but thanks to the diverse and well-selected musical soundtrack (featuring an array of obscure acts such as Aavikko, Chainsmoker, and Jean-Claude Chapuis), it grooves along fast enough.
Smetanka will screen his films this Sunday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the Crystal Theatre. Admission is $7.
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, firstname.lastname@example.org or on NickellBag.com.