Official Website: rubberjohnny.tv|
Release Date: 20 June 2005 in the UK and Europe, 12 July in USA
Formats: PAL or NTSC DVD, with 42-page book of artwork - ORDER HERE.
Reviews ·· Promotional Material ·· Interview
If you are one of the people who purchases a material copy of Rubber Johnny, rather than just view the short film online, the first thing that greets you is its cover.
Safely filed under "wtf," and with props to rotten.com, Johnny is nasty. Slip off the plastic, flip open the book, and see how that thing transforms into a mess of anus, scrotal skin, hair, teeth, muscle and shape. And those are all Chris' body parts there. Awww yeeaah.
As fans will no doubt recall the short came first, however long it took to film, idstort, animate and edit. The 6-minuter started off as an ad, then a music video utilizing "afx237 v.7" from Aphex Twin's 2001 album drukqs, onto which Chris added his own sounds and music. During the four-year span it took to complete, time also used on aborted features and the like, Chris learned After Effects, and Rubber Johnny morphed into the short it is now.
As Warp synopsized, "Johnny is a hyperactive, shape-shifting mutant child, kept locked away in a basement. With only his feverish imagination and his terrified dog for company, he finds ways to amuse himself in the dark." But the story behind Johnny is a bit of a red herring, as "afx237 v.7" sparked Chris' primary interests, here: the synchronization of sound and film, the human form and its distortion, a certain technological paranoia, and machinery.
The film was shot on DV, and most of it filmed in infrared, that now-familiar nightvision that turns you into an alien with glowing eyes. This might make me a weirdo, but I found the intro to be rather touching and right hilarious. In it a psychologist gives Johnny a short, syrupy talking-to, even as Johnny freaks out a bit, dangerously. It segues on a perfect beat into the title sequence, and then the true film itself.
The speed with which Rubber Johnny ends is a bit disappointing, but that can be partly attributed to the Anticipation Index. Given that Chris hasn't created anything substantial in four years, it's hard not to wince at our meager portions. But Rubber Johnny's juices can be relished when played at a slower speed. While Warp locked the pause button, my DVD player let me cut it to 1/7th of its original speed, which is good enough to see the film's incredible detail.
At a slower speed the film becomes utterly brilliant, as well as in tangent with flex. Laser lights careen around space as Johnny mutates, fades, explodes.. just about anything a human form could do if it weren't so tied to its definition. Johnny's wheelchair becomes a punk accessory, a fun toy to mess around with. And the final sequence is unreal. Shot in awkward spotlight, Johnny smooshes his unhinged body parts - an eye here, a jaw, um, over there - onto a pane of glass in front of the camera, leaving behind gobs of flesh and smeared sweat as he mutates. As is one of Chris' goals with his film work, it is remarkably real, thanks to some sick plastic prosthetics. Thus it's also completely disturbing, but funny if you can stomach it.
The film took Chris some six months to edit, three of which he spent editing footage that wasn't included. "I scrapped [that footage] because it was going to take so long to put the post effects on it so I thought, 'Fuck it.' I cut the video in half and put it out like that. ... It had a female version of the character, them playing outside really fast at night. It was pretty bizarre compared to the first half." (Pitchfork)
"It was incredibly difficult to edit this video and find that line where it seems breakneck but still flows and makes sense as a sequence. I would have to redo each shot about twenty times in order to find something that worked. It involved a lot of experimentation. It was closer to animation than editing and I had to create the video 2 frames at a time. Sometimes spending a day on just getting two frames to work to the music." (Warp)
Meanwhile, as Warp Films was preparing to release the book and DVD, the Italian printers backed out, protesting that it was "too indecent to subject their workers to seeing it at the mill, and they .. flatly refused to print it on moral grounds." (warpfilms.com)
Rubber Johnny was also screened in quite a few places. It made its world premiere on 4 March 2005 at the opening of Berlin's MaerzMusik Festival. It continued on a tour with the London Sinfonietta's concert of Warp Works and 20th Century Masters, hopped aboard a Warp Films screening tour with Paradise Lost, and was even screened guerrilla-style onto several London buildings on 23 June.
Rubber Johnny was named Best Experimental Short, and won $3000, at the 2005 Melbourne International Film Festival, one of ten awards given out in their 44th International Short Film Competition.
cut-up.com: London Sinfonietta + RJ review
Poster, postcard, bookmark (front and back), and sticker
Warp Interview With Chris Cunningham
This film originally started as a promo for the Afx. 237 v.7 track on Aphex Twin's album druqks. How did the idea for the promo change from its original incarnation to the form we see it in now?
It started out as a 30 second TV commercial for Druqks. I listened to the track a lot and got carried away. I suggested to Steve Beckett that I should expand it into a full video and that I could knock it out in a few weeks, as it was just shot on a DV camera and it featured me and not much else.
I ended up getting heavily into animation experimentation and started to learn After FX and other bits of software and before I knew it a year had passed and it seemed less and less relevant as a music video. Then I went off for a year to develop a feature project and worked on this whenever I had free time, like a weekend hobby. I would get my friends to help me shoot a shot here and there, whenever they were up for it. The first day of shooting was actually September 11, 2001. I remember being strapped into that fucking wheelchair when I heard about the World Trade centre.
Rubber Johnny is your fifth collaboration with Richard D James. What is it about his music that inspires you?
Well, most of my ideas just wouldn't work with the majority of music I get sent. I listen to a lot of very varied music, but if I am going to make a video or short and possibly spend months on it, I would rather do it to music which allows me to experiment. My style is about seamlessly fusing the sound and picture together so I have to look for music that can support dynamics and tangents.
Rubber Johnny is synched masterfully. Can you talk about your editing and labour process on this project?
The primary objective with this video and the collaboration with Squarepusher, was to try and push the synchronisation aspects of my work to the limit, before I did a feature. When I look at older videos, like Come on My Selector or Come to Daddy they look slow to me, even though they seemed fast at the time.
I wanted to see how fast you can go before it becomes nonsensical, a mess. The editing style in Rubber Johnny is actually very old fashioned and simple. If you were to watch it at half speed you would see that.
It was incredibly difficult to edit this video and find that line, where it seems breakneck, but still flows and makes sense as a sequence. I would have to redo each shot about twenty times in order to find something that worked. It involved a lot of experimentation. It was closer to animation than editing and I had to create the video 2 frames at a time. Sometimes spending a day on just getting two frames to work to the music.
The sketchbook/art book is your first to date. Can you talk about the images and the ideas contained within them?
The images in the book are all based around the character in the video, who I imagined as a hyperactive, shape-shifting child who has to find ways of amusing himself in the dark. They range from character sketches and re-modified video stills to portraits and drawings made specifically for the book. It is pretty much a book of self portraits, just not the kind that my mum would put in a family album.
I am too restless to just make videos and I want my work to be a bit more multi-media from now on. Rubber Johnny is the first release where I have tried to cover an idea in multiple mediums. I was actually going to make a series of sculptures too, but ran out of energy.
What projects are you currently working on? Are you making a feature?
This book and video is the first in a series of experimental works that I will be releasing through Warp. There is a collaboration with Squarepusher coming up and then I will be concentrating on non collaborative projects and a feature.
The character is called Rubber Johnny, which is the colloquial term for a condom in the UK. How is this character like a condom?
The bass line in the track sounded like an elastic band to me and so I got the idea of someone shapeshifting like a piece of chewing gum, whilst raving. The title Rubber Johnny just seemed to fit the character and shapeshifting idea really well. It has nothing whatsoever to do with condoms, although it is a bonus that Rubber Johnny is a term that we used in the playground. It is very English, I suppose.
Some of your work challenges conventional views of the body (flex, windowlicker, leftfield). Do you think that Rubber Johnny can be viewed in that context?
Rubber Johnny is definitely a continuation of my fascination with anatomy and the body. I think virtually everything I have done is figurative in some way.