Showstopping Filmmakers Rodney Ascher and Syd Garon

Danny Plotnick May 17, 2006

There are certain filmmakers whose work you like, yet there are rough patches and bald spots in the oeuvre — excruciating moments where they went out on a limb and the branch broke off, or the moment where the work was underdone and said artiste is simply coasting on reputation. Rare are the filmmakers who never let you down.

When curating screenings, there are only two people whose works I would show sight unseen. Rodney Ascher and Syd Garon are Miami-bred filmmakers who have been working collaboratively and individually for years. They transplanted to San Francisco in the mid-‘90s and migrated to the sunnier climes of LA in the ’00s.

I first crossed paths with them in the early ’90s, seeing their super 8 sock puppet extravaganza, “True History of Crime: X=X,” a retelling of the Henry Lee Lucas saga. Not quite as harrowing as “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” the film was loaded with charm, talent, and vision in spite of the technical crudiness.

A short time later, they made the Jack Chick-inspired masterpiece “Somebody Goofed.” Leaping into the nascent world of After Effects animation, Garon and Ascher made a stunning animated film based on the cartoon pamphlets of fire and brimstone proselytizer Jack Chick. Chick pamphlets — which could be bought for a nickel a piece at religious curio stores or, more likely, found lying on the sidewalk for free — have always held a fascination for urban hipsters. Garon and Ascher’s adaptation is by far the best adaptation of the Chick pamphlet, a legitimate underground subgenre. The style of animation they developed with the piece would soon be imitated the world over, but no question, these guys are the torchbearers.

Subsequently Garon made the landmark featurette “Wave Twisters” and Ascher made the mind-boggling Dianetics infotome “A Coldblooded Look at your Last 60 Trillion Years.”

In previous editions of the Mission Creek Music Video show that I’ve curated, Ascher’s and Garon’s work had brought down the house. Ascher’s horror-film nod for “Bride of Ozzy,” his pilot for a doomed MTV show based on the life of Gene Simmons, and Garon’s Hieronymous Bosch come-to-life music vid for Buckethead were heavy hitting crowd pleasers.

This year, they are back with more Buckethead. In their new video “We Are One,” Buckethead does battle with a reanimated corpse that is part wolverine, part beaver, part part human convict, part lobster, part goat and part bunny. With rotting corpses and severed limbs Ascher & Garon have created a truly ghoulish collage. As a curator, I deem it wise to start every program with an out and out showstopper; this year there is no doubt which film will unspool first.

Danny Plotnick’s third-year program of music-based films plays Mission Creek Music Festival Thursday at 8 p.m., at Artists Television Access.