Keep in mind that bizarre film from the ’90s that one way or the other starred Tom Hanks as a Bernie Bro, Annette Benning as a Hilary Clinton stan, Wayne and Garth as alt-right drones, Donald Trump as himself and The Phantom of the Opera in a Vladimir Putin cameo? Nicely, because of the Australian artist duo often called Soda Jerk, this movie really does exist — and it simply is likely to be essentially the most unique and bizarrely elevating film of the 2023 Berlin Worldwide Movie Competition.
Titled Hey Dankness, the movie is assembled completely of samples — some 300 of them from classic movie and TV sources, together with one other 250 pilfered audio clips. An array of recognizable characters from the collective unconscious of current American popular culture are deftly re-deployed into a brand new narrative that phases them as members of a suburban group residing by way of the bizarro years of 2016 to 2021 — following them “as their shared actuality disintegrates into conspiracies and different contagions,” because the filmmakers describe it.
Jesse Eisenberg emerges as Mark Zuckerberg, surveilling and exploiting the American citizenry — and later mercilessly executing them once they morph into election-denying Trump supporters staggering in direction of their imaginative and prescient of revolution. Daddy Warbucks performs a Third Manner Democratic mega-donor. Bruce Dern pops up as a trad Republican who will get pilled on QAnon. Ice Dice seems kind of as himself, as does Napoleon Dynamite. There are scores extra.
A monumental and obsessive modifying train, the movie sculpts a compelling and coherent satirical narrative out of this mega-abundance of cultural effluvia, redeploying style conventions to its personal ends. Maybe most spectacular, the variously repurposed characters convincingly seem to exist inside one off-kilter world. And regardless of plunging headlong into the rancor and surreality of current American politics, the mission one way or the other manages to generate a sense of levity and reflective distance — reasonably than simply extra reflexive scorn and non secular exhaustion.
“Politics in America have all the time been divisive, however what emerges after 2016 isn’t just discordance however dankness,” the members of Soda Jerk write. “It turns into psychotropic like dank weed. Viral, janky and confounding like dank memes. It’s a time of presidents with pee-pee tapes, baby-eating Democrats, child-trafficking in Wayfair furnishings, and unhinged coronavirus conspiracies implicating Invoice Gates, China and 5G towers.”
They add: “As a substitute of attempting to smoke out the info from the faux information, Hey Dankness leans into these mythologies, making an attempt to make seen what they might reveal and obscure concerning the deep cultural fissures and devastating materials situations that characterize this second.”
Soda Jerk usually reveals few info about themselves, past that they’re siblings, initially from Australia and have been primarily based in New York Metropolis since 2012. The duo has beforehand collaborated on initiatives with the cyberfeminist collective VNS Matrix and the digital music group The Avalanches. Hey Dankness follows their gleefully controversial political revenge fable Terror Nulls (2018), which was disowned by its commissioning physique of their residence nation, who known as the movie “un-Australian.” They have an inclination to function inside artwork world and experimental movie contexts (Hey Dankness was supported by the Adelaide Movie Competition and Samstag Museum of Artwork), and given the realities of copyright regulation, the brand new movie is unlikely to ever be commercially exhibited. However that’s OK with Soda Jerk.
They are saying: “We needed it to be a document, written from the time concerning the time, about the way in which expertise was shifting below the rising regime of the web.”
Forward of the Berlinale, Latest Hollywood News related with Soda Jerk for a short alternate about their novel method to moviemaking.
Who’s Soda Jerk? To the extent that you just’re comfy sharing these things…
We’re siblings, however cringe at origin tales about rising up collectively, it simply feels too twee. We choose to consider the collaboration as one thing that rose from the grave of Napster. Within the early 2000s once we have been residing in Sydney, we have been each within the free tradition skirmishes that have been rising between trade and early file-sharing initiatives. We have been additionally into the experimental breakcore scene which was accelerating audio sampling, and artist squat communities and unlawful warehouse raves that have been co-opting real-estate. We understood all this stuff as associated, as methods of seizing privatized sources and reappropriating them. We have been additionally heavy sentimental for cinema, so we finally turned these methodologies of sampling onto movie. In 2002 we started collaborating on our first characteristic movie known as Hollywood Burn. It’s an anti-copyright sci-fi biblical epic by which Elvis Presley will get kidnapped by intergalactic video pirates who make a video clone of him and ship it again to 1955 to face off towards the tyrant Moses and his Copyright Commandments. It was totally constructed from tons of of VHS and DVDs pirated from video rental shops.
What’s the story of Hey Dankness‘ genesis?
Ever for the reason that unprecedented dumpster fireplace of 2020, it’s turn into straightforward to overlook the already unusual WTF feels of the 12 months 2016. However that is the place Hey Dankness actually emerged, from that feeling of disbelief on the surrealness of US politics that was rising at the moment. Our wager was that this weirdness, this dankness, was not finally a few explicit forged of political characters however concerning the cumulative impact of the web on the reordering of tradition. Our broad mission for the movie was to discover a manner of documenting this sense of unreality, the uncooked feeling of it, and in addition what it would obscure or reveal concerning the materials realities and energy buildings of the present second.
Are you able to inform me slightly about your course of? How do you even get began and go about making regular progress with such a monumental digital assemblage like this?
For Hey Dankness, we finally sampled over 300 movie and TV sources, and round 250 audio sources. However the whole quantity of sources we have been working with was nicely over a thousand. So issues can get unruly actually shortly, and we rely closely on spreadsheets to log timecodes and transcode particulars. We additionally use sprawling wall maps in our studio to trace completely different prospects and potentialities for sequence buildings and ideas.
However the factor that actually holds the mission collectively for us is to start with a transparent concept of the narrative we’re telling, and that’s all the time pushed by actual occasions and documentary artifacts. We consider ourselves as rogue documentary filmmakers in that sense, although our movies additionally lean closely into extra speculative and genre-based modalities. So once we started scripting Hey Dankness in early 2019 we had plotted the occasions we needed to cowl, such because the 2016 election night time, Pizzagate, Russiagate, the Trump Entry Hollywood tape — and later because the pandemic unfurled in 2020 we scrambled to fold new occasions into the mission as they emerged in real-time, such because the pandemic lockdown, the rise of corona and QAnon conspiracies, and many others.
One of many largest technical and inventive achievements of the mission, for me, was how successfully you create the sensation that these varied co-opted characters stay inside one unusual, steady world. What are a number of the modifying secrets and techniques, or key strategies, to giving such various materials a contiguous really feel?
There’s a variety of pretty invisible FX within the movie, similar to altering the colour of a polo shirt to create continuity for a personality, or changing the background of a shot so that it’ll type a greater match with the footage round it. In our work extra usually, it’s widespread for us to deploy in depth rotoscoping strategies to chop characters out of their unique footage and place them inside new photographs. However for Hey Dankness we actually needed to double down on the world-building potential of the edit itself and problem ourselves to push the traditional technique of the minimize so far as it will go.
Making an attempt to squeeze classical continuity from completely different samples is absolutely tough, and the one efficient technique that we’ve discovered is to mount a brute-force assault. We pattern as many movies as attainable and relentlessly generate as many edits and script concepts as we are able to consider, in an limitless multiplication of alternate options. Every sequence undergoes tons of of various iterations with completely different characters or narrative frameworks. Whereas a filmmaker may sometimes shoot their movie after which edit the footage, we’re continually in a loop of writing, sampling, modifying and rewriting all through our total course of. There’s a gross quantity of wasted labor on this workflow, as you is likely to be attempting to comprehend a scene that you just’ll by no means discover the items for, or have the proper pattern that simply can’t be labored in.
However our objective isn’t full continuity and immersion within the new narrative we’re setting up. As sample-based artists we’re additionally extraordinarily within the seams the place completely different sample-worlds collide. This was one thing that influenced our method to the color-grade, for instance. Whereas typically we might grade for continuity, principally we have been eager about retaining the samples unique colour divergences as a manner of preserving the relation to the unique context.
How a lot time would you estimate you spent on the movie, in whole?
There’s something known as “gamer mark,” which is a gnarly pink callous that avid gamers develop on the underside of their wrist within the exact spot the place their hand rubs towards the desk when utilizing a mouse. Let’s simply say we’ve got that mark.
Previous to the pandemic, it was already a form of joke amongst our associates that we might go into “lockdown” once we have been engaged on a movie, disappearing off the face of the earth into our underground studio bunker till it was achieved. When the time period lockdown began for use within the context of Covid-19, we have been already a 12 months into our personal lockdown with the mission, and the pandemic solely turned up the depth on that. We spent 4 years working with ridiculous depth on the movie, from early 2019 till late 2022.
What does the title Hey Dankness imply to you?
What it means for us is that actuality has begun to really feel baked, and that spheres similar to politics have begun to tackle a deeply viral logic of their formation and dissemination. What we like concerning the time period “dankness” is that it has many meanings. It begins as a manner of describing moisture, is then adopted as a time period for actually potent weed, and eventually migrates to explain memes which might be particularly janky or unusual.
The title can also be a riff on the Simon and Garfunkel tune ‘Sound of Silence’ that itself has turn into meme-ified. The invocation of the sixties counter-culture feels attention-grabbing to the present second, as a result of in a way we live out the nightmare future of that historic vector. At this time’s platform capitalism is what occurs when the utopian libertarianism of hippies implodes into the cyber-corporatism of Silicon Valley.
Is it bizarre to you, as Australians, that American political discourse so utterly suffuses the web that your very surreal however nuanced depiction of current U.S. political occasions on this movie can be simply legible to viewers from nearly wherever?
Dolly Parton nailed it in 2016 when she stated that American politics is the best present on tv. It’s robust to pry your eyes from. It’s lurid and ludicrous, and but additionally an extremely important power shaping materials realities nationally and internationally.
Is there a personality from the movie that Soda Jerk feels essentially the most affinity with?
Weirdly sufficient, the character who most carefully embodies our private experiences of the interval is Tom Hanks. As dedicated Bernie Sanders supporters for each the 2016 and 2020 election cycles, we too needed to negotiate emotions of despair and melancholy across the lack of that temporary second of hope on the unconventional left. However our affinities additionally shift all through the movie, so typically we would determine with the child holding the ACAB signal at Robocop, or the queer mice that disguise below the floorboards at Biden’s election occasion talking the poem ‘I need a Dyke for president’, or we would really feel sympathy for a zombie shot by Mark Zuckerberg, and in addition really feel implicated within the complexities of the Annette Bening character. Every character within the movie is complicit, nobody escapes blame. We additionally don’t intend for our affinities to map onto that of different viewers, we welcome the way in which that completely different individuals will inhabit the movie relying on their very own political orientations and previous cinema experiences.
Are you able to inform us slightly concerning the materials/monetary/enterprise situations surrounding the movie’s creation and dissemination?
It’s such a reduction to not spend our time at movie festivals chasing trade execs across the lodge breakfast buffet. We see our filmmaking as working throughout the custom of civil disobedience, our work just isn’t designed to sit down safely throughout the regulation however reasonably to check the contours, traps and loopholes of those frameworks. We exist between the visible artwork and experimental movie worlds, and whereas establishments fee the work, they don’t have a monetary stake in it. So, there’s no cash to recuperate and no objective to get distribution, simply our personal dedication to getting the work seen by no matter means emerge. There’s a lengthy historical past of artist cinema which have labored on this manner, however no actual mannequin, it’s simply one thing we make up as we go alongside. There is no such thing as a objective to make financial institution, simply to have the ability to convey sufficient scrappy hustle to maintain on maintaining on.