The Mothers of Invention

Building the perfect beast at the Black Box Theatre

Bob Pece's films are hard to describe, taking place as they do in an alternate American time line far more interesting than our own. Using scratchy stock film, mock-documentary footage and Yellow Submarine-like cartoon goofiness of his own devising, Pece chronicles the lost genius of one R.T. Pece, an inventor who, we are led to believe, once entranced the nation with his strange, blobby, whirling, burping gizmos. We see R.T. in the films, a curious figure with a ZZ Top beard and a voice like a muppet carnival barker, and we learn how his grand business ventures inevitably ended in ruin thanks to his own hubris and questionable business practices. R.T. is Pece's skewed take on the great entrepreneurial, entertainment enigmas of America's bygone days; he's a little bit Disney, a little bit P.T. Barnum and apparently some kind of twisted self-portrait to boot.

There are those sad, earthbound souls ("stuck-up sticky-beaks," I believe Monty Python called such people) who will ask, what exactly is the point of Pece's films? Why create a bunch of fake educational films about some made-up inventor with your own name? What are all those psychedelic cartoon blobs about? What is this nonsense?

Pece himself describes the films as acts of "blatant self-promotion," but I question his sincerity on the matter given the fact that his films typically resolve with R.T. in disgrace after releasing products that thoughtlessly endanger children. Artrector Assembly Instructions, Pece's latest offering before us, chronicles the baffling but wonderful line of toys R.T. produced through the '50s. In this venture, as in an earlier film in which R.T. ran his own dubious theme park, the inventor becomes so caught up in his own fanciful notions and his own relentless quest for self-promotion that he eventually loses sight of the common good. Pece is farting around, but he's not just farting around: he's making a statement about America, about commerce and ambition and corruption and the gullibility of the public. I'm not sure what the hell that statement is, but I know I want more of it. I also know I want one of these Artrector kits, even if it is likely to blow my fingers off.

Like I said, Pece's films are hard to describe, but one comparison does come to mind. Imagine you're a kid in elementary school, and one rainy day, the teacher stops class so a strange man can come in and set up a projector. He starts showing an old movie about some inventor you've never heard of but whom the film keeps telling you is terribly important. Eventually, you fall asleep on your desk, and your slumbering mind works the film's droning soundtrack into one of the most unforgettably wacky dreams you'll ever have. Well, that's the Bob Pece experience right there. You're glad to have experienced something so strange and special, but just try explaining the details to your pals at recess.

Artrector Assembly Instructions screens with Amy Caterina's 6 Shorts About (non) Motherhood, a film with little obvious in common with Pece's work beyond their both being completely nuts. 6 Shortsbegins unpromisingly, looking for all the world like one of those camcorder home-movie/photo-album deals that people put together on their home computers and then e-mail to grandma. But then the little bunny clocks start popping up all over, and it just gets weirder and weirder from there. It soon becomes clear we are indeed looking at a family album of sorts, but what we're seeing is Caterina's conflicted appraisal of her family and her own place within it, as well as her jaundiced take on the reproductive process. One moment we're looking at an adorable little boy fumbling around in a dinosaur suit; the next we're confronted by a talking . . . oh, it's too horrible to say. Although we don't hear Caterina say much in the film, 6 Shorts is nonetheless agonizingly confessional, not so much because it reveals her family's secrets as because it reveals her own most secret thoughts about her family. This is the kind of stuff that comes up in particularly nasty arguments during Thanksgiving dinners, the stuff everybody tries to forget about for the rest of the year. 6 Shorts is a fascinating film, but I imagine the Caterinas will never have a peaceful Thanksgiving again. Artrector Assembly Instructionsand 6 Shorts about (non) Motherhood will both premiere at this screening, and both directors will also be screening older work.

RAT POWERED FILMS' ARTRECTOR ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS, 6 SHORTS ABOUT (NON) MOTHERHOOD, AND EARLIER SHORT FILMS BY BOB PECE AND AMY CATERINA SCREEN AT THE BLACK BOX THEATRE AT THE GRAND CENTRAL ART CENTER, 125 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 567-7233; WWW.RATPOWEREDFILMS.COM. FRI., 8 P.M. FREE.

 
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