There are cool directors, and then there are directors as cool as Soda Jerk, whose films are almost like forbidden fruits – never coming to your favourite streaming platform and very rarely screened in a cinema near you. The reason the work of this highly distinctive film-making duo (Sydney-born siblings Dan and Dominique Angeloro) has the ephemeral vibes of theatre – available only for a brief window of time – is because they’re almost entirely comprised of pre-existing materials. Clips are liberated from their sources and reassembled for a Frankensteinian afterlife, without the permission of copyright holders, making any kind of traditional distribution impossible.
I included their previous production, Terror Nullius, on my list of the best Australian films from the previous decade partly because it’s an amazing exercise in deconstruction, ripping classics apart from their seams and ideologically reconfiguring them to reflect contemporary cultural mores. Terror Nullius for instance includes a wild #MeToo moment, jamming together images from various Australian titles to depict a group of furious women – including Lucy Fry from the Wolf Creek TV show and Jacqueline McKenzie from Romper Stomper – destroying a car from Mad Max, with Essie Davis from The Babadook lighting it on fire and Toni Collette from Muriel’s Wedding laughing as it erupts.
Hello Dankness uses remixing and reappropriation to jokily ponder the end of consensus reality – the idea that dramatic events of recent years have not just changed the course of human history but destroyed general agreement about what is real and what is not.
It depicts a recent historic period in which a series of unthinkables have happened; from the election of Donald Trump, to the madness of a global pandemic. Their approach is kind of reminiscent of those annual recap programs that overlay the year’s events with comedic commentary – except here using sometimes very old properties (like classic movies) to recall recent circumstances.
The opening is genius, simply consisting of Kendall Jenner’s protest movement-co-opting Pepsi commercial, presented in its original form. It’s a perfect curtain-parter for a film about the end of reality, because this ad simply couldn’t have happened. No company would so gratuitously pretend that deeply complex social issues could be resolved with a swig from a soft drink can, and no celebrity would ever put their face to it. Right?
Soda Jerk then (re)introduces Tom Hanks from The Burbs, who, in Hello Dankness’s funhouse alternate past – beginning during the lead-up to the 2016 US election – is now a Bernie Sanders supporter. Reyn Doi from Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar tosses newspapers on to front lawns, while Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne from Bad Neighbours exit their homes and Annette Bening from American Beauty drives down the street (she’s now a Hilary supporter). Then we see the other side of politics – and Bruce Dern’s crazy dude from The Burbs is obviously not voting Democrats.
The colour grading and textures of the various shots differ, and actors from different films don’t share the frame – so the joins aren’t seamless. One senses they’re not intended to be. Instead of being suspended into a continuous impression of reality, the viewer is constantly discombobulated, drawn into a state of deja vu while also experiencing a newly stitched together narrative, albeit light on details and plotlines. It’s not about following the growth of Tom Hanks’s character, but the thrill of placing him in a different context with different ideological and storytelling objectives.
The granddaddy of the collage film genre is Christian Marclay’s astonishing The Clock, a 24-hour experience that, instead of stitching together stories and making political observations, relies on a central gimmick: that the time on screen matches the time in real life.
Soda Jerk not only reassemble films but alter their contents, removing certain elements and adding others. One of the most interesting examples of a film built on the concept of removing visual information is Belgian video artist David Claerbout’s The Pure Necessity, which reanimated every frame of Disney’s animated classic The Jungle Book to remove all human and anthropomorphic elements. The results were extraordinarily weird: a kind of nature documentary with no recordings of nature, and no formal documentary elements.
The culture of remixing and reappropriation has great potential for comedy, and Soda Jerk can be very funny. In Hello Dankness for instance they cut to the titular character from the 1962 film version of The Phantom of the Opera, now banging away at his pipe organ in front of a picture of Vladimir Putin, then pointing to a VHS cassette on his shelf labelled “Pee Pee Tape”. The celebrity apocalypse film This is the End is also generously sampled, ripe with moments pairing suburbia with visions of Armageddon. Snatching and repurposing is a fiendish form of comedy, stealing scenes to make them funny again, never in ways originally intended.
Soda Jerk seem to view all motion pictures as public property: expressions of the collective consciousness to do with as they please. There’s a sense everything is up for grabs and the end is nigh: of consensus reality; of cinema and copyright legislation as we know it. Pop culture’s infinite cycle always spits out and reassembles content; here the process is explicit, amplified, and turbocharged.
Hello Dankness is screening as part of the Adelaide film festival until 16 December 2022.