"...Several weeks ago, I was looking at a painting in the regional gallery of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art when I heard a burst of laughter and thigh-slapping behind me. Three young men who had apparently never been in a museum before were whooping it up as they surveyed the gallery walls. They were at least responding, although they were not relating. They were angry.
The fact that they couldn't relate to what they saw was like a slap in the face, a personal insult. It really wasn't all that different from what might be the reaction of conservative Southern adults if they happened to wander by accident into the ambisexual, ambiracial, teenage dream movie, "Purple Rain." The majority of humanity is disturbed by the appearance of something alien on their everyday horizon."
The next paragraph continues..."At least the boys got inside the museum..." (The Commercial Appeal)
The Commercial Appeal published an article by cultured columnist Donald LaBadie called "Something Alien In The Park" in their weekend Fanfare supplement on August 26, 1984. LaBadie had observed three 'angry' young men laughing at 'art' in the Memphis Brooks Museum in Overton Park.
I was one of those 'angry young men' in the museum that day.
Note the man in the cartoon bears an amazing likeness to George Cole (circa 1984)
LaBadie claimed that I and my friends knew nothing about real art or culture - as if the Museum was above criticism by people who showed their disdain openly. What we did know was "low brow" culture: comic books, rock and roll, and drive-in movies. These original creations were end products of American Pop Culture, not the "high brow" european influenced modern art that LaBadie championed - but Labadie never spoke to us in person. From the safety of his typewriter Labadie suggested that we would be better served by the "teenage dream movies" of our peers (like "Purple Rain"). Well, I had just shown "Purple Rain" all summer long at the Lyric Theater in Tupelo, MS. I had gathered much more inspiration from the Replacements, graphic novels like Love & Rockets, and Orwell's novel from the year Bowie sang about.
"They were angry" George, John, Mike circa 1984 in Mississippi. Photo by John McCarthy Jr.
The eighties only offered us a serviceable culture, there was no 'teenage' to be had. Maybe that could have been why we were so angry. Why were we angry? Somehow we missed it. The fun of the baby boom...not that it ever reached Mississippi to begin with. Perhaps it had started there but never returned. Gone were the decades of the golden age that we had barely caught a glimpse of. Ironically 'WE' were the art in the park that day. We were the 'aliens' on our own everyday horizon.
There was no way out and there still isn't
Still angry; Mike, John and George laugh at framed LaBadie Article (Loserdom; ten year anniversary of Guerrilla Monster Films, January, 2004)
You have to laugh or get angry - or both. For me that is the seed of creativity. LaBadie's elitist commentary foreshadowed my bands, my comics, and my 'teenage dream movies'; ten years later I founded Guerrilla Monster Films in Memphis.
John Michael McCarthy (JMM)
Alex Warble cartoon #1 art based on the original editorial cartoon from 1984 by an unknown artist (see left column).
"Hello, This is JMM from Memphis! My Movies are for the Incredible Shrinking Middle Class that keeps evolving after Punk, after the Death of Elvis, after the Underground, My Comics are for the two most beautiful men born on Earth (and his twin is born dead). My Rock and Roll is 'Something Alien In The Park'. I am an Escapism Artist. I am Many Last Names. I am JMM, the Redneck with a Thousand Faces, The Man Without A Drive-In." (a short JMM bio or "blurb-speak" provided to John Murry for his video "Southern Skies")
THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN "SOMETHING ALIEN IN THE PARK"
PART 2:" FEBRUARY, 1973: ZIGGY STARDUST VISITS THE MEMPHIS ACADEMY of ART IN OVERTON PARK BEFORE HIS "ALADDIN SANE" SHOW AT ELLIS AUDITORIUM. MIGHT BOWIE HAVE STRAYED TO THE OVERTON PARK SHELL (CONNECTED TO THE SCHOOL BY AN OLD STAIRWAY), HE WOULD HAVE DISCOVERED THE SITE WHERE (PART THREE:) ELVIS PRESLEY & THE BLUE MOON BOYS FIRST PERFORMED IN JULY, 1954.
SANDWICHED IN BETWEEN BOWIE AND ELVIS, WAS (PART FOUR:) MEMPHIS' OWN HORROR HOST "SIVAD", YOUR "MONSTER OF CEREMONIES" WHICH AIRED ON WHBQ IN MEMPHIS FROM 1962-1972.
WATSON (SIVAD) DAVIS FILMED THE INTRO TO HIS SHOW IN OVERTON PARK (AS WAS WITNESSED ONE EARLY MORNING BY SCULPTOR TEACHER JOHN McINTYRE).
THIS TELLS US THAT ME, GEORGE COLE & JOHN PRESCOTT WERE NOT THE FIRST "ALIENS IN THE PARK". WE MERELY FOLLOWED A TRADITION OF 'ALIENS' FROM ELVIS, SIVAD, & BOWIE.
BOWIE PURCHASES ART FROM DOLPH SMITH AT MCA, FEBRUARY 1973
"The majority of humanity is disturbed by the appearance of something alien on their everyday horizon." Had LaBadie, in composing this sentence from "Something Alien in the Park" in 1984 been subconsciously referring to Bowie's visit 11 years earlier? Foto by: Cherry Vanilla.
Alex Warble cartoon #2 art based on the original editorial cartoon from 1984 by an unknown artist (see left column). Alex drew the actor who played George, mocking fine art as television. Alex also plays the ART STUDENT in Goddamn Godard.
"1984: A Summer With No Night..."
Some background on the short "Goddamn Godard"...
Shortly after the completion of my 2009 feature CIGARETTE GIRL and before I went to Perth, Australia to premiere the film at the Revelation FIlm Festival, I began shooting a 27 page script called SOMETHING ALIEN IN THE PARK. It was to be a dedication to the Donald LaBadie published criticism that announced (warned?) of my coming to Memphis as a 21 year old art student back in 1984, where LaBadie had referred to me and my small group of friends as " they were angry". Actually we were just The Rockroaches.
Steve, John, and Ceylon (John, George & Mike) await direction.
I had always wanted to use the title "Something Alien In The Park", but after having taken so long in completing the final short movie, Editor Keith Crass suggested I change the title to "Goddamn Godard", a line uttered by Don Meyers in the role of "Art Critic". It was a good idea. The title woke people up. It woke me up to the notion of finally finishing the damn thing after 2 years, and I couldn't have done it without Keith.
The French starlet prepares for a scene.
I met her on the battlefield of a post-starlet wasteland. So we had coffee at Cafe Eclectic one morning. She wanted to know if I could help her form an art-collective between Paris and Memphis. I was not only interested, I was entranced by this beautiful woman and would-be starlet. Unfortunately I had just proclaimed (in print) that my "starlet" phase was over. This girl didn't care, but she was ready and willing to do make Art. The kind Donald LaBadie would like? That's hard to say. After all, she was from where ART began, on the very cave walls that come into question in the first moments of our plot. Surely, LaBadie, were he alive, would approve of post-starlet. From her accent, to her taste in art, to her far out eyes and her ability to pose in front of Confederate Flags.
foto by DAN BALL.
LIGHTNING ARM BAND BY MARY WILLS
The finished on-screen "Vagina Tree" by Alex Harris.
When the pretty French girl asked me what could she do to repay me, it was if as the short film that was in limbo in a certain part of my brain suddenly sprang to life. I asked her if she would take off her clothes in my movie. She instantly accepted. I believe this was the proper muse I needed to write those 27 pages. Somehow all the anxiety, anger, and anarchy of being 'something alien in the park' had to center around a beautiful, elusive, woman. As the ART MODEL, she becomes the modern art woman that everyone misperceives from their own perspective angle.
I had drawn interpretations of artists drawing a naked model for the first time in my Eros comic book SUPERSEXXX. With GODDAMN GODARD, I got to do it in three dimensions. The scene where Alex Warble is revealed to be a young student in a room of old men as Celine takes off her clothes is one of my favorites. To create a further feeling of alienation, the ART MODEL asks the ART TEACHER (played to a humorless perfection by Darius Wallace) to turn his back for fear of psychosis, not shame. Celine's character has no problem being naked, she doesn't want to be seen taking her clothes off. What exactly would you call that condition anyway?
foto by DAN BALL
I got the crazy idea that I would have several friends score this damn thing. JEFF WAGNER, out in San Francisco, contributed a beautiful ode to Southern Alien. HIs version will be posted on this page eventually, and I apologize to Jeff that it has not yet surfaced. The version that is available and is posted here below, has a score by ALEX CUERVO. A third version was completed by POLI SCI CLONE and will also be posted. A fourth and final version by Alex Warble (who plays the ART STUDENT) is available in the navigation bar above with accompanying links at Soundcloud to other songs that may be related to the material. It should be stated that CUERVO and WAGNER composed pure scores, timed to cuts. WARBLE crafted delicate pop-tunes that will eventually be manipulated around the scenes - and POLI SCI CLONE did a mixture of the two. The creation of this page by Promo-Sapien Ronnie Harris is the first step in giving all four versions a proper home.
My father JOHN MCCARTHY has a cameo in GODDAMN GODARD but he passed before seeing the finished movie. He is also in the last scene but hidden via special effects. I recalled climbing up on the roof of the house and hanging a green screen over my front porch (as author Robert Gordon rode by on his bicycle). Director of Photography JEREMY DONALDSON arrived to shoot our last shot where ALEX WARBLE walks into his own drawing (the "vagina trees"). I had wheeled my dad out on the porch to get some fresh air to help fight his cancer. Two days later, he passed away. Whenever I see the last shot of GODDAMN GODARD I think about how my father is sitting behind the veil of trees that ALEX (HARRIS) WARBLE disappears into. My dad was in bad shape and we all knew it, but he got to at least be part of a film crew experience one last time, and he had been there at the beginning with my first movie DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS.
The effect of Alex walking into his own art was an After Effects composite created by H.G. RAY who we also lost this year to cancer. "BUDDY" (as his friends called him) created many effect (both practical and virtual) for Guerrilla Monster Films. ALEX WARBLE is still kicking and creating beautiful art. I asked him to recreate the original editorial cartoon depicting my friend GEORGE COLE viewing a painting but imagining television. Several of those ALEX WARBLE cartoon versions are reprinted here, including the original that accompanied the September 1984 "Something Alien In the Park" article (artist unknown).
Alex (Warble) Harris sketches two versions of the Vagina Trees.
In the late Summer of 1984, when I moved in with GEORGE COLE at 189 North Auburndale, he surprised me with the "Something Alien In The Park" article, by blowing up to 3 feet by 4 feet and framing it. We thought highly of LaBadie because he had given us a welcome to Memphis - and a challenge at the same time. George eventually wrote a song called SOMETHING ALIEN IN THE PARK. Had FINGERS LIKE SATURN lasted long enough, we might have gotten around to recording it.
foto by DAN BALL
At the time (2007), the original notion was to split the lengthy title in half and just call the FINGERS LIKE SATURN record "Something Alien", with the idea that a later film would be called "In The Park". In fact, POLI SCI CLONE was first cast as the ART CRITIC, loosely based on a LaBadie - like character. I recall one shot of PAUL (POLI) WOODARD staggering toward the art school steps with a battered frame of a painting draped around his shoulders (being videotaped by TOM WAYNE) - but this version was not completed. I had to meet the lovely ELISABETH CALLIHAN who worked at Brooks Museum of Art. She had enough cool attitude (and power) to allow us to shoot there (after closing) at the actual "scene of the crime". Soon three actors (playing me and George and John) were laughing at "ART" in the museum. A strange fever dream of reality twisted from an old forgettable newspaper article and onto the screen.
There could have been several fantasy films made about this event from my perspective. GODDAMN GODARD is perhaps a heady mix of realities, and I thank all those, living and dead, which helped make it a reality.
foto by DAN BALL
Page design Ronnie Harris, Photos by Dan Ball