There’s one good reason to watch Guns on the Clackamas and that is if you are already a fan of director Bill Plympton’s frenetic animation and you’ll watch anything he’s ever done.
There’s one good reason not to watch it and that is if you’ve never seen a Bill Plympton animation, because an uninitiated viewing of Guns will sour you on ever seeing another Plympton production. This would be a bad thing because everybody should see a Plympton animation... heck, you should see them all. Just don’t see Guns first.
I was puzzled by how flat Guns fell on its face. I even tried laughing AT it, but my heart wasn’t in it and the laughter was hollow and lifeless. Then I wondered why I was allowed to watch this film? This was supposed to be funny? “Comedy” as Steve Martin taught us “is not pretty”... apparently un-comedy is too. Also comedy is all in the .... (wait for it)... timing. And boy is the timing off here.
I was put in mind of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (2006) which is light-years better that Guns, but still not as funny as it ought to have been given Judge’s talent in making animated comedy. Then there is the all-time (in my experience) grandest failure by a comedy team on film (the envelope please...drum roll.. ) Yes, it’s The Firesign Theater’s Zachariah (1971). In this case it’s audio comedians laying a film egg, but the idea of pitfalls waiting for humorists who stray into foreign media territory still holds. Is there something about the jump to live action that throws an otherwise funny guy off his feet?
It’s not that Guns is lacking in good ideas. It’s got a bunch of them, any two of which might have made a pretty good start to a funny film. For instance there is the idea that this is a documentary gone bad about a film gone bad. And here I give a shout-out to Keith Scales (who does a plausible Richard Attenborough) as the frustrated documentarian Nigel Nado. Then there’s the idea of the director being a sociopathic con artist. Yes, you are saying, but what makes that different from any other film... and that’s my point. Or there’s the sudden death of the entire cast from bad pasta salad. Now death by pasta salad has to be funny any way you look at it and here in Guns it does get dangerously close to funny.
The comedy threshold is also toyed with in some scenes where stand-ins attempt to finish the film by keeping their faces concealed. The cover copy claims this was inspired by the death of Jean Harlot during the filming of Saratoga... perhaps. A better case could be made for Bla Lugosi’s stand-in in Plan Nine from Outer Space. I can say that the routine is funnier in Guns than Plan Nine. But it wasn’t supposed to be funny in Plan Nine, so it’s a bit of a hollow victory.
In the director’s commentary, Plympton admits to being a big fan of Spinal Tap.... and who couldn’t be? Here’s where I think Plympton’s direction of Guns has gone pear-shaped. His natural humor mode that works in his animation is an explosive free-for-all, and the thing that keeps it from being simply chaotic is his superb draftsmanship. The subtle visual nuance works against the wild action. Central to the genius of Spinal Tap is the word not spoken, the blank stare of the character to an absurd situation. More nuance and less wackiness might have saved Guns.
And so here I sit at my keyboard having deconstructed Guns on the Clackamas and wonder what it was all about. Talk about your hollow victories. But wait... maybe, just maybe the review could be made into a comedy about this guy that reviews the most unfunny film ever but no one reads it because the whole world has died from bad pasta salad. Now that would be real comedy.
The DVD has an audio commentary by Plympton and a TV interview from 1995 when the film debuted. Plympton missed a chance when he didn’t do a gag commentary, something along the lines of the joke commentary on Brother Bear.
Picture and Sound
Picture and sound are OK... better than the movie deserves, actually.
How to Use This DVD
This disc should be used for historic and scientific research only. Not recommended if you are prone to depression and/or ready access to firearms.