Everything is Terrible's Commodore Gilgamesh on the group's psychedelic Christmas explosion
The work of Everything is Terrible! is hard to describe.The easy way out is to note that it's video collage, but that doesn't begin to convey what this crew does with video. The videos themselves are dense, context-busting pastiches of pop culture and pure insanity. But as if that weren't enough, their creators add live, interactive elements to the mix to further delight and disorient the audience. On Sunday, the folks behind EIT! will bring their latest show, the Holiday Special 2012 Cataclysmic Transformation, to the Sie FilmCenter. Their biggest, most excessive project yet offers up the ghost of Christmas Past via untold hours of video schmaltz condensed into one continuous psychic onslaught of found footage, surrounded by an elaborate stage show full of puppets, fake snow, candy and glitter that will transform the Sie FilmCenter into the winter wonderland from your wildest dreams -- or your darkest nightmares.
We recently spoke with EIT's Commodore Gilgamesh about the show, the dark side of Christmas and the psychedelic effects of too much pop culture.
Westword: The last time you were here it was to show Doggie Woggiez! Poochie Woochiez!, which was a remake of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain made entirely of dog footage, right? This is a little less high-concept than that, isn't it?
Commodore Gilgamesh: Yeah. For sure. I think we took it easier on this one, compared to Doggie Woggiez. We tried to make it a little more fun and less intense for the audience. It's a lot goofier, I feel like. I think we just needed a breather. We worked on that for two years and it nearly killed us all, so it was nice to come off of that into very-easy-to-repurpose holiday footage that's just dumb and silly and covered in glitter. We were just able to easily find the dumb chunks that we love or hate and get them out without killing ourselves. We made something a little more fun and goofy.
Speaking of the time that goes into these projects, how much raw footage do you have to watch to produce, say, ten minutes of finished video insanity?
It varies a lot. This is way less sources than Doggie Woggiez, but [we've] also accumulated most of this over the last four or five years. I think my count was a little over a thousand sources for the movie as a whole, for a 55-minute piece. Every ten minutes can have hundreds of sources jammed into it sometimes, just depending on the pace and whether it's a faster, more psychedelic part -- it can have hundreds in a matter of seconds -- or a slower more talky part, [where] you can see there's less in there. It varies greatly.
When you put this special together, did you sit down with a plan in mind, where you search for specific scenes or themes, or did you just watch a lot of Christmas stuff looking for scenes that make you go, "Holy shit, this is too insane, let's include it"?
Well, we know that the "holy shits" are there, just because everything has that and we know we're going to find it. We always do. We don't really work around that. We typically just know the structure of these [Christmas] movies, because they're all the same movie, so we just have that in our head going into it. Then we build around that. There are specific moments we build around, like we need all of the times where Santa looks in a mirror and is surprised that he's Santa. Or every time that's somebody is riding in the sleigh and they're looking down. Stupid little lists like that. Basically we make a hundred supercuts and hook them together based around the plot of all these movies.
This one was a little different, because we made the movie as a stand-alone piece, but we also, while we were doing it, thought about how to make it fully interactive with the live show. Before we've always presented the movie before and after, but this time it's back and forth. It's like a dialog between the video and the live stuff. We kind of had to restructure the video slightly to make it correspond with the live action on stage.
How does one do a live show that interacts with video? What can we expect from this experience?
This one's really different than our other ones, where we built giant furry mascot costumes and such. This one, we built an entire set that's going to cover the whole of every venue. It's huge, man. It's so big and dumb. [We] made a tacky, disgusting winter wonderland with nine-foot tall Christmas trees, and the Christmas trees are puppets as well. So we have puppets on stage interacting with a small boy puppet who's kind of the protagonist. Then there's a yeti that emcees the show. There's a lot that goes on at once -- a lot of gross, shiny, flashing lights and crap. It's much like the movie. It's fun and silly.
Is it psychically jarring like the movie too? I found the movie riveting in a kind of brain-searing way. The images are still rattling around in my head.
I think the live stuff is less jarring, especially this time. We're not trying to mess with the audience this time as much as we have in the past. It's more of a break from that. It's us digesting the stuff that we've seen, and just dealing with it, because it is jarring. It's upsetting, so it's kind of like us going, "Okay, we're all still here. We're in this room together. We're in puppet face but we're still here with you." We're going to hold your hand through this ridiculous video.
I think that's important because we could just show these movies but it's a lot more fun to be there with people and be like "It is okay." Does that make sense?
It does. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you guys are doing something unique, right? You've invented a new art form of interactive video collage puppetry...
That's what we think. I always feel weird saying "I don't think anybody else is doing this," but I really don't. All of the other found footage acts that we know either just up there with their faces and hands talking over the clips, or are just showing their video. As far as I know, it's the only thing like it, which is exciting for me. And I think we just keep pushing it. We get bored really easily, as you tell probably by our editing style.
A little ADD thing going on there?
Yeah. That's just the product of, I mean, we grew up watching this stuff. I was a total television and movie addict as a kid. It just killed my ability to relax and be okay with something. I think the live show is a testament to us just being like, "It's not enough to make this insane movie. It's not enough to just come out in a silly outfit. It's got to get bigger and bigger and bigger every time." Hopefully it just keeps growing.
Is it like you're daring yourself to go bigger, like, "Well, last time was crazy and over the top, but what can we do next time that is crazier and more over the top?"
Yeah. It's like when we go see bands that we love, we're like, "This is great, but what's happening on the stage?" There's nothing on the screen, there's nothing going on around you guys. We just want to fill every second, and every inch with something happening, so there's no chance that anyone will ever, ever be bored. Ever.
So you can't look away?
Right, but you want to so badly, you know? That's what's so funny about it, that's what we love. It's the way we feel about the footage. It's a car crash and you just can't stop looking at it. It makes you feel awful, but it's pretty great.
Speaking of feeling awful, a lot of the footage in the Christmas special is dark. Maybe that's not surprising, considering how many Christmas specials have a current of darkness that goes through them.
I think that's the nature of such a smiley, bullshit holiday. It's dark. It's real, like everything else. It was interesting, I watched hundreds of the most boring, mediocre holiday specials imaginable. As I watched them, I was like, "This is one of the most oppressive, messed up systematic events of our culture." It upset me to watch them all. There's all these themes running through it that we found really disturbing, in how it manipulates people, and I think that kind of came out in the movie. It just made it kind of dark, especially for such a thing that we think is so fun. But you're right, it is kind of messed up and dark.
I watched the special right before bed and I woke up with those images still percolating in my head. You mentioned some parts being psychedelic earlier, and I have to agree. It is very psychedelic, in the sense that sometimes on psychedelic drugs your mind will just regurgitate all these images you've absorbed and it can be very disorienting.
That's exactly what we are all about, is making it a psychedelic journey. I feel like, when I go back and turn on a television and not doing Everything is Terrible, it's like I'm turning on Everything Is Terrible. Every moment is insane to me, and psychedelic and disturbing and hilarious. I'm shocked and amazed that everyone who watches TV every day isn't just a puddle of mush.
That's something else I wanted ask about -- how does watching thousands of hours of weird footage affects your perception of "normal" media and your viewing habits?
There's a lot of us that do this and we all have different responses to it, but personally I don't watch anything any more. I can't watch anything. I do this, then I watch maybe two or three movies a year for normal pleasure. It's definitely changed me. Like I told you before, I was a full-on junkie. I watched every single movie and television show I could get my hands on as a kid, and now I just can't even look at it for a second without feeling crazy.
I was actually thinking about this a lot. With all the holiday specials, I think there's an emotional pull that we're taking on, and I think the manipulation of emotions that happen in those movies is something that someone who watches one of those a week, or two of those, however often people watch movies, there's an emotional thing that happens to you. But when [I] sit down and blast through five of those in a night, I almost feel emotionally beat up by the end. I do think that we take on a pretty heavy emotional load by taking on all this stuff and breaking it down and regurgitating it. It's definitely a draining thing to do emotionally.
It must make you really aware of the formulas they use and, when you find an outlier, how truly strange the outliers are.
Yeah, and truly just how strange people are, and everything we've made in this world. It's just an insane world. It's amazing. It's amazing that we're all able to get up and put our pants on effectively. I'm impressed with everyone.
Everyone gets a pat on the back. Good job, everyone!
Yeah, and I think that's what, in the end, we take all this stuff that's so negative, and we're feeling bad about it, then we just feel so good by the end. I think that something we struggle with is people [say] "Everything is terrible.. that's so negative." No, listen to it, listen to us. It's everything -- it's not, it can't be negative. It's everything, so it has to be positive too. We hope that people get, in the end, that we are having fun and we want people to have fun and laugh at ourselves and feel, in the end, somewhat good.
That's one thing that I argue a lot. We're showing these things that a lot of times either were never seen by people, or were seen and then immediately forgotten. These are special things, and we should latch onto them and focus on them and love them. I think it is important that people make things and it is important to note that they are very different and it's awesome that that happens. I love that. We love outsider art so much.
Anything else you want to add?
No, I feel pretty good about this. Just tell people to bring their Jerry Maguires to the show.
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