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DVD Review: Guns On The Clackamas

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Portland, OR filmmaker Bill Plympton’s first feature, Guns On The Clackamas is pretty intriguing. This faux documentary purports to chronicle the 1991 shoot of the most troubled film in Hollywood history: Guns On The Clackamas.

The problems begin almost immediately. The original financial backer insists on giving his girlfriend the lead female role. Director James X acquiesces for the sake of the movie, not even bothering to give her a screen test. When the cameras roll, we discover that she has an insurmountable stuttering problem. She can yodel without stuttering though, so a scene is filmed with her yodeling her lines.

When this approach is abandoned, she is fired. Of course her rich boyfriend then pulls out of the production, and the cast is left high and dry. James X is desperate for money now, and manages to get a couple of Catholic priests interested. Everything is looking good until some pictures of the producer and his dog are publicized. It seems that the pup was a little more than simply “man’s best friend.”

The production is then contacted by the “Man-Dog Love Association” and offered some money, which is politely declined.

Even though nobody is getting paid, they continue to film. To drum up some cash, the crew is directed to remove half of the screws and nails used on the set, and return them to the hardware store for a refund. The resulting accidents mark the first deaths associated with Guns On The Clackamas.

The funniest scene is the one ostensibly filmed at night by the campfire, when the bad guys sneak into camp. There was supposed to be a cloth over the lens to make it appear to be nighttime, but they did not have one. So the whole scene is shot in broad daylight. Definitely a nod to Ed Wood here.

The scrimping naturally extends to catering. On one particularly hot day, most of the cast makes the mistake of eating the macaroni salad. The food poisoning proves to be fatal, wiping nearly everyone out, including the two leads.

But the show must go on, right? To finish the movie, James X films the static corpses of the leads, and has actors dub in their lines. A brilliant solution.

Guns On The Clackamas is pretty funny. In one of the bonus interviews, director Bill Plympton describes it as “Spinal Tap meets Blazing Saddles.” While I would not go that far, The movie does have its moments. Gus Van Sant must have thought so. He makes a cameo appearance as himself early on.

The DVD extras include a five minute appearance on local morning show Portland Today, and a short bit featuring Plympton hawking the film at IFP in New York. For some inexplicable reason, there are also a series of text-only duck jokes here also.

While Guns On The Clackamas is not Spinal Saddles, or Blazing Tap, it is a very good first picture from a director worth keeping an eye on.

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