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Noah Lennox, the Actor, in Three Short Films January 1, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Indie Sine, Music, Short Cuts.
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So I’m planning to grace the new year with love; and that love is Noah Lennox.

Noah, more known musically as Panda Bear, is a member of Animal Collective. He writes songs for the group, sings, drums, dubsteps, provides and mixes samples, and god knows what other things. He’s attracted to skateboarding (thus the video for “Comfy in Nautica”) and though he admits not being good at it, he is an aficionado. He relates his love for skateboarding to music, saying, “It’s often pretty brutal but I think it’s really the going for it and going for it in your own way with your own style that I find so attractive. The going for it and the trying to make impossible magic is what I’d always like to be aiming for with music even though that sounds out there.”

The stereotype that skateboarders are mostly rebellious—generally into hip-hop, hard rock, and reggae—when interspersed with Noah’s image and music, not to mention the type of trippy music his band plays, strikes me as bizarre. But in a good way, of course. Somehow I get the idea of his trying to point out similarities between professional skateboarders and professional musicians, which is not a bad comparison at all, but when I discovered three of his short films of which he stars as the lead actor, well, well, well, I see that nature has endowed him pretty much with sterling abilities. Writes well, sings well, acts well—well! that’s cinema, music, and literature all in one man.

Noah made the films while he was attending college in Boston University, and in all three he portrays the dweeb—the lanky, wimpy, introvert, and seemingly attractive but without-the-thick-glasses geek who tries to reach out and go out of his comfort zone. With the pretty face, perfect teeth, disorderly hair, and being “such a pioneer in the way he dresses,” twenty-something Noah seems very comfortable in his roles. The man, as I read his interviews, is as terrific as his music, not to mention incredibly modest. And though this entry is initially intended for fun, I couldn’t help but take the fun seriously.

Fish Sticks │ Directed by Andrew Drazek │ 4:47 mins │ 1999

“Fish Sticks” was shot in 1999 using a Bolex camera. This was back when these cameras are to-die-for among film students. I was once a student myself, and the Bolex is actually a dream camera for all of us; it is old and bulky but still revered for the quality it produces, well, if luck is with us and it does not flip out. There is something about the painstaking process of shooting in 16mm—about being too careful and too excited—that makes it memorable. Not to mention the tension of waiting for the print, if the shots came out as planned, or if anything came out at all.

“Fish Sticks” captures that feeling; and it sort of reminds me of those days in film school, thus the pensive introduction. It is a student film like any other; it features beautiful black and white photography, use of exterior locations, and unavoidable reference to old films. The running time is short—I imagine it didn’t go as planned—and the story is simple but the filmmaker tries to put a lot of things to intertextualize, i.e. with the books, the posters and the photos in the background, and the various details inside the room. I like the effort to shoot outside—again, as I observe, every film student goes through that happy Nouvelle Vague phase, which I am also guilty of—and they are done quite decently, rather evocative I must say, like the opening shot of a pair of shoes in the water. The ending is a shoutout to 400 Blows—the sea as the background—without the much-copied freeze frame but with the same beautiful boy looking at the camera.

The boy is named Gil (pronounced as gill), a fish hobbyist, who “admires fish. . . like a teenage girl who is obsessed with Jerry Lee Lewis.” He has 216 books on fish and sometimes spends his whole day in the aquarium. At night he gets some nightmares about fish getting caught and fried, and he wakes up disturbed. Near the end, Gil laments, “I have yet to find anyone who shares my interest in fish, let alone in me.” Oh, Noah.

Gil is a little like the narrator in Julio Cortazar’s story “Axolotl,” in which the narrator turns into an axolotl after visiting the animal several times in the aquarium. The narrator, as he looks in the eyes of the axolotl, later on believes that his eyes become theirs’, “watching what used to be his face on the other side of the glass.” Gil somehow feels that way toward fish, seeking communication, identifying with how they feel, loving them like they are him. His friendlessness allows him to find another form of friends, diverting to them his comradeship, devoting to them his time and love. Hence, selfless companionship is developed, something that people around him are incapable to deliver.

Clocking at near five minutes, “Fish Sticks” is quite a nostalgic work, beautiful at times, and has moments of sheer visual goodness, like the sincere homage in the end. It also features one of Noah’s songs in his first album, “A Filmmaker and a Musician”.

Appy Halloween │ Directed by Theodore William Beck │ 9:22 mins

In “Appy Halloween” Noah plays this teenager who speaks of George Washington, obsessing the President, telling a lot of things about him. He dons this George Washington outfit, wig, and sword; and stands beside a misspelled Happy Halloween greeting where he shapes his hands and fingers to form the missing letter H. No one seems to be around. The elevator doesn’t work. He tries to open the doors of his neighbors in the apartment, barging into them but every one of them is locked. He runs and makes some effort to be noticed. But nothing happens. He cries in a corner. Then a masked man appears who gives him the missing H. Noah replaces it in the greeting, the happy music plays, and when he presses the elevator button, it opens. The end.

I don’t really dig it that much, but “Appy Halloween,” like the two other films, is about Noah the loner, the geek in school who secludes himself most of the time but tries his best to socialize. He is at the dining table by himself; and his parents seem to be faraway. Halloween is no occasion to be alone, of course, but here we see him talking to himself, wearing “uncool” clothes, looking like a wimp crying in one corner. The masked man emphasizes this even more—though he is not a companion—as he offers him the missing piece to complete the night. Noah is rather helpless, bored with his loneliness. I figure he is going out to meet some friends, a costume party perhaps, and he’s off to have some fun.

By the way, if you’re a trivia-killa, there’s a short but special participation of “Did You See The Words” somewhere in the middle. Look for it.

Fecal Matters │  Directed by Andrew Drazek │ 9:47 mins │ 1999

This is probably the most obnoxious among the three short works but definitely the most fun that a film starring Noah Lennox can get. Here, Noah plays Bobby, an introvert who hatches a plan to attend the party of the school’s most popular guy, Rhett, who bullies him and beats the shit out of him. His only friend Lance, who is in the wheelchair, talks him out of it, but Bobby is pushing the plan for three reasons: “(1) to spite the man he hates, (2) to impress the woman he loves, and (3) to fulfill the dream that has been far too long coming.”

Seems like every geek’s masterplan to get back at the great tormentor, but what Bobby did was far more brilliant when seen than imagined. He literally eats his own shit in front of Rhett and his friends. He chews it like the most delicious meal in the world—like the food that will deliver all his lost dignity back—and licks around his lips to his audience’s delight. Everyone claps and accepts him. They hug him and talk to him, unlike before. Rhett even kisses him in the forehead and says he’s now part of his “firm”. The girls also start to approach him. Only when he did that act that he feels the sense of belongingness which he has always longed for and which in no way he regrets. To top it off, he gets a tender kiss from a girl after eating his shit—with all the bits around his lips and teeth—to the tune of Sixpence None the Richer’s ultimate song. In the film, literal seems to be the overlying motif.

I must admit I dig this shit. It’s a hoot! Come on, student films should be like this! Not the corny, boring, and serious stuff we often see. “Fecal Matters” delights mostly because of Noah’s portrayal of Bobby. He plays the character like a pro, a true natural. He is naïve but not irritating, which is cool especially when his quirks are shown. He is funny, interesting, weird, and disgusting. It is hard to imagine how far it is from Noah’s own personality, considering the music he had been doing during those days—Panda Bear released his first album in 1998—which were put to good use in some of his colleagues’ films. His embodiment of the geek—the one who finds comfort in his own room alone, “a boy of few talents, unpopularity being the only thing he excelled at,” “socially inadequate and immature,” among other things—is charming, nonetheless. Somehow this effortless act makes it all the more appealing; and makes the idea of “eating one’s shit to fit into a group” resounding in the context of high school-type of relationships. When Lance asks him, “But how is eating your own shit gonna make them think any better of you?” it is a plain and simple rhetorical high school question. Nothing can really talk a geek out of doing something he dreams up for a long time.

Then there go those funny scenes—the Dave Matthews song playing in the party, the bathroom scene when he dons a “woo-girl” attitude, the title itself, the sight of Vincent Larusso that reminds every young heart of Mighty Ducks, and I can’t put too fine a point on it, Noah dancing. (Yes, just “Noah dancing”; on second thought, why is Noah not dancing in Animal Collective’s live shows with that talent?)

He mentions in an interview, ““I’m a huge fan of all forms of dance music and I really like going to clubs and being around people dancing. I like that energy, and I really get psyched about large groups of people all kind of agreeing to just move around together.” Noah was doing Person Pitch that time, which sort of made sense, come to think of it, because the album has the groove of a dance album in it. Going back, the scenes I mentioned above are too cool to be left unsaid; and for nine minutes there is that side of Noah that we are unaware of, which we see at full throttle in “Fecal Matters”.

These three films side by side with Noah’s three albums are such pleasure to dive into. Starting the year with these seems the geekiest I can get to welcome the good tidings to come. So with all the happiness and luck to share, God bless us every one! And that’s me being Tiny Tim, finally being allowed to greet. Happy New Year.

P.S.

Noah now resides in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife, fashion designer Fernanda Pereira, and daughter Nadja. His followup to 2007’s Person Pitch is in the works, which is “something totally different”. Meanwhile, the Animal Collective film called ODDSAC will have its premiere in the Sundance Film Festival this month. It’s been four years in the making, with the band doing all the musical stuff and Danny Perez finalizing the visual neccesities. Something really good to look forward to.

Some good reads:

Panda Bear talks new solo albums, “super dark” films, and living in Portugal. Pedestrian.TV. November 23, 2009

Good Times, Other Realities: A Conversation with Panda Bear. PopMatters. March 26, 2007. Interview by Jennifer Kelly.

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