How Making Mr. Fish Taught Me About Dangerous Art
How making Mr. Fish taught me about dangerous art.
I continue to find that other people can regularly explain the importance of my film much better than I can. When we first started getting into festivals, our second festival was DOC NYC and we hired someone to help us with press and after seeing the film he said something like “Count me in. I love it when art can kick in the teeth of the establishment”. Compared to all of the times I had tried so hard to explain what Mr. Fish and the film are about in academic terms, it was a thousand times more direct, and honest. So I’m going to try and talk about my film like that.
I had always been a fan of counter culture art. I loved Monty Python, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, R. Crumb, Bukowski, Mel Brooks, etc (an almost embarrassing long list of white guys) anyone who had mocked the absurdities of polite culture and politics as usual. They proclaimed their humanity and satirized the commonplace ideas that most people lived by but forgot to examine. But while it seemed bold, I don’t think I ever regarded what they did as dangerous. When I was a kid I just connected with the rawness of it, the outrageousness of it but missed seeing how deeply it cut at the cultural norms. I think I was watching them when I was too young to really understand it as cultural satire. I couldn’t see how they had forged their own way against the pushing grain of the culture that enveloped them. I grew up with it and it tickled me, I just didn’t examine it. But Monty Python and Bugs Bunny play great for 8-year-old boys, and 40-something’s too, in fact the more you understand the context, the deeper they cut. But understanding the world, its political machinations, how power and disenfranchisement work, has been a long learning curve for me, and one that has given me a better understanding of what satire is really doing when its done well. And when it’s done well it is dangerous.
What does that really mean? While my film on Mr. Fish is still somewhat obscure, every audience that sees it gets a little fired up when it’s over. Watching an artist like Mr. Fish create pieces that give so few fucks, pull no punches, but also be deeply reflective about all of the ways we are slowly (quickly) killing ourselves and our planet, is cathartic. It’s cathartic because we all recognize the truth of it, and we need to be able to recon with it without being hit over the head about it or having it be politicized one way or the other. We need to know we are not alone in feeling like so much of the way we live is insane. We live in a bombardment of spin and mythology that makes grappling with reality even harder and it takes a certain kind of bravery and skill to cut through that, to call bullshit in a surgical way, and to do it with a total disregard for the financial consequences of that exclamation. That is actually a heroic act, one that Mr. Fish finds himself in. Free thinking people with no intention to play the game are always dangerous to the status quo, because they show us that its possible to live in that integrity. To express outrage with disregard for all of the delusional ideas that allow us to continue to exploit everything that is beautiful in the world is what is dangerous. In a very real sense Mr. Fish is using his art to try and save the world, and however fantastically impossible that may seem to be, the intention is noble. I hope that anyone that sees this film is inspired by his journey, and empowered to live their life with a deeper sense of integrity, to question their belief systems and their country, or at the very least are inspired to give a few less fucks when pushing back against the momentum that is carrying us towards a cliff.