The “diss” is an art that has lost some of its potency after being wildly disseminated through social media. However, a great diss can still break through all the bitchy tweets and self-aggrandizing Facebook posts that clutter up our mindspace. In 2007, Todd Rohal was given the opportunity to diss Variety movie critic Robert Koehler, who wrote a scathing review of his debut feature, The Guatemalan Handshake, the day before it premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival. Feeling that the review had a direct impact on the reception of the film from industry professionals, Rohal built a grudge that would, one year later, become a $99 Slamdance produced short film. He titled it Sins of the Nude.
Composed of outtakes from a different short film starring Danny McBride and produced for the Dutch Online Film Festival, Rohal weaves together a sordid, upsetting, and hilarious alternate version of critic Robert Koehler. The actual footage has nothing to do with Koehler. In fact, they don’t even reference films in general, save for the the campy Star Wars title crawl that kicks off the film. That and the soundtrack are actually more of an homage to George Kuchar, the king of camp, than anything else. But the film's own campiness helps soften the blow of the diss and makes the spite bubbling underneath the short palpable. The longer you watch Danny McBride fumble in these outtakes framed as a representation of critic Robert Koehler, the more you understand the cartoonish nature of being a film critic. Funnily enough, The Guatemalan Handshake went on to win the Special Jury Prize at Slamdance.
Watch Todd Rohal and Danny McBride below, lampooning an unsuspecting and probably still unaware film critic for a beautifully ugly seven minutes.
Todd Rohal is a graduate of my alma mater, Ohio University. He's made a number of offbeat music videos and short films before taking on features—he's directed three, the latest of which was Nature Calls, starring Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt. He’s got a peculiar eye and is a fun guy to follow, in my opinion. Below is a short interview I did with Todd about Sins of the Nude.
VICE: How did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to make a hate film against film critic Robert Koehler?
Todd Rohal: I premiered my first feature film, The Guatemalan Handshake, at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006. Before the film had screened to the public, Robert Koehler of Variety printed a short and snarky review of the movie before anyone had a chance to see it. I spent years making this movie—we shot it on 35mm anamorphic film, and I had saved up for years working shitty jobs to pay for it. This guy watched it on a DVD on his laptop and dismissed it before any audience got a chance to see it. Needless to say, that was frustrating. It felt like we were the smallest kid in the class at Park City and this dude found us to be an easy target to pick on. We did a lot of work inviting some industry people in town for Sundance to come out to Slamdance and nearly all of them were no-shows after Koehler's review. After being rejected from Sundance, this felt like someone punching you in the dick after getting your pants pulled down the school cafeteria.
Since you restricted yourself to only using previously shot outtakes from your film Sweaty Salesman, did you find the narrative difficult to construct?
I was one of five filmmakers invited to go to Amsterdam to make a short film for the Holland Board of Tourism. We were allowed to bring along one crew member. Danny McBride had just premiered his film The Foot Fist Way at Sundance and nothing was happening with it yet. We were both living in Virginia, just waiting for our phones to ring. I asked him to come along as my crew, and we both went overseas for the first time in our lives. We were supposed to shoot a poetic think piece about tulips and windmills, but we got tired of that and came up with a fake TV series called The Sweaty Salesman and shot that instead. The Sins of the Nude was just reconstituted foul outtakes that we couldn't send to the Holland Board of Tourism. Slamdance asked me to make a short film in 2007, so I pulled that old footage out and figured there'd be other filmmakers in Park City that year needing a therapeutic moment.
Has Robert Koehler ever seen the film?
He's got other fish to fry.
How do you feel about this short now? Has your ability to deal with poor reviews gotten better or worse?
I just love watching Danny go off. There was never any intent to make a movie about that critic. That was just added in later for Slamdance. Even so, it was a totally childish thing to do, but it worked for me as a connecting piece between this footage and the time I had at Slamdance the year prior. If anybody were to print a review before a screening like this guy did, I don't think I'll need to make Sins of the Nude 2, but my feelings would be the same.
What are you working on now?
I'm brewing up a movie to shoot in Austin this fall called Sweet Cheeks.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.
Previously - I'm Short, Not Stupid Presents: 'Successful Alcoholics'