How Playing a Daft Punk Robot Funded an All-Cat Remake of 'Carrie'
Music video makers Michael Reich and Mike Pinkney have turned their VHS aesthetic into a bizarre feature length movie about Carrie, but with cats.
As of this month, the last manufacturer producing VCRs will halt production on the players: The age of "be kind, rewind" is officially dead. While many of us have long abandoned the old format, there remains an active community of video artists who still use VHS for its portability and nostalgic imperfections. Among them is Michael Reich, a videographer who has long relied on the format for making music videos and for his project Videothing, which documents LA's underground punk scene. Along with his friend and frequent collaborator Mike Pinkney, the pair immortalized their love for the medium in their first film, She's Allergic to Cats.
With a background in music videos that includes iconic clips for Yuck ("Get Away," "Shook Down," "Rubber"), My Chemical Romance ("Planetary (GO!)") and the Shins ("Turn Me On"), low-fi VHS has always been a part of their aesthetic. Reich has also worked as a stand-in robot for Daft Punk, most notably in Electroma, their 2006 film—the gig helped fund his first feature. Combining an encyclopedic knowledge of film history and a shared passion for public access television, Reich and Pinkney have an almost symbiotic relationship. Their first film, which promises to be an instant cult classic, is a partially autobiographical movie about an aspiring video artist who works as a Hollywood dog groomer. He falls in love with a beautiful, mysterious woman played by Sonja Kinski, and his perception of reality begins to devolve.
A film that blends together high-end footage from a digital camera with the low-fi aesthetics of VHS, the film feels authentically bizarre. It's raining bananas in one scene, while in another the protagonist Michael suffers at the hands of his boss, played by YouTube star Flula Borg, who discourages him from living his dream of making an all cat adaptation of Carrie (1976).
VICE talked to the two Michaels during the world premiere of their film at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
VICE: Did you actually fund most of the movie from the Daft Punk gig?
Michael Reich: I mean, the initial seed money that started it. I've been doubling as a Daft Punk robot. I did Electroma, and I double for them in a variety of different facets. So the money I got from that, I just put into a fund that I wanted to do something cool with someday and that was this movie eventually. I think they'll dig this movie.
Do you like being the Daft Punk body double?
Reich: Yeah. Working on Electroma the movie was a really cool experience. That was super inspiring because they were essentially just friends making a movie together. That was the first real indie movie set that I was on. They weren't doing it for commercial reasons, they were doing it because they like weird cult, midnight movies. That totally trickled down into the inspiration for this, where I just want to make a weird midnight movie because I love cult midnight movies. I like commercial movies, but I love midnight movies.
You've always worked together, but how did you come together to make this film?
Mike Pinkney: We co-direct music videos and short films, and he wanted to make this feature that is very personal for him and he approached me in an In-N-Out burger in like 2010: "Hey, I think you should act in this." I'm like, very uncomfortable with that idea because I've always collaborated with him behind the camera. But he's like, "I'll pay you to do acting classes." and [I thought], Sure, you know if I knew more about acting, it would serve me more as an actor and director. We took them for two years while the script was being polished.
Reich: We tested out scenes in the class.
Pinkney: That's where we met Sonja in the acting class.
Reich: Just happenstance. It was cool, I was like, "Wow, Kinski—that's a cool name." And she's like, "That's my grandfather."
Pinkney: And Natassja Kinski's your mom.
Reich: You look just like her.
Pinkney: And we both love Cat People so much.
How would you say your music video background contributed to how you approached the film?
Reich: This feature was kinda spawned from a music video by this band Yuck, for their song "Rubber." And it was written as a short film to be part of a bigger feature, then for a music video, then back to a short film. Then that short film premiered at SXSW in 2013. It started as a music video, that was all the dog grooming.
Pinkney: Part of it was, the budgets keep shrinking on these music videos. So to give it this stylistic edge, sometimes embracing a low-fi quality, rather than a high glitz, we kinda kept more and more leaning into that direction to kind of differentiate our style as directors and it just kinda evolved. A lot of people can't go down this path because the equipment that we're using is so archaic.
You guys have a passion for public access as well.
Pinkney: I love cable access because there is something—like it's bad art but it's not intentionally bad. You can laugh with and laugh at it. There is a kind of small-time feel to it, so it felt local. It was just people in your small town, and it was endearing but also crappy.
Reich: And that's lost now. I think someone like Honey, my landlord, who appears in the film, he performed on Hollywood public access in the 80s and 90s and shit. And now that form is gone, and he tries to do stuff on YouTube but you just get lost out there.
Pinkney: There was this show, The Three Geniuses, it's not very accessible but it's like the look and feel feels so raw and it's like cable access puke, but it's great.
So, why does the movie involve remaking Carrie, but with cats?
Pinkney: Carrie is just this good—you can't decide if it's a good movie or a bad movie. We used to pitch this idea as a music video to bands, and this idea of puppeteering cats. But for obvious reasons, it's very logistically difficult.
Reich: That's why it was never made. Bands would also say it was too weird.
Pinkney: I wanted to make little fur oven mitts and put it under their armpits and just puppeteer these docile cats and put varsity jackets on them.
Reich: But cats are just extremely hard to work with.
In the movie, you have the scene where they're clipping the dog's nails, and it's bleeding all over. Was that based on a real event?
Reich: I did a bad job clipping a dog's nails once, it was just blood everywhere and it was a Weimaraner. Clipping a dog's nails is actually kind of hard, especially if the dog has dark nails, because you can't see the quick. You're typically not supposed to take people into the room when you clip their dog's nails, because dogs tend to freak out more if their owner is there. It was one of my first times, and I was like "come on in, no problem." I was trying to make small-talk, I wasn't attracted to the woman, I was just trying to cut the nails and there was just blood everywhere. It was really bad, I cut them way too short—it was probably painful, and the dog was crying. There was so much blood. She kept on saying, "Is that supposed to happen?" And I was like "ya, ya it is." But it wasn't.
Pinkney: You're lucky you had a dog grooming job after.
Tell us about the Video Thing project. There are a few clips on YouTube, but the website is down.
Reich: I actually lost the domain name while working on this movie because I was so busy that I forgot to pay it. But Video Thing, I did for like six years? And it was so fun and it's not available right now. I want to eventually put it online again but I kinda like the idea that they're not really available and people ask me about them because that's how, I mean I travelled around the world documenting all these different bands doing Video Thing and then I just wanted to make something bigger. I tried to make a Video Thing movie, I shot it, but it just never went anywhere. I actively stopped doing Video Thing, because it took so much time and effort, and energy that I wanted to shift into doing the feature. I want to make it obscure and I'll open the vault [eventually]. I made like 400 videos.
Are you going to continue to make movies?
Pinkney: We're actually working on a script right now, a Bar Mitzvah horror story.
Reich: It's set in 1994. It's called Bar Mitzvah 94.
Follow Justine Smith on Twitter.