For the second year, I basked in the delights of Swede Fest, the oh-so Fresno institution that celebrates a decidedly amateur take on film. The premise is simple: A sweded film is a low-budget, summarized recreation of a popular Hollywood movie or TV show. (And when I say low budget, I mean it: We’re talking about cardboard scenery.) To keep the egalitarian spirit alive, the organizers don’t give any awards, but last year I decided to give my own. (All in good fun!) I’m repeating that exercise for the latest festival, known as Swede Fest 19, which was held Dec.13 at the Tower Theatre. (Yes, it took me a while.)
Pictured above: ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ sweded.
I will repeat my “sorta serious” introduction I wrote in last year’s roundup to put a smidge of a philosophical spin on all this:
The very idea of Swede Fest — in which amateurs inspired by favorite films do short remakes in fun, creative and extremely low-budget ways — fits in an interesting way into the tenor of our times. On one extreme, audiences today are accustomed to extraordinary visual effects and superb production values in almost all of our filmed and live entertainments. (Feature films today boast computer-generated imagery that would stun viewers from 20 years ago, and the most middling network TV crime procedural has knockout cinematography. Even the NFL, with its animated graphics and cameras that smoothly swoop over the field, trains our eyes to expect visual extravagance.) On the other extreme, we live in an age of amateur everything, from YouTube channels to news sites. It’s no surprise when a quickie video goes viral and ends up getting many times the views that a meticulously filmed art film will ever receive. Swede Fest somehow rests between these two extremes, both mocking the sophistication of filmmaking but also celebrating it.
Now, on to my array of arbitrary and random awards. All these are available on YouTube, by the way, via the Swede Fest website.
Best (worst) hair: Jeffrey Hess in “The 5th Element,” whose stringy, asymetrical ‘do as the villain Zorg looks like someone dumped a leftover pot roast on his head. Then again, Gary Oldman’s hair in the movie, which suggests a massive golf divot, isn’t so attractive, either. Bonus points: When the priest Cornelius confronts Zorg with the line “You’re a monster, Zorg,” Hess offers an aw-shucks hair flip to rival a Justin Bieber meme as he slyly proclaims, “I know.” Inevitable remakers of “The Fifth Element”: take note.
Best intentional mispronunciation of a film title: Cassandra Di Blasi & Thomas DeLaCruz in “ET.” It’s the festival’s “Et tu, Brute” moment. He gets corrected in the final moments of this sweded trailer. (“I’ve been mispronouncing it the whole time,” he laments.)
Best shot: Eric Trevino for “The Fast and the Furious.” This “vintage” swede from 2013 includes my favorite visual in the festival. Four drivers line up their cars (an array of solid colors: black, red, white, blue) to start the big race. In the foreground, the first driver glances to the side to look at his adversaries, and you see the heads of the other three drivers through each open window, all the way to Driver No. 4 in the background, who is a little-bitty face on the screen. It’s a great shot-for-shot moment. Then again, the macho demeanor of the drivers and the archetypal starting-line imagery is swedishly balanced by the cars themselves. These are four of the most mild-mannered, economy-minded, mom-to-grocery-store-and-back vehicles you’ve ever seen. These cars could be whipped in a road race by a Chevy Volt.
Best depiction of a movie-studio logo: Eduardo Paredes in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The Columbia “torch lady” gets her glow with what we assume is a flashlight shining through a piece of white paper. Now that’s low-budget.
Best homoerotic line originally delivered in a somewhat less homoerotic time: In the Dead in 60 Years production of “Top Gun.” Iceman says to Maverick: “You can be my wingman any time.” Coming after several minutes of gratuitously shirtless volleyball, intimately cramped cockpits, lingering ass pats and sweaty locker rooms, the line’s delivery sounds both sleazy and nobly prescient. Eight years later, embrace sexual fluidity!
Best disgusting shot: Myron Smith’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” At the appropriate lyric, the Grinch actually eats “a bad banana with a greasy black peel” in a lingering closeup, thereby triggering my autonomic OFGR (Overripe Fruit Gag Reflex).
Best gender-bending casting: In Daniel Armenta’s “Wayne’s World,” the traditionally male cable-show hosts are played by women. It works! Party on, Garth.
Best costume design: The blue school-uniform jackets worn by the students of London’s Cardinal Wiseman School Film Club. These junior-high school students recorded a cheery video greeting to the festival.
Best integration of live action with models: the Cardinal Wiseman School Film Club’s version of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” In the climactic three-way shootout in the cemetery, a crisply edited series of shots give us actors ready to draw their guns, with lots of closeups on nervous eyes. When the bullet fires, we see a tiny Lego-like human figure (wearing a homemade cowboy hat) tumble to the ground next to a cardboard tombstone cross. Brilliant! What if all violent acts in movies were replaced by 3-inch tall plastic “actors”? The world might be a better place.
Best illustration of the suburban paradigm: The vintage swede “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” made in 2010, is an immersive experience in Fresno-Clovis suburbia: the scene-setting wide shots featuring never-ending lines of cookie-cutter, faux-Tuscan tract homes instead of jungles; the interiors shot in a living room dominated by a white, faux-antique, etched fireplace topped by a big-screen TV; the backyard surrounded (and thereby insulated from all pesky neighbors) by a tall, tidy fence. The hilarious thing — and I remarked on this last year — is that many swede location managers don’t bother to remove the detritus of ordinary suburban life from their shots; thus, we’re treated to used beverage containers strewn on dining tables, junk mail scattered on counters, and the odd recycling bin stuck in the corner of the yard. It’s like an anthropological Pottery Barn-meets-Wal-Mart excavation from 2010.
Best Southern accent: James McLane in the vintage “Forrest Gump” (2010). Also, best hair (it’s pretty funny), best white suit jacket, best scrubbing-floor with-a-toothbrush-scene (with Roque Rodriguez) and best sister.
Best death scene: In “Titanic,” you know the drill: big ship, steamy romance, iceberg, tilted deck, hunk slips beneath the waves. Bye-bye. Cue Celine Dion and tears. Congrats to the intriguingly one-named directing pair of Rudi and Phoebe.
Best acting: Kia Vassiliades in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” from Dumb Drum (the brainchild of Roque Rodriguez and Bryan Harley, aka The Swedefathers). Vassiliades is so riveting in this shot-for-shot remake of the film’s trailer — she even sheds a tear — that she could have replaced Daisy Ridley in a heartbeat. Plus, she (or her miniature cardboard cutout) did her own stunts!
Best gold tights: You didn’t think I’d let Kyle Lowe, my illustrious CMAC producer, get away without an award, right? Only someone with this kind of body-fat percentage could get away with his costume in “Star Wars.” He plays an arms-akimbo C-3P0, I assume, though I will share a candid fact: This trailer is the closest I’m getting to the “Star Wars” phenomenon this season. It’s all “CATS” and “Little Women” for me. I’m living the movie through you, Dumb Drum.
Finally, best illustration of the power of cinema: One of the entries (from Three First Names Productions) was a sweded version of the scene from “Clerks” in which a mini-mart customer obsesses over finding the perfect dozen eggs. During intermission, I caught a glimpse of the actor who played the customer (I later found out his name was Pedro Hernandez), and my first thought was similar to the reaction I have when I see any digital “star” (movie, TV, YouTuber) in person: Wow! That’s, um, the egg guy! There is something about seeing someone on a screen that translates to increased excitement when we see that person in real life. Contrary to the aesthetic impulses of philosopher/literary critic Walter Benjamin, whose 1935 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” suggests that copying art diminishes its value, I’d venture that the technology of cinema itself ratchets up our perceived value of the experience. If I’d seen Hernandez, aka Mr. Egg Dilettante, before the screening, I wouldn’t have been as impressed. Put him on a screen and his Q-rating soars. At the end of the day, swede actors, don’t think otherwise: At the end of the day, you’re all stars.