Wood chippers, ghost stories, dog operas, and bad dancing

Max, Coco, and the wood chipper
Detail of a photo by Professor Bellows Photographics
Max, Coco, and the wood chipper

I have to give the folks at the MN Film and TV Board credit for seeming like an awful lot of fun. They were, in part, behind the afterparty for the Walker’s screening of “Fargo” this past weekend at Joe’s Garage, which featured the actual wood chipper from the movie. And it’s not enough just to have a heroic prop from a movie — they set it up at the entrance with a cameraman from Professor Bellows Photographics. Then they set out lumberjack shirts and fur-lined hats, and stuck a facsimile of Steve Buscemi’s leg out of the wood chipper, so we could all take turns pretending to grind him up. My photo is above — or, more properly, a pretty awful smartphone snap of the photo — you can see the original here.

They’re throwing another party tonight, and I might just pop ’round, because this sounds like it’s not just a chance to pose with a prop, but with a real movie star. A local one, admittedly, but I am a patron of local film and am always happy to see what’s in the works. The film is titled “The Ghost from the Machine,” an entertaining-looking ghost story from a director named Matt Osterman. Especially promising is that the film looks to tell its story using Harlan Ellison’s description of fantastic literature and storytelling, in that it explores the experience of ordinary people when they encounter the fantastic. The film plays at 7 p.m. at St. Anthony Main, followed by a party in the St. Anthony Courtyard.

If I do attend the party, I shall have to hustle across town to the Walker Art Center, as tonight it is showing a 10-minute operetta starring, and intended to be watched by, dogs. The film is called “Tragedy on the Sea Nymph,” and features live musical accompaniment by the Cedar String Quartet. There is a trailer for the project on Vimeo, including an interview with its creator, Elizabeth Kline, who explains that her decision to create a nautical tragedy starring dogs comes from her own obsession with her pet. This results in a descriptor I don’t generally apply to contemporary works of art: Her short film is adorable.

While we’re on the subject of the Walker, I want to tell a story from this past weekend. I got an invite on Facebook asking me to show up in front of the famous cherry spoon sculpture at 4 p.m. to dance. It wasn’t just to do any dance, but to participate in a web phenomenon. The organizer was a man named Matt Harding, but he is better known by a question: Where the Hell is Matt?

Max and Matt Harding of Where the Hell is Matt
Photo by Coco Mault
Max and Matt Harding of Where the Hell is Matt

Back in 2003, having quit a job as a game designer to travel the world on a shoestring budget, Harding began asking friends to film him dancing in front of recognizable structures along his route. Harding has a distinctive dance — it’s not so much a dance as it is synchronized flailing, consisting of him stomping his feet while flapping his arms. When he returned from his travels, he edited together 15 of his dances and put them online, which spread the way online videos spread back in those halcyon pre-YouTube days, via email. The video proved to be popular, so he accepted a gum sponsorship and just kept traveling and dancing, releasing several more videos, collecting, at his most popular, more than 33 million views.

And he’s still doing it, sans sponsorship. And so this past Saturday he collected a hundred or so people in front of the cherry spoon and we all attempted our version of Harding’s dance. Additionally, he’s been learning some actual rudimentary dance steps, and so we did a few of those: the hitchhiker, the hand jive. And then, because Harding is paying his way with T-shirt and book sales, we retired to the parking lot, where he sold things, signed things, and posed for photographs. I bought a copy of his book, because I am always interested in the experience of web celebrities, and went to have him sign it, at which point I discovered he thought he was about to meet a celebrity of his own.

“I thought you were Elvis Costello,” he told me. I get that sometimes. When I plug my photo into Internet sites that find celebrity lookalikes, I’m always paired with Costello, and I also wear thick glasses and a hat. It must have been a disappointment for him, looking out into the assembled throng of dancers and thinking, my gosh, for some reason Elvis Costello has shown up to dance here, and then to discover it was, in fact, me. Ah, well, he was very gracious about the fact. He’s got a laconic, unforced friendliness, and was clearly happy to malinger in the parking lot near the Walker as long as it took to sign everything that needed to be signed and speak to everybody who wanted to be spoken to and pose for whatever photo or video people wanted, even when they wanted to dance with him. This despite the fact that the weather was utter murder and he was slowly turning into a puddle.

I have been reading his book, and he genuinely seems to enjoy the experience of traveling, and especially of meeting people. Somehow, thanks to the Internet, he’s found a way to make that his job, at least for large chunks of time every now and them, which is the sort of thing that can make somebody very, very jealous.

Somebody other than me. What do I have to be jealous about? I’m Elvis Costello.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Deborah Irestone on 07/21/2011 - 11:36 am.

    And! you got to dance with Matt “Where the Hell is Matt” Harding!! when i first saw the video 3 or 4 years ago, i thought if everyone could just sit and watch this video once a day; blood pressures would go down, anger management would be an unnecessary treatment and the feel good medications would be redundant! it is a video that just makes you smile and enjoy the fact that Matt has gone all over the world (and under water and in a zero atmosphere) to do his little dance. look at the crowds he leads-they are all enjoying the dance.
    congratulations, Max! i am in awe and will look for the Elvis Costello look alike!

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