2 min

Fuck fest out west

'Smarter than John Waters, crazier than Russ Meyer'

GET HAPPY. Spanky (Clayton Godson) kidnaps Happy (Craig Aftanis) in the over-the-top, off-the-wall debut feature from Winnipegger Noam Gonick. Credit: Xtra files

The best films are made not by people who know how to write a good story or get the best performance out of an actor, but by those who have an acute understanding of how cinema works as a medium.

This kind of understanding leads to films that are visually, emotionally and intellectually pleasing because of subtleties of structure and rhythm. It makes for films that challenge the norms of moviemaking.

And on rare occasions, it can change your world.

It pretty much takes either a film scholar or a lunatic to start off with this kind of complex vision and turn it into a watchable movie. If Hey, Happy! is any indication, its director, Noam Gonick, either paid careful attention at film school, or he’s completely crazy – possibly both.

Here’s a stab at the story.

The setting: Winnipeg, as the Red River is about to submerge all who live there. Sabu (Jeremie Yuen) manages an outdoor porn stand. His quest: to sleep with 2000 men (he’s currently at number 1999). Sabu’s current target: Happy (Craig Aftanis), the local, adorable simpleton who receives instructions, via his radio, from friendly aliens who are planning to come to earth as Happy’s love children.

But Spanky (the supremely threatening Clayton Godson), the self-dubbed biggest bitch in the world, has his sights set on Happy, too – and what happens when Spanky gets his talons on Happy will not soon be forgotten. Meanwhile, apocalyptic decadence abounds, doled out by drug, porn and party king Ricky G (local photog Johnny Simone in a performance so slimy you’ll need a shower).

Decay and the approaching end of the world (or Winnipeg, at the very least) has never been so thrilling.

But Hey, Happy’s greatest strength is neither its story nor its cast of wacky characters. What is especially wonderful about Gonick’s debut feature is the way it depicts the world that its characters inhabit.

Elements which are extraneous to the logical forward flow of the story, but which help to set the film’s tone, are everywhere. Intergalactic goddess Darnel (Dita Vendetta), for example, seems to have no narrative function, but the film would be poorer without her strutting.

Virtually everything takes place outdoors and it’s impossible to get a sense of where one locale is in relation to another. The world of Hey, Happy! makes precious little sense, so it’s appropriate that its space be fragmented, confusing and unmappable.

The film’s cinematography is also especially exciting, not least because it’s in cinemascope. Shots often appear and linger, seemingly merely because they are so beautiful, but truly as elements to build the point of view of the characters without resorting to dialogue.

When love is the skeleton of a building etched against a sunset, that’s cinema.

Hey, Happy! is not a crowd pleaser. It doesn’t have the wallop of Hollywood, or the restrained, high-art composure of celebrated Canadian works by Atom Egoyan or Jeremy Podeswa. It’s smarter than a John Waters and crazier than a Russ Meyer.

It’s hard to say what Gonick has unleashed, but let’s hope its effect will be felt for a long time hence.

Hey, Happy! opens at the Carlton (20 Carlton St) on Fri, Jun 1; call (416) 598-2309.