Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Festival View: Fudgie Freddie

Creators and Creations are deeply tied, and sometimes it gets dark...

One of my all-time favorite musicals is 1990’s City of Angels. It’s an amazing story of a mystery writer and his detective creation. The story goes that the writer is watching his work being adapted into a film, and lo and behold, he hates it. The detective in the story that Stine is writing, Stone, is also disgusted with the way that Stine is writing the story and how it’s coming along. There’s a song, a masterful piece of lyricism by the great Cy Coleman and David Zippel, called “You’re Nothing Without Me” which is the declaration of the writer that his creation wouldn’t even be there if it weren’t for his writing him, and the creation saying that it is only his existence that has made his creator matter at all. This is, in essence, a battle of wills between God and Man, and they eventually reach détente. 
Let us flash-forward to a time called a little time called recently. I’m watching short films for Cinequest, and going over the database where the other viewers are rating movies as well. There was one title that I thought sounded fun: Fudgie Freddie. I have no great, grand reason to have thought that it would be a masterpiece; I actually hoped it might be something along the lines of a documentary detailing the life and times of the Carvel creatures: Cookie Puss, Fudgey the Whale, and Hug Me The Bear.  

I was wrong, but Fudgie Freddie was truly brilliant and more than a little terrifying. 
The story begins at the start of a live-stream. An animator, Vic, starring down the last hour of his crowd-funding push, is trying to drum up business. He’s no amateur, in fact, he’s previously created an absolute smash-hit of a creation: the sentient, Looney Toons-esque ice cream cone, Fudgie Freddie. The character has defined his whole career, but now, like Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock on top of the world, he’s decided to push his creation over Reichenbach Falls and move forward with his passion project: a Star Trek-like science fiction animation that he knows will set the world on-fire! 
The world, it seems, is not so sure.
He streams and the fundraising is going poorly. So poorly, he’s having to call his mom to give more money. He really believes that this is the animation that will finally break him free of the spectre of Freddie that looms over everything he wants to do. He’s had this vision in his mind since he was six, and if it holds him so thoroughly, it will clearly have the same effect on the viewing audience, right. 
A viewing audience that really only wants more Fudgie Freddie. 
A well-heeled donor appears in the feed. They start asking for concessions towards the Fudgie Freddie character in the new creation. Our hero gives in, happily, then pushes back against the recommendations, but eventually relents. This brings in fast money, but also more and more requests for Freddie in the new series. He gives an inch; they demand an entire spaceship. As he gives in, our animator finds himself becoming more thoroughly tied to his earlier creation. It actually becomes a part of who he is. 

And not just metaphorically.
This is a fantasy short film, and it’s really a piece of body horror. The transformation of Vic’s vision of his work leads to a transformation of his corporeal reality. This is a literal transformation, and it’s super-creepy, but it’s also very painful to anyone who has worked on life-long passions only to find that they can not break away from their past. The idea that Fudgie Freddie is a part of Vic that he is trying to suppress is clear, and I think there’s a lot there to explore. Freddie is one of those early 2000s Flash-style silly animations (think Radiskull and Devil Doll or Homestar Runner) and one that’s clearly not particularly mature in nature. Vic tells us he created Freddie when he was 18, and now, he wants to bring that old vision to life instead of delving back into his sophomoric work on Freddie. He’s so determined to get this vision done that the early asks by his anonymous donor are done with joy and no questions. It’s only when they start to impinge on the vision that’s lived in his head for so long that he begins to push back. 
And, spoiler alert, he loses. 
The fact is creators deal with this constantly, and while we like to think that the removal of the studio from many of the most popular animation projects frees the creators from interference, it’s still not the case. Frequently, artists still have to try and drum up funds from people who want their vision represented in the projects their funding. Working with festivals, I’ve heard many of these stories, though none that would evolve into this sort of bodily transformation. 
We try and say that we are not our projects, that we hold healthy boundaries between our creations and ourselves. So many of us fail this, or at least play a version of Let’s Deny The Reality. Creators, especially those who have to stump to make their creations happen, often begin to live the gimmick. Those that make hard right turns out of those creations often fight against returning because they fear the frequent fate of returning to what they managed to break away from, to become what they were instead of what they want to be. Vic may recognize that he is far more mature than Fudgie Freddie, and we wants to express that, but he knows that if he turns back, he will become the monster he created. Again. 
And all of that, the deep thoughts, are only benefitted by direction, cinematography, and especially sound design that only amplifies every beat. The effects are clean, and fairly simple. The way it’s shot is claustrophobic, amping up the tension. The sound has a sort of disquieting unnatural resonance that it allows the ordinary sounds, the ring buzzing and the message arrival notifications, to feel as if they are intruders instead of the anticipated sounds of daily life.
The only acknowledgement to the outside world are a phone call and the text messages and money transfers that we see play out. In other words, the only world outside is completely mediated through one kind of screen or another. That message stuck with me, because it also speaks to the loneliness of Vic in particular and creators in general. In recent times, and especially during COVID’s early period, so many writers, artists, and especially animators, have lived reality. I can remember an early proponent of crowd-funding saying during a panel at LoneStarCon in 2013, ‘I didn’t see the sun for weeks on end, but at least I made my goal and then some.’ Sometimes, you must sacrifice vitamin D for cash. 
Fudgie Freddie is a great film, and when Cinequest returns to San Jose in August for the in-person festival, it’ll be playing in our Mindbenders program. You can likely find it playing more festivals as well, though it doesn’t appear on my recent searches. You can learn a bit more about the film, and the team behind it, at https://twitter.com/5sf and check out 5-Second Films (https://5secondfilms.com/) where director Joe Salmon and Brian Firenzi have both done a ton of great work!
Apparently, this is also a proof-of-concept for a feature film called Ice Cream Man, and if it can maintain the intellectual power and impressive technical filmmaking of the short, I’ll be sure to see it. 

POSTED BY: Chris Garcia - Archivist, curator, and professional wrestling enthusiast. @johnnyeponymous