Tuesday, November 10, 2009

everything i need to know i learned from anton phibes

When I was a little kid I wanted to be a genius. My model for what a genius was as a kid was simple: Dr. Anton Phibes. Why? First, Phibes got to do what he wanted all the time. He had a PhD. in Theology from the Sorbonne and a degree in music at Heidelberg, but did he get a straight job? Hell no! If he wanted to spend the whole day playing his super-fabulous theater organ (which, of course, controlled *everything*) with va-va-va-Vulnavia (who has one of the best entrances in film history, as far as I'm concerned) that's exactly what he did! His fashion taste is beyond question, he has the baddest-ass lair, he doesn't let his horrible deformity get in the way of making time with the ladies and -- and this one is key -- he absolutely relishes his plans for revenge. REVENGE! Phibes ruined '80s slasher films for me: I couldn't get with Jason and Michael (Freddy had a little Phibes in him, so that was okay) because it always seemed such a *drag* to be an undead killing machine when you could be Phibes lounging in your amazing stretch limo while your lovely assistant played the violin! You could pilot homemade golden flying robot locusts down upon your enemies while you plugged in your magic throatbox (note: it's a 1/4" jack because Phibes knows how to rock; he can plug straight into a pile of effects pedals and a full stack of amps no problem) and laughed, laughed, laughed! There were horror films I loved before I saw Dr. Phibes, but he was the first horror lead I wanted to *be*. That film was what sent me to the library to find out about symbolism and art nouveau/art deco and Fortean history and just plain old weird shit. This was definitely the horror film that got me to really *think* about why I liked horror movies, and it's all this baroque attention to detail more than anything, I think. Consider the gorgeous masks at the masquerade ball, or the scroll of the ten plagues, or the mirror-lined embalming/revitalization coffin, or (as Kate pointed out) Vulnavia's outfits -- there's just endless little throwaway details all over the place. It continued to be a pretty serious influence: when I started MPA my goal was a combination of Terry Riley (specifically circa Poppy Nogood), Steelpole Bathtub and Dr. Phibes -- I even did a series of organ drone shows called All-Night Fright to make this point clear. I took some scrap Plexiglass and made one of my old Hammond organs a kind of tribute to Phibes. My desire to become Anton Phibes is what led me to build robotic puppets, and might even be what led me to build self-playing instruments. More than anything, watching the Phibes films taught me the very important lesson that horror movies weren't about being scary, they were about being entertaining (and it's entertaining to be scared, but that's just one way to go), and the more entertaining the better. Everything I need to know I learned from Anton Phibes.

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