I first met Noam Gonick in my apartment here in Winnipeg some 12 years ago. I was throwing a party and he was stealing books from my shelves and extending his search to jewelry. I instantly forgave the little charmer, figuring any book thief is a true charismatic. I was right. Inevitably, Noamie started mesmerizing the young pretties in our hometown with his movie camera. He quickly established himself as a perfervid reconfigurer of all things
Winnipeg—his first short, 1919, depicts our city’s historic general strike of that year by wafting so much bathhouse steam over the labor strife one can barely tell the knob-gobblers from the picketers. Next, this clever young son of a Communist professor at the University of Manitoba made Waiting for Twilight, an hour-long doc about one of Winnipeg’s better-known filmmakers—me, actually. Ever the mythmaker, Gonick portrayed me as passive-aggressive and self-pitying—a remarkable editing feat! Now comes his first feature, Hey, Happy! (opening Friday), an outrageous staccato-burp of amyl nitrate images from Winnipeg’s propped-up and overripe rear end. I recently spoke with the director over tea in my library.
Dear Mr. Gonick. I know while you were shooting Hey, Happy! you were making a story about characters anticipating the much feared turn of the millennium, an apocalypse that eventually failed to show on time, but now when I watch this picture shot in our Winnipeg, I see a landscape that looks and feels more post-apocalyptic than anything out of sci-fi. Did the doomsday that missed the rest of the world somehow lay low our city through the magic of sound-mix, colour-timing, or some other darkly mystical post-production process?
Winnipeg is by its very nature apocalyptic. Floods of Biblical proportions annually threaten our home, the rivers swelling up with sewer effluent and drowned bison. And sometimes you wonder if there was any logic in inhabiting this landscape in the first place, if it isn’t some kind of failed experiment which the gods want to terminate. I was in that 4 percent of the population that believed in Y2K, the biggest hoax ever—I guess I like getting spooked. We originally called the film Fuckfest 2000, to play up that millennial angle and refer to the protagonist DJ Sabu’s life mission of fucking 2000 boys, but since the shoot was mere months before New Year’s, we thought the title might be a bit passé by the time it was finished. The film is shot entirely outdoors (except for two washroom scenes), porn stores situated in wheat fields, beauty salons in junkyards, all shot in a jaundiced CinemaScope—in many ways the world of Hey, Happy! has already been squashed by an undetermined socioeconomic collapse when the story begins.
Yes—Y2K! I’m already nostalgic for that sweet little impending annihilation we all trembled at like Boy Scouts around a late-night campfire. You’ve somehow welded together homos and end-times in your picture.
I can’t take full credit. Here in the Bible Belt, homos and end-times are bound together with fire and brimstone, and I thought instead of denying the connection it would be fun to embrace the mix, to say, “Yeah, homosexuality is rampant and this does mean the end of the world,” kinda like Jerry Falwell after 9-11.
You do have Happy, perhaps your most sympathetic character, torching an American flag. Do you deserve castigation for this very unprescient script blunder?
According to my distributor, yes. I was trying to make a very casual anti-imperialist gesture, perhaps best understood after smoking a bowl of hash. Faggot utopias like that found in the denouement of Hey, Happy! are built from of the ashes of today’s empires.
Perhaps true evil is represented in your film by Spanky, the most petulant he-pussy ever invoked by the occult art of filmmaking. I know I do most of my casting through the local phone book; where did you find this boy?
I was producing a series of after-hours parties and Clayton Godson, then aged 14, was found passed out in a puddle of his own puke, makeup splayed out around his candy-raver lunch-box purse. He had just been sprung from juvie hall, and within days he was performing with a cucumber for my 25th birthday. He’s like an inverse Divine—stick thin, but still intent on being the grossest person in the world. Bruce LaBruce, on meeting Clayton, said he was a young Jerry Lewis. We presented the film together on opening night of the New York Underground Film Festival, and I think he alienated the audience, screaming, “Who wants to get fist-fucked?!!” into the mic. I would think that would go over very well in New York, but I guess they’ve already dealt with Lydia Lunch. You’ve got to be ready to fight or run at all times when you’re in public with Clayton.
In spite of all the toxic puddles, vile language, glory holes, a gut-eating sequence, and a drowned dog, your movie has a totally charming sweetness. All this mean spirit dervishing around such a cute soul. How did you pull off this little miracle?
Watching the finished film, I was actually embarrassed at how romantic the Sabu-Happy love plot is—verging on Sappy—but I guess that comes with the Astro-Camp territory. I patched genres together recklessly. I wanted to provide a well-balanced diet, make the audience laugh, cry, get an erection, and then throw up in their laps—isn’t that what entertainment’s all about?
I did throw up once, but only in my mouth. Let me comment that, even with your apparent dog’s breakfast of intentions, and all the abounding mayhem, the overall trajectory of the picture is so sensitively suggested—such a gentle takeoff, flight, and landing. This certainly isn’t off-the-rack camp. Are you trying to sucker-slap what’s left of the camp crowd? Just who is your real or imagined audience?
Very naively I designed this movie for the fevered suburban multiplex of my imagination, thinking that Spanky and Sabu would be great role models for truants who play pinball in the local mall, dodging security guards. Of course the film buyers at Sundance didn’t see it that way, and alas this movie will be taking a very circuitous trip into bedroom communities, hopefully inspiring clandestine basement circle jerks around DVD players. We’re just blowing the heads off old dandelions, and wherever the spores land we hope they take root.
I love the movie’s rave scenes. It’s nice to see break dancing made it to Winnipeg before the end of the century—at least according to your mythic view of the city. How important is mythmaking?
I look at Hey, Happy! as a big future-tense creation myth. In the end, the DJ is adrift alone on a flooded planet, spinning cabalistic charts on turntables, pregnant with an alien love child, which might repopulate the planet. Sort of a new Book of Genesis.
A new boner-filled Bible?
With cum-stuck pages.
Jessica Winter’s review of Hey, Happy!
A brief history of Canadian Cinema by Mark Peranson
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