CAPSULE: I KILLED MY LESBIAN WIFE, HUNG HER ON A MEATHOOK, AND NOW I HAVE A THREE PICTURE DEAL AT DISNEY (1993) / SLOW BOB IN THE LOWER DIMENSIONS (1991)

The calling card. For anyone breaking into the movie business, any and all experience is an absolute must to prove that you’ve got the goods. So having a little piece of your talent to show off could mean the difference between making your career and never getting off the bench. After all, one never knows where they might find the next Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.

Four years before he and buddy Matt Damon would take home Oscar gold for their Good Will Hunting screenplay, and nearly two decades before he would complete his climb back to respectability by directing Argo, Ben Affleck was still a guy looking for a break wherever he could find one. That meant bit parts in movies, appearances in children’s series and ABC Afterschool Specials, and even directing where the opportunity presented itself. Which explains why his IMDb entry contains, 14 years before his ostensible maiden voyage as a director at the helm of Gone Baby Gone, a short with the title “I Killed my Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three Picture Deal at Disney,” a title which is both unwieldy and annoyingly inaccurate. If anything, those titular events seem to have transpired in the opposite direction.

This may seem like I’m being pedantic, but it’s an important distinction, because that title is doing the lion’s share of the work here. It suggests something subversive or satirical, but ends up being little more than a slice of the life of a typical Hollywood asshole whose aggressive tendencies are physicalized. Co-writer Jay Lacopo, starring as “The Director,” displays not a whit of subtlety as he histrionically castigates his doomed wife, browbeats his spineless sycophants, and uses a casting call to hunt for a new target for his tantrums. And being such a transparently bad guy, it’s really important that the thing meant to lure you in doesn’t end up trivializing the serious themes it purports to dramatize. Is the wife actually a lesbian? There’s a real possibility that she’s just an enlightened woman who’s not into this guy’s crap. Did Disney bestow a deal upon this jerk as a result of his crimes? No, that just seems to be where he shops for his next victim (and it’s worth noting that no studio is named in the actual screenplay; it frankly looks like a startup production company with an office, some chairs, and a dream). We’re dealing with real livewire issues here like spousal abuse and toxic culture, and those themes are reduced to a joke by the clickbait title. It’s tempting to see an early call-out to the #MeToo movement, with The Director’s bad actions and misogynist views tainting the industry and endangering women. But don’t be fooled. He’s just a creep and a murderer, sucking all the air out of the room.

There’s not much of a directorial voice on display. Affleck keeps a loose camera, and he is smart enough to confine all the violence to Lacopo’s over-the-top ravings, rather than celebrating his heinous actions. He’s even careful to set aside a little time to meet The Actress (Karla Montana), a self-involved but skillful young woman who seems unfairly destined to meet a bad end. So you might wonder what Affleck himself thinks of his work. “It’s horrible,” he told Entertainment Weekly: “It’s atrocious. I knew I wanted to be a director, and I did a couple of short films, and this is the only one that haunts me. I’m not proud of it. It looks like it was made by someone who has no prospects, no promise.” If nothing else, Affleck reveals himself to be a tough but fair reviewer. I Killed my Lesbian Wife… has a nasty idea at its core and tries to find comedy in the knowledge that a certain subset of the population won’t find it nasty at all. But there really isn’t much more. At 14 minutes, it’s an idea stretched too thin, and it would probably be completely forgotten if not for its surprising pedigree. Lucky for Affleck, he found another way to make good.

Shall we turn the spotlight on someone who did direct a film for the Mouse House in 1993? And got the job by virtue of talent, rather than sexism and domestic violence? A former in-betweener for the animation giant, had moved on to a job creating station ID cards for MTV. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, independent animators with a subversive streak found a surprising ally in MTV, and a new anthology series on the network represented a huge opportunity for Selick to move up: Liquid Television. The show raided such sources as Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation and Art Spiegelman’s RAW for unusual animated content, and the program would eventually spawn independently successful endeavors like Peter Chung’s Æon Flux and Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head. (My personal favorite was Robin Steele’s “Stick Figure Theater”, a proto-Don Hertzfeldt joint that re-created found audio on notebook paper.) For Selick, the chance to produce a pilot for inclusion in the rotation had the potential to be his big break.

Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions, the tale of a disabled man who escapes the cruelties of his conjoined-twin sisters in a parallel universe (soundtracked by the music of ), gave the filmmaker a chance to show his skills in three separate areas: live-action, 2D cutout stop-motion, and the full frame-by-frame posing of the nasty siblings. At a brisk 6-minute running time, the film covers a lot of ground, navigating smoothly between worlds.

Selick cleverly curates his talents in a sort of tasting menu. The flat-frame animation has an anarchic, flair to it. And he demonstrates his command of tone, with the bright and colorful comic book vibe contrasting with the noir-ish feel of the live-action/animation hybrid scenes. But his model animation is the true standout. The sisters are creepy and frightening from the get-go; they’re the thing you want to see more of. It’s hardly surprising that this skill that would presage his work on James and the Giant Peach and Coraline, among others. The twins are their forebears, technologically and spiritually.

There’s enough intriguing action (in the parallel universe, Slow Bob is a superhero) and hints of mythology to merit a return visit. But then fate intervened: a former colleague at Disney, one Tim Burton, tapped Selick to helm an adaption of some of his drawings under the title The Nightmare Before Christmas. So Slow Bob was set aside forever, leaving behind only this hint of what might have been. But you don’t have to feel bad for Selick. He’s still in the game, collaborating with Jordan Peele on a new project for Netflix. And he didn’t have to hang anyone on a meat hook to get there.

I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three Picture Deal at Disney can be found online in unauthorized versions. Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions is available on YouTube in what appears to be an authorized (and high-quality rescanned) release from Heather Selick.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The problem with the popular mantra that one should write about what one knows is that it inevitably leads to lots of books about writers and lots of films about filmmaking, both in the most part by individuals who don’t understand their respective crafts very well at all… There is no evidence here of either love or care. One might call it a car crash of a film but whiplash would be preferable to viewing it. One can only imagine how much more painful that must now be for its director.” – Jennie Kermode, Eye on Film on “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook and Now I Have a Three Picture Deal with Disney”

 “Both this creative talent and vision is to be found in Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions, if only in an embryonic and unquestionably weird form and with a decidedly late 80s/early 90s aesthetic feel… The film is indeed ‘both disturbing and charming,’ but it is also extremely interesting and frequently rather funny despite the often more-than-nightmarish visuals.” Abraham, A Wasted Life on “Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions”

(“I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I have a Three Picture Deal at Disney” was nominated for review by Eric. “Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions” was nominated by Algus Underdunk. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)         

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