Starting last year, we have entered a new, revolutionary era for the movie-making division of Motern Media, with shockwaves that will rattle the bones of independent cinema for at least the next decade to come. Motern megalomaniac Matt Farley has announced plans to complete & distribute two feature films a year for the foreseeable future, collaborating with longtime filmmaking partner Charles Roxburgh to match the overwhelming pace of Farley’s music production in their backyard movie output. That personally imposed two-films-a-year metric would sound too ambitious to be sustainable for an amateur auteur if it weren’t for Farley’s deep public record of superheroic stubbornness. Between his 22,000+ song catalog, six-hour marathon concerts, conceptual triple albums, and outright spiteful takeover of the Sufjan Stevens “50 States” project, Farley unleashes an unrelenting flood of self-published #content at a pace unmatched by any Online Era artist I can name. The only time he’s announced an ambitious creative project without fulfilling his initial goal is when he & Roxburgh planned to produce a septology of Druid-themed movies shot on a digi-camcorder in the woods, but wisely cut the project short when it was “only” a quadrilogy (still an impressive feat). And, who knows, maybe this new two-film-a-year production metric will force Motern’s hand in delivering the final three parts of The Druid Cycle after all, picking up where they left off with Druids Druids Everywhere in 2014. They’ve got to run out of fresh ideas at some point, right? Right?!?
The first pair of films from this new, revolutionary era in Motern Cinema offers both a wild deviation from the norm and a nostalgic return to basics. It’s obviously much easier to get excited about the outlier, so I’ll start there. Releasing it direct-to-Vimeo in 2021, Farley & Roxburgh present Heard She Got Married as their version of a “straight forward psychological thriller,” a wild tonal departure from their classic tongue-in-cheek creature features. Instead of playing his usual stock character of an outsider artist who never “made it”, Farley leads as a has-been rock star who moves back to his hometown “in The Tri-Town Area” to adjust to a post-fame life. The film is as bizarre as ever in its hyper-specific character details (including a local weirdo who is fixated on convincing strangers to taste his homemade hotdogs), but it’s an all-growed-up, oddly sinister maturation of the Motern template. The Motern family of recurring players are getting old, and there’s a darkness to their nostalgia for the sunnier days of their rambunctious youth, summarized by the line “We all had a good time when we were kids, but it’s over.” When Farley’s has-been rock star investigates the suspicious behavior of his psychotic mailman, it’s played as a sad, petty distraction from his real work of growing up & moving on – as opposed to previous heroic investigations of small-town threats like the Riverbeast, the Gospercaps, and the creep with the killer foot. It’s disarming to see Farley & Roxburgh mine such a dark tone out of the exact character dynamics they usually play for laughs, especially since the movie ends on a sincere psych-thriller twist instead of an absurdist punchline.
Premiered at a couple isolated screenings in 2021 and now widely available on Blu-Ray through Gold Ninja Video, Metal Detector Maniac is more of a business-as-usual effort from Motern than its sister film. It delivers all the novelty songs, adorable locals, 1-on-1 basketball, and preposterous horror villainy you’d expect from a Farley/Roxburgh horror comedy. Metal Detector Maniac was initially intended to be a sincere throwback to video store-era horror schlock, but in the writing process it devolved into a goofball satire dunking on the absurdity of academia. Farley co-stars with longtime Moes Haven bandmate Tom Scalzo as college professors who get distracted from their academic research by a self-assigned “citizen sleuth” investigation of a suspicious metal detector hobbyist who lurks around the public park. Unlike with the similar maniac mailman investigation of Heard She Got Married, the metal detectorist’s devious behavior is a non-sequitur that only occasionally distracts from what’s really on Matt Farley’s mind: petty grievances over the cushiness of tenured university jobs. Metal Detector Maniac is mostly an excuse for Farley to complain about the ridiculous racket of paid sabbaticals, university presses, and inspirational “pre-writing” sessions that he’s locked out of as a self-published artist. A no-budget horror about a maniac with a killer metal detector is a hilariously incongruous platform for these bitter, detailed complaints about professorship, which is the exact kind of the-monster-doesn’t-matter approach Farley’s applied to his creature features in the past. It strikes a much more routine, expected tone than Heard She Got Married as a result, but another scoop of ice cream is still a scoop of ice cream: a familiar delight.
As a pair, these two new Motern releases are most essential in the way the document both extremes of Matt Farley’s prolific, bifurcated music career. The bumbling “citizen sleuth” professors of Metal Detector Maniac specifically study the practice of spontaneous, improvisational songwriting, intellectualizing a “Don’t think, just make art” ethos to the adoration of their students and the skepticism of their colleagues. By contrast, the tonal change-up of Heard She Got Married is echoed in the earnestness of its soundtrack, consisting of Farley’s sincere rock n’ roll anthems instead of the improv novelty songs that score his horror comedies (and pay his bills). In-the-know Motern fans will distinguish Heard She Got Married as a MO75 film and Metal Detector Maniac as a Moes Haven film, but I’m not sure that level of Matt Farley obsessiveness is necessary (or even healthy). At most, the only pre-requisite homework required to fully appreciate these delirious sister films is spending an hour watching Farley’s classic self-portrait Local Legends, which is one of the greatest films of the 2010s anyway. Of this pair, Metal Detector Maniac is more likely the title that holds up on its own without prior Motern Media familiarity, but I’m also too deep into the cult indoctrination process to make that call anymore. All I can say for sure is that both films are included on the Gold Ninja Video release of Metal Detector Maniac, and they both signal that the Motern filmmaking method is still going strong as we enter the 2020s – whether Farley & Roxburgh are trying out new things or sticking to what’s already proven to work. Which is good news, since they’re planning to double their catalog of movie titles over the next few years regardless of audience appetite.