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 Everywherein 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.
It has occurred to me as I’m writing this review that I have now covered ten feature films by no-budget backyard auteur Matt Farley – most of them more than once. Considering how excited I am for the completion of Farley’s next D.I.Y. horror comedy, Metal Detector Maniac (due later this year), I don’t see that enthusiasm for the Motern Media canon tempering any time soon. Part of this bottomless enthusiasm is due to Motern’s way of becoming exponentially more charming & addictive the further you sink into the catalog. The jokes become funnier, the characters become more intimately familiar, and the lopsided plot structures become more satisfying the longer you’re immersed in Farley’s off-kilter, hyperlocal POV. More importantly, though, Motern movies are fun to write about because they’re genuinely inspiring to me, as someone with their own experience in self-publishing & go-nowhere art projects. Matt Farley, his filmmaking collaborator Charles Roxburgh, and their long-recurring cast of family & friends have been consistently making movies for decades to little acclaim or notoriety outside their New England social circle (and the few weirdos who stumble onto their wavelength over the internet). Even if the movies weren’t especially great, their persistence over decades of self-publishing into the void would still be a remarkable achievement. The fact that the films are all uniquely hilarious & memorably bizarre on top of that consistency is truly incredible, an over-achievement in D.I.Y. artistry.
In that respect, there are few Matt Farley movies more inspiring than the 1999 college-campus comedy The Paperboy. While most of us wasted our college-age energy on bong rips & Simpsons re-runs, Farley was already a fully operational media factory. He actually followed through on the “Wouldn’t it be cool one day?” aspirations of aimless twentysomethings who fantasize about making movies but never get around to it, completing a no-budget feature film with only a few friends and some dorm room ephemera at his disposal. It’s funny too! Against all odds, The Paperboy is just as comedically successful as later Motern-defining triumphs like Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! & Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas. It’s missing a few of the familiar faces who would later become Motern legends (with a baby-faced Roxburgh stepping out from behind the camera to take up more of that screentime himself), but otherwise this unassuming campus comedy is business as usual for Farley & crew. It’s both increasingly hilarious the longer you stew in its absurdly low-stakes, deadpan humor and increasingly inspiring the more you realize just how few resources Farley had at his disposal (especially once you consider what you were doing with your own downtime at that age).
Matt Farley stars as the titular paperboy, a college campus entrepreneur who sells essays to lazy (or overworked) students who’d rather spend money than do their homework. He guarantees at least an A- on every purchase and his slogan is “Never the same paper twice!” It would be impossible to fully convey how the execution of that premise is funny here, since the humor is entirely dependent on Farley’s deadpan commitment to the bit. The only over-the-top details that distinguish his paper-selling operation as a comic exaggeration are the network of spies he employs to keep the operation discreet and the disguise that obscures his identity while delivering the goods: a tighty-whities “mask,” a customer-blinding headlamp, and a superhero cape. Otherwise, we merely watch the paperboy make his daily rounds and struggle to keep his true identity under wraps while also courting a potential love interest. It’s all executed in the exact way you’d expect a late-90s college student with a camcorder would film a feature-length comedy sketch, complete with taste-signaling touches like a Rushmore soundtrack CD & a Boogie Nights poster proudly featured in the dorm room background. Farley even indulges in some surprisingly crude, college-age humor here that you won’t find elsewhere in the Motern catalog, staging the first paper sale as if it were an act of prostitution and assigning one of his employees the walkie-talkie codename “Firebush.” As always, though, the thing that sets this Motern relic apart from its no-budget college campus peers is that it’s way funnier from gag to gag than you’d reasonably expect. The movie is essentially just a few late-90s Providence College nerds enjoying a goof with their camcorder, but it’s genuinely funny from start to end.
The one gag that really distinguishes The Paperboy as something special is its overly long non-sequitur in which the paperboy becomes fixated on the operation hours of the campus café. He takes precious time off his paper-selling obligations to campaign to school administration & students that the café should be open 24/7 (mostly so he can munch on complimentary popcorn while writing papers at odd hours). To achieve this goal, the paperboy & his most trusted employee (Roxburgh) team up to film a deranged PSA about the campus café’s necessity to be open around the clock, which only further confuses his target audience and derails his mission. This movie-within-a-movie tangent is pure Matt Farley, proving that the young auteur was already fully formed as an artist even when he was living in a college dorm. Practically every Matt Farley movie features an increasingly absurd political cause that only Farley’s character fully believes in, confounding everyone around him. It’s a recurring, self-aware joke on the Motern mission itself: a decades-spanning marathon of overlapping art projects that seemingly only Matt Farley cares about. Watching a bewildered audience scratch their heads at the nonsensical café PSA—not at all getting what Farley & Roxburgh are trying to communicate—is some incredibly sharp, aware meta-commentary for a couple of college kids who had no idea how long into the future they’d be suffering that same embarrassment. It’s also just an incredibly funny gag in the moment, one that elevates the film from surprisingly solid to truly great.
I’d recommend immersing yourself in some of Farley & Roxburgh’s more recent comedies before time-travelling back to The Paperboy. At the very least, the Motern mission statement Local Legends is a must-watch primer for fully understanding what they’re up to with their extensive catalog of low-stakes absurdities. Once you’ve gotten a handle on the Motern sensibility, however, The Paperboy is just as funny and just as inspiring as Farley’s best work to date. It’s also conveniently available on YouTube for anyone who’s curious, which is a nice consolation to indulge in as the world impatiently waits for the next Motern masterpiece to be released.
Backyard New England filmmaker Matt Farley’s bread & butter is the same go-to genre that most no-budget directors rely on: the horror comedy. Farley (along with close collaborator Charles Roxburgh) is obsessed with the teenage hangout intermissions between kills in the slasher & rubber monster subgenres of horror in particular. Expanding on the goofy surrealism of that downtime affords his films a uniquely bizarre quality you won’t find in any other cheap-o D.I.Y. horrors. The subtly surreal, humorously underplayed hangout film does have firm roots in other D.I.Y. filmmaking corners, though, not least of all the post-Clerks “indie” picture. With Obtuse Todd, Farley & Roxburgh attempted to graduate from the goofy backyard horror comedy to the Film Festival oddity, another routinely overlooked genre that’s mostly cast off into the independent distribution void – seen by few and enjoyed by even fewer. In fact, the film has become something of a “lost” work in the Motern Media catalog, as it failed to earn any of the film festival entries Farley & Roxburgh submitted it for, so it’s been officially “unreleased” to this day (except as a “hidden” bonus feature on Gold Ninja Video‘s recent Blu-ray release of Farley’s magnum opus, Local Legends). Matt Farley is nowhere near a household name, so it’s difficult to convey how excited I was to finally watch this discarded Motern classic. It’s like someone handed me a free DVD copy of The Day the Clown Cried just to see me smile.
As always, Matt Farley stars in the film as a Matt Farley type: an amateur songwriter named Todd who suffers a go-nowhere desk job so that he can pay his rent (and write more songs). Most of the action is confined to Todd’s unadorned, white-walled apartment (presumably where Farley himself was living at the time of production). And by “action” I mean hilariously inane dialogue exchanges in which Todd navigates complicated relationships with the few other characters in his orbit: a workplace crush he cannot muster the confidence to ask out, a precocious teenage stranger who obsessively calls him at all hours of the night after a fateful misdial, and that girl’s father – a meathead brute who initially threatens to beat Todd to a pulp for being a “pervert” but eventually becomes his bandmate instead. Most indie hangout comedies of the 90s Slacker Era would have maintained this simple, interpersonal drama as a day-in-the-life portrait of eccentric characters. Farley & Roxburgh can’t help but tilt their version of the no-budget Festival Movie into some kind of genre territory, though, so Obtuse Todd takes some wild swings at transforming into a psychological thriller instead. Todd’s over-the-phone teenage stalker doesn’t deal with his increasingly stern rejection of her advances lightly, and the second half of the picture shifts from Clerks to Misery as she exacts her deranged revenge. And that’s somehow not half as strange of a development as how Todd’s songwriting career takes off with his new bandmate/bully. I can see how film festival programmers would have been baffled or underwhelmed by Obtuse Todd as a cold submission, but in the context of the Motern canon it makes total sense and is a total delight.
I wish Obtuse Todd had arrived later in Matt Farley’s catalog, and it could make for an interesting direction for the Motern brand to return to in the future. This oddity arrived before the crew’s major creative breakthroughs in Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegasand Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, in a time when they were still producing small-scale pranks like Druid Gladiator Clone & Sammy: The Tale of a Terrible Teddy. The only element at play that really feels like they’re operating at full power is Motern celebrity Kevin McGee’s performance as Todd’s bully/bandmate. Watching the two mismatched weirdos singly wildly popular novelty songs about food is explosively funny, especially in juxtaposition with the film’s more grounded Indie Drama & Psychological Thriller influences. Otherwise, Obtuse Todd feels like a dry run for what Farley & crew would later accomplish with success in the self-promo self-portrait Local Legends. For any of those minor comparisons & clarifiers to make any sense at all, you already have to be fully immersed in the Motern Media cult, in which case you should already be stoked that this is finally out there in the world regardless of its limitations. As such, all I can really do is encourage you to buy the limited-edition Gold Ninja release of Local Legends—one of the greatest films of the 2010s—before it goes out of print. Obtuse Todd‘s inclusion on that disc is pure lagniappe, but if you’ve read this far into this review you surely recognize the value of that gift. Its delayed thriller plot, novelty songs about apple pie, and maniacal close-ups of Matt Farley brushing his teeth are alone treasures worth seeking out for anyone who’s already been indoctrinated into the Motern Media cult.
One of the major reasons I believe Local Legends to be the definitive masterwork of backyard microbudget filmmaker Matt Farley is its total, self-aware sense of honesty. Having recorded nearly 20,000 novelty songs & filmed roughly a dozen backyard horror comedies with his New England community over the last two decades, Farley is a daunting artist to get into as a new fan. The reason I presented Local Legends as a Movie of the Month entry-point instead of more typifying works like Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!orMonsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegasis that it serves as a kind of crash course overview of everything Farley has attempted to accomplish with his Motern Media brand. It’s a brutally honest self-portrait of an amateur artist’s life in the self-publishing digital hellscape of the 2010s, as well as a shameless informercial peddling Farley’s entire back catalog of CDs & DVDs. The only problem is that if you’re not already familiar with Farley’s body of work or online persona that honest self-portrait can read as too preposterous to possibly be true. Watching Matt Farley leave free DVDs for strangers to find around his Massachusetts neighborhood like Easter eggs, obsessively Google himself hourly for potential feedback about his work, give out his real-life cellphone number in his songs (603-644-0048) in case anyone wants to contact him about his work, and filibuster every possible social event to bloviate about his own creative genius can feel outlandish for anyone unfamiliar with Motern Media. Personally, I know everything onscreen in Local Legends to be true – not only because of my own experience as an amateur blogger, podcaster, and zinester in the 2010s, but also because of how it is impossible to post anything about Matt Farley online without interacting with him directly.
As soon as I posted a review of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! last summer, Matt Farley was promoting & retweeting the post to his minor, dedicated cult of Motern fans. Since that first interaction, my own gradual indoctrination into that cult has been aggressive & overt. Matt Farley has continually reposted every piece I’ve written about his work. He has even branched out to take an apparent interest in our projects that have no direct relation to his own, especially when our interests overlap: reviews of Kubrick classics, a Movie of the Month discussion of The Pit (a major inspiration to the backyard horror comedies he makes with creative partner Charles Roxburgh), our movie podcast’s usefulness in soundtracking his miles-long urban walks, etc. Beyond any personal entertainment Farley might be gaining from these exchanges, this direct, active engagement with individual members of his audience is ingenious from a self-promotion standpoint. I have purchased physical copies of movies & albums from Farley directly in the last year (despite most of his media being readily accessible in all the familiar online streaming haunts) mostly because he keeps himself on my mind as an amateur artist who could use the support. I’m even strongly considering traveling to an upcoming Motern Extravaganza (a five-hour annual concert Farley holds in Massachusetts to celebrate his own media empire) which feels like being summoned by my new cult leader for an official induction ceremony. Practically speaking, this personal engagement also makes it extremely difficult to critique any of Farley’s work negatively, no matter how silly or casually tossed off. People say cruel & harshly critical things about celebrity artists online all the time; that’s essentially what Twitter is for. I doubt that would be true if every filmmaker or songwriter directly responded to each cruel Tweet as just a fellow human being doing their best. Matt Farley’s direct online engagement with his audience & critics removes the veil of the Internet’s online anonymity to create a more truthful picture of what it means when you slag a stranger’s art in a public forum.
Of course, directly recruiting a dutiful audience one fan at a time would be an absurdly labor-intensive mode of self-promotion for most artists, but that’s what makes Matt Farley so remarkable. We here at Swampflix are a lowly, amateur crew of Louisiana film nerds with virtually no online clout as a self-published collective. A filmmaker we admire directly interacting with and even promoting our work is a huge deal for us, which in turn means that we end up amplifying our own promotion of Matt Farley & Motern Media when we share these experiences with friends elsewhere on social media. Farley went even further than that level of typical interaction with his audience, though, when he posted a song about me this past Ash Wednesday, titled “Brandon Ledet Reviews Movies Excellently.” In Local Legends, Matt Farley is radically honest about how he uses search engine optimization techniques in choosing topics to write songs about: celebrities, gluten, kid-popular terms like “poop” & “fart,” etc. Each streaming play of these songs earns Farley fractions of pennies, which accumulate over tens of thousands of tracks to a living wage. It’s a next-level form of self-promotion genius to include amateur bloggers & dedicated fans like myself on his Papa and the Razzis shout-out songs among actually famous names like Ava DuVernay & Rian Johnson. By appealing directly to my vanity, Farley was guaranteed some of those, sweet, sweet penny-fractions as I would no doubt dutifully share the song with family & friends. I did. Several times. And I’m doing so again here in this piece so that I can possibly contribute to more films like Local Legends & Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! getting made in the future (and, by all reports, his next film Metal Detector Maniac is already on its way). Also, since Matt is 100% certain to read this article, I’d also just like to thank him for the uncanny experience of directly interacting with an artist I admire so much in such a personal way. If nothing else, it’s been yet another affirmation that the self-published artist’s self-portait in Local Legends is 100% real, no matter how bizarre it may initially seem.
Once or twice a year I make zines versions of movie reviews we’ve written for Swampflix to distribute at local festivals & events (with immense help from CC in printing & tabling them). So far, we’ve never sold zines outside the festival environment, so they’re a kind of special-occasion treat for the site – a natural extension of our low-fi, high-effort movie blogging aesthetic. I was inspired to start this ritual when I attended the very first New Orleans Comics and Zines festival at the New Orleans Public Library in our own early stirrings as a blogging collective. Surveying dozens of tables of amateur & semi-professional art in the library was an inspiring, communal experience that really helped put into perspective what Swampflix was even doing as a lowly, localized movie blog. We will never be a legitimate, lucrative film criticism website (or even a self-sustaining one, to be frank; this is a money-losing hobby of an operation), so I sensed an instant kinship with the amateur art-for-art’s-sake vibe of the event. Our high-contrast black Sharpie illustrations that accompany our movie reviews even already looked like classic Xeroxed zines, something that came naturally to me from self-promoting ancient punk shows in hand-drawn flyers for long-dead bands I was in over a decade ago. That first NOCAZ had the ideal D.I.Y. punk effect on me, the exact spirit you hope to be infected with at any punk community event: it made me want to make art. We’ve been tabling handmade Swampflix zines at every NOCAZ festival since (and even branched out to distribute zines at other book fairs & library events); it’s one of the more energizing highlights of our calendar. That’s why it’s so sad that this year’s NOCAZ will be the last.
The fifth & final NOCAZ fest will be staged at the Main Branch of the New Orleans Public Library on Saturday April 6th and Sunday April 7th, 2019. I’ve already been preparing for the festival for months, making zines & buttons in my free time between writing movie reviews, producing The Swampflix Podcast, and just trying to live a normal life besides. It takes a lot of work to finish the zines on-time every year, not least of all because I make it hard on myself for no reason at all. Instead of merely printing the text & images we’ve already posted on the site, I transcribe that work by hand in careful, but microscopic Sharpie lettering. I also make sure to include bonus illustrations beyond the ones we’ve already published. It’s a needlessly labor-intensive task. Not only does it require weeks of manual labor to produce every new zine, but my handwriting is so small, uneven, and littered with delirious typos that the end result is a bit of an eyesore. I could be wrong, but I highly doubt anyone’s ever successfully read a Swampflix zine from cover to cover, no matter their level of interest in what we’re writing about. That doesn’t mean that there’s no point in making them, though, as delusional as that may sound. I get so much out of tabling at NOCAZ every year. One of the main reasons we review movies for the site is because we love to discuss & recommend films to people, which NOCAZ allows us to do tangibly, in person. It’s also the world’s most ineffective, labor-intensive form of self-promotion, but I like to think that it does make at last a new handful of locals aware that we exist every year, which is a plus. Mostly, though, the zines are worthwhile just because it feels good to make anything. The act of amateur art creation is its own reward.
According to their About page, “NOCAZ is an attempt to make a space for self-published artists and thinkers to put their work out in the public sphere and be able to reach each other without the constraints and expense of the commercial publishing industry. Zines are a participatory format and [they] hope bringing multiple perspectives together under one roof can create dialogue and inspire more people to express themselves though print.” I can report that, for us at least, the short-lived festival was a resounding success on these terms. I also suspect we were far from the only attendees who started making zines for the first time after attending the fest.
I don’t think there’s a more appropriate note to end our time with NOCAZ on than the new zine we’ve printed for this year’s fest: a collection of movie reviews I wrote about backyard filmmaker Matt Farley last summer. For the last two decades, Farley has been making microbudget horror comedies and recording tens of thousands of novelty songs with his family & friends around his New England neighborhoods to little outside fanfare. There’s nothing especially “punk” about his work or his demeanor, but Farley’s Motern Media brand is still a microcosmic D.I.Y. operation that feels entirely in-spirit with the NOCAZ tabling experience. I was thinking a lot about Matt Farley last summer when exhibiting Swampflix zines at the American Library Association’s national conference. I spent four consecutive days in a massive convention hall peddling zines to librarians from all over the country. Out of every dozen or so people who actually stopped to talk to us about our zines (or to learn about zine culture in general), there were only one or two who enthusiastically got what we were doing and found great joy in talking about movies with a stranger. It was the exact high-effort, low-payoff amateur art lifestyle Farley details in our current Movie of the Month, 2013’s Local Legends. Tripling as a narrative comedy, a documentary, and an infomercial selling Farley’s various CDs & DVDs, Local Legends is a stunningly bullshit-free, self-aware summation of the minor joys & embarrassments of amateur art production in the self-publishing digital hellscape of the 2010s. It’s Farley’s masterpiece, and I see so much of my own experiences blogging, podcasting, and making zines in its cruel self-satire. Just as much as NOCAZ opened my eyes to Swampflix already being a kind of online zine before we were ever in print, Local Legends helped clarify exactly what I was feeling putting all this effort into go-nowhere art projects with no clear goal beyond the act of their own production.
I initially wrote a Motern Media fanzine to help spread the word that Matt Farley exists out there, making amateur art for his own amusement (and minor, self-sustaining profit). Since printing the first few copies, NOCAZ has announced that this year’s festival will be the last, which already makes me feel like I’m living out the opening scenes of a Local Legends sequel. I can’t think of a more appropriate note to close our NOCAZ experience on than trying to convince strangers to purchase a zine about a microbudget filmmaker they’ve never heard of before, so that more people might experience the amateur joys of Motern classics like Local Legends, Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, and Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas. In true Local Legends sprit, we’ll also be selling older zines we printed far too many copies of years ago and could never fully get rid of at past festivals. Still, distributing the Matt Farley fanzine will be our top priority. NOCAZ & Motern are easily the two most revelatory influences I’ve had in understanding exactly what I’ve been doing with Swampflix over the last five years, so I’m glad I could find an opportunity to experience them in tandem before that window closes forever.
Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandonmade Britnee, Brandon, and CC watch Local Legends (2013).
Brandon: Last summer, I became unhealthily fixated on the outsider art projects of Matt Farley and his Motern Media brand. Even after reviewing a dozen or so Motern movies for Swampflix, I found myself compelled but unable to fully communicate the value of Farley’s novelty songs and horror-comedy parodies to anyone who had the misfortune of listening to me babble offline. Part of the appeal of Farley’s cinematic output in general is that it’s so aggressively localized that it feels unknowable to newcomers outside his dorkily wholesome New England community. The recurring cast of family & friends that consistently populate Farley’s backyard film productions do become gradually familiar as you sink further into his Motern catalog, but there’s also a mystique to the unfathomable consistency of that recurrence. As much as Farley is making parodically silly horror movies & Dr. Demento-style novelty songs around his new England neighborhood, he’s also documenting the evolution & aging of an insular community of people the outside world knows nothing about. There’s a vast wealth of material in the Motern catalog, but no immediate context to what you’re watching or listening to, so that the only way to fully understand what Farley is accomplishing with his buddies (most notably his frequent director-of-choice Charles Roxburgh) is to watch all of his available movies. Even though the films are generally short & hosted on easily accessible sites like YouTube, that’s a daunting recommendation, especially in an era where audiences are used to knowing practically everything about a film’s cast, plot, and production history before we experience the finished product for ourselves. Understanding Matt Farley’s work requires obsession, as it requires a hunger for small context clues spread over an untold number of film productions (I can’t even tell you exactly how many movies he’s produced, since even that information is mysteriously inconsistent depending on the source).
It turns out that attempting to piece together the mystery of Matt Farley’s decades-long dedication to microbudget film production & novelty songwriting through context clues in interviews, Motern Media’s website, and the Important Cinema Club podcast episode where I first discovered his work was essentially a waste of time. In addition to being the most self-aware man alive, Farley is also radically dedicated to existing in the public sphere as an open book; if you want any details about his life’s work, all you have to do is ask. He even frequently includes his phone number (603-644-0048) in the end credits of his films and the lyrics of his songs so that you can call him to ask questions directly. Interviewing Farley about his life & work is also a redundancy in its own way, though, because Farley has already laid out the essential details for all to see in a feature-length narrative film titled Local Legends. Without shame or apology, Local Legends is a 70min infomercial for Matt Farley’s various outsider art projects. The film states in matter-of-fact, brazenly honest terms how & why Farley makes music & movies, as well as where you can find his work & support him financially. In addition to being a feature-length commercial for the Motern Media empire, Local Legends is also an artistic masterpiece, easily my favorite Matt Farley production. Any questions I’ve asked myself about his day to day routines, the amount of outside fanfare he’s seen for his work, and the context of where his community of adorable weirdos fits in on his local arts scene are answered plainly in the movie, which triples as a narrative feature, a documentary, and an essay film on the joys & embarrassments of amateur art production in the 2010s. Even beyond the convenient insight it provides into Farley’s Warhol-esque media factory, however, Local Legends is just stunning in its bullshit-free self-awareness as a small-time regional artist’s self-portrait, something I strongly identify with as an amateur film blogger & podcaster in our own insular, localized community. Local Legends is a paradox, in that it could not exist without decades of back catalog art projects informing what Farley is saying about the nature of outsider art in the film, but it’s also a crowning achievement that feels like a philosophical breakthrough for Farley just as much an outsider’s crash course in his oeuvre. It’s a crass act of self-promotion, but the product being displayed is often about crass self-promotion & amateur hustling, which are necessary for a modern artist’s survival & longevity.
The only thing that complicates my love for this self-portrait of an outsider artist its blatant debt to known sexual abuser Woody Allen. As this is one of his select few productions not directed by career-long bestie Charles Roxburgh, Farley’s choice to write, star in, and direct Local Legends himself with an auteursist omnipresence recalls the unembarrassed narcissism of Woody Allen’s own self-indulgent oeuvre. Farley, of course, verbally acknowledges this debt to Allen (something that has aged horrifically in the last six years, for extratextual reasons you’re already aware of). He both shoots the film in a digital black & white that recalls Woody Allen‘s visual style and makes in-dialogue references to touchstones like Annie Hall just so you know that the affectation is purposeful. This high-brow aesthetic is amusing in contrast to Farley’s aggressively unpretentious novelty songs about poop & microbudget rubber-monster horror comedies, but it’s still a cringey impulse all the same. I like to think of Local Legends as the perfect Matt Farley introduction because it encapsulates so much of his peculiar personality & day-to-day amateur art production, but recommending someone watch it means asking them to think about Woody Allen, which spoils the mood at best, potentially triggers the viewer at worst.
So, Boomer, were you able to look past Local Legends’s Woody Allenisms enough to get a feel for Matt Farley as his own distinct, persona? How effective of an introduction (if not an outright infomercial) was this film to the Motern Media empire for you as a previously uninitiated viewer?
Boomer: I had never heard of Farley before watching this gem, but I found the unpretentious absence of pomp and utter lack of any kind of self-deception in his compartmentalization of his art charming and refreshing. When the first season of Star Trek: Discovery premiered a while back and I signed up for CBS All Access in order to watch it (if you think I wouldn’t pay $10 a month for Star Trek, you don’t know me), my roommate grew temporarily (thankfully) obsessed with The Bold & the Beautiful, and when I couldn’t figure out why, he explained that he was attracted to art that felt like he could have made it, and the overall cheapness of the early seasons of that soap opera made him feel better about his level of cinematic skill. Local Legends is much the same: it feels like a movie that a group of friends could have made, because it is exactly that. At first, I was a little turned off by this, as the early scenes of Farley’s non-comedic stand-up were accompanied by sparse laughter and painful silences, and I wasn’t certain if this was supposed to represent that Farley thought he was a great comedian and that he simply didn’t have the budget to project his own image of himself. Once the film starts moving along and you realize that the “legends” in the title is self-deprecating and not self-aggrandizing, it’s a more pleasant experience. It wasn’t until he’s singing the name “Theodora” repeatedly that I really got my first belly laugh, but from that point on, it was chuckles aplenty. That was the moment that I felt like I really understood Farley, both as a creator and as a persona, and perhaps as both.
I really loved Local Legends. As an introduction to Farley’s overall body of work, I assume that it gives one a pretty clear picture of his other films; I particularly liked the use of footage from Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! and the explanations of how each person in Farley’s life played a role in his productions, and what that role was. You also get a pretty clear picture of Farley, down to his habit of walking around town while listening to Red Sox games and even occasionally raising his hands in order to let the blood that’s pooled there drain back into his body, which is so specifically odd that I have to believe Farley the person shares this trait with Farley the character. My favorite scenes were those between him and his bandmate Tom in their practice space, discussing the way that Millhouse’s showcase went from museum to bar to home basement, laughing at the absurdity of it all but recognizing the familiarity and inevitability of this devolution (Millhouse himself is a great character, with his clipart promo flyers and indestructible optimism).
Overall, this is a pretty optimistic movie, and strangely uplifting in its way. I certainly felt effervescent upon completion. The Woody Allen references struck me as odd, since it’s not as if the allegations against him aren’t exactly new (as with Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey, Michael Jackson, and others, concerns crop up and are well-publicized, then they recede beneath the waves as the news cycle moves on, only to reappear years later to the apparent sudden surprise of the internet, a pretty ample demonstration of our society’s pathologically—even criminally—short attention span), but it’s not really a surprise as I’ve often found that—and this isn’t intended as an insult to Farley personally—that straight white men find it easier to separate the art and the artist than people who’ve experienced marginalization in their lives. That said, I wasn’t terribly happy with the way that Abby was presented as “crazy.” As an appellation, this is so often applied to women for absolutely no reason other than behavioral double standards. Although she did ultimately demonstrate that she had a couple of screws loose, her immediate demonization for no other reason than that she misrepresented the extent of her Billy Joel collection seemed like gatekeeping gone awry, which made me side against Farley, at least at first, which may be the reason it took me longer than normal to warm up to him as a protagonist. CC, what did you think of the character of Abby? Was she deserving of the scorn she received? Does her comparison against Genevieve feel weird to you?
CC: Abby’s characterization bothered me as well. I recently saw her same overly-clingy girlfriend type included as a character on the Hulu show Pen15 and I didn’t care for the trope there either. It’s time for the stalker-ish, emotionally manipulative, “crazy bitch” stereotype to die completely (unless we’re talking about outliers like Isabelle Huppert’s role in Greta, since at least she has nuance and motive outside her relationship to a male character). I also think cultural gatekeeping and derogatory humor hinging on another person’s inability to appreciate “good” culture (which are inherently rooted in misogyny and cultural & racial chauvinism) need to end. Abby represents both of these things.
Farley portrays Abby’s intense version of attention as suffocating. At the same time, he’s releasing movies and music about himself, so he seems to crave attention. Those two impulses are self-contradictory. I don’t know why her character was included in the film in the first place, since her presence is not especially important to the plot other than for him to complain about her clinginess. If Local Legends is a parody of movie tropes and character types, it would have been better off to either poke fun at the trope instead of participating in it or to just remove Abby from the picture entirely.
I think I need to note, for transparency’s sake, that I have felt a lot of angst and anxiety writing this response. It makes me deeply uncomfortable writing anything remotely critical about Matt Farley’s work (even if my criticisms are also directed towards a larger cultural milieu) knowing that he will definitely read this, as evidenced by his admission in Local Legendsthat he routinely Googles himself daily, if not hourly.
Britnee, does the knowledge that Matt Farley is for sure going to read this conversation change how you respond to and write about his films?
Britnee: The fact that Matt Farley will read our conversation does linger in the back of my mind as I’m getting ready to write about my thoughts on Local Legends, but that doesn’t make me feel weird or uneasy about discussing this film in the Swampflix world. The internet is a pretty intense place to exist as a public figure and Farley really puts himself out there, so I’m certain that he’s already come across lots of praise for his work while suffering his fair share of harsh critiques as well. He honestly seems like the kind of guy who thrives on those negative comments about his art and uses them as inspiration to make even more films and songs. I’m feeling pretty chill about him creeping on our conversation at this point, even if it’s not all positive.
I remember Brandon recommending Farley’s films in a “What Have You Been Watching Lately?” segment on an old episode of The Swampflix Podcast. Even though I had no idea who or what he was talking about, his enthusiasm while discussing Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! was enough for me to add the film to my movie watchlist (and yet I still haven’t seen it yet). When I realized that Local Legends was a film about Farley’s art projects, I was interested to see what he was all about. It was not at all what I expected. I was expecting rowdy guys with long hair and rock band t-shirts (sort of like Jackass without all the stunts), and I was so wrong. The cast of Local Legends is pretty much a group of average white suburban guys doing pretty basic, ordinary things in the weirdest way possible. For example, Farley walks around his sunny, all-American town while leaving free CDs of his bizarre music in random places on the street for strangers to find. It made me laugh so damn hard. The style of humor in Local Legends is very particular. It pokes fun at the everydayness of life while exuding tons of awkward energy, and I’m totally into it.
I’m still not quite sure if the film was supposed to be a comedy, a true documentary, or a mix of the two. Brandon, did you have a hard time deciphering reality from fiction in Local Legends?
Brandon: Conveniently enough, Matt does frequently point out in real-time the few instances where he has to stretch the truth to fit the means of his budget. I’m thinking particularly of the scenes set in his rent-paying “day” job wiping old men’s butts at a nursing home; Matt informs the audience in-narration that he did not have permission from his employer to film on-site, so the scene was staged in his parents’ basement instead. A major part of the genius of Local Legends is the total lack of vanity in those types of admissions. Of course, this film is more a half-fictionalized reenactment than it is a true documentary, but I do personally believe every anecdote displayed onscreen to be blatantly honest recollections of things that actually happened. In fact, I know the self-portrait Matt Farley constructs in Local Legends is true to life, because the second we (a lowly, amateur film blog from over a thousand miles away) posted our reviews of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! & Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas last summer, he was retweeting & promoting them to his dedicated audience of Motern converts and sending us personalized thank you notes, which rings true to his confession in the film that he obsessively Googles himself for amateur reviews of his work. I also know it to be true because I recognize my own life in small-scale art projects (from this blog to long-forgotten punk bands to my dead-end college degree in Poetry) through the minor joys & embarrassments that are depicted in all their naked honesty here. The world of amateur art production on display in Local Legends is radically ordinary & relatable in a way you don’t normally see from the more glamorized, curated social media profiles of self-promoting hobbyists like myself & my small-time artist friends. No matter how shameless my self-promotion of Swampflix can get or how pointless the effort of running the site may seem to anyone outside my immediate circle, however, I’ve only experienced a microscopic taste of Farley’s commitment to building Motern by hand over the last two decades. There’s something truly refreshing & inspiring about his transparency in explanations of how he keeps that ship afloat.
As a comedy, Local Legends does filter this radical honesty through a layer of irony & self-deprecation, which can be a little difficult to read if you aren’t familiar with Farley’s very particular brand of humor. I just can’t believe that someone this self-aware doesn’t see the irony in spending every waking hour of his day scheming to make movies & music, then repeating the phrase “I hate artists,” so often that it’s effectively a personal mantra. There’s also a hilarious disconnect between Farley’s aggressive lack of pretension and his demand that people stop still when he enters a party so that he can hold court & talk about himself at length. He wants to be recognized as both a relatable everyman and The World’s Greatest Living Artist, to the point that his milquetoast appearance and his self-obsessed narcissism are both a kind of exaggerated performance. I even read a little irony & self-deprecation in his deplorable treatment of Abby in the picture. I have no doubt that sometime in Matt’s life some girl somewhere (somewhere in New England, at least) really did proclaim to have “all of Billy Joel’s albums” when she only had his Greatest Hits. Instead of the healthy “Who cares?” response most people would have in that situation, it was an encounter that frustrated Farley so much that he held onto it long enough to restage it in a fictionalized movie just to dunk on her one more time. Even within the picture, it’s a frivolous “slight” that he just can’t let go, recounting it over & over again to friends like a lunatic. It’s not something that makes him look cool or superior, not least of all because his snobby gatekeeping in the film involves the most basic-taste shallow cuts imaginable: Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, The Beatles etc. When you get to the core of what really bothers Matt about Abby, it’s not that she’s unfamiliar with Billy Joel’s discography; it’s that she’s not especially interested in his own. Abby can’t sit still through a screening of his slasher film Freaky Farley, doesn’t find any value in his novelty songs and, worse yet, dares to have her own artistic ambitions that Farley himself doesn’t understand (costumes that are designed for art gallery display, not to be worn). I totally agree that his characterization of Abby as “crazy” is gross (and uncomfortably participates in a myriad of misogynist tropes), but it culminates as an ironic, comedic bit when Matt defines that craziness to his bandmate Tom as her being obsessed with herself. All Matt Farley wants to talk about in this picture is Matt Farley; truly no one in the world is more self-obsessed. So, I can only read that complaint as a self-deprecating joke.
Beyond its function as a documentary & a comedy, Local Legends is also a straight-up informercial. Farley not only gives publishes his phone number and mailing address in the film for anyone who wants to contact him with professional prospects, but he also explains where you can order his physical media online and the exact math of how he pays his bills by streaming tens of thousands of novelty songs on Spotify. In brutal honesty about the search-optimization aspect of his songwriting process, he details how he’ll find a buzzword like “gluten” to use in a song title because it’ll get instant hits for merely existing, regardless if it’s any good. He shrugs, “People don’t care. They just want a song about gluten.” This commercial crassness is a sign of exhaustion more than anything. Farley is entirely disinterested in fretting over artistic integrity. He even builds a meta-commentary within the film where a Corporate Asshole version of himself issues executive commands to his subservient Artist’s side on how to improve the profitability of his various projects, including the very film you’re watching. It’s entirely understandable how he became cynical too, as he portrays in brutal self-cruelty all the various, barely concealed insults artists suffer from family & friends who do not understand the significance of their passion, dismissing it as a silly hobby rather than a worthwhile life’s pursuit. By crassly pandering to the sillier aspects of his work to increase his profits (and, thus, make it possible for him to continue working), Farley only intensifies outsiders’ dismissal of his art as mindless, anyone-could-do-it frivolity. They were never likely to find his backyard horror comedies and novelty songs about diarrhea worthwhile either way, though, so all he does by leaning into the more profitable aspects of his work is help ensure Motern’s longevity. It’s maybe the only example of shameless commercial cynicism I could think to call admirable, if not outright heroic.
Speaking of Farley’s Corporate Asshole doppelganger, it’s the only element of Local Legends I can recall that could be described as a break in reality. Matt continually shatters the fourth wall in his narration to the audience (which he does out of spite because a screenwriting how-to explicitly advised against it), but something about Corporate Asshole Farley feels like a fantastic outlier in the film’s general relationship with reality. Boomer, what did you make of Farley’s dual role as the businessman version of himself? Is that device justified in the context of the film, even though it is such an in-universe anomaly?
Boomer: I like it. So much of the film’s runtime is centered around an apparent lack of self-awareness: about the repeated pattern of Millhouse’s unrealistic dreams inevitably spiraling into a performance in which there are more participants than spectators and the implication that this is not the first time this has happened and certainly won’t be the last; about the marketability of his and Pete’s collaborations (which I love); about Abby’s clear inability to recognize her failings. We of Swampflix are a pretty savvy bunch, but even I find myself sometimes deciding whether I like something based upon whether or not I think the media in question is “in on it” with regards to a character’s unlikeability or its awareness of how ridiculous it is (see: Syfy’s The Magicians), and it can be a deciding factor for me. Were it not for the presence of Business Asshole Matt, I don’t think we’d be arguing over whether or not Matt Farley is self-aware, since he clearly is, but I for one would definitely have taken a little longer to be certain about that. It also allows for the most truly surreal part of the movie, when the creepy man who always asks Matt for directions and then offers him a ride apparently gets what he wants, as Business Asshole Matt rides off with him into the monochrome sunset. It textualizes the subtext of Matt’s interior monologue, and that really works for me on a comedic level, even though it makes no sense on a realistic one. It’s like the scene in which Matt’s bandmate pulls up and they joke about why there’s a woman in the backseat, and it’s clearly for continuity so that they can have the camera in the front for reverse shots, but it draws attention to itself in a way that I like.
CC, of all the odd characters who populate Matt’s town, who was your favorite? I had a fondness for the creepy man in theory, but I also really liked Soup.
CC: I was also fond of Soup. It was a pleasant surprise to discover late in the film that his name was literal after getting to know him for so long only as Matt’s basketball partner. Anytime you need soup, Soup is there to offer it for you. He has a fridge full of it just ready to go. Be warned, though. Soup is under the impression that soup is a useful thing for everyone on all occasions, when it’s actually very limited. Most people only need it when it’s cold outside or they’re sick, which makes his bottomless soup fridge an absurd service. Soup’s only negative trait was that he tells Matt to stop being so hard on Abby, even encouraging her more stalkerish behavior because Matt should find it flattering.
Millhouse was also very funny in that he is insanely optimistic, to a pathological degree. As the comedy show he is promoting is downgraded from a legitimate venue to his mother’s basement, he just continues on chipperly as if everything’s going great. He’s basically the human version of that “This is fine.” dog from the burning-house comic panel. The only time he loses his cool is when he’s shouting at his mom for doing laundry and not keeping her dog quiet during the basement comedy show. Keep in mind that he’s in his 50s. It’s pathetically funny.
Speaking of the movie’s portrait of a local stand-up comedy scene, it seems like that’s not what Local Legends is really selling as an infomercial. The amateur stand-up community is mostly just the setting, and what Matt is actually selling here is his movies and music. Britnee, which were you more enticed by after seeing the film? Did Local Legends do a better job as a commercial selling Matt Farley’s novelty music or a commercial selling his backyard movies?
Britnee: The film sold me on his music much more than his movies. The part of Local Legends that made me laugh until my face hurt was when where Matt explains his career in novelty songs. I absolutely love silly songs (Weird Al, Tim and Eric, etc.), so his music immediately grabbed my interest. I even wrote down “Look up The Toilet Bowl Cleaners!” in huge letters in my notepad to make sure I wouldn’t forget to delve into the world of Matt Farley poop songs. The Toilet Bowl Cleaners have since completely taken over my morning drives to work. Why just this morning I listened to “I Pooped in Santa’s Lap” as I pulled into the parking garage, and it was just what I needed to start the day off on the right foot.
While listening to The Toilet Bowl Cleaners, I discovered another one of his musical projects, The Singing Animal Lover. Thankfully, The Singing Animal Lover has over 80 songs about animal poop. Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more poops songs, I was blessed with poop songs at a whole new level. I just find so much comfort in knowing there’s a neverending supply of silly songs for me to listen to from Matt Farley alone.
Britnee: I really connected with the whole Billy Joel situation. In the past, I used to get so annoyed with people who claimed to be superfans of an artist/band, but only had their greatest hits albums. I now know that is such an incredibly dumb way of thinking, but I was once that douchebag.
CC: I know I’ve already compared Millhouse to one meme cartoon, but besides the “This is fine.” dog he also reminds me of Milhouse Van Houten from The Simpsons. Think about it: He lives at home with his mom. He’s overly loyal to his friends. And no matter how much everything is failing around him, he always maintains that “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” attitude.
Brandon: Since we initiated this conversation about a month ago, I’ve had my most surreal interaction with Matt Farley to date. While I was recovering from the sunshiny haze of Mardi Gras this past Ash Wednesday, Matt posted a song about me titled “Brandon Ledet Reviews Movies Excellently,” which you can listen to at any time on platforms like YouTube & Spotify. It was truly an honor, albeit a mildly terrifying one that made me briefly question reality in my dazed state. The only way I can think to repay him for the experience is to continue sharing the song in places like this so that the effort will contribute to the fractions of pennies that correlate to his streaming statistics, so that maybe more movies like Local Legends can get made in the future.
Boomer: Originally, I was going to suggest that we call Farley and see if he would write a song for us, but as it turns out, he already wrote one for Brandon, so I’m not sure what else I can contribute, other than to note that I am extremely curious about the yearlong album-a-month project that he did.
Upcoming Movies of the Month May: Britnee presents Belizaire the Cajun (1986) June: Boomer presents Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970) July: CC presents Ginger and Cinnamon (2003)
Our Movie of the Month ritual involves everyone in the crew taking turns introducing a film that no one else has seen yet. It’s an experience we try our best to enter blind, without any preemptive research. I failed that stipulation by just a week’s time this October by watching a stealth remake of CC’s first Movie of the Month selection, the 1981 Canuxploitation classic The Pit, without knowing what I was getting into. While I had never seen The Pit before, stray details of its cult-circuit reputation were still potent enough in the ether that I recognized I was spoiling the movie for myself by watching a parody of it a week early. The question is, how could I have possibly suspected that a parody of The Pit even existed until I was already watching it? What kind of deranged madman would even think to make a feature-length parody of that little-seen Canadian horror curio, much less actually follow through? The only possible answer, of course, is Matt Farley – but it’s a discovery that only leads to more questions as you track the ripple effects of Farley’s fixation on The Pit in the larger picture of his entire Motern Media catalog.
Once you’ve seen the original work, Matt Farley’s 2002 horror comedy Sammy: The Tale of a Teddy and a Terrible Tunnel is unmistakable as a feature-length homage to The Pit. I suspected as much when I originally watched Sammy (in my summer-long determination to watch all of Matt Farley’s available filmography), but what I didn’t realize was exactly how deep that influence seeped. In Sammy, Matt Farley changes his name to Jamie to match the protagonist of The Pit, even mentally de-aging his own character with a head injury to match the original Jamie’s emotional & sexual maturity. He carries an oversized, telepathic teddy bear that encourages him to violate the sexual privacy of his babysitter (including exact recreations of two key bathroom scenes from The Pit). He gets banned from the library for staging disruptive pranks. He wages war on a bratty neighbor named Abergail, who believes the phrase “funny person” to be the ultimate insult. He lures his perceived enemies to a woodland setting, where they’re eaten by a captive prehistoric monster that eventually breaks free to cause widespread havoc. Sammy is not a loose homage to The Pit; it’s basically a cinematic cover song, a low-key remake.
However, watching Sammy and watching The Pit are too wildly different experiences, mostly because of their respective, outright opposed tones. Part of what distinguishes Matt Farley from most microbudget, backyard horror auteurs is that his work is aggressively wholesome. I get the sense that he (along with frequent collaborator Charles Roxburgh) was raised on VHS-era horror oddities like The Pit, but doesn’t have the heart to recreate their cruelty. My favorite aspect of The Pit, beyond the volume & variety of its monstrous threats, was how uncomfortable & grotesque its depictions of pubescent sexuality could be. In The Pit, Jamie is a menacing pervert who squicks out his entire community with his weaponized libido, which he barely disguises with a Rhoda Penmark-style performance of innocence. In Sammy, by contrast, Jamie is an adult man conveying that exact childish sexuality, right down to the very same acts of bathtime inappropriateness, but somehow Farley makes its impact far less creepy. His favorite aspects of The Pit were obviously the more innocuous, absurd touches like the name Abergail, the “talking” teddy bear, repetitions of the phrase “funny person,” etc. When it comes to being genuinely creepy & sexually uncomfortable, he doesn’t seem to have the heart; it’s a wholesome monster movie aesthetic that makes his already hyper-specific regional cinema ethos all the more distinct.
When I mentioned to Matt that I planned to revisit Sammy in light of having recently seen The Pit (he is extremely, radically approachable), he “joked” that I must rewatch all of his movies in that context, as they were all influenced by that formative relic. I immediately saw his point. Besides Farley’s aggressively localized, microbudget version of horror-comedy worshiping the regional cinema ethos of The Pit as if it were a religious doctrine, his own movies follow its exact narrative pattern over & over again. In most contexts, The Pit’s structure of functioning as a psychological drama & a hangout comedy until rapidly mutating into a full-on creature feature in its final minutes would seem erratic & illogical. In the context of Matt Farley’s pictures, it’s a rigid blueprint. In most Matt Farley movies there’s a Riverbeast, a “Gospercap,” a cult of modern “druids,” or a shameless peeping Tom lurking in the woods just outside of the action for most of the runtime, then rushing in to cause havoc just minutes before the end credits. Watching Sammy, I was amazed that someone had committed to remaking a minor curio as underseen as The Pit (way back in 2002, long before every movie of its ilk got the 4k Blu-Ray restoration treatment). Since Matt Farley tweeted back at me, my amazement has only deepened, as I’ve since realized he’s been remaking The Pit over & over again his entire career as a filmmaker. It’s as impressively committed as it is baffling.
The Pit has influenced all our movies. So it’s time for a full Motern Marathon!
As interesting of a pairing as Sammy makes with The Pit, it’s not the first Matt Farley title I’d recommend to fans of that classic. His holy trinity of greatest accomplishments – Local Legends, Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, and Monsters, Murder, and Marriage in Manchvegas – all convey the taste of The Pit’s influence on the Motern Media catalog you’d need to get the full picture, and they’re each much more satisfying as isolated works. (In true Matt Farley fashion, Sammy is part of a complex mythology of interconnected “druid” films, even though it doesn’t contain druids itself.) As a stunt & an act of stubborn follow-through, however, it’s astounding that Farley & crew completed a feature-length homage to that Canuxploitation gem in the first place, one made mind-bogglingly wholesome through revision & fixation. It’s worth seeing just for that commitment & audacity alone.
One of the great mysteries of Matt Farley’s backyard-movie catalog for Motern Media is how many films, exactly, fit under that umbrella. Farley has been making microbudget narrative features with friends & local weirdos for decades, but any “official” list of Motern titles, even when cross-referenced between his IMDb page & Motern’s website, is deliberately incomplete & unclear. Although the full list of titles is seemingly unavailable (outside of asking Matt directly by Twitter or by phone, as he is very available), it is clear that the “official” Motern Media movie catalog is marked as starting with an interconnected series of films Matt & friends produced in the early 2000s about ancient druid cults disrupting modern New England. Like Matt’s frequent impulses to craft triple albums, six-hour marathon concerts, and 20,000 song catalogs, this early Druid Trilogy is a stupefying work of outsized ambition. The plan, as Matt explains it, was to make a 7-part film series on this single druid theme. Only four films were completed before the project was (presumably wisely) abandoned, three of which were released, leaving behind a charmingly imperfect, oddly open-ended trilogy with an absurdly complex mythology. If anyone would have had the prolific energy & single-minded stubbornness to see a 7-part series of supernatural comedies about modern-world druid cults through to completion, it would have been Matt Farley, so I have to trust that jumping ship after the initial trio was the right thing to do. As it stands, though, Matt Farley’s Druid Trilogy is exactly the glimpse of Motern Media’s early stirrings you might want to explore after falling in love with more fully-realized works like Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! & Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas.
The first entry in the Druid Trilogy and, thus, the first “official” Matt Farley movie is the 2002 comedy Adventures in Cruben Country. What is sure to play as a fairly standard backyard movie project to the uninitiated will feel like a shocking revelation to already converted Motern devotees. All the way back in the early 00s, when I was but wee high school dweeb, Matt Farley’s pet subjects of walking instead of driving, the novelty songwriting process, the joys of one-on-one basketball, and Halloween costume monsters stalking the woods just outside of town were already fully-formed, lived-in obsessions. In an early, fictional version of what would eventually become The Motern Media Infomercial Podcast, Matt rants at length on a radio broadcast soapbox about how much better the world would be if everyone walked everywhere instead of driving cars, an argument you can still hear him make verbatim in the 2010s. In the film, he’s playing the fictional character of Matt Farley, the Musical Mayor of Thomasville. The film is a kind of fantasy where he can exercise the same auterist control he uses to run Motern in real life while governing an entire city of loyal citizens who have to listen to his official dispatches & novelty songs with rapt attention. True to form, Matt is far more interested in indulging himself with this Musical Mayor fantasy than he is with staging a conflict with the cult of “druids” (black-magic creeps with bedsheets for “cloaks”) who stalk the woods in nearby Cruben Country. When the mayor’s plan oversteps its bounds by proposing that Cruben Country be converted into a massive playground packed with basketball courts, however, the druids encroach to discredit him, threaten his journalist girlfriend, and essentially exile him from Thomasville. The highs of Adventures in Cruben Country never quite match the best of Farley’s work, but it’s still a successfully funny, adorable hangout comedy with strong Adventures of Pete & Pete vibes that telegraph what he’d later accomplish in Manchvegas. The movie is most astonishing in its early glimpses of novelty song-scored basketball games, extensive rants about walking, and Kevin McGee villainy – all of which would be better deployed later in his catalog, but are amazing in the earliness of their arrival here.
Sammy: The Tale of a Teddy and a Terrible Tunnel doesn’t exactly pick up where Cruben Country leaves off. Or does it? There are enough stray elements in common between the two films to suggest that Sammy is a direct sequel: Kevin McGee’s casting as the main evil druid; Matt’s ex-journalist love interest; a series of underground tunnels ostensibly intended to encourage walking; props like frying pans, frozen pizzas, and mystical jars of dirt worshiped by the druids, etc. However, there is no mention of Matt ever having been mayor of his small New England town. Also, I’m 90% sure the film is intended to be a direct parody of the early 80s cult horror The Pit (which I’m reluctant to confirm, since we’ll be discussing it as a Movie of the Month this October and I don’t want to prematurely read too much about it). The complex mythology of dirt-worshipping, government-infiltrating druids is maintained as background detail in this film, which mostly concerns an adult, brain-damaged Matt Farley, who has renamed himself Jamie and spends his days talking to an oversized teddy bear. The bear, named Sammy, issues commands to the infantilized Matt, eventually leading him to feeding human sacrifices to a tunnel-dwelling monster in the woods. If Cruben Country recalls Manchvegas, Sammy is much more prescient of the nastier tones of Freaky Farley, with the teddy bear encouraging some real disturbing Norman Bates/Peeping Tom behavior between non-sequitur gags about misshelved library books & frozen-pizza binges. The narrative of Sammy is just as incongruous with Cruben Country as the tone, as we never see the accident that transforms Matt into Jamie, nor are given direct indication if Matt used to be mayor. Is Sammy even set in Thomasville or are these films only of a series in the sense that they rearrange talisman props & characters into Madlib style configurations? They each feel self-contained enough for the latter to be true. I could easily ask Matt directly for the answer to these questions and for insight into what the unreleased Druids Druids Everywhere & the three unproduced films in the druid series might have been, but I’m honestly having more fun truing to parse out the mess on my own than I would with a clear, direct answer.
The third (and most artistically satisfying) release in Matt Farley’s Druid Trilogy is Druid Gladiator Clone, a film I’ve already reviewed at length & one I quite enjoy for its aesthetic resemblance to early 00s pranksters like Tom Green & the Jackass crew. If you haven’t fully caught the Motern bug, but are still curious about these early druid-mythology comedies, it’s the one to see, as it delves furthest into the unnecessarily complex (even in Motern terms) lore; it’s also, on a basic level, the funniest of the trio. As a trilogy (and abandoned heptalogy), however, this collection of work is remarkable in its microbudget ambition & its deadpan commitment to the silliest of premises. In other words, it’s pure Motern. Matt Farley already had his humor & his pet obsessions fully developed and ready to broadcast to the work in the early aughts. What the Druid Trilogy afforded him & director/co-conspirator Charles Roxburgh was a D.I.Y. film school environment where they could learn the details of comic timing & maxed-out absurdity that would later lead to more substantial (even if just as low-budget) work. This crop of films is the exact Early Motern insight I was looking for. It’s probably for the best that Farley’s earlier attempts at backyard filmmaking (as well as mysteriously unavailable titles from later in the catalog like Obtuse Todd) are still just outside my reach. Much like the disjointed, irreconcilable plots of these three loosely connected films, the Motern movie catalog is all the more fascinating for maintaining a slight air of mystery.
Like an MCU film, an episode of a soap opera, or a single match from a months-long pro wrestling angle, it’s almost entirely pointless to review a Matt Farley picture isolated from the larger context of the Motern Media catalog. Outside maybe the holy trinity of Matt Farley’s most accomplished movies (Local Legends; Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas; and Don’t let the Riverbeast Get You!) it’s difficult to imagine someone stumbling upon a Motern production with no prior context and fully appreciating the perversely wholesome experience of what the film represents. Even Matt Farley’s holy trinity benefits from some prior knowledge of his decades of D.I.Y. media production with a stable cast of recurring collaborators, something you can only experience by watching the movies yourself. Motern Media is the definition of cult cinema in this way, as sinking further into the published materials, released over decades of backyard film productions and novelty songs recordings churned out from attics & basements, feels exactly like being indoctrinated into a cult. You don’t casually appreciate a Matt Farley film so much as you’re put under a spell by it, something you don’t realize until you’re six movies deeper into the catalog and conversing with Farley directly on Twitter, by phone, or traveling to see him perform in person at his annual Motern Media Day Extravaganza concerts (i.e. cult member meetups). As such, Slingshot Cops is not a movie I’d readily recommend to the previously unconverted, but rather the latest dispatch from a maniacal mind that has hijacked my own. It’s an aggressively silly comedy with an unnecessarily complex, self-contained mythology (a descriptor most of Farely’s backyard production share), but it’s something best enjoyed as just one piece in a much larger, sillier whole. It’s a continuation of a performance art piece/cultist tome that has only gained strength in the last two decades of under-the-radar development: Matt Farley’s life & career.
To that point, the first thing I noticed in Slingshot Cops is how much older Farley’s crew of Motern regulars has gotten over the years, especially performers who have been around since the early 00s days of films like Druid Gladiator Clone. As much as Farley is staging supernatural hangout comedies & over-the-top horror spoofs around familiar New England haunts, he’s also documenting the life & times of his inner social circle. Druid Gladiator Clone was a snapshot of their lives as late-college age brats adopting the aesthetic of the skateboard videos & MTV prank shows that defined its era. By the time Slingshot Cops catches up with them, you can feel the not-too-distant early signs of middle age creeping in from corners of the frame. Domesticity, grey hairs, and aging bodies appear onscreen as visual reminders of just how long Farley & co. have been hammering at their insular, decades-long collaboration of building a substantive catalog of supernatural, microbudget comedies. This stamina (or stubbornness depending on how you want to look at it) is impressive not only because of the crew’s collective longevity, but also because how of how well they’ve maintained the silliness at their shared objective’s core. Everyone onscreen might be nearly fifteen years older in Slingshot Cops than they were in Druid Gladiator Clone, but they’re just as big of goofballs as ever, fully committed to the nonsensical absurdity they’re tasked to perform. Even though it’s framed through modern digital equipment instead of adopting the earlier film’s MiniDV camcorder look, Slingshot Cops is of the same quality & wholesomely prankish energy as Druid Gladiator Clone. It’s a consistent commitment to a bit I doubt I’ve ever seen from any filmmaker before, even someone working with 100x Farley’s budget. As with all Motern productions, the existence of the film as a completed product is among Slingshot Cops’s most miraculous accomplishments, but it’s now gotten to the point where Motern’s continued existence itself is the larger, more astounding miracle – something that only becomes more heroic with each subsequent picture.
Matt Farley himself stars in this “supernatural buddy cop comedy” as a loose cannon police officer who’s sworn to protect the small New England town of Woodsville Center. He’s a well-meaning cop (as much as that’s good for), but he often finds himself in “quirky predicaments” that jeopardize his place on the force. In particular, his single-minded obsession with ridding Woodsville Center’s streets of illegal fireworks (which are treated in-film with the same gravitas as heroin) often inspires him to cross the good cop/bad cop line, which sees him demoted and reassigned to tutelage under a more even-keeled, old-timer partner. It turns out, though, that the year-round use of “personal explosives” for “amusement and/or atmospheric aesthetics” is not the only threat to civility in Woodsville Center. The town is also terrorized by the arrival of an international archvillain named Sensefoot, who can steal unsuspecting victims’ senses by touching them with his bare foot. Worse, if he touches their bare foot with his own, he kills them immediately. As if that mythology weren’t overly complicated enough already, Farley’s new partner also has the eccentricity of fighting crime with a slingshot (hence the title), which he arms with carefully-selected acorns. The town also has cartoonish obsessions with cupcakes, folk songs, freethrow basketball contests, and a whole list of other absurdist interests that land Farley & crew in “quirky predicaments” throughout the film. A less developed microbudget comedy would have stuck with a singular idea, framing an entire movie around dogs being terrorized by firework noises or the image of the not-so-mysterious Sensefoot’s glowing appendage approaching from offscreen like a straight razor in a gloved hand from a giallo picture. By contrast, Farley only sees those details as launching points & an excuse to stage non-sequitur gags. Just describing the basic plot & background mythology of Slingshot Cops is exhausting, which is an impressive thing to be able to say about a movie that was pieced together over a series of weekends & downtimes by longtime friends & amateur collaborators.
One of the first things that stood out to me in Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, my first Matt Farley experience, is that characters recount the entire plot of the film in-dialogue every few minutes. It’s a maddening commitment to repetition that only became funnier the more it became punishing. Slingshot Cops similarly goes for broke in its own commitment to repetition. Farley’s protagonist repeats variations of the phrase “Alright, I’ll play it your way” to conclude nearly every conversation. An “Eastern European” character declares his vague nationality at every appearance by declaring “I’m Eastern European!” instead of attempting an identifiable accent. Similarly, cupcakes, dogs’ reactions shots, acorns, and phrases like “thrill-seeking preppie” are repeated at such a consistent rhythm that they can’t help but become funny with time. This repetition is also indicative of Motern’s larger appeal. Slingshot Cops is most impressive as a continuation of good-natured, prankish bit Farley & friends have been repeating onscreen for decades, something that only gets funnier the more you see it echoed in each picture. There’s also a familiarity built into that repetition. These New England nobodies become so familiar as you sink into the Motern catalog that they feel like old friends or even, because you can practically watch them grow up in real time, family. All cults self-brand as welcoming, wholesome families, though, and it’s just as likely that this repetition & familiarity hasn’t become funny to me so much as it’s hypnotized me into a receptive, brainwashed state of joyful compliance. This is usually the point in cult indoctrination where the previously unmentioned orgy breaks out or the cult leader demands access to my (non-existent) life’s savings, a hammer I’m expecting to drop any day now. It can’t be true that Farley & crew are this consistently wholesome & dedicated to friendly collaboration on long-term, absurdly silly art projects without being a secretly evil cult. It’s too good to be true otherwise.