When he looks at the Northwest landscape, painter-turned-filmmaker Mark Andres' brain jumps around like a parakeet on speed. His artist's statement tries to explain the Freudian chute in his head: "The image of my father's face…the Lunar Module from Apollo 11, then a black woman coming out of the shower, then my mother in a nurse's uniform, then the inside of a clock, a helicopter landing in Afghanistan at night."
Andres' newest feature, The Somnambulists, is his attempt to transfer this imagery to the silver screen. But "film" is a misnomer for Andres' art flicks.
Andres films his sketches, edits the footage into a storyline and adds superimposed text and original scores, adapting his static art into shorts like 2009's Night Ferry and features like The Somnambulists and The Immortal Head, both of which won the Best Animated Feature award at L.A.'s Independent Filmmakers Showcase.
Inspired by Renaissance frescoes he saw on a 2006 trip to Italy that reminded him of massive, stuccoed comics, Andres came home to Portland and tried to convey his thoughts with paint. For the first time in his 30-year career—he's been a mainstay in Portland galleries like the Augen since 1990—he used massive canvases and traded his usual landscapes for zoomed-in portraits of people kissing, disassembled mannequins, African slaves lined up for sale, and an MIA look-alike talking on her cellphone.
For the leap from canvas to screen, Andres pioneered what he calls "kinographic novels." "The idea came out of my frustration at doing artist talks," Andres says. "I wanted to take audiences on a journey, not just show them pictures."
The Somnambulists is an unromantic adult comic about a brain-dead future in which the drug Somnambula removes all need for sleep. In the film's 24/7 world, humanity exists in a perpetual dream state where characters sleep-eat, sleep-work, sleep-tightrope walk and sleep-fuck in scenes that look like Bill Plympton's drawings with the Ken Burns effect applied. "It's dark. Underground, on the moon, with no day or night," Andres says. "I wanted to tell a story about someone trying to wake up to their own life."
If Salad Fingers remade WALL-E, gave it the Fantasia 2000 treatment and rated it R, it would look a lot like The Somnambulists. The film pans, spirals and zooms through rough charcoal sketches of bleak scenes—men in bowler hats ogling belly dancers and a woman sleepwalking out her bedroom window—completely dialogue-free.
While the film oozes artsiness from every lo-fi frame, even after 94 uninterrupted minutes of staring at Andres' work—more than anyone is likely to spend in a static exhibit—it's nearly impossible to envision what the sketches look like in a gallery. That's why Augen is showing The Somnambulists' source material in a special exhibit this month. A decade ago he jumped from painting to film, and now he reverses that process, hanging the small sketches he made just for the film as a stand-alone show. The small and imperfect papers with smudges and stray marks are intentionally rough, Andres says.
"I'm at the other end of the spectrum from all the high-tech CGI films now," he adds. "The more low-tech, the better. I like the eraser crumbs." ENID SPITZ.
Critic's Grade: B+
SEE it: The Somnambulists is not rated. It screens at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave. 7 pm Wednesday, Jan. 6. $9.