The Mike Stamp: From "Down With Disease" To Outside Out
Mike Gordon’s an interesting cat, that much should be obvious from his bass playing. He’s a musician, writer (author of “Mike’s Corner”, a collection of esoteric vignettes published in 1997), and – now – a filmmaker. While all of these projects are in very different mediums, there is something genetically related about them, the same spirit manifesting itself in different forms. Like other musicians who have translated their visions literally onto celluloid – Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and Sun Ra, for example – Gordon’s initial effort doesn’t always succeed, though it does harbor a dazzling array of information about the creative process. It’s also damned entertaining.
It struck me as pretty humorous that when the chance finally materialized to interview member of Phish, I wasn’t even really allowed to ask about them. Well, it was more a polite request than anything else. And rightly so: they’re not what’s going on right now. I can’t say that the question, the big question – “what the hell is up with Phish?” – wasn’t on my mind. It was. Sort of. The answer, though, was obvious without having to ask: when it happens, it happens. So, we talked about the strange worlds of “Outside Out”, a surrealistic tale of a young guitar student (Jimi Stout) and his cosmically touched instructor (Colonel Bruce Hampton, [retired]).
JJ: How would you describe “Outside Out” to a film geek?
MG: Do you mean a buff?
JJ: Yeah, a film buff.
MG: It’s very experimental. I don’t know if I’d use a different explanation for the film geek as the normal person. Experimental, homemade, but with 5000 hours of work; with a story, but the story not being the major charm.
JJ: What would describe as the major charm?
MG: (_Laughs._) The major charm. The strangeness of the world that the characters live in, and something about the style in which it was put together. I’m being vague. I don’t know. I guess that it’s just that you can tell that it was a labor of love.
JJ: The film has a pretty unified look and feel to it that’s pretty different from a lot of what’s out there. Were there any specific ways you went about getting that look?
MG: Well, we shot on video, for one – high quality video, Beta-SP, actually – and transferred to film and then went back to video, from the film. First of all, that creates, technologically, a certain kind of look. The actual video master itself, before the film, was a lot more accurate in a lot of ways, but we liked the look of the film. I was working under certain constraints, like he [Ricky/Jimi Stout] always wore the red shirt because of continuity reasons. We were trying to fit in some earlier filming with some later filming. There’s kind of a lot of red and blue — red, white, and blue, actually. There’s a lot of it. I was working within certain means. It was low budget, ‘til the end.
JJ: Was there anything else with the art direction? The sets all seemed pleasantly surreal in a real specific way.
MG: I like surrealism.
MG: I just go for the surreal. I like things that are realistic but a little bit warped in a certain way; subtle but deep ways. We did a lot of blue-screening, where you act in front of a blue screen and then the blue is taken away and another scene is put in where the blue was… for people who don’t know. There’s a lot of that. There were certain gimmicks like that were used a lot. There’s a lot of certain sound effects and dream sequences. It’s kind of like… there’s sort of a pile of concepts that don’t necessarily relate to a strict reality.
JJ: Sort of related to that: how would you describe Col. Bruce Hampton to a civilian, or just to someone who didn’t know him?
MG: I’ve used different ways. I’ve said “a Southern Buddhist Colonel”, or “the personality of a one-year old in the body of a 55 year old man”, “someone who’s held on to their child’s eye”, maybe “someone who’s done a little bit of everything from music to acting to stand-up comedy to accounting to race-car driving”. Sort of a hard to pinpoint guy, just in that you don’t know if he’s toying with you or not, whether he really has extra senses, supernatural abilities.
JJ: Did having Bruce and his musical philosophy at the center of the movie dictate any of the experimental techniques you used?
MG: Well, I guess… I don’t know. A lot of the actual way it was filmed and edited – the look – probably becomes from my own experimentation. Do you have the VHS or the DVD?
JJ: The VHS.
MG: On the DVD there’s some extra footage. One thing there is this four minute film I made and sent to Bruce, which inspired him to make a film with me someday. The four minute film is his hand moving in slow motion, for most of the time. It’s a little experiment. Experimenting with film techniques probably just comes from me, although Bruce is the right kind of character to bring into this world that’s somewhere between reality and the absurd.