Artist Overboard!

In Attack of the 70-Foot Courtesy Lady, he immortalized a high-rise-size hausfrau who wipes out an entire city with her "patent leather purveyors of death."

In What I Did to "Psycho," he presented a revisionist version of the Hitchcock classic in which, dressed as all the characters in the movie except Norman Bates, he interacted with film clips of Anthony Perkins.

And in Atomic Twinkies, which won first place in a national video contest sponsored by the makers of Hostess Cupcakes, he told the life-affirming tale of nuclear-holocaust survivors (all of them played by the filmmaker himself) who find hope in huge irradiated snack cakes.

But it's in his latest--and, to date, most ambitious--cinematic effort that Valley artist/filmmaker Paul Wilson's quirky career really reaches a new high-water mark.

Now waist deep in postproduction, Wilson's currently editing The Purseidon Adventure, a feature-length video about an ocean liner that capsizes on New Year's Eve--after colliding with a gigantic ladies' handbag.

Any resemblance between Wilson's $300 opus and a similarly titled big-budget disaster flick about a shipload of stereotypes battling their way to the bottom of an upended luxury liner is strictly intentional.

"Ever since I saw it as a kid, I've been fascinated by The Poseidon Adventure," says the 34-year-old Wilson, who spent more than a year creating his detail-heavy homage to the now-campy Irwin Allen classic. "The party favors, confetti, the Christmas tree--all the things that were once the focal point of joy now being trampled and smashed is just so intriguing. The concept of gaiety turning to chaos is quite delightful to me."

To say the least. After seeing the movie in 1972, Wilson read the book, bought the View Master reel and howled over the Mad magazine parody ("The Poopsidedown Adventure"). Later, as a Camelback High student, he even hosted several Poseidon-themed New Year's Eve parties--at the stroke of midnight, revelers dressed as Gene Hackman, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall and other characters from the movie flipped over tables and vied for the privilege of crashing through a fake skylight.

Yet as Purseidon's sole star (with the exception of a handful of friends who appear as extras or in bit roles, he's the only person who appears on screen), Wilson was able to relive all of the roles that had been unspooling through his head for the past quarter century.

"I knew I was never going to get to see that set or to set foot on it or go back in time," says Wilson. "It's also very unlikely that I'm ever going to meet a lot of people who were associated with the film. Making Purseidon is my way of somehow bringing all that back so I could experience it myself."

Thanks to his meticulous re-creations of the original film's props and sets, Wilson was able to duplicate virtually all of those experiences--getting crushed beneath a (cardboard) grand piano, staggering through a fiery engine room, plunging through that stained-glass window--right in his own carport.

Convenience aside, Wilson's makeshift sound stage left much to be desired. Scenes that weren't interrupted by a neighbor's barking dogs were frequently ruined by flocks of tweeting birds, necessitating heavy dubbing. Another key scene had to be reshot when a puzzled pedestrian happened to be walking past the driveway just as Wilson, in Shelley Winters drag, climbed up an artificial Christmas tree while gasping, "Gas! Gas! Oy, I've got gas!"

Unnerved by the weird spectacle unfolding before him, the passerby hollered a tentative, "Uh, are you okay?"

"'Everything's fine,'" Wilson remembers answering. "I don't know that he believed me, though. Here I was in a dress, straddling this tree and struggling with all these purses--he must have thought I was a complete idiot."

Wait 'til he sees Wilson's movie.
Not content to merely restage favorite scenes, Wilson does to The Poseidon Adventure what Airplane! did to Airport, ripping the wings off the disaster genre and turning it upside down in the process.

Capitalizing on the film's kitschy time period, the Purseidon's band of survivors battles not only fire, water and exploding glass, but such scourges of the Seventies as harvest-gold crockpots, macrame and Smiley Faces. This go-round, one character's cherished swimming medal is miraculously transformed into a piece of "Have a Nice Day" junk jewelry.

Jaws, Gilligan's Island, Flipper--Wilson's production includes nautical pop-culture nods to every seafaring icon this side of the Tydee Bowl man. (But don't hold your breath waiting for any Titanic shtick. "I absolutely hated it," says Wilson. "I got so sick of hearing, 'Jack?' 'Rose?' 'Jack?' 'Rose?'")

Self-referential gags abound. In one of the earliest scenes, Roddy McDowall's character ponders an actual poster from the original movie and wonders aloud whether the "Hell Upside-Down!" advertising slogan means that life aboard the uncapsized ship is "Hell Rightside-Up!" Later, the sneering teenager played by Pamela Sue Martin taunts her obnoxious kid brother by pointing out that he didn't fare as well in author Paul Gallico's source novel: "Robin, don't forget--in the book version, your character dies!" And later, after the boat capsizes, Shelley Winters' character paws through the wreckage of the ship's dress shop because, "I need something wash 'n' wear for my big underwater scene that's coming up."

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Dewey Webb