Longform

AUTEUR DE FARCE

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Drag and disaster also steal the show in an untitled featurette that originally began life as a visual catalogue of dozens of outfits and accessories from his vast Fifties wardrobe.

Not content to merely document his frocks on videotape, the artist eventually reshaped the material to resemble a home movie covering a women's-club fashion show, circa 1958. Because the action consists almost solely of Wilson flouncing around in one fashion absurdity after another (while his own off-screen voice gushes "Lovely!", "Gorgeous!" and "Stunning!"), the ten-minute short appears at first to be nothing but an exercise in narcissistic tedium.

But its initial hypnotic banality is eventually shattered as Wilson's "models" experience a series of buffoonish runway mishaps. Twirling around to show off the petticoats beneath her skirt, a blond clotheshorse loses her balance and careens into a potted plant. Later, another mannequin trips, pulling over a fully loaded buffet table as she plunges to the floor. And in the fantastic climax, one model accidentally exposes a plastic "breast"; mortified when the fawning crowd verbally turns on her, she abruptly transmogrifies into a dome-headed space alien and wreaks havoc on the unseen luncheon guests.

What does it all mean?
Don't ask Wilson. "It's just shits and giggles," shrugs the videographer. "I'm just trying to amuse myself."

Wilson is easily amused--he once made a movie about the "tape game," a pastime he invented in which players wrap double-sided cellophane tape around their hands and vie to see who can find the most interesting debris embedded in the carpet. He's also just as easily inspired--the artist is evidently incapable of driving down the street, visiting a friend or even turning on the television without something triggering his imagination.

Simultaneously fascinated and appalled by the glut of poor grammar, misspellings and senseless punctuation he'd noticed on business signs around town, Wilson cranked out Signs of the Times, an imaginary television news segment intent on cracking down on poor signage. A concept with real potential as a recurring TV spot, it features actual phone calls to befuddled clerks at a variety of sign-challenged Valley businesses, as well as Wilson's indignant ravings as the show's host ("Whether signs are homemade or professionally painted, they usually display nothing more than the sign painter's ignorance").

Upon discovering that a friend owned a parakeet that enjoyed sticking its head into people's mouths and pecking at food particles trapped in their teeth, the artist turned on his video camera and opened wide. A Stupid Pet Trick? Not to Wilson, who turned the loopy footage into a pseudoinstructional featurette on oral hygiene.

And while his body of work is probably the most apolitical since the Beach Party series, Wilson couldn't resist "starring" Governor Fife Symington in one of his productions. Titled Chaos at the Suns Parade, the minimovie was inspired by the politico's appearance on an upstairs deck of America West Arena while officiating over a televised parade honoring the Phoenix Suns last year.

"I remember watching that on TV and thinking how dumb the governor appeared, wandering around out on that balcony with the Phoenix Suns," recalls Wilson. "But then, when some people started booing him, I thought, 'What a great vehicle for catastrophe!' Here he is on a big building with millions of people--how can this go bad?"

When Paul Wilson was done, worse than anyone could ever imagine. By cutting back and forth between televised parade footage--reshot with a jiggling camera off a TV screen while miniature debris showered in front of the lens--and some climactic scenes lifted from the 1974 disaster epic Earthquake, Wilson adroitly managed to create the impression that Symington is center stage during the destruction of the entire Valley. Heightening that illusion is Wilson's ingenious use of clips featuring a minor actor from Earthquake--a cowardly character who happens to bear a passing physical resemblance to the governor.

"In the movie, the man who looks like Symington selfishly throws everyone else aside so he can get into the elevator," says Wilson. "Then the elevator plunges down the shaft and he dies." The artist smiles beatifically. "Somehow, everything just seemed to fit together."

In the interest of equal time, it might be noted that Eddie Basha, Symington's gubernatorial rival, has also been tangentially involved in a Wilson project. Interior late-night scenes shot surreptitiously in a Bashas' supermarket--renamed "Spiff's" in the script--appear prominently in one of Wilson's most frequently screened featurettes. Titled Bake 'n Trade, the short comedy is the tale of two cheery 1950s housewives who whip up nutritionally subversive casseroles made of cockroaches and human feces.

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Dewey Webb