Film and TV

Automorphosis at FilmBar

Automorphosis isn't just a documentary about art cars -- it's a study in interesting people, and their often wacky obsessions.

Much of what viewers see in Automorphosis falls in the "stranger than fiction" category -- it's the vision of Filmmaker Harrod Blank (an artist who created a camera-shaped van out of cameras) and spent 13 years and traveled to five countries to capture art cars and their creators.

The result, on view now at FilmBar in Phoenix, is an entertaining look at art and a fascinating look at people -- highly creative people who manifest their fixations on things like hamburgers, spoons, and horns through elaborate custom vehicles. 

Check out the trailer and a full recap after the jump ...

Automorphosis has won several awards since its release in 2008, including the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the Orlando International Film Festival, but Blank says he can't find a distributor. The current two-week showing of Automorphosis at FilmBar in downtown Phoenix is the longest run the film's had.

FilmBar is a great host for this offbeat film. Last night, Automorphosis began its run at the cinema, and Blank and several art car creators showed up, with vehicles that included a Virgin Mary made from license plates and "the Mondrian car," inspired by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. The venue has a sizable beer and wine menu, so we popped a couple Pabst Blue Ribbons while chuckling at art car enthusiasts like German-born Harry Sperl, who's obsessed with hamburgers, both as food and as a symbol of American freedom.

His motorcycle is shaped like a hamburger, with onion and tomato slices for wheels and pickles for handle bars.

There's also "Spoon Man" Elmer Fleming, who plays the spoons -- and has them screwed all over every inch of his truck; "Rat Girl" Cheri Brugman, whose car includes several severed mannequin parts and propane flame blowers on the hood; and telephone junkie Howard Davis, who owns a telephone installation company and drives a big red telephone.

But, as Blank notes near the end of the film, each car contained part of the soul of a person. In Automorphosis, we also meet Hyler Bracey, who barely survived a vehicle fire years ago and now spends his days inspiring others with his massive horn vehicles, which contain entire whistle systems and brass sections controlled by pull strings. And we hear from cancer survivor Geraldine Lloyd, who explains through tears and a mechanical voice box that her 1975 Mercedes Benz art car "isn't a possession. The car is driving me."

Automorphosis showing at FilmBar, 815 N. Second St., through Sunday, March 27. Tickets cost $7 for general admission and $5 for matinees. Visit for show times, or call 602-595-9187. 

[This post has been edited since publication].