This article is dedicated to all the advertisers who make internet websites look gorgeous/atrocious — hot Minecraft Cubism in a vertically scrolling game d’art, go on you pixelboards billed to infinite checkbooks — and all the financial interests behind Barbie, Sound of Freedom, Mission: Impossible 8½, and The Wonkas: Quantumania. We wouldn’t be here without you.
Hello Dankness, my old friend. A play on the Simon & Garfunkel song (among many other things), the title of Soda Jerk’s new film suggests a reunion with someone we’ve known for a very long time. Let’s call her ‘culture,’ that regenerating Hydra which ceaselessly produces new content while sprouting more media heads whenever the counterculture decapitates one. There has always been culture, but with the exponential proliferation of entertainment, news, and media brought about by technology, we now encounter memes and simulacra in culture’s place. Hello Dankness is a chronicle of our culture between late 2016 and early 2021, when the memes piled up like ten thousand people, maybe more.
Soda Jerk draws from literally hundreds of audio and video samples spanning roughly 85 years and edits them into a mostly cohesive comedy about the 2016 election, COVID, deadly conspiracy theories, the 2020 election, and more. Hello Dankness is political, but it doesn’t take a hard specific stance (except the side of the lovely losers). Like peak South Park, it illustrates the absurdity, hypocrisy, and weirdness of multiple sociopolitical perspectives. The fact that Soda Jerk does this by editing movies like Next Friday, This Is the End, Wayne’s World, Sausage Party, Napoleon Dynamite, and more only increases the surreality and spectacle of the political events it documents, while extending a renegade artistic practice the world needs much more of.
Don’t be alarmed by the first few minutes of Hello Dankness; well, do be alarmed, technically. It’s an uncut advertisement from Pepsi that aired at the height of protests over police brutality, in which Kendall Jenner wins the race war by handing a soda to a cop. It’s one of the most perverse and insulting advertisements of all time (to people of any possible side), and acts as a kind of mission statement for Hello Dankness, even though the film never comments upon it explicitly. That statement may amount to something like:
Culture is an hourglass. Actual political events get filtered through the sands of memes, posts, hashtags, and vids down the narrow neck of corporate capitalism, which spits it back out in a simulacrum of ads, programs, media, political posturing, and the detritus of corporate lingo. Hence, BLM, Muslim bans, police violence, riots, and racial tension became Kendall Jenner and “Pepsi Is #1.”
Hello Dankness then begins to assimilate a wide range of copyrighted material to not so much tell the story of the 2016 election, but rather, to evoke the feeling through culture jamming mass media. We are introduced to Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, and their neighbors in the 1989 film, The Burbs. Hanks has a Bernie Sanders flag; his neighbors have Hillary Clinton lawn signs or ‘Hillary for Prison’ posters. Wayne and Garth (Wayne’s World) play hockey in Hanks’ street before driving around town listening to a song about Harambe.
Annette Bening handles the real estate in Hanks’ neighborhood; we see her singing in the car and cleaning an empty house in scenes from American Beauty. She breaks down crying when Hillary loses the election to Donald Trump, something which becomes hilariously apocalyptic in Hello Dankness. Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel (This Is the End) walk to a corner store and see the election results on the news there; big fast things from a small TV. Hot dogs and hot dog buns (Sausage Party) argue in the aisles about the future of the country. Jesse Eisenberg-as-Mark-Zuckerberg (The Social Network) smiles at his laptop ominously, years before we find out Facebook sold millions of users’ data to Cambridge Analytica for targeted political ads.
All of these films, news pieces, and audio clips are expertly interwoven, with contemporary elements digitally edited in. The clothing color of characters is changed to create more consistency; in the original films, they not only wore different clothes, but somehow behaved differently, too. That’s because editing is everything in Hello Dankness, as it is in any collage film or ‘found footage film.’
There’s something post-Eisensteinian about the adherence to montage here, something more extreme. By changing the establishing shots, music, reverse shots, and occasionally the dialogue, the original images are somehow liberated from what they previously belonged to. The actors, characters, and images we are familiar with are suddenly behaving differently. The fact that Soda Jerk is doing this without paying any of the copyright makes this even more radically liberating. Of course, there’s a long pedigree of this kind of détournement in political art, as Lettrists and Situationists like Isidore Isou and Guy Debord applied similar tactics between the 1940s and 1970s. And then, of course, there was the…
Musique concrète and electronic music began to deconstruct the identity and home of a sound, send it to school, take it out to eat. Samples and loops began to transform intellectual property, and took the aesthetics of experimental artists (from Raoul Vaneigem to Negativland) and made them mainstream. Rap and techno evolved from that, alongside litigious record companies. More and more people liberated art; the graffiti artists let art exist in public spaces outside museums, and the hipster Napster tech freaks took art from its owners and gave it to new peers (to peers). To put it academically, they were creating ‘f*ck-you’ art.
Filmmakers like Craig Baldwin (a mentor of Soda Jerk), Sam Smith, and now Aristotelis Maragkos have been taking the mantle of this great pedigree of piracy and making wonderful films as a result. However, Hello Dankness is possibly the apotheosis of this kind of sample-based trickery, and Soda Jerk have been announcing themselves as pranksters-in-chief for a spicy minute now thanks to wildly original, hypnotic, and surprisingly polished projects like Hollywood Burn with Sam Smith and The Was with The Avalanches.
So what Hello Dankness does is the cinematic equivalent of a remix, and the political equivalent of graffiti — graffimix, reffiti, graffix, remigraffix, re re re…
Hello Dankness takes a variety of delightful digressions throughout its speedy 69 (nice) minutes, most specifically pausing to explore conspiracy theories based around buzzwords like “5G,” “Bill Gates,” “Cheese Pizza,” and so on. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appear. Jesse Eisen-Zuckerberg delivers a pipin’ hot pizza to Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Robocop is used to satirically display the supposed disrespect police faced in the wake of the frequent police murder of civilians. “Springtime for Hitler” (from The Producers) plays in full through the ACAB portion of the film. It’s all fast, funny, and ADD, a kind of schizoanalysis of that time in culture. It’s also a potentially lethal drinking game for cinephiles.
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The film keeps its peppy rhythm through multiple acts, each announced with an unoffensive AI voice. For instance, “Now it is time for Act Six. 2020, Election Night. In which the Bad Orange Man loses the election, and Big Daddy Donor rejoices the restoration of corporate liberalism.” We see Albert Finney (Annie) party it up with his little orphan dance partner, while plagues of zombies stare longingly at the sky. Jesse-Eisenberg-probably-still-as-Mark-Zuckerberg blows their brains out with a shotgun (from Zombieland).
There is no triumph at the idea of a Biden win, here. The film juxtaposes him with Bernie Sanders, illustrating how Bernie may be about real politics, but Biden is realpolitik, the pragmatic and realistic choice. The donor class, the owning class, the liberal class are satisfied by this, and the zombies retreat, and the world returns to normal-ish. But something wrong remains. The rats beneath the parties partly recite Zoe Leonard’s powerful poem, “I want a president” —
I want a president who had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their lover to aids, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no air conditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office, and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harrassed and gaybashed and deported.
That poem is now in a public place, blown up big like, 20 feet by 30 feet, on a pillar underneath The High Line in Manhattan. It’s free. After watching the extremely funny, insightful, and technically laborious and meticulous Hello Dankness, which took four years of passion from Soda Jerk and will never be ‘properly’ distributed due to copyright laws, it’s good to know that “I want a president” is out there, at The High Line or just online. It’s an amazing thing when art can be separated from capital and studio might, liberated from property rights, and shown in new light. Even as the world gets danker and weirder, and our media alienates us further from ourselves, it’s a balm that things like Hello Dankness can get made and even seen.
Watch this space for any updates about how to see Hello Dankness, and visit the film’s website here for more information.