Review: The Billy Nayer Show: The Early Years

Patent drawing for Fleischer's original rotoscope.

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This was the first DVD from Cory McAbee, director of The American Astronaut and Stingray Sam and leader of the Billy Nayer Show.  It’s got his three short films, Billy NayerThe Ketchup And Mustard Man, and The Man On The Moon. It’s also got a bunch of bonus material, including examples of Cory McAbee’s art (he is an INCREDIBLE ARTIST. He is profoundly ninjoid.) for posters and postcards, a couple of live songs, the trailer for American Astronaut, and the audio from their rare 45 “Must Be Santa” (both A and B sides), and some other things. No easter eggs that I’ve been able to find, though.

I can’t recommend this enough. This DVD or the band in general, although I tend to find that I enjoy their films more than their records (but the records are very, very good indeed).

 

The films:

Billy Nayer: Cory McAbee found out how to fix Rotoscoping: HOUSEPAINT. It’s a short animated film, rotoscoped — McAbee built a rotoscope in his bathroom and painted every cel himself.  So, it’s animated with paper and housepaint; the film itself is basically him, as Billy Nayer, being goaded into singing a song, and then receiving a response for singing said song. It’s very short, and it’s pretty damned technically impressive, and the song’s good, so, hey.

Man on the Moon: The hilarious thing is, Field Marshall Stack and I were having a conversation a day or two ago about shooting a short entirely in Pixelvision, and I was of the opinion that it wouldn’t work (not technically, but as a successful film, I mean) since the quality’d be too distracting, and you most likely couldn’t come up for a believable excuse to use Pixelvision (sorry, Trickery For The Sake Of Going Hey Look! bugs me. I’m cool with the trickery itself, I just want it to be justifiable in the project, y’know?).

I was wrong.

This is both done only in Pixelvision, the image quality is NOT distracting AND the story/setting/etc. JUSTIFIES the use of Pixelvision. MAN. The film itself is pretty good, although it does tend to meander a little bit (I get the impression that there were some improvised bits; I thought the bit with the Visitor seemed a little out of place with the rest of the concept of the film), but it’s still definately worth seeing, and my hat is all off to Cory McAbee for proving me very, very wrong.

Ketchup And Mustard Man: This one’s actually also available, sans pictures, on CD. It’s a stream of consciousness narrative with songs, the story being, sort of about a princess who returns from Paris, only there’s actually very little about the Princess. More about her sister, Mary, some astronauts, some chickens, Scottsy, Fickey, and the Princesses’ kittens, Funta and Funtinte. This one’s more like a long-form music video than the other two (Billy Nayer’s out since it’s not long, and Man on the Moon’s out since it doesn’t have a whole lot of songs). It’s got some great photography, going between black and white and color, and various types of color and film stock. It might not make a whole lot of sense, but it’s both hilarious and visually intriguing. And it’s got its own little logic to the story, so it works. The main sets are Cory McAbee as the narrator cutting between Cory McAbee as the titular (and title) character, a hideous yet benign (and probably rather friendly) monster — the monster tends to take more of the singing duties where the Narrator tends to deal more with the actual story, but there’s a lot of mixture between the two. Hanging out with the monster is the rest of the Billy Nayer Show band, providing the instrumentation and backup vocals, and then mixed in is a lot of other footage from all sorts of sources (although none I could see as obvious stock footage; it looked like it was all shot by the crew). This is probably my favorite of their short films, and it makes for a great record as well. Oddly enough, if you don’t mind the occasional swear, you might even be able to show this to children, say, if they’re having trouble with monsters and whatever, to show them that even monsters can just be cool people as well. (Actually, I don’t think this’d work too well, since there’s a lot of death in the stories and songs, but they’re FUN death! And one of the deaths leads to the HAM SONG! And it’s not like they take place on camera or anything, since none of the characters in the film are actually, y’know, visually IN the film, except for Scottsy and Fickey, which both appear as paintings on the Ketchup And Mustard Man’s room, and the Princess and her Half Sister and the Princess’ new doctor-husband, all represented by shoes.)

 

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