Rubber Johnny Review
The latest DVD to feature the work of Chris Cunningham (following various DVD singles, music video compilations and even a collection devoted solely to his efforts) is one of the most enticing yet. Distributed by Warp Records’ DVD arm, it arrives as an objet d’art - not only do we get the disc itself, but it’s also nestled inside a glossy 42-page hardback book. Some may be reminded of the similar packaging used for Chris Morris’ My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117, but in this case the overall effect is more substantial and the disc itself far easier to get your hands on (no fears of scratching to be had here). Loving produced, amongst these pages we find a combination of film stills, photographs and sketches – the book is the first of Cunningham’s to be published – the end result being an item more likely to be taken off the shelf for a perusal of its strange images than it is for the film itself.
Not that Rubber Johnny is in any way a disappointment. Admittedly those intrigued by the cover art and the other pictures that have been used for promotional purposes – an anthropomorphised combination of what looks like a skinny ankle, a scrotum, some armpit hair and teeth – may be slightly let down to discover that they don’t make themselves known in the film itself, but then what we do get is still distinctly Cunningham in its execution. Indeed, Rubber Johnny could be read as a part-homage to David Lynch’s Eraserhead, yet there’s little that could be labelled Lynchian here. Rather anyone who has seen any of Cunningham’s best received promos will instantly recognise it as one of his works whether they had foreknowledge of his attachment or not. Certainly, this is very much a piece attuned to previous efforts; not so much the mainstream dalliances such as his video for Madonna’s ‘Frozen’, more the disturbing qualities which infused his pair of Aphex Twin collaborations, ‘Come to Daddy’ and ‘Windowlicker’.
Of course with Aphex Twin on Rubber Johnny’s soundtrack (‘AFX237V’ in remixed form) and weird visual manipulation on display such associations are hard to avoid, though without the presence of Richard D. James himself – or rather his likeness – this piece still feels sufficiently different. Essentially, its six minutes are spent in the presence of a mutant, wheelchair bound child who’s locked in a closet with only his dog as companion. Some sort of release comes through the aforementioned Aphex track, one which allows him to do some strange rave-style shapeshifting dance in typical Cunningham fashion. There’s no narration and as such Rubber Johnny could be mistaken for another one of Cunningham’s promos, but it does carry a certain power. It’s part performance art, part horror film (the entire thing is shot with a night vision lens, whilst the opening menu begins on an extremely unnerving note), and part comedy – at once producing a work both strangely uplifting and grotesque. If we compare it to, say, ‘Come to Daddy’ (to my mind the scariest thing I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit through) or the wonderful promo Cunningham made for Bjork’s ‘All is Full of Love’, then it undoubtedly comes across as a lesser work. Yet these are remarkable pieces to live up to anyhow, and it remains a welcome addition to his oeuvre nonetheless.
This Region 0 release of Rubber Johnny is presented non-anamorphically at a ratio of 1.55:1. The picture quality is absolutely fine, with a technically flawless transfer making the night vision visuals look as good as is possible. More importantly, perhaps, the sound quality is equally fine with an English PCM track which copes just as well with the minimal (intentionally muffled) dialogue and Aphex Twin’s coruscating accompaniment. As for extras, the disc is completely bereft, but then the 42-page is a more than welcome addition and is certainly preferably to the potential alternative of a series of onscreen photo/picture galleries.