Justin Curfman is a creative artist who writes books, makes stop-motion films like Tephrasect and plays in a band called Feeding Fingers. He has a very unique style that contains dream-like worlds with events that could be more upsetting and twisted than your strangest nightmare to date. Here is a very informative look into what this person actually thinks.
You are a very creative person who keeps busy with several things, not only movies and music, but you've written books too. Do you concentrate and work harder with either music, movies or books? Or do you focus equally?
I think that I focus equally on them all, but each medium, for me, requires, it seems, that I have to tap into very different parts of my brain for each task. I would say that music comes to me a lot more instinctually than film or literature. I don't have to think a lot about music. It just sort of comes out. This is true lyrically also. I don't "write" lyrics. I have words that, for me, embody a mood, a color, or an environment - not necessarily a narrative. I will write and record a piece of music and have it repeating in my mind and words just come to me. And if the words feel right, and are able to create a melody that is complimentary to the music, I sing them. What they mean is a matter of interpretation for myself and the listener. For me, music is very similar to non-representational painting. I like to feel lost. I like to be confused.
My film work is similar. I have moods, ideas, and environments that I like to think about. I obsess over things like laminated scrambled eggs, dead skin cells, speedometers, photo booths, clothing made of insects, fencing masks, and the people, or characters, that share my interests and I have them interact with objects and other characters in impossible environments. For me, film allows for a fully immersive experience of escapism. I can create little worlds with a protagonist involved in actions and places that I would like to be able to experience on my own, but cannot. With film, you can add music and elements of literature also, which makes filmmaking, for me, the most rewarding creative outlet, but also the most self-indulgent, which can be a problem if you aren't careful. You can disappear, become a little insane, and lose a lot of weight. You begin to notice that you don't have as many friends toward the end of a project that you did when you first started. One reason why I decided to start Feeding Fingers was as a therapeutic practice for me to keep out in the public to interact with people, creative and non-creative, otherwise I might find myself very much alone here in my little studio.
Literature was my first interest. I wrote and read constantly as a child.
I would write short stories, novellas, autobiographical pieces, observations, dreams, and stories for comic book characters that I created, which sadly have been forgotten… except for a pair of twin brothers that I called "The Sewer Fish". Writing always frustrated me because I wanted the narratives to do more than just conjure up voices and imagery in mine and the reader's head, but I was a child that grew up in a very poor and dysfunctional family setting, so it wasn't until later in life when I was able to earn a little money for myself to buy musical instruments, cameras, and other tools that allowed me to expand and experiment with other media. But, I still love writing, and will be publishing a novel in 2012 immediately after the completion and release of my film, "TICKS".
What differs you as a writer of books and a filmmaker?
I think that working in both mediums gives one a clearer understanding of imagery and metaphor that one might not have if only involved in one or the other.
What are your books "Expiration Date" and "Catalog of Absurdity" about?
I was re-reading some pieces "Expiration Date" a week or so ago. I realized that I had not looked at a single page of that book in a few years. Looking back, I can see that "Expiration Date" was an exorcism of obsessions and ideas that didn't make it's way into my film, "Tephrasect". From what I can tell, "Expiration Date" is a Christmas story about the relationship of a father and his daughter and their shared interest and admiration of dehydrated kittens, urine, and domestic violence shared amongst the two of them against the wife/mother figure of the household. Also, in the story is a pre-occupation with dandruff, breakfast cereal, and cannibalism. Some of this found its way into the film, "Platelets: Lepidopteraphagiator". I have no idea what that says about my own psyche. Nor do I want to.
"The Catalog of Absurdity" is a collection of short ideas and story sketches that ended up getting left out of all of my other work. I found myself with a stack of journals and sketchbooks that I didn't want to throw out. I decided to read through them, mark, and edit small pieces that I felt were strong enough for consideration into a short anthology of ideas. "The Catalog of Absurdity" is more or less a small book of short-attention-span pieces of surreal grotesques. I originally expected to publish at least one of these per year, but I find myself now so busy with everything else, that most of my ideas do not end up locked away in journals and sketchbooks in lonely closets anymore. Now, almost everything gets used in some way or another. But, I do think that I will have another one out in a few years, which will be much more voluminous that the first one.
You have your second CD with the band "Feeding Fingers" that just came out, what is it called and how would you compare it to the mainstream music industry that feeds us crap every day on the radio?
The new album is titled, "Baby Teeth". I would say that Feeding Fingers does have a subtle pop sensibility, though rather dark and confusing at times, which allows for casual music listeners and for a great portion of the masses to be able to listen to the music without being too terribly turned off by it. But, there is an element, lyrically and musically that keeps Feeding Fingers off of corporate radio, television and print media, which I am sometimes happy about, and sometimes frustrated about.
After working pretty heavily in the music business over the past couple of years, I have learned a lot about the business that would make you sick and very sad. There is this paradoxical cross roads of blame for the poor quality of mainstream music of the day. That being, it is just as much the listeners fault as it is the programmers. The truth is, the garbage that you hear on the radio and see on the store shelves everyday, is there because the public wants it there. As long as the public feeds their dollars to these people, they will keep producing it. Which is why, in our culture, most people know more about the personal lives of artists than they do their music. Sadly, a lot of the time their private life is more interesting that there music. There has to be an element of tabloid interest to have anyone care about your work. Talent is not necessarily going to lead you toward a successful career. But, if you are willing to make your sex-life public, start a Kinks or Sonic Youth cover-band, or do the singer-songwriter thing and have your publicist fabricate some lie about your personal "struggle" to become a great artist, you might earn a buck or two.
Feeding Fingers will be what it is, and until I start having sex in public, have my bass player beat people half to death, or have a really compelling suicide attempt, I will keep Feeding Fingers one of my top priorities and just keep producing music that I love and hope that I can share as much of it with as many people that I can in this homogenized world that we live in today.
The new CD was out January 24th, will it be followed by a tour?
I hope so. We are working very closely with Stickfigure Records in America and with NetManagement Musik Verlag in Germany to make a European tour possible. Ninety percent of all music sales and distribution of Feeding Fingers goes into Europe. We have found a nice home there. The problem is in expenses. But, the labels are making a very admirable effort in promoting Feeding Fingers in Europe and Asia right now through CD release parties and making tons of press contacts and dispatching hundreds of promotional CDs and press kits to anyone with a pair of ears and eyeballs to get the group a little bit more into the popular consciousness to warrant a tour in Europe. So far, it looks like it might happen, eventually. We'll see. If someone can front about $5,000 to send the group there, we'll definitely export the act overseas. Unfortunately, America is a dead cause for this genre right now. There isn't much of an audience for Feeding Fingers in America. Unless I can get the group to latch on to someone like She Wants Revenge, Interpol, or some other sort of post-punk act with a nice following in the States, it won't happen here - outside of the Southeast and the East Coast anyway. But, anything is possible.
While we're going through all of your creative sides, what in God's name is "The Lepidopteraphagiator"?
The Lepidopteraphagiator is an assisted-feeding device. The idea came to me when I was about eighteen years old. I was painting with silver spray-paint, a piece of cardboard on the back-porch of my childhood home. It was a very hot summer, at night. On the porch was a single light. Hundreds of tiny insects swarmed the light and got stuck to the cardboard because of the wet spray-paint. For some reason the insects seemed to like the paint. I liked watching them get stuck in it. I liked the patterns and the powder that came off of their wings. As I watched them die on the cardboard, more and more insects came. Some of them eventually got in my eyes and a few ended up in my mouth and nose. That's when the idea of creating some sort of apparatus to attach to your neck with a light-bulb to draw insects toward your face, with your mouth open, to eat them came to me. So, I made some sketches of the device, which is essentially a cervical collar with a goose-neck lamp attached to it. I hope that some animal-rights organization isn't reading this. I have other stories of abuse… one involving duct-tape and crickets. But, those groups are usually guilty of a lot more death and abuse than I am.
Now to the most important part of the interview - your films! I would first like to know where you draw inspiration from?
I draw most of my inspiration from conversations, dreams, delusions, and observations. I like distortions of perception as a result of some of my hearing-loss, selective attention problems, and other poor personality traits that I seem to have.
I'm a fan of your film "Tephrasect", but I'd be lying if I said I understood most of it. What would you say that film is about?
In retrospect, "Tephrasect" was a prolonged descent into a personal hell. I worked on "Tephrasect" non-stop for ten months, every day for about nine hours - sometimes more, sometimes less. I lost about twenty pounds and it changed my personality quite a bit. I am not the same person now that I was before I made that film. I am aware of this. That was a time in my life that I went through a creative and personal transition. I put myself on a strict dietary schedule of one baked potato per day with salt, butter, and cheese with water and thought about nothing else but "Tephrasect".
"Tephrasect" is the cleansing of obsessive pre-occupations that I had for a few years. Much like in "Zugskin" I was obsessed with grub-worms, shaving cream, and masturbation. In "Tephrasect", I was living in a time where I was obsessed with blankets made of cock-roaches, train sounds, faceless girls with knives and melting lips, xylophones and soaking feet, leaking ceilings, bandages and magnetic unicycles, headboards, hammers, nails, hole-punchers, human stomachs filled with ants, light-bulbs filled with florescent yellow water, and on and on. I think that the "protagonist" in "Tephrasect" is yours truly, leading a life in a world that he doesn't fully understand how to interact with, so he allows the world to shape him, ultimately in the end having someone else soak their feet in his brain to help learn to play a piece of music in the end of it all. What this means… I am not so sure yet. I think that I understand "Tephrasect" as much as the rest of you do. The film is a piece of self-indulgent dream-logic.
You're working on a feature-length film titled "Ticks", that you expect to be released 2010. Do you ever think "screw this" by just the mere thought of working on stop motion, for one single movie, for that long?
Never. "TICKS" has to be finished. There is no question about that. I have such an obsessive personality, to the degree that, I feel that if I didn't complete "TICKS", I would rather be dead. It would weigh on me that much. This is not an exaggeration.
Can you give us an idea what "Ticks" will be about?
"TICKS" is a narrative, in that, this time, I think, the viewer will understand what the concept behind "TICKS" will be. There will be dialog and it will have beginning, middle, and end. There will be characters that will lead the way through a sort of dream-inspired labyrinth of ideas, themes, and concepts.
I am not so sure what "TICKS" is "about". I can say that the film ties together the interaction of photo-booths, manufactured missing children, scrambled eggs, a tailor, a nurse, and paraplegic with a yellow balloon, lotteries, speedometers, molting, infomercials, abstinence, super-markets, car accidents, and a few other things. But, this time there is a narrative and hopefully the characters will be able to guide you and I through it.
How big is the crew on a film like that, compared to the crew on your other films?
The "crew" is more or less, my lonesome. I don't play well with others, when it comes to animation. But, I do have people that I am casting as voice-actors, people that I am casting for CG modeling for faces, and people that I have cast for live-action segments, such as the "Lepidiopteraphagiator" infomercial that I released a month or so ago, which will be incorporated into "TICKS". This is the first time that I have worked with other people on an animation project. I am very happy to be doing this. There are a lot of great people in the world, and I get a great slice of joy from working with them as much as I am able to.
Which movie has taken the longest to make? If you don't count "Ticks".
"Tephrasect" absolutely took the longest time.
How has the support been for your projects, both upon first starting on them, to the finished product?
Well… I have a lot of support for "TICKS". I can't begin to tell you how excited and thankful I am for all of the people all over the world, really, that have donated money for the project either in straight donations or through purchasing Feeding Fingers albums and merchandise and buying my books. This means the world to me, because I cannot work at more "day-jobs" than the one that I have now. If I were to do that, I would NEVER complete these projects in less than ten years. There would just not be the time for it. I have a mortgage and necessities like everyone else. I do not make a remarkable living whatsoever at the mundane and poorly paying day-job that I have, but fortunately it allows for a fairly open schedule that permits me to do what I love to do. There is more to life than just paying the bills. Any money that comes from donations, purchases, my day-job, and my production studio work that I do for other musical artists, goes directly back into my creative endeavors.
Your films will most likely never, unless you change style, be a part of popular culture. Don't take this the wrong way, we at FilmBizarro.com obviously see this as a good thing, but does it ever feel frustrating to you that your work is more reserved for underground/counter-culture popularity?
No. It doesn't bother me. I think that this allows for me to have a closer relationship with the few people that there are on this earth that do have an interest and appreciation for my work. This is a lot more rewarding to me than to have some blanket statement or PR person to field all of my correspondence for me. I think that this also allows 100% creative freedom to do what I like and not have to apologize for it.
Will we ever see a Justin Curfman movie that isn't stop-motion, but with real actors?
Yes. "TICKS" will most likely be my last stop-motion film. I have a feature-length film idea that I will start shooting in 2012. I have about 40% of the script written for it. There will be real actors and sets. I am very excited about it. I just have a lot of details to work out… and right not my brain is sort of stretched to the limit with "TICKS", Feeding Fingers, and everything else.
There's not many people out there who make the kind of films that you do, so what directors have you been looking up to when growing up?
I have always liked Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Georges Méliès, Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang and a lot of the other expressionist-era work, Jan Svankmajer, Jiri Trnka, David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, Philip Ridley, this new guy named Robert Morgan is brilliant (though he won't return my email)… I could go on and on.
Where do you stand on the current state of animation, with most big movies using computer CGI instead of rubber suit monsters, latex gore and stop motion?
Hmmm… I don't like CG very much as it stands right now. It is a necessary evil now in some ways, because of audience expectations for bright shiny things and "boom-boom, pow-pow" and for ease of cost on the wallet. But, I do see a lot of potential for it… especially after watching some of the organic texturing in "Wall-E" and some work from Marc Craste at Studio AKA in UK. It has a long way to go, but it is a fairly new technology still.
But, I will say that I do not like the integration of CG with live-action horror films right now. It just looks very bad. There is something about blood, mucous, monsters, and gore that just cannot be captured with CG. It just doesn't work yet. For example, I just tried to watch the re-make of "The Wizard of Gore" with Crispin Glover. There were some digital blood and gore effects that just killed the movie for me. It just doesn't work.
I know you're a fan of movies by Jan Svankmajer and many other artistic and experimental filmmakers, but are you a fan of regular horror movies in the likes of "Halloween", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Night of the Living Dead"?
Yes! Absolutely. "Halloween" doesn't do it for me, but "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", I think, is a brilliant piece of 16MM film that really captures a piece of hopeless despair and terror that you cannot achieve with a big budget. "Night of the Living Dead" does the same thing for me. There is an element of organic humanity that is captured in those two films that trumps almost every other film ever made in that genre. There is no question about that. There is a reason why those two films penetrated pop culture the way that they did.
Excuse the big name-dropping. But what about the sick and extreme genre with movies like, to name a few of the "bigger" titles, "Nekromantik", "Aftermath", "August Underground", "Guinea Pig" and "Men Behind The Sun"? Is that something you're into?
Ha! I was just showing showing my girlfriend "Nekromantik" two weeks ago while we were eating dinner. She got to the part where the Daktari's character sucked out and spit the corpse's eye back into the socket while having sex with it and his living girlfriend. I have a soft spot and a funny history about that movie. I own a bootleg VHS of that from when I was a kid. I think that "Nekromantik 2" is slightly better (though not as "important"). I think that "Der Todesking" is Buttgeriet's best film.
"Aftermath" is just a beautiful film, if you can stomach the dissection scene. The last installment of that trilogy is amazing. There really is some beautiful cinematography in those films. The subject-matter will never lift those films out of obscurity, but the craftsmanship is excellent.
I have not seen "August Underground" or "Guinea Pig" yet. I am aware of them and expect to see them eventually. I liked "Men Behind the Sun", I assume because of my interest in history and medical experimentation.
Can you name...
...one movie that is a guilty pleasure of yours?
"Stand by Me" or "The Lost Boys"- I know it's all mushy and cliché, but I grew up with these two movies and apparently also with "The Coreys", and I still love these two for some reason.
...two actors you'd like to see in the same film?
Jeff Goldblum and Robin Williams… or to take this further, because I have thought about this and would like to do it… I would like to cast Jeff Goldblum, Robin Williams, Woody Allen, and Crispin Glover in a film together and called it "The Jitters".
...three films you look forward to in 2009?
I am not so sure what's going on, really. I am sort of out of touch right now. But, I do want to see "The Watchmen". I think that Alan Moore is brilliant. I am curious to see if Hollywood is going to give him the royal screw again. As much as I hope that they nail "The Watchmen" and do it right, the odds are stacked against them. We'll see. And I am interested in "Coraline"… though I am not a big Neil Gaiman fan… I appreciate the guy, but his stories, for the most part, are sort of dull to me. The animation looks impressive. I don't know of a third film, to be honest with you. Give me some suggestions, guys.
Oh… I would maybe like to watch "The Wrestler". That looks interesting to me.
...four films that you liked in 2008?
I thought that "Control" was very well done. I appreciated that Anton Corbijn didn't make Ian Curtis and Joy Division out to be some Christ-like figure(s) that they weren't. That was, I think, a very honest film about four dumb kids in the music industry that made some bad decisions and along the way made some interesting music and some history.
I don't know that I saw four films in 2008 - in the theatres anyhow. I watched "Rhinoceros Eyes" on DVD last year. That was, eh, decent. But, to be honest with you, I probably wouldn't have watched it if not for the Cronenberg connection to it.
I saw "The Dark Knight". I liked it. I thought it was comparable to Burton's first "Batman".
I saw "Fido" last year. Eh… that was pretty funny.
...five films we all should see but probably haven't?
"Reflecting Skin", "Rosto A.D.", "Blood of a Poet", "Conspirators of Pleasure", Henri Xhonneux's "Marquis".
Thank you for taking your time with us, Justin Curfman. Is there anything you would like to add before we finish this interview?
A "thank you" would be good. It is important that you know that in this age of communication congestion in the digital world, and communication homogenization the in the print world, that people such as yourself have an important voice, no matter now many people care to listen. We live in a time where we all have an outlet and the means to say and do what we feel is necessary and important. Though we are in an economic collapse and are in the middle of a lot of uncertainty right now, be happy in knowing that we are truly living in the greatest time known to man where ideas can flow back and forth between those of us who care to have them. And if or when the time comes that someone, some force, or some collective agency, be it political or otherwise, comes along to try to suppress us or silence us, please stand up for yourself and do whatever necessary to shut them down. We've come too far and suffered too much to be obedient.
For more information about Justin Curfman
and his freaky world, go here
And you can read our review of Tephrasect right here