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Sitting in the back of a Mission District cafe, leaning over a table beneath a Marilyn Monroe poster, bantamweight filmmaker Danny Plotnick is waxing prolific about rock movies, punk zines, and the benefits of super 8 film. Soon the conversation turns to musicals. "I love how it's totally normal for people to break into song while they're walking down the street," says the Film Arts Foundation seminar coordinator and former editor of Motorbooty. "No one questions it. To me, that's a great convention."
Plotnick's 16th picture, I'm Not Fascinating -- The Movie!, is the most ambitious yet for the San Francisco director. Running 50 minutes and including a cast of, well, dozens, the film is a Monkees-meet-Hate-comics slice of cinema non-verite, a really big small picture that promulgates Plotnick's lowbrow aesthetic while parading yet another set of unlikely heroes across the screen. And it's a musical.
"I mean, why not?" he prods, running a hand through his bush of black hair. "The world would be a better place if more people just broke into song walking down Valencia Street."
I'm Not Fascinating traces the (fictitious) career of the very real Icky Boyfriends, a fatefully named local band whose musical ineptitude and schlumpy image inspire universal loathing. Drummer Shay, guitarist Tony, and singer John -- the "talentless megalomaniac" cultivating a tumbleweed-size Afro -- make even Three Day Stubble look and sound good by comparison. Day-in-the-life-style, Plotnick follows the Ickys as they toil at day jobs, fight with girlfriends, and rehearse for upcoming shows.
The plot thickens when an unctuous record exec catches a show and offers the Ickys a major label contract. The imprint quickly realizes its error, and after some business about a manipulative mom and a cable-access puppet show, plenty of blood is let. Suffice to say Plotnick's film isn't The Real World.
"A couple years ago, the Ickys' singer, John, and I had jobs in this video monitoring place," the director recalls. "I saw them a bunch -- they and Zircus played at my party for Pillow Talk. I always thought they'd be good characters for some Monkees-style thing. We'd talked about making a film together, [but] I didn't know how committed they would be to sharing expenses. My feeling was, people were gonna like it or not based on whether they liked the Icky Boyfriends, and I didn't know if I wanted to throw all my money into that.
"What got us off our asses," he continues, "was that John was moving to Baltimore the first week of September, and I bumped into him and Anthony in June. We got together, brainstormed, and came up with a list of 15 or 20 different scenarios. We were able to string them together to actually make a coherent story. We proved that no idea was too stupid for us to consider," he laughs.
The resulting feature resurrects several cast members already familiar to fans of Plotnick's films. Jay Wilcox (who suffered at the grubby hands of a child gang in Pipsqueak Pfollies) plays a variety of roles, including the Ickys' sole fan, and Chris Enright (the unseen French lover in Pillow Talk) is the slimy A&R rep. Both Wilcox and Enright co-starred in the unforgettable Steel Belted Romeos, Plotnick's sidesplitting flick about an Escort driver trapped at an interminable stoplight next to two abusive Italians he'd accidentally cut off. There are also countless cameos by local-music scenesters: Scott Derr (Monoshock) plays a spurned boyfriend of one of John's groupies; Kelly Green (Pee) portrays a yuppie consumer-research drone; and Eric Grotke (Starpimp) and Dave Nudelman (Three Stoned Men) co-star as two fame-hungry band scabs. Members of Cockpit, Hank Stram, and Seasaw also crop up, along with Plotnick's wife, Allison Faith Levy, and Komotion's L'il Mike.
I'm Not Fascinating reflects new techniques for a director weaned on Hong Kong Fooey and the Marx Brothers -- that of relinquishing total control of his work. "Usually when I make a film, my stomach's in knots," he admits. "My stuff is usually heavily scripted, and at first I was sweating it out. I'm a real control freak, and this was like, 'OK, half the script is written, and half is going to be improvised? By people I've never met?!' "
"Part of my goal in making this film was, 'I'm not gonna get uptight about things, I'm gonna let it go, and see what happens.' ... I pretty much just turned the camera on and kept filming until the actors stopped."
The result is a much looser picture than most in Plotnick's filmography, one whose pace and timing allow for some of the film's choicest moments. "I wasn't always sure when the actors were gonna stop, so constantly there was that extra beat, this gem look in the last second, to the point where I probably stopped filming because I was laughing and the camera started shaking."
Plotnick's schlockumentary emerges, in part, in reaction to works by punk-inspired directors like Richard Kern and Jon Moritsugu, and the practice of coattailing films on musicians' fame. "The thing I always bitch about is throwing 'Music by Sonic Youth' or 'Starring Jim Thirlwell' on the box, and people go out and see it in droves," he says. "As a filmmaker, I find that really frustrating, [directors] getting press because Thurston Moore is in their film. Like people only give a shit if you have rock stars in it."
Up next for Plotnick is his adaptation of Peter Bagge's "Minimum Wage Love," a screamfest set in a beauty salon and the Hate comics tribute he's been planning for years. "I think Bagge's stuff and mine are real similar," says the Detroit-born director, "and I'm desperately looking for a beauty salon. I haven't had the guts yet to ask people if we can [use a salon to shoot] for a weekend. It's karmic payback, I guess, for not getting my hair cut in one for 15 years."
For now, though, Plotnick's rockumentary is taking the spotlight, the irony of which isn't lost on him. "And here you go, I make the rock film and we're getting so much press, so much buzz -- everyone's going apeshit. It's a good film and all, but it wouldn't get so much hype if the rock scene wasn't mobilized behind it. I have mixed feelings about that. But fuck it," he laughs, "it's happening to me this time, so it's OK. ... I always felt like people made movies about punk rock, and I make movies that are punk rock."
I'm Not Fascinating -- The Movie! plays Fri, Feb. 16, at Artists' Television Access in S.F.; call 824-3890.
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