In the surreal world of the new short collage film The Was, animated characters board trains alongside their celluloid counterparts, while vintage icons of the screen interact with present-day indie darlings. It’s all part of a vast 14-minute visual menagerie of dazzling film editing — a mashup of 129 movies and TV shows that samples an incredible array of works: everything from Beavis and Butt-Head to Blue Is the Warmest Color, Taxi Driver to Seinfeld.
It’s all set to rare new music by the famed Australian band the Avalanches. Although their 2002 debut Since I Left You is generally considered one of the greatest Australian albums ever made, the group has been stuck working on a follow-up ever since.
The product of all those years of creative labor is finally here: The band’s new album, Wildflower, was released last week, and The Was heralds its arrival by beautifully sampling, mixing, and synthesizing songs from the new album with remixes of the band’s older music. The result is a dizzying, low-level psychedelic delight.
The collage film is the work of digital art collective Soda_Jerk — a pair of New York-based Australian sisters, Dan and Dominique Angeloro, who focus mainly on creating remixes of existing media. They explain their work as existing "at the interzone of documentary and speculative fiction," a description that captures part of the hypnotic impact of The Was.
The film’s interplay between past and present, between verisimilitude and magical realism, is fascinating. It’s a sparkling tribute to the ordinary, moving us deftly from subways to supermarkets, sidewalks to swimming pools. But over the course of its 14-minute running time, thanks to the constant use of extremely skillful editing, The Was begins to transcend and transform mundane settings until it’s awash with flying houses, golden roads, and magnificent explosions. It presents a world we wish were real — and not just because there’s a mythical grocery aisle where LL Cool J, Chevy Chase, and the Cookie Monster are all partying into infinity.
The Was serves as a sort of magnificent trailer for the new Avalanches album, as well as a hymn to the effort that went into producing it. In a way, the film’s 14 minutes, one for each year since the band’s debut, is an homage not just to film and music but to the act of creation itself. With its care and detail in remixing the old, it becomes a striking visual testament to the sheer labor of love that is sometimes involved in producing something new.
Update: The Was has been taken offline due to an infringement claim by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). However, it is still available for download on The Was website.