Simon Mercer provides a look at the lifetime of work by filmmaker Phil Chambliss, a 59-year-old Arkansas native who worked as a night watchman for the Highway Department over three decades and during the day made wholly unique, indescribably odd movies.
Mercer, who won the Grand Jury prize for Short Documentary at Slamdance for his documentary, describes Chambliss' creations as like something out of a "real world John Waters or David Lynch universe.” Chambliss uses his friends, fellow citizens and the striking Arkansas backdrop to create his own fiction and fashion films. The films proudly ignore most classical standards of editing, acting and coherent dialogue and come complete with titles like "To Hell with Lead-Poison" and "Shadows of the Hatchet Man." Shot on Super 8mm and later videotape, the movies are filled with absurdist but earnest exchanges and often seem to exist in a sub-genre of their own invention.
Since receiving some wider exposure through the film festival circuit, reactions to his work have been complex, as is just about always the case with work judged to be "folk" or "outsider art." "There's been quite a few write-ups about my films," Chambliss said, "and it hurts me that they always write the same thing — they always say I started making movies for my friends and my family. I never made films for my friends and my family ever. I made them for me, trying to be a filmmaker."