Interview with Ivan Stang — Chicago Underground Film Festival

A CONVERSATION WITH REV. IVAN STANG OF THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS
by Jay Bliznick

Rev. Ivan Stang has long been much more than the leader of the most popular alternative religion in the United States (second only to Scientology). He’s a remarkable filmmaker who has been awarded prizes at Cannes, has made commercials for The Church of the Subgenius for Empty-V and has had a video (“Arise!”) listed among Film Threat’s “Greatest Underground Films of All Time.” Because he’s so well known for his work with J.R. “Bob” Dobbs,I wanted to stick to questions about his films and filmmaking. But no matter how hard I tried, Bob remained ever-present.

Jay Bliznick: I wanted to ask you about your films first because the Subgenius stuff is such an obvious line of questioning.

Ivan Stang: Yeah, right.

JB: What was your first film and how did you start in filmmaking?

IS: I was 10 years old and had just read a “Famous Monsters” magazine on how they did stop-motion animation and stop-motion dinosaurs, which gave me the mental breakthrough as to how they got the real cool monsters. I understood the makeup but I was getting the runaround from my dad on how they made Godzilla and King Kong really big. Then Kodak started advertising an 8mm movie camera for $10–the Brownie Funsaver. I’ve still got three lying around here. Anyway, I got one of those cameras and immediately started making little clay dinosaurs and army men. Then when I was 11 I discovered the wonders of the splicer. I started making horrible little bloodthirsty monster films. They were ahead of their time. I guess we all were ahead of our time because we used more blood in our films than Hollywood did. It’s taken them this long to get caught up.

JB: Who do you mean when you say “we”?

IS: The other weird kids scattered throughout the country who tried to make movies with that sort of technology. There was this thing called the Kodak Teenage Movie Awards, and I was an ambitious little guy. I really wanted to win that. I would read the Kodak brochures about them and I would look at the pictures of the kids who won and I would hate them. I entered it a couple of times. I did one anti-smoking film when I was 12 and that was my worst film ever because I was trying to be moralistic. I should have just shown dead guys coming back to life and that would have been a good film.

JB: What led to winning the Silver Chalice at the Cannes Film Festival?

IS: Well, I did this Claymation short called “The Wad and the Worm” which was a complete rip-off of this film called “The Origin of the Species” by this guy named Eliot Noyce. I had wanted to do an abstract clay film and it had been a long time since I had seen “Origin” so I made “Wad”, but when I watch them both together now I realize that I pretty much lifted the thing. Anyway, I made this film in 8mm and it won a local high school film festival. This businessman with a film company here in Dallas wanted to look good in the papers or something so he said that his company would take the winner and help them remake the winning film on professional equipment. So they set me up with a 35mm Mitchell and gave me the clay and the background and I did it again. It came out looking a lot slicker and I totally dedicated it to Ray Harryhausen. I think about half the filmmakers around may owe their interest in movies to Harryhausen or Bernard Herrmann. So what happened was I became this little celebrity filmmaker star and became a has-been by the age of 19.

At 16 I entered the new version of “The Wad and the Worm” in the Kodak Teenage Movie Awards and won first prize! The next thing that happened was the U.S Information Agency contacted me. They would pick up these student films and enter them at their expense in foreign film festivals. They were a branch of the CIA and they were doing this, I guess, as pro-American propaganda. I can see why because here they entered this film by a 15-year-old and it was slick as hell because even though I did the animation, a pro cameraman did the set up. Looking back on it, it was kind of sick. Like they were saying,”Look what an average American kid can do,” and it wasn’t that way at all. It did win awards all over the world, though.

JB: Did winning the awards help get you any work?

IS: Well, when I was 19 I got a job working for S.F. Brownrig, the director of “Don’t Look in the Basement” and “Poor White Trash Part 2.” I was the negative conformer. They were some of the first feature films that I had worked on. The first feature film that I had seen being filmed was Larry Buchanan’s “A Bullet for Prettyboy”. That was the first director I ever saw work. Larry Buchanan. My hero! I interviewed him a few times. You know, he’s not a dumb hick; he’s a real interesting guy. He’s like the Bergman of bad movies. They’re so dull you just start laughing.

JB: I noticed a striking resemblance in the clowns you used in “World of the Future” to the Bozos from Firesign Theater.

IS: That was a strange coincidence. The Firesign Theater’s fourth album was called “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus” which I consider to be one of the classic art works of the 20th century. Anyway, I was working on “World of the Future” and the evil overmen in the film were evil clowns, but they weren’t called Bozos. That year, the Firesign Theater’s album came out and I noticed that there was something sick about their Bozos. They were harmless, but there was something perverted about them; you just couldn’t put your finger on it. Then I realized what was going on: they are those SAME guys, but in MY film it’s about 100 years later! They were these perverted little self-ating, loathsome wimps who would later end up running the world. That had a lot to do with the later-day Subgenius prophesy.

More Information:
THE SUBGENIUS FOUNDATION

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