Rubber Johnny

Visceral, effing bizarre, creepy and traumatic... From Chris Cunningham's first short we wouldn't expect anything less.

By Max Leonard

Let’s face it: Chris Cunningham Esq. was never going to shock the world with a sedate little film about, say, the Chelsea Flower Show. So when you learn that Rubber Johnny – his first short proper– stars a coke-snorting, body-popping, wheelchair-bound, foetus-resembling kid who’s been locked in the basement with only his imagination and a terrified chihuahua for company, the (paradoxical) reaction is something along the lines of ‘ah, nothing unusual there, then’.

This is Cunningham’s problem, in a way. He has so successfully colonised the peripheries of good taste, fastened his compellingly repellent visuals onto the paranoid glitch pop of Aphex Twin et al., that it’s difficult to appreciate what exactly he’s done – he’s achieved a self-sufficiency that masks the contingency of his vision: it didn’t have to exist. Rubber Johnny is – though you wouldn’t expect anything less bizarre – an amazing creation. (In)human and vulnerable, he appears for the first half of the video in night-vision, harried by a disembodied voice feeding him pacifying drugs. When the door’s shut, however, he racks lines and dances, jerking and morphing his way across screen, plaintively crying ‘mama’ until he‘s disturbed by a hulking, grumbling father at the door. It’s sick choreography, a dance deformed by the constrictions of a wheelchair, the room, a sheet of glass to which he presses himself, intestinally. Cunningham has, of course, honed his skills on Aphex Twin’s music, but when the familiar skittering machine-fed beats kick in, the result is still unexpected – kinetic, jerky, a technical feat of editing, synching and animation.

Chris Cunningham is the only person who can animate a cross between bowel surgery and a road accident and turn it into visceral, edgy entertainment. The whole thing appeals to so many neuroses you can’t fail to be disturbed. More disturbingly, the DVD is accompanied by a booklet featuring Cunningham’s first published artwork. Literally, it seems, drawing an equivalence between his arse and his face, it walks the line of obscenity so precariously that the Italian printers – traumatised by the death of Il Papa – refused to print it, delaying the release of the whole package. Free speech has prevailed, thankfully. Warp, long a fan of experimentation in music video, has over the past couple of years quietly got involved in the nuts and bolts of supporting British (and other) film artistes. The result? A (slightly perverse) ‘more, please’.
rockersis posted 6 May 2009 (00:16:02)
rubber johny was so weird looking and cool at the same time.It was funny when he made the weird noises with his tounge.
will posted 28 September 2007 (12:40:51)
i think its disturbing but i really good insight into how our society see's people today. i am using this as a stimulus for my drama piece in a group of 6 and can see how many ideas we are going to get from this. look deeper.
natty ras posted 20 June 2009 (12:01:32)
This Video is supposed to include shots of Cunningham's cock.Has any one made the effort to spot it? May well be Jonny's whole face is Cunninghams dick?
erica carr posted 18 May 2007 (18:46:52)
its the fucken scarest thing ever its giving people nightmares
chris cunningham uk, harrogate!! posted 16 June 2007 (17:32:36)
what the hell is going on here?
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