The Movies of Jonathan Culp
Chronology Part One: 1988-2004
SANTA: FIRST BLOOD PART II
After a couple ambitious and hence aborted projects, I got my first movie made, typically, by keeping it simple. Shot one winter morning at Grimsby Secondary School (see below), with me yelling directions from behind the VHS camera at my surprised friends, the voices were dubbed later in the AV room by myself, Squid Gaspic, Ailsa Craig and Geoff Coons.
GSS Video Yearbook
AV guy Greg gave me the school camcorder and unlimited VHS tapes for this "video yearbook," a concept I had read about somewhere and just kind of ran with. Having shot 30 hours of scattershot footage, I went to the school board and used their non-frame accurate VHS editing machine to shape it into primitive themed sequences, interspersed with interviews. The musical sequences were edited, then re-recorded to a second VCR with music. It was distributed to purchasers in plain fake-leatherette cases on VHS and Betamax in the fall of 1989. Someone told me they liked it in spite of what their friends said. The school is slated to close in 2020.
With Ailsa Craig, Scott Yaphe, Hilary Ash
An unpromising romance between country gal PJ (Ailsa Craig) and urban transplant Jeff (Scott Yaphe) becomes a weekend game of fugitive as they rob a house and hide out on a farm. This was what I thought it meant to make a 'real movie' when I was 20 - write a ponderous script, gather a cast and crew willing to sleep in tents, rent a bunch of dolly track and a generator, labour in post-production until you're 24. With my usual sense of practicality and strategic thinking, I shot this between university sessions instead of making it my final project. My dad took out a loan on his life insurance. I never took myself this seriously again - not as an artist, anyway. Jonah Hart was DP, Murray Pomerance provided crucial logistical support. The music was performed by myself, Sharny Cameron and George Hill, and would be used again.
Featuring Peter Lynch
Around 3 am at a party in my Kensington Market apartment, Peter Lynch grabs my 4 track microphone and starts an epic freestyle, with an incredulous Steve Lukacic joining in on bongos and myself tweedling along on my Mini Korg. I wanted to do something with this. So, deploying a faulty Super 8 camera from Goodwill, I shoot six reels of my apartment, four of which turn out. The apartment's common areas plastered with found imagery from magazines culled on garbage day, found tile and wallpaper, and questionable color schemes. I used the LIFT Oxberry optical printer to blow the Super 8 film up to 16 and do some speed effects, dissolves and split screens. The registration was off and so was the focus. It was a thrilling way to make a movie regardless. John Black edited the audio on 1/4". I finished the edit on Steenbeck and returned to Catharine Rankin for the negative cut. This was the second film I completed on 16mm answer print, and the last for over 20 years. It premiered at the Loogan Bin CD release party in August 1996.
DOWN WITH FUN (BIN BIN BIN)
Loogan Bin rock video
In 1993 I bought three dozen 16mm reels from the St. Catharines Public Library for 25 bucks...and so began my ongoing orphan media rescue mission. This simple re-edit of a 70s skateboarder safety film was the first collage I completed, becoming the first rock video by my band Loogan Bin. I was working in post-production at Vision TV at the time; so one day after our shift Barry gave me a quick orientation on the edit controller and I just stayed up all night and cranked this out. It got shown on MuchMusic once, by mistake.
My first "activist video" was inspired by the anti-Mike Harris Metro Days of Action - October 25 & 26, 1996, the largest protest in Toronto history. Seeing the million camcorders, I published a note in Now Magazine asking for raw footage, and about ten people replied. Still learning the editor's craft at Vision TV, I used a speech by Joan Grant-Cummings as a frame and through line for the imagery. Bain Housing Co-op offered their non-frame-accurate VHS editing facilities. To save studio time, I actually edited the audio *first* - running sound from my living room VCR to my Yamaha cassette 4-track recorder. I then edited the picture to the sound, avoiding sync audio wherever possible. I brought the tape to an open screening at U of T, and that night I met what would become the nucleus of the Toronto Video Activist Collective (TVAC).
Loogan Bin rock video
Like Action!, the second video for my band Loogan Bin centers on footage from the Metro Days of Action. My grainy Super 8 footage didn't mesh in that project, but worked well over this song, about how social injustice can manifest itself as individual mental breakdown. As usual at the time, the entire video was completed in a single edit session.
Loogan Bin rock video. Directed by Joey Meyer.
For Loogan Bin's "hit single" (we browbeat Dave Bookman into playing it once on CFNY) we drafted Symptom Hall compat Joey into choreographing this interpretive dance based on our own isosceles love triangle. Jonah Hart shot on 16mm at Wallace Studios, and conceived the shiny set. Barry Silverthorn edited in the highly controversial fancy stuff at the end.
In September 1997, I had just learned how to hand process film, Mike Harris was still in power, and the Beamsville fair was coming up. Somehow these three elements made a movie. With the help of Chris Banks I processed demolition derby in my mom's laundry room. The nutbar televangelist voiceover and Harris oratory came from TV via my cassette 4-track, again. Edited on a rare Super 8 Steenbeck!
CHEW IT SOMALIA!
Way back 1993: 1) Somali teen Shidane Arone was tortured and murdered by Canadian 'peacekeepers', and 2) the St. Catharines Library had a sale of its 16mm films - the first I ever owned. The cornerstones were an innocuous film about UNICEF in Somalia and a vaguely homoerotic Oh Henry! commercial I subsequently found in someone's yard on Nassau. Other sources included films on Ottawa, Expo 67, and public speaking. This edit's planning and execution extended over a period of several years, and set the rhetorical model of my collage work for the next decade - though I wouldn't cut up such precious source material again. Premiered at Antimatter #1 in Victoria - I hitched out for it.
OUR VACATION TRIP
Another multi-year production, this centered on a couple of circa-1960 home movies I got at Goodwill. A couple viewings revealed a vacationing family desperate to escape the camera's gaze. I again edited on the original film. As with Chew It Somalia!, Paul Tedeschini helped with the sound design, looping Hawaiian kitsch on his Atari.
In 1993, with my newly-thrifted Super 8 camera, I went for a long walk from Balls Falls to the Beacon Inn and shot six reels. But the camera was a dud and tore sprockets, leaving only a few feet of footage on each. I put the reels away. Then in 1996 my dad died. In 1998 I made this piece on his death, using 2.5 minutes of super 8 footage to create a 5 minute product. The soundtrack comprised a celebrity audiobook, a precious answering machine tape, and a silent film piano music album I dragged with my thumb.
Toronto Video Activist Collective
After a few months of excited meetings, the newly-formed TVAC deployed multiple cameras to Toronto's first Reclaim The Streets action in May 1998. The street-closing occupation of Bloor and Brunswick quickly ran afoul of its own contradictions, with conflicts and complexities we were fortunate to record. We spent the next several years chasing left protests around the city and the country.
By Matias Rozenberg and Jonathan Culp
In 1999, TVAC released "VideoActive #1", a compilation of shorts mainly featuring local protest docs, released on VHS with silk-screened covers. This first appeared there, a condensation of Matias' berserk, lo-fi VHS collage, recorded off cable TV circa Desert Storm. The rainbow-line transitions and fourth-gen dub only heighten the mood. (Re-)edited, once again, on Bain Co-op's accursed house system.
Loogan Bin rock video
Loogan Bin kept on cranking out videos for a couple years after we broke up. As the millennium approached, film and video were where it was at. This "performance video" was shot in 1997 on black and white 16mm in the basement of the legendary Symptom Hall, where we rehearsed. The song is again about death, this time my grandfather.
Loogan Bin rock video
Loogan Bin's last "video" was created for "Moving Picture Views", a movie zine event by our friends Malcolm Fraser and Stacey DeWolfe. I had just read An American Tragedy, and decided to trash-compact the narrative and cast my stuffies (who had recently debuted in Jonathan Culp!). Siue Moffat and Wendy Banks helped. We shot the whole thing on one reel of super 8 film in our short-lived Crawford St. apartment.
MAPLE GROVE: AN ONTARIO SCHOOL
When my childhood elementary school Maple Grove was threatened with closure in the late 1990s, I decided to make a documentary about the goings-on. Shot casually (on Compact VHS!!), the video features an interview with Edra Thompson who established the school's direction in the 1960s, as well as a lot of spontaneous classroom scenes and backstage bureaucratic wrangling. Narrated by long-time teacher Sandy Harkness. Maple Grove School was closed in 2013.
FIGHTING TO WIN: OCAP AT QUEEN'S PARK
Toronto Video Activist Collective
Marching to address Mike Harris' legislature, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty decided not to take no for an answer - even when that "no" took the form of riot cops and charging horses. TVAC was there with four or five cameras, and I performed the edit after hours (22 straight this time) at a web startup I was working for. The finished video was a highlight of our first "Satan Macnuggit Video Road Show", playing 28 Canadian venues from Victoria to Halifax during the summer of 2001.
PUSSY PALACE PANTY PICKET PROTEST!
Video by Siue Moffat and Jonathan Culp
On September 15, 2000, the Pussy Palace women's bathhouse was raided by an all-male police squad. Laying no charges, they invaded private spaces, intimidating and ogling the attendees, drawing the Toronto queer community together in outrage. TVAC dispatched a camera to document the "Panty Picket Protest" at the doors of 52 Division. Siue did the camerawork and I did the edit. The video played at the following year's Inside Out Film Festival.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
My first extended collage film posited motivational media as cultural hypnotism, with special guest stars! From 16mm originals - many from my grandfather's shed - I borrowed Rose Bianchini's one chip video camera and digitized off a gauzy screen in the basement. I borrowed then-employer Tooker Gomberg's Mac (and hallway) for the edit. I was there for 36 hours straight, my last marathon single-sitting edit.
CAPTAIN DO-GOODER IN "HELP THE NEEDY"
Then we decided to organize a film festival and compilation called Super 8 Super Hero. It's a major taboo to curate your own work in the Canadian arts scene, so of course we curated our own work. Siue brought us P-GRRL and I came up with this, a rare engagement with actors and camera. Shot at Fred Hamilton Park on a clammy early-spring day, this was my usual square-cut uprising of the masses construct. Eventually Laura Cowell's Splice This! Super 8 fest premiered our program. I ran merch in the lobby, next to a Hidden Cameras loop I never want to hear again.
PLASTICMAN AND THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
Sept 11, 2001 - I turn on the CBC news. A minute after that I put in a VHS tape and hit record. My mom and I looked at each other and said, "Well, we know what happens next." A year later I had created this collage video, an attempt to make sense of the tragedy and the tragedies that followed. News footage was interspersed with resonant found scraps. Too strident for the fests, but a hit on our "Recycled Cinema" roadshow in summer 2003.
HERE 75 PICKET
I was housesitting in St. Catharines, ostensibly editing my feature, when I was invited to document a strike at nearby Fort Erie Racetrack, where many participants were on their first-ever picket line. I wanted to do something different, so instead of hammering a message I aimed to capture the moment. Later an organizer asked, "Why would you make a movie that's hard to understand?" and as such this showed the influence of Frederick Wiseman, who I had recently interviewed and admired greatly.
Single and sad, dogsitting at Lisa and Laura's for a week outside Honey Harbour, I decided to turn my found-footage scissors upon myself. Family photo albums are assembled into a narrative driven by the death of my grandfather, and the botched memorial I planned with my aunt. This played at True/False, Hi Mom and Signal + Noise, and is probably my most broadly appreciated short.