Chris Cunningham is one of the most sought-after filmmakers today thanks to his original, unique vision and collaborations with artists such as Björk, The Auteurs, Leftfield, and Squarepusher. But it’s really his work with his musical muse Aphex Twin that swings open the dark door into his mind; and it’s with justified trepidation we step inside.
His first video for Richard D. James was the funny, disturbing Come To Daddy in 1997, which took James’ idea to use his grinning face as a kind of logo for Aphex Twin and ran with the ball. The result was a run-down council estate filled with evil children all bearing Aphex Twin’s face, terrorising poor old ladies. It was unlike anything that had ever been played on MTV and cemented Cunningham’s reputation as an individual visionary.
His next video for Aphex Twin was Windowlicker in 1999, which again utilised James’ face, but this time in a more humorous context, sending up the ridiculous bling of Hip Hop videos by sticking his visage on writhing, bikini-clad babes. MTV in the US refused to air the video, so it was released on VHS.
Aphex Twin and Cunningham collaborated again when James recorded the score for Chris Cunnigham’s short film Flex, exhibited as part of the Apocalypseexhibition at London’s Royal Academy in 2000. Like most of Cunningham’s oeuvre, Flex was a study in anatomy, bodies and exploring—pushing—the boundaries between surreal darkness and disturbing horror.
When Aphex Twin released Drukqs in 2001, Cunningham created a short introductory video using the first 30 seconds of James’ track Afx237 V7. It featured a strange mutant slumped in a wheelchair, with an oversized head, shot using DV and infrared nightvision. Its hallucinatory oddness was like a caffeine jolt to the brain, and was the perfect match to James’ brooding techno.
Several years later Cunningham has expanded the 30 seconds into a short, 6 minute film, featuring a slightly remixed version of Afx237 V7 created by Cunningham himself. The mutant, a shape-shifting child called Rubber Johnny, returns, living in a dark basement with only a boss-eyed Chihuahua for company.
The video begins with a doctor reassuring a visably disturbed Johnny, who seems to be asking for his mummy. When he gets violent, the doctor is forced to inject him with a calming sedative. The film then flips to the familiar Drukqsintroduction and then proceeds to go crazy with Johnny dancing in his wheelchair, doing wheelies and tricks for the amusement of his dog, and transforming into a variety of nightmarish shapes, like a someone tipping a wheelbarrow full of butcher’s shop scrapings, entrails and brains onto a window.
The film is stunning, harrowing and disturbing in equal measure. The visuals match the frantic pace of the music and the experience is quite exhausting, leaving you breathless by the end. I had to sit through the preview screening twice to take it all in. It’s like David Lynch’s Lost Highway compressed to a black hole-like density, where no light escapes. I absolutely loved it.
The film comes with a 40 page booklet containing self-portraits, sketches and photographs of Johnny that are equally bizarre and strange, and pushes Cunningham’s fixation and obsession with body parts to the absolute extreme.
Certainly not for the faint of heart, Rubber Johnny cannot come recommended highly enough for those with the constitution to take it.
Rubber Johnny (2005)
Dir. Chris Cunningham
Stars: Chris Cunningham
Genre: Horror, Music