What happens when you mix a homeless clown, a quadriplegic operatic comedian, a constipated cop, a femme-fatale identifying as a “gay bottom”, a stoner camel and scat-obsessed sidekick named Gravy? PISSPANTS, that’s what happens. The latest creation by Boston’s own prolific demon child, Frankie Symonds (co-written by the films’ star Jeff Powers), PISSPANTS is a feature-length exploitation of the taint(ed) side of Beantown. Set in the most iconic landscapes of Our Fair City, PISSPANTS follows the meanderings of an unfortunate clown, down on his luck and looking for love – and food – while drinking from his bottle of rot-gut on the budding hillsides of Boston. Poor, lonely and covered in lipstick, Pisspants rolls and stumbles his way through the perverted exploits of his miscreant acquaintances, playing an innocent pawn in their sullied, pleasure-seeking games.
Symonds, a graduate of MassArt and Dorchester native, has produced an impressive quantity of media ranging from Super 8 and 16mm film to video, painting and collage. Influenced by the history of Boston experimental filmmaking, Symonds roots around in the garbage-bin of available images, creating cultural collages that speak to the unspoken nature of contemporary human existence. His work explores sexual secrecy, visceral realities, childhood iconography and the “cultural terrorism” of media icons like Oprah Winfrey. Spend some time browsing the paintings on his Tumblr Page and you will get a glimpse into his audacious approach to representing dark thoughts in bright colors.
Be warned: PISSPANTS is a difficult film to watch. Like that ungodly dream you had on the bus, or – worse yet – the obscene encounter that happened as you held your breath during the long commute to the end of the Orange Line, PISSPANTS is an unauthorized, authentic look at the side of Boston you don’t want to look at. You can ignore it all you want – it won’t go away.
PISSPANTS TRAILER on Vimeo
I caught up with Frankie on Facebook, and we chatted:
Tara Nelson: I’m not gonna lie – this is a tough one.
Frankie Symonds: LOL. Good.
TN: Was there a script for PISSPANTS?
FS: No. Jeff and I met five or six times and came up with characters and situations. When we were shooting, we would explain to the actors what was happening in the scene and what types of things, if any, needed to be said or done. Besides that, all the lines were improvised. There was actually a script that Jeff wrote that was probably two pages. The character of Pisspants was all him, and it was initially a clown.
TN: A sad clown.
FS: Initially, it was about a homeless clown who sold newspapers in a vacant lot that nobody ever visited. And the clown tries to impress a girl he meets and she rejects him. It changed and got more complex from there. Some clown things stayed, like the balloon dog.
TN: Pisspants is the only “innocent” one among the characters.
FS: Pisspants is definitely the most traditionally good-natured character in the movie.
TN: His friends are creeps though.
FS: All his friends are creeps, but they all have a basis in reality. Gravy is based on a real story. A guy I used to work with has a brother who’s a cop. He arrested a guy for jerking off with his own feces in a public park.
TN: Did you aim to make a film that was difficult to watch?
FS: It wasn’t initially a goal to make it difficult to watch, but as we started shooting it, the scenes started to take on a certain tone that affected the structure of the movie. We knew we wanted to make a movie that would be a very awkward and absurd comedy. And we wanted truly important social issues like gender, sexuality, and race to be addressed by the characters in really insensitive and aggressive ways so that the movie would not just be a comedy but a satire of different genres of American comedy. Like romantic comedies, slapstick.
TN: Are other situations in the film based on true events?
FS: When I was in high school, a bunch of my friends and I hung out in Copley Square. A lot of homeless people and crackheads hung out down there and a lot of them behaved in really profane ways. The situations are all either inspired by those experiences or from our desire to show social situations that could make people uncomfortable in ways that are hopefully thought provoking.
TN: You chose a lot of iconic Boston landmarks for many of the scenes. Is Boston one of your characters?
FS: Definitely. Since the movie is a lot about Pisspants and Gravy doing nothing together, I wanted it to seem like they were just a part of the view, as dehumanizing as it might sound. I am also interested in portraying Boston because I am from here and the city’s culture has had lots of effect on me, for good and bad.
TN: In a dehumanizing way?
FS: Partially, though I don’t know how dehumanized I would feel if I had grown up somewhere else. I guess I think cities are particularly likely places to feel dehumanized because of all the different people competing for different things, with all sorts of places and sights and happenings clashing off of one another. But there are bigger, harder cities than Boston. Cities are also very fun for the same reasons they are dehumanizing.
TN: Do you see any connection between this film and your 2D work?
FS: It’s connected to both mine and Jeff’s 2D work. We both are interested in making portraits in absurd and “immature” tones. We like childish and immature or primitive aesthetics. The way those aesthetics clash or work with the subject of the work become part of the subject too.
TN: What kind of feedback do you anticipate from PISSPANTS after the premiere at MassArt on Saturday?
FS: I’m not sure what kind of feedback it will get. I just hope people don’t think it was made irresponsibly.
TN: How so?
FS: Like I hope people understand that the movie is meant to be critical and satiric, not simply cheap offensive thrills that weren’t considered.
TN: What can you tell me about the soundtrack? Are the musicians local?
FS: Yes, there were two musicians who let me use some of their tracks and they’re both local. Josiah Simmons owns The Video Underground in Jamaica Plain. And Jessie Joy is from New Jersey, but lives in Boston. I met her through work. The reason I wanted their music was because it added another level of absurdity to the movie by giving scenes a sense of drama that the situations either weren’t worthy of or mocked.
TN: …and the cats?
FS: I like cats a lot because they are mammals we can have really close relationships with though they are much more unabashed about their selfish or mindless pursuits
TN: And they don’t care who is watching.
FS: That’s very true about cats.
PISSPANTS premieres at the MassArt Pozen Center on Saturday, November 30th at 8 pm. FREE