The Austin Chronicle

Wild Wheels, Over the Hedge

Directed by Harrod Blank. D: K.d. Davis.

REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Feb. 19, 1993

As the producer and director of the offbeat documentary Wild Wheels, Blank (the son of filmmaker Les Blank) takes the viewer on a cross-country odyssey that explores the subcultural extremities in the American love affair with automobiles knows as Car Art (which are various vehicles passionately modified beyond recognition for the purpose of expressing individuality and freedom). Blank -- who himself modified and drives a 1965 VW Bug Rastamobile of sorts named “Oh My God!” -- begins his film as a personal testimony to the cost of nonconformity: we see Blank as he is hauled into traffic court for the fiftieth time for driving a “public nuisance” that “impedes the traffic flow.” From there, he delves into the cultural reference point of Car Art -- which were the Magic Bus days of the Sixties when psychedelia swirled across converted school buses and vans in the name of peace and love -- and then proceeds to current times where the medium has developed into a truly unique type of kitsch to opulent beauty, and the individuals and the motivation behind their creations are just as interesting and amusing as their wheels. Cars range from the “Grass Car,” where a man tenderly cares for a temporary lawn that grows all over his car, to the “Button Car” -- a subcompact completely covered with buttons galore and was the product of an elderly man's insomnia -- to the “Ultimate Taxi,” which is a bona fide, operating taxi in Aspen, Colorado and is a “nightclub on wheels” complete with a rotating mirror ball, smoke machine, and a crooning, lounge-lizard driver. Even Austin's own “Toy Car Limo,” which was driven by former Austinite Darrell “the Clown” Hilman down Sixth Street during the 1980s is featured in a touching segment. The production values for Blank's film have a look and feel of a student film project, but he nevertheless manages to produce a work with smooth transitions, great musical selections, and a hilarious, entertaining perspective into Car Art. K.D. Davis' 15-minute short Over the Hedge is a perfect companion piece to Wild Wheels, and it looks into some eccentric aberrations of the American suburban landscape in the form of shrubbery sculpture -- from sombrero hats to pom-poms á la Edward Scissorhands. Both documentaries are sure to be an inspiration for some to pick up a paint brush or hedge clippers for an out-of-the-ordinary weekend project.

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