SPAMARAMA: The Movie
1996, NR, 75 min. Directed by Cressandra Thibodeaux. Starring Joe Stevens, David Arnsberger, Marco Parella, Julie Lowery, Emily York, Kim Krizan.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., April 4, 1997
SPAMARAMA: The Movie bears much the same second-cousin relationship to its namesake event as Spam the food does to actual meat. In other words, fans of the zany annual homage to Hormel's pectin-dripping heartburn-in-a-can shouldn't go expecting a document of the extravaganza itself. Instead, local filmmaker Thibodeaux has created a sort of dramatic companion piece to SPAMARAMA, blending true and fictional material in a quasi-documentary that purports to explain how it all began. Thibodeaux's mildly entertaining story chiefly concerns the efforts of a quixotic aspiring chef named Bird (Stevens) to wreak revenge upon Austin chili cookoff snobs who've arrogantly rejected his Spam-based recipes. By simultaneously parodying their “fascist” events and one-upping them on the showmanship front, he hopes to consign them to irrelevance while also rehabbing Spam's déclassé culinary image. His accomplice, David (Uranium Savages lead singer Arnsberger), is motivated by concurrent desires to impress his girlfriend and revive his band's stranded-in-the-Seventies career. Cameo and extra appearances by local icons such as Kinky Friedman, Alvin Crow, Sammy Allred, Guy Juke, Molly Ivins, and Jim Franklin offer viewers of a certain age a chance to test their powers of observation and wax nostalgic. All this is sure to have some appeal for old-timers who live in an eternal Austin of the mind where weed is prix-fixed at $10 an ounce, Salvation Sandwiches are the foodstuff of choice, and Hutto farmboys still make weekend pilgrimages to Barton Springs to ogle topless hippie chicks. Otherwise, I admit to a degree of bafflement over Thibodeaux's motives for this project. Why make a film that conveys neither the endearing weirdness of its subject nor a reliable account of its origins? Maybe the answer lies in an Austin tradition even older than SPAMARAMA: idiosyncratic, commerce-flouting art created for essentially personal reasons. It's why we lead all First World cities in per-capita incidence of lawn sculpture, garage bands, and desktop-published newsletters about orgone accumulators. So more power to folks like Cressandra Thibodeaux who have a vision – obscure though it may seem to me – and the motivation to realize it. SPAMARAMA, for all its funky, rough-cut feel, has a natural audience (heads up, owners of hand-carved bongs and Bubble Puppy albums) and deserves a chance to find it.