Moseying Out Into the Multiverse With the Quantum Cowboys
Geoff Marslett probes memory and the many-worlds theory in his new animated mind-bender at AFS Cinema
Shocking news. Hollywood has lied to you. The cavalcade of multiverse movies, well, that's just not how multiversal theory works. Apologies to Doctor Strange and Hot Tub Time Machine, but many-worlds interpretation theory does not mean a bunch of realities that are the same but with hot-dog fingers or everything in sepia. And in his new film, Quantum Cowboys, director Geoff Marslett uses animation and a tale of the Old West to map out what's really going on in our subjective universe. Marslett said, "I love the way that multiverse is used in film to let you do anything, but the theories that you see, they're really not that close to what physics really says is going on with multiverse. And some part of me said, wouldn't it be cool to use cinema to let people experience something close to what the science says it is?"
Think of it this way. For his students in Boulder, Marslett is the academic who teaches them animation filmmaking at the University of Colorado. For Austinites, he's one of the pivotal local filmmakers of the last decade. At the same time, he's a student of philosophy, math, and physics who studied theoretical physics at the Naval Research Lab. All of these being true is what lead to Quantum Cowboys, which receives its Austin premiere at AFS Cinema, presented by Fantastic Fest.
Perspective again: Marslett may arguably be most famous for his 2013 live-action tragedy, Loves Her Gun, but his presence is arguably more pervasive as an animator – most recently in shorts like "Phantom 52," but in the grandest scale with his 2010 animated sci-fi comedy romance, Mars. What drew him back to the medium? "Poor decision-making," he shrugged with a grin. This is real indie filmmaking, which he compared to "being an unsigned band ... when you're making something unlike anything else in the market, for good or bad, you face this wall of people going, 'This is amazing, I really love it, it's going to do great somewhere else.'" That was a sentence he heard a lot with Mars, but, he added, "Give it enough years, and you forget what that challenge is like."
Each alternative vision in Quantum Cowboys has its own look, from rotoscoping to puppetry to collage to acrylic paints, each coming from a different animation house, including Austin's own Minnow Mountain (Apollo 10½), California-based studios Mystery Meat Media and Artless Media, and Slamdance award-winning animator and illustrator Shunsaku Hayashi. If you pay close attention, the director said, you can follow each interweaving thread through those stylistic differences. Every decision is deliberate but, he added, "with the gift of being able to fully control comes the curse of having to fully create." That's why Marslett's hand is in basically every frame of Quantum Cowboys. "I worked personally on this film, five days a week, 'til 4 in the morning, for 2½ years." Without that level of commitment "this film would not exist for under $5 million," but the end result, he added, is the kind of film "the 15-year-old in me wished they could stumble upon."
Fantastic Fest presents Quantum Cowboys, AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35 #3100, Sat., Sept. 24, 1pm. Tickets and info at austinfilm.org. Quantum Cowboys also streams as part of Fantastic Fest’s virtual FF@Home, Sept. 29-Oct. 4. Details at fantasticfest.com.