Tuesday, May 5, 2009
While "The Wizard of Oz" is the most oft-cited children's fantasy regarding Kansas, if you watch the new documentary "Overlooked," the surreal misadventures of "Alice in Wonderland" more likely come to mind.
Lawrence filmmaker Fally Afani Ruzik spent the last three years traveling lesser known highways and byways to capture the quirky essence of roadside culture in the Sunflower state, and the result is this multi-part travelogue of the weird.
Marvel at the majesty of Truckhenge!
Tremble in terror before the Demon Mobile!
Quake with awe at the Altar of Sock Monkeys!
These monuments of odd not only reflect the character of the endearing eccentrics who erected them, but they represent the inherently off-kilter character of Kansas itself.
"Overlooked" airs in four parts this month on broadcast and cable TV. Fally joined us to preview her travelogue and her adventures in Kansas through the looking glass.
lawrence.com: So tell us a little bit about "Overlooked"…what motivated to start this project?
Fally: Everbody knows about the Garden of Eden. Everybody's been there, and their dog. This looks at the overlooked attractions. Everybody knows there's a ball of twine—not everybody knows that once a year they have a big ass party to keep it growing and wrap twine around it, the Twine-a-thon. Nobody knows about the ginormous sock monkey collection here in Lawrence, so this is about the overlooked attractions and really weird stuff in Kansas.
And how exactly did you come to be so fixated on these attractions that you've spent, what, the last three years of your life documenting?
I'm from a very small town called Minneapolis, Kansas. There’s like 2,000 people there and it has an attraction, Rock City. We think the world of Rock City—"Everybody knows Rock city!" But not everybody knows Rock City. When you go to a neighboring town, they also have their share of weird shit in Kansas.
And weird people—like the gentleman who created "Truckhenge." Tell us about this particular Kansas eccentric.
He is one of THE most wonderful artists in Kansas, by far because, you know, he looks crazy—like, "Oh my God. I'm going to set this guy off." But he's actually so friendly and you can come on to his property and he'll show you around everywhere.
On some of his property—which is kind of in this junkyard area of Topeka—he had all these trucks laying around, and according to him, the government told him to get his trucks off the ground because they would float downriver to Lawrence and they didn't want that.
He kinda fought it for a little bit and finally they told him to get his trucks off the ground and so he got his trucks off the ground. He put them sticking up straight out of the ground. They look like Stonehenge but with trucks.
Right next to Truckhenge is Boathenge, and it's just this great property. He makes so much art out of people's trash. He throws concerts there and he's doing one this summer—you should check it out!
Whenever you're approaching people like this, these sort-of-eccentrics who do wacky kooky things on their property—especially as one of them eastern Kansas liberals—are you ever afraid you're going to get shot?
(Laughs) No! No, I never was very afraid cuz they're usually just artists and when you say, you know, "I'm coming from Lawrence," they're like, "Oh it's really weird there!" No matter where you go they think Lawrence is the strangest place on earth.
Well that's flattering!
Well, if I were in your shoes, there’s one particular character that I would be scared shitless of: The gentleman who made the road kill costumes?
I use the term “road kill” very lightly. They're not really road kill, they're just used from animals, I don't know if he found them on the side of the highway. He didn't go out and shoot them or anything.
(Laughing) He just scraped animal carcasses off the road and made costumes out of them...
- Friday, June 5, 2009, noon to 2 a.m.
- (One-off place), Lawrence
- All ages / Free
- Saturday, May 16, 2009, noon
- Downtown Lawrence, Lawrence
- All ages / Free
He's really into using every part of the animal and making sure nothing goes to waste.
He's a conservationist.
There you go! I went out there, not even for these costumes, I went out there because he made scrap metal sculptures out of interesting stuff. Like there's a dragon he made out of combine, or an old tractor. And there's a ladybug made out of some other pieces of equipment and they're all on the side of the highway, little terrordactyls or whatever.
If you drive through at night it's the best because he put's reflective tape on it. As soon as your headlights hit it, it flares up and there's a monster coming at you!
So these things are great! So I went out there for that and he said, "Oh, I'll meet you at the church and we'll put on a little show for you before hand." I had no idea what this meant. I show up and he's got these Pan's Labyrinth-looking costumes on that are just so much taller than him—they're twice his height and he's got them on stilts and stuff...they're everywhere and it's just the craziest stuff I've ever seen!
It's like an acid trip, and he has his whole family involved. He has his kids, his grandkids, everybody's there to show up and watch and this in a basement of a church, you know, and they all love him. So he puts on this wacky fashion show and that kind of became more the focus of the documentary after that...
He sounds like a really big fan of The Dark Crystal.
(Laughing) Yeah, exactly.
Who are some of the bizarre collectors here in Lawrence?
Randy Walker. He has all this art and, like, crazy stuff... Some I can't even talk about—you kind of have to buddy up to him before he'll even show it to you. But he has one room in the house just full of sock monkeys and he sits on them and they're all so adorable—there's all different kinds, he explains why he collects them which is really great...They're all sock monkeys but they're all different because they're all made by mothers and they're all usually made to look like their kids. They're all so different and unique, it kind of brings a tear to your eye. The rest of his house has some rrreally interesting stuff...
What is it about these people that provides the emotional allure?
I don't understand fine art, you know. I come from a family of artists—they're all just so talented and amazing and they're very refined and they know everything about art. I don't get it.
I always got attracted to the weird and the strange. So, these are my people.
I don't understand fine art, but I understand the agony that went into a man collecting pulltabs from everywhere for decades and then making cars or motorcycles out of them. I can understand that.
Is there something inherent about Kansas that produces all of these roadside attractions and other arcana?
I always had this theory that folk art is really just farmers who got old, retired from farming, and realized they had all this crap sittin' on their property and just started makin' stuff.
And in one case, that was true. This guy named Jerry Hubble was just a guy who had some crap layin' around the property, and he’d start welding and make a tin man or Snoopy or something cute. And then he makes like, Batman on a motorcycle, and all this weird stuff
I love the collectors. Like the cookie jar (collector). She started out collecting cookie jars, and after about a thousand, they bought a separate house and just filled it with cookie jars—wall-to-wall, cabinets, extra rooms, everything, just lining the walls everywhere with just cookie jars.
She has 1400 of them and not one single cookie because she actually doesn't really like cookies that much.
Was there anything that surprised you over the course of making this?
The biggest surprise was the artist in Lincoln J.R.D. I went out there to look at a tractor and found all this crazy stuff. He spent the afternoon filling me with his ideas and his philosophy on life and everything. That was such a gas, it was so wonderful.