[Part 1 can be read HERE]
Three Colours: Yellow (07/27/1978)
The one moment Lasagna Cat overcomes its flaws isn't actually the Sex Survey Results, but 07/27/1978. The second longest of all these videos, at an hour, it stars actor John Blyth Barrymore (half-brother of Drew Barrymore) as a man who read a very early strip in Garfield's existence, before it had the titular cat as the more cartoonish figure we know him now, stealing and smoking John's pipe. Set to Philip Glass' score to Kundun (1997), which causes a copyright issue but works nonetheless, said obsession became religious when now, as an older man, he can monologue for an entire hour about how the strip led to him finding the meaning of life.
It's absurd, but it's the one moment in all of Lasagna Cat where it transcends into actual good art. Barrymore's performance, a one take with the graphics behind him in green screen, is exceptional both in how complex and long the material is to both remember and give emotion to, but also how much conviction he puts into said material. What begins as a series of coincidences, leads to strange circumstances and finally spiritual profundity is found in his monologue, arguably as much a feat from Fatal Farm in making the script compelling but especially through his acting channelling it.
It is entirely about a simple strip, merely three panels - John reading (First Panel), John asking "Now where could my pipe be?" (middle panel), and Garfield smoking it in the yard (last panel) - but dissects it in the background from its illustrations to dialogue to the point a simple gag newspaper strip is cherished even if you find the idea of it being profound ridiculous. It helps the central text from that middle panel, "Now where could my pipe be?", is so succinct that the script can lead it through Barrymore's search for meaning. Talking of all the research he did from the strip's origins to whether a cat could actually smoke a pipe (which it couldn't and the tobacco would kill it), all of which is intentionally heightened, intentionally absurd, but built in performance and script to suggest that he could indeed become an environmentally conscious, Zen-like old man nonetheless, better as a human being passing this message onto the viewer. In fact it builds, sincerely, to any tale of an abrupt enlightenment, where a person is transformed to become a better human being due to a strange phenomena, only the enlightenment (and the humour) to be through a Garfield comic book strip. And set the Glass' incredible music, it manages to succeed with meaning and be hilarious as a result.
Here with 07/27/1978 there's an attempt at an apology for the maliciousness of some of Lasagna Cat's humour too. There's an issue throughout the work what exactly Fatal Farm think of Jim Davis himself and his strip. As they have admitted in interviews, they've come to admire him whilst admitting the materials' not necessarily their cup of tea, or else they wouldn't have spend so many resources on Lasagna Cat in the first place. Most of the series, including Sex Survey Result, however dangerously belies an obnoxious cruel streak against Davis and Garfield, doomed (especially in Sex Survey Results) to be immortalised through Garfield and its middlebrow humour in a two dimensional view of how people view the character. 07/27/1978 however is the one moment where it prevents itself from becoming a bitter taste in the mouth, because Barrymore's character goes on to an alternative view that, in hundreds of years after him, Davis' Garfield strips will still be read by children and preserved even when the Earth is no more. It's a sweet conclusion in itself and, honestly, should've been that conclusion than Sex Survey Results wasn't. The actual conclusion proves an overindulgence but 07/27/1978 itself would've been the perfect conclusion on Lasagna Cat.
Three Colour: Orange (Sex Survey Results):
Sadly that wasn't the ending, and the build up to Sex Survey Results, [including splitting this review over two blog posts to avoid it being too much to read at once], is needed both for context and to also exorcise having spent nearly two months on the entire Lasagna Cat series. I openly confess it too two weeks to finish Sex Survey Results in its entirety, with an accident where I forgot a thirty minute piece and had to go back to watch that missing passage just to be a completist. The idea is compelling even if masochistic. Beginning with John sitting in his armchair, a knock is at the door where a mannequin (male or female) is outside, allowing one of the phone messages from a fan to be played with a text bubble showing it in text, a person's name, the number of sexual partners, and any other details they include. Then it becomes the strip in a newspaper Garfield is reading, a knock on the door and a mannequin, becomes a newspaper strip Odie is reading and a knock on a door etc., returning back to John in a cylindrical form. What is such a simplistic thing on the screen turned out to be so technical, the creators had to invent a method to make this work, with the potential effect for the ouroboros structure.
There are gag calls. Fake names. Women as well as men making up numbers of sexual partners. Max Landis as himself. People claiming to be Adolf Hitler, claiming to be Saddam Hussein, claiming to be Donald Trump, made up name and other comments directly to the characters including desiring to hook up with Garfield. There are also a lot of fascinating calls, who will gladly give their full names and details of their sex lives frankly. Alongside the distressing number of depressed and suicidal entries, depending on whether they are all real or mocked, it has to be asked how this bizarre project managed to open people up in speaking of their intimate lives, just by offering a phone number to call. One figure named Raymond is a fascinating caller just by himself, appearing in multiple messages and using the phone line to exorcise his past, including a snapshot of early internet sex chat rooms, where as he explains men posed as women and Raymond himself role-played a man eating plant for women's vore fetishes.
In premise, whilst an endurance test, its sound. Structurally in practice, it's a failure. It feels too much like the end credits for contributors to a Kickstarter project, too many of the calls just the barest minimum. Having tried to please everyone undermines Fatal Farm's point, as few would actually watch the whole film even if in chunks like I did, a pointless endeavour for me to watch it within hour chunks like I originally planned to, and pointless in the long run. There is some structure - John gets many of the awkward phone calls, Garfield the ones to get the most sarcastic reactions from or about him, Odie difficult names to mangle in his dog woofs - but it feels arbitrary how you have to slog through over hundreds of calls. The attempts to keep the experience interesting, having the mannequins distort more and more as it goes from day-to-night in full time, gets tiresome as well, to the point the most memorable and scene stealing figure is a very loud ice cream truck halfway through.
Then there's the final ten minutes. The culmination of two months worth of viewing, four hours and thirty minutes of knock knocks jokes, and it feels like I have been ripped off. All the talk of it being shocking, profound and "screaming at the void" like a profound nihilistic track as one Letterboxd review suggested, and its kindergarten transgression feels tame, all of its shock value from other better productions. Fatal Farm sited 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Holy Mountain (1973) as influences, neither really felt at all. A graphic birth scene, whilst shocking with a prosthetic prop, is not as emotionally complex as witnessing an actual birth recorded by Stan Brakhage for Window Water Baby Moving (1959). Neither is the use of Polish, reminiscent of INLAND EMPIRE (2006), especially when the translated dialogue is the worst kind of clichéd, dark dialogue meant to be profound about a curse, laughable when now I know the context whence it came.
It also causes further issues about where Fatal Farm's view of Jim Davis are even if unintentional. Set up by the original trailer when John rings the phone booth, the last knock knock joke involves answering himself, only to shut him out. From there it is of Old John who is meant to go through death and reincarnation, turned into worms and reborn in a school toilet by a Polish schoolgirl, Garfield in some form (be in taxidermy animal or actual orange cat) always there besides him. It tries too hard to be suddenly nightmarish when even the series' most transgressive moments, from shampoo bukkake to Odie's suicide, had a deliberate silliness to them. The use of Jim Davis' words from an interview, discussing the creation of Garfield, is meant to reflect the images but feel incongruous. It also feels offensive, a cheap gag that Davis is doomed to be known for the strip when 07/27/1978 was a more positive form of this character's longevity.
The only compelling moment is when Old John Arbuckle meets a curious man in the desert. A portly, large man who is completely naked barring tribal jewellery and body paint in the colours and pattern of Garfield. In an evocative desertscape, I realised that Sex Survey Results should've been referencing Werner Herzog films instead of what we got, with John Arbuckle doing a Klaus Kinski. If the Jim Davis narration had to stay, it could've had a dash of Terence Malick narrative as Davis had autobiographical details in the character. Instead what you get is no way near as interesting. Just when it manages to become something profound, in segment 07/27/1978, Lasagna Cat however falls back into the style of the original 2008 videos and go for the cheap joke.
Abstract Spectrum: Avant-garde/Grotesque/Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Having never heard of Lasagna Cat until this year, I came to Sex Survey Result in the midst of a binge, completely against the natural progression of content fans had. And I'll admit to being an outside to this type of online video, which means I'd easily be dismissed. But with the weight of expectation for a bizarre and bold artistic project, one at over four plus hours longer than some legendary films, having such a mild attempt at shock tactics in the end is a terrible way to have ended a video which in itself didn't justify its length either. One which misses out a lot of comic potential for parodying Garfield or even in terms of its idiosyncratic way of interacting with fans. Just as I was getting into Lasagna Cat through the other shorts, when they hired John Blyth Barrymore, it ends on a sour note.