Sex Seafood is one of history's greatest cinematic masterpieces. The collaboration, between two of the world's greatest contemporary filmmakers (Unrelated Quote Guy and Peter Bogdanovich), is heralded as groundbreaking for its use of lighting, on-set micromanagement, and it's bold choice of non-human cast members. The tale of the film's production is one of feuding geniuses, brilliant dueling wits, and, at one point, a full-fledged ascot tie-battle.
In 1974, Unrelated Q. Guy was becoming a household name -- in those households which contained pseudo-intellectual film students. Under the assumed name of Marvin Pancake, UQG was releasing Avant-Garde films by the truckload. Bogdanovich, who had found Guy's works "consistantly unbearable," had just completed his own 8th film, It Matters A Lot to Me. When asked what he thought of UQG's film The Intestine Squad (a lengthy, extremely disturbing film involving reel after reel focusing on the lower digestive tract) after a film festival, Bogdanovich reportedly said ...Uhm, yes well it is a shame..*sigghhh* College students, well they um, find, they view such c-conceptualizations as "artwork." *clear throat, cough-like noise* I've been more, yehm.. entertained? I've been more entertained, by my blender. At home."
Guy, not one for unchecked criticism, responded by saying "I told you already, Darlene, there is nothing in the back of my truck!" The last straw for Bogdanovich came with the release of UQG's 7-month long film, Trees, People, and Leaf People, which featured a single, prolonged steady-cam shot of a single tree in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. This presentation also infuriated Bogdanovich; "I believe, now, I've wasted almost a year of my brilliant existence on the works of this Quotes person."
The two began showing open animosity towards each other, polarizing comfortable white college filmmakers all across the nation into two distinctive camps. After engaging in fisticuffs in a public deli, the two were thrown in jail together. It was there, in prison, that the pair reconciled their differences (much like the epic Eminem and Proof in-jail resolution of 1997) and decided to collaborate on a motion picture.
Trouble in Pre-Production
Though the pair agreed that they would share the director's position and produce the movie as a team, time soon revealed that this would not be an easy feat. It seemed that regardless of their newly formed alliance, the filmmakers still found it extremely difficult to agree on anything. Their arguments would last for days (sometimes weeks) on end. "They simply couldn't understand each other," says Professor Carl van Dorninheilmer, a film historian. He continues: "This is likely due to the fact that Peter couldn't complete a sentence without sighing at least fifteen times, and Guy couldn't say anything even remotely relevant to what they were trying to accomplish. This was, of course, exacerbated by Peter's stuttering problem, and Guy's developing fascination with Brazil nuts, to which Bogdanovich is allergic." It seemed that the project would never get off the ground: after seven months of pre-production, all they had firmly agreed upon was what kind of camera they would be using.
Making matters even worse, for the first 8 months of preproduction the pair couldn't even agree on a concept for the film. Unrelated Quotes Guy had the idea of taking one year's worth of footage of a single grain of sand on a beach, whereas Bogdanovich wanted to film a sequel to Paper Moon. One night, they argued over these concepts for over two hours in Unrelated Quotes Guy's trailer. The argument naturally became violent, reaching its pinnacle when a furious Bogdanovich squashed Unrelated Quotes Guy's beloved pet paramecium, Clarence. Unrelated Quotes Guy was so devastated by this act of pet cruelty that he became extremely drunk and attempted to commit suicide by leaping off the roof of his trailer. Fortunately, the drop was only about ten feet, so his suicide attempt was unsuccessful. Guy's love for his paramecium touched Bogdanovich, who bought Guy a new pet beetle as an apology. Guy loved the beetle dearly. He named his new friend Ralph.
It seemed that the friendship between UQG and Bogdanovich was remedied, at least for the time being. But they were still no closer to completing their project. They realized that they needed to seriously pull themselves together or they would never get their epic project off the ground.
Hiring A Crew
Without a script, plot, budget, or secured funds, the duo decided to move forward by hiring a film crew. However, it too would prove extremely difficult for the pair, mainly due to the Unrelated Quotes Guy's belief that a film crew was really necessary for the project. This notion stemmed from Guy's often-employed minimalist filmmaking strategy which usually kept crew numbers to under 3 persons. Sometimes, even he didn't work on his film: he'd merely leave his video camera lying on the ground somewhere and release its footage as a feature film. Unrelated Quotes guy shot down every suggestion made by Bogdanovich, creating new friction in the generally rocky on-again off-again friendship of the two. Ultimately, they decided to pick a random page of a New York City phone book and hire everyone on that page who would answer the phone call. As they settled upon the "Smith" page, the 150 hired crewmen all bore the name Joe Smith (with the exception of one man, named Joe Smithe). Each of the Joe Smiths was given a number along with their name, to make them easier to tell apart.
Losing Hope, Finding Inspiration
With the sturdy, Smith-ridden crew fully assembled, Bogdanovich and Unrelated Quote Guy set their aim towards casting the picture. However, unbeknownst to the pair, the studio funding the project (Semi-National Films) had filed for the film's cancellation over a month earlier. The studio had become reluctant to continue sponsoring the project several months earlier, as the film had been funded for over a year without any progress at all (besides the recently hired crew). As the remaining funds allotted to the project totaled $3.57 Soon, the duo all-but abandoned any hope of finishing their film. Downtrodden, they decided to spend their remaining funds at a local seafood restaurant.
It was in this seafood restaurant that they saw a tank full of live lobsters. Unrelated Quotes Guy, suddenly struck by an intense wave of inspiration, began riddling off quotes wildly. After several hours of interpretive discussion (which eventually included pie charts and other visual aids), UQG finally managed to convey the concept to Bogdanovich. The idea of filming the unaltered existence of restaurant lobsters in their natural habitat was at first condemned by Peter, who claimed it was "erhm, eh.. too bizarre." But after a light shrimp cocktail and a consultation with his longtime adviser Jack Daniels, Bogdanovich realized that the idea could be fitted with a working plot, and that it could very well become a masterpiece. The pair continued their journey.
Making the Movie
With their new vision realized, the team immediately set to work on filming. Unrelated Quotes Guy set up a tripod facing the lobster tank (equipped with a handycam Bogdanovich had purchased on vacation in Thailand some years earlier) while Peter set out to a nearby harbor, collecting as many aquatic creatures as his arms could carry. He quickly brought the new cast back to the restaurant and, as was UQG's vision, they were placed into the tank with the lobsters. Unrelated Quotes Guy had wanted to squeeze a seal in with the lobsters for the film's finale, but after warnings by Joe Smith 14 (the film's technical adviser and stunt coordinator), Bogdanovich managed to talk him out of this.
Ultimately, twelve straight hours of footage was taken of the various crustaceans and small fish interacting with the lobsters. As Guy filmed the tank, Bogdanovich handled coordinating efforts between the cast, crew, and onlooking restaurant patrons.
After filming of the tank was completed, Bogdanovich and UQG brought the footage back to their editing studio, where Bogdanovich had intended to add a coherent storyline to the otherwise plotless mass of film. However, when he saw the raw footage, he was shocked and appalled -- Unrelated Quotes Guy, in his typical "artistic" fashion, had employed several unusual filming techniques that almost crushed Bogdanovich's hopes of crafting a working plot. Of the twelve full hours (over 24 canisters worth of film stock), two were filmed with the camera's lenscap still on, four were filmed with the camera zoomed in on the top corner of the tank near the water pump (far from the sea creatures), and two more were filmed with the camera tilted at an awkward 45-degree angle. UQG had done this to add more "symbolic depth" to the film, which of course made Bogdanovich furious. There was no way to add a coherent storyline to a good deal of the footage, rendering it completely useless. Though with all of the most experimental shots excluded, four hours were ultimately salvageable, and could be used to serve Bogdanovich's story structure. Peter ultimately forgave his co-director, but the pair had once again come very close to abandoning their project.
As Bogdanovich and UQG sorted through the usable shots and started building the film, so too did Bogdanovich begin building a story centering around Alister, the tank's biggest lobster. After a painful week-long session of cuts, the duo managed to edit the material down to two hours of underwater interactions. Bogdanovich sat down to write a script while Unrelated Quotes Guy working on assembling a soundtrack.
Bogdanovich, a firm believer in the power of pompous, intentionally complex dialogue, penned a script modeled (in part) after one of his favorite films, the dinner conversation piece My Dinner with Andre. This is evident in Alister's many metaphysical and philosophical themed interactions with the assorted algea, snails, small fish, and other small creatures in the tank. Never the copycat, The Bog added his own signature touches to the film, such as elements of small-town American despair, combined with thick, sappy melodrama. The plot centers around Alister's search for a meaning to his existence, pondering along the way the nature of the soul, dreams, and life. The centerpeice of the movie was a surreal dream sequence, employing a collage of avant-garde footage taken by Unrelated Quotes Guy and ending with a metaphysical encounter with Alister's hero, the Mighty Blowfish A. A teaches Alister about the meaning of his existence, and Alister spreads his learnings to the other creatures in the tank. The film culminates in what many have called the most tragic, melancholy, melodramatic, and insightful scenes in the history of cinema.
Like many of Peter's masterful works, no second or third drafts were needed; the first draft became the only draft after approval by UQG.
With the newly-completed script, Bogdanovich and UQG selected various members of their crew to provide the voices of the film's principle characters. Joe Smithe played Alister, while Joe Smith 34, Joe Smith 2, Joe Smith 23, Joe Smith 6, and Joe Smith 88 provided voices for the supporting cast. After a relatively speedy recording session, the dialogue tracks were complete and edited for print. Unrelated Quotes Guy chose several ambient musical compositions for a soundtrack, including one epic 48 minute avant-garde piece featuring the sound of an ant crawling around on a microphone.
The opening credits gave the film a full title of: Sex Seafood: an Exploration in Flim by Peter Bogdanovich and Unrelated Quotes Guy. The word "film" is misspelled in the title as "flim" due to a careless mistake by Joe Smith 77, the editor. UQG chose to leave the typo in. When asked why, he said: "Well, there's gold, and then there are pants." The closing credits rolled to an original rap song written and performed by Bogdanovich. When it was finally finished and released, the film was two and a half hours long. They initially planned to release the film as an independent pair, but Semi-National Films returned to them and offered to release the film. They accepted.
Release and Critical Reaction
The film was released to an eager public, comprised mainly of rich, comfortable college film students (many of whom ironically considered themselves to be nihilists). Though the dialogue had been recorded rapidly, the release date had been pushed back an eighth time, due to UQG and Bog arguing over whose name would receive first billing in the opening credits. They ultimately decided to overlap their two names, placing them exactly on top of one another in the credits. This unfortunately made both of their names completely illegible. Bogdanovich minded greatly, but did not pursue any alterations, claiming that he was just glad that he didn't have to talk about shellfish any more for the rest of his life.
The film was first screened by Siskel and Ebert, and was the first (and currently still the only) film in known history to ever receive three thumbs up. It also shocked the industry by being the first film in history to receive an Oscar in every known category, even ones with little relevance to the film (such as "Best Makeup" and "Best Animated Short Feature"). Alister the lobster won a posthumous Academy Award for best actor -- the fast-rising star of the film had been tragically eaten by Peter Jackson several days earlier They also won a Horny Award for their film, despite the fact that it wasn't pornographic at all.
Accepting the Award
But the highlight of the night came when Unrelated Quotes Guy and Peter Bogdanovich won the award for Best Director.
Upon reaching the stage, they both simultaneously began making speeches. Unrelated Quotes Guy began:
|“||Carnegie Steel controlled most aspects of the market at the time. For example, the dogs with the loudest barks were often selected...||”|
Peter Bogdanovich leaned over and got comfortable. Muffling UQG, Peter slowly spoke:
|“||Of course, hmm.. Of course, it reminds me of ay-ahh, a time when my close friend, Mr. Orson Welles, stood on this very... stage. He ehhh, sighhh, he called out to me, Peter! This, sss.. this is for, you? Yes. for you..||”|
Both continued with their speeches long into the music which normally signals the end of an acceptor's allotted time. As the were ushered off the stage, the two literally split their Oscar. Bogdanovich took the head and the legs, and UQG took the arms and the torso.
The film was released on DVD not long after the awards ceremony. The special edition DVD featured an "extended edition" which featured all twelve hours of the footage originally taken by Unrelated Quotes Guy, including the random three-hour shot of an inactive corner of the tank. The DVD release also included a director's commentary, which has been hailed by many as highly insightful into the minds of the two geniuses, although the high amount of sighs and incomprehensible stuttering from Bogdanovich, combined with the fact that everything Unrelated Quotes Guy says in the commentary is completely, well, unrelated, makes it very difficult for the casual viewer to enjoy -- a fact heralded by pseudo-intellectual film students everywhere.
With the enormous success of Sex Seafood and a couple million dollars backing them up, the pair decided to create a sequel to the original. With the new money they had acquired, plus backing from Semi-National Films, they purchased an entire lake for the large-scale production. Unrelated Quotes Guy had reportedly planned to film an entire year of completely uninterrupted footage, centering on the life of Alister the lobster's illegitimate son Ferdinand. Meanwhile, Bogdanovich was considering several possible storylines for the film, although he never wrote any of them down and refused to speak on the matter. After nine months of working, all they had created was a two minute opening credit sequence for the new project. Unrelated Quotes Guy became distracted, and focused on creating another two-minute credit sequence, rather than the feature. Some believe this is the first noticeable sign of his eventual dive into madness.
It was that very day that Unrelated Quotes Guy spent a drunken evening with George Lucas; a night which would virtually doom the sequel's completion. A cordial dinner meeting between colleagues became a night of drinking. As the evening wore on, Lucas became increasingly insulting towards UQG and his earliest and most experimental works, finally accusing him of "never directing a real film in [his] life." He made a bet with UQG about him not being able to write a coherent script, one which UQG accepted while overwhelmed with rage. Guy promptly sped off to the lake house where Bogdanovich was, at the time, occupying an outhouse. Unrelated Quotes Guy abandoned Bogdanovich and left him nothing but a note, reading: "Sarah always enjoyed the tongue." Bogdanovich was saddened by his message, but did realize that the their time of free-wheeling avant-garde filmmaking had come to an end. He turned the lake into a public goldfish pond and moved to a very studly dude ranch in Montana. Meanwhile, UQG struggled and struggled to write a coherent story, but never got past the first line of his script. He worked until he had a complete mental breakdown, which led him to burn his script and flee to South America.
Semi-National Films claimed the rights to the unfinished sequel, which consisted of nothing but the opening credit sequence (and part of it's sequel). The two-minute opening credits to the unfinished film have been aired at several film festivals, and have been hailed as "the most fantastic opening credits ever filmed."
Today, Unrelated Quote Guy still resides in his mountain cave somewhere in Guatemala, scribbling unrelated quotes on the walls day in and day out. Bogdanovich has settled down for a quiet retirement on his ranch, although he did recently make an appearance as a contestant, then celebrity guest panelist on the reality television show, So, You Think You Can Yodel?
- Bogdanovich, Peter. New York Times, article "The Future of Genius," May 1980.
- Bogdanovich spent two dollars on a haircut, leaving them with a $1.57
- None of which pertained to his new idea.
- A tank was not used to transport the sea animals. Peter felt the stress would extract the best performance from the newly acquired talent. A European shore crab and a Puffer fish didn't survive the trip back to the set.
- Technically, Guy never did approve the script. Upon reading the work, he simply looked at Bogdanovich and said "Baby, you've got the stars in your hair." Peter considered this statement a "yes."
- The two critics thought it was "too great a film" to be given a mere two thumbs up, so they brought in a janitor from their studio for the sole purpose of providing them another thumb.
- According to Peter Jackson: It was the worst thing I've ever done. I've been getting death threats from nihilists.. Some say they want to cut off my Johnson? This is worst than the hatemail I got from Muppet fans over "Meet the Feebles," man.."
- Peter's astounding mental capacity ensures that he never forgets an idea. He backlogs concepts as far back as 1951.
- "Truly the most splendiforus of credits, I've seen the top of mount beautiful, Boggy, these credits are there!" ~Gene Schalit