As featured in Indie Entertainment Magazine.Sylvio, directed by Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, is about a small town gorilla who stumbles into local TV fame and must face the eternal battle of art vs commercialism. Look again at that poster. Yup, that’s a man in a gorilla suit dressed as a hipster. For those not in on the joke, don’t feel too left out, because I was left out too.
Remember the app Vine? It was a video sharing app in the same vein as Instagram that only allowed 6-second looped videos. Sylvio is the cinematic adaptation of an equally short lived Vine account “Simply Sylvio” that bore the tagline “just an ordinary gorilla trying to live a simple life.” After Vine was bought out by Facebook for more money than you want to know, the creators of Simply Sylvio launched a Kickstarter to fund this filmic adaptation.
As the only millennial who never got into Vine, I had no idea any of this ever happened.
Audley and Birney’s challenge was expanding a 6-second clip into a full length 80-minute film. All things considered, they did. Sylvio is equal parts Napoleon Dynamite and Wayne’s World with a dash of Wes Anderson-ian whimsy. It has a DIY feel that is surprisingly refreshing in a cinematic landscape dominated by highly refined CGI productions.
All of this is punctuated by a really simple story. Sylvio works as a debt collector in a cubicle beige filled hell. After work, Sylvio goes home, watches TV, drinks beer, and eats TV dinners, all alone. Occasionally he’ll make homemade videos entitled “The Quiet Time with Herbert Herpels.” This video depicts the hand puppet, Herbert Herpels, doing the most simple of things, from chopping firewood to making toast. After he stumbles into TV fame, Sylvio tries to make his Herbert Herpels shorts the main attraction, but no one wants his art. The people want to see Sylvio the gorilla break stuff not create stuff.
If it weren’t for the one joke that Sylvio is hipster dressed gorilla, this all would be profoundly boring and quite depressing to watch. No one wants to watch a movie that reminds them that life can be painfully lonely. No artist wants to be reminded that they have to continually sell off bits of their soul to pay rent instead of creating what they’re truly passionate about. But because Sylvio is a gorilla we don’t mind and are even a little intrigued. This is where Audley and Birney succeed. It’s the exact opposite of the magician’s hot assistant. Sylvio feels so disarmingly out of place that we don’t mind that it reminds us of Napoleon Dynamite. It may even remind us why we kinda liked it at one point.
At some point during the second act of the movie I wanted to write about how Sylvio was a brilliant piece of metafiction– a film about a filmmaker who gets spirited away by his own fame. Sylvio is an artist who must make peace with audience expectations and commercial corporatism. But when I learned that originally Sylvio was a Vine star I hesitated… was I being punk’d? Are Audley and Birney, born of the inane world of internet viral fame, pulling a big joke on everyone? Is Sylvio really a metaphorical commentary on what happened to the Vine app?
But then I remember Sylvio the disarming man-in-a-gorilla suit dressed like a hipster. It doesn’t matter what this movie is because its got Sylvio. It is incredibly quaint, whimsical, funny, and charming. Plus, its got killer camera work and a sick synthesizer soundtrack. Find Sylvio where you can and see it– it’s worth it. And while you’re at it, check out the Simple Sylvio Vine page to see the roots this tree grew from.