What he can’t understand is why he’s having such a hard time finding an audience.
Doesn’t the world want to see a pudgy guy with a large 3 foot or so long cow-head hat with extremely tall, spiky ears walking into town looking for a party?
That one is called “Cowman Goes to Town.” “Peckerman Eats Breakfast” is the video that features the guy wearing the big bird head drinking mosquito-infested water.
Or how about “Foot Blister: (a reenactment).” Need I say more about that one?
“Where the (heck) is the audience?” said Craven, who lives in South Austin (no surprise there, huh?). “I show this to people, and they laugh their (behinds) off, and I send ‘em to festivals and it gets rejected.”
Still, Craven thinks he’s made it to a special designation. “I consider myself the most obscure filmmaker in the country. So if you’ve seen one of my films, you’ve seen something special,” he said. “I wallow in this stuff. It’s all I do. It’s my hobby. It’s my freakin’ very life.”
Craven thinks the problem is that the people who run the film festivals are just too snooty and don’t understand the importance of his work.
“I think they’re funny, but a lot of people don’t think it’s funny,” Craven lamented. “I think the metrosexual dudes who are judging this stuff turn it off immediately, which is why I like sending it to them.”
It’s not that Curtis Craven’s career as a videographer is all goofball, all the time. He’s done plenty of serious work for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, for the Texas Historical Commission, for reality TV shows, for Austin City Limits. He graduated from film school at the University of Texas. This week he’s off to the Texas Panhandle to shoot some footage of a famous, big-time Texas oilman.
A couple of years ago he received a $2,000 grant from the Austin Film Society for work on his half-hour nature video, “Vanilla: The Sacred Orchid.” It ran on PBS. It’s about the vanilla plant. It features indigenous people. It was shot in Veracruz in Mexico.
But Craven’s real love is making videos of loons on parade. “I like characters; that’s my main thing,” Craven said. “It’s kind of outsider art stuff. It’s people who are producing art, but they’re really on the fringe.”
I would say a guy who frames a dead rat as art is “on the fringe,” all right. In Craven’s video “Found Artists,” Gainesville, Fla., artist Gary Crom is shown working with a deceased rodent that he intends to display as art.
Or, as Crom explained in the video, “Art’s art.”
To find the real zanies, Craven travels to rural Central Florida. When it comes to weird, Craven pointed out, Austin is playing in the minors compared with Florida.
“I come back from there and I hear this `Keep Austin Weird‘ thing, and I think, what are you talkin’ about?” he said.
Craven’s videos have some rough edges. For example, he pointed out that they used real cow poop in a scatologically bracing scene in the video “Cowman Goes to Town,” which, by the way, features Crom, the rat guy, as Cowman. Crom makes his own costumes and also plays Peckerman, the bird dude.
“I’ve got to go to town to see what’s going on,” Crom said in “Cowman Goes to Town,” out from under his huge cow headpiece. “Yeah, a little babe is what I need. A babe. Check out the food, and drink a couple gallons of wine.”
In the storyline, Cowman meets a Cow Lady, who has a head similar to Cowman’s. Upon meeting Cowman, she chirps, “Oh my, he’s hotter than a cow pie on the Fourth of July.”
Later in the film, Cowman is seen lying on a dock next to a lake. He makes guttural noises and struggles to climb to his feet. Maybe it’s that big, heavy, cow headpiece. “The funny part is the (fellow) can’t get up,” Craven said. “He’s struggling like a son of a (gun). It would have been funny if he’d fallen in the lake, but he didn’t.”
Craven’s humorous efforts have drawn some attention. He recalls the time he organized an event called Unk’s World Underground Film Fest. Craven’s videos were shown next to some guy’s trailer, out in the woods in Florida.
“We sent fliers all over the place and a bunch of people showed up, including the skinhead, neo-Nazi guys with their shirts off and their swastikas tattooed on their chests,” Craven said. “They were on a four-day drunk, and they saw the fliers at a little beer joint off the highway.” Craven said the audience “scared the living daylights” out of him and everybody else, but nothing happened.
The skinheads turned out to be nothing but “puffy white boys with their heads shaved and nasty tattoos all over them,” he said.
Still, he’s looking for a larger audience.
“I don’t think we’re going to hit the big time, but it would be nice to get some eyeballs,” he said. (See some of Craven’s work online at bit.ly/cravenvid.)