A stop-motion labor of love
What: Torrey Pines
When: 6 pm Wed., Dec. 14
Where: Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
I’m not sure if Clyde Petersen knows this, but he is one of my personal heroes.
Clyde appeared in Bellingham’s music scene at about the same time I began writing about it, a little more than 15 years ago. His band, Your Heart Breaks, was one of the first that I watched grow from its beginnings into the form it takes today. His was a typical Bellingham existence for that time—he was a Fairhaven graduate, Boundary Bay employee, lived at the Gimli House, and hung out at the Showoff and the Ranch Room. I’m not sure how or when our paths first crossed, and although I have remained here and he has long since relocated to Seattle, I’ve followed his many whatdoings with keen interest.
And he has certainly been very busy.
What has always fascinated and impressed me about Clyde is the sheer depth and breadth of his artistic curiosity and skill set. Music was my first entry into his very particular and singular world, but it just as easily could’ve been via the zines he wrote, the short films he made, the posters he designed or one of any number of artistic endeavors he’s undertaken over the years. He is, above all, intimidatingly prolific, cranking out a staggering number of albums and films both short and feature-length, crafting art installations—the list goes on. He’s made music videos for Quasi, the Thermals, Kimya Dawson, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and more. He had the idea to interview musicians and have them play their songs while he paddled them around on bodies of water, and so he built a rowboat and started filming episodes of a series called, appropriately enough, Boating with Clyde.
Most people would’ve just bought a boat, but Clyde is not most people.
“When I lived in Bellingham, I was so lucky to live and be friends with all sorts of artists and get to explore all the things I was interested in,” Clyde says. “I can’t see living my life any other way. I just follow rabbit holes of interest and create strange things—music, film, installation. It’s good to be open to the possibilities. I think it has also kept me afloat throughout financially as well.”
Clyde’s current rabbit hole has led him to combine many of his pursuits and passions into the cohesive whole that is Torrey Pines
Torrey Pines exists at the nexus of all things Clyde Peterson. It is a feature-length, autobiographical film about what it was like for Clyde to come of age in the early ’90s as a queer punk kid with a mother who had undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia. Sounds heavy. Except this is Clyde, so it is also infused with deep humanity and humor and emotions that are only too relatable. And did I mention that it was filmed using stop-motion animation and is shown with a live score performed by his band?
“I have been making animated music videos for work for many years,” Clyde says. “I saw this film called Persistence of Vision, about Richard Williams’ experiences trying to get The Thief and the Cobbler made. It was a bit of a horrifying documentary about making an animated feature film, and afterward a few friends were chatting about making features and I thought, ‘If I’m going to make a feature, I better make it about something I know very well. I better know the story inside and out.’ So my own personal story about growing up queer with a schizophrenic mom seemed to be the natural choice.”
To Clyde, another natural choice was to use stop-motion animation to tell the story, which meant quitting his day job and spending three years working on Torrey Pines. Even so, he claims the labor-intensive method was, in some ways, more straightforward than traditional moviemaking.
“I made Torrey Pines in my bedroom, on a homemade multi-plane setup that cost about $100,” he says. “I didn’t need any permits, and I had one employee and seven interns. Each intern worked one day a week, and I worked seven days a week. Plus with animation, you can imagine anything and bring it to life without actors, sets, smoke machines, etc…”
Imagination is certainly one of the biggest payoffs of the film. Clyde used everyday, easily recognizable items to create the vibrant, often poignant scenes and setups of the movie, and without the limits imposed by live action and with the addition of the band, Torrey Pines becomes an immersive movie-going experience.
It’s an experience he’s been bringing to audiences across the country for the past nine weeks. A queer punk stop-motion animation movie with a live band might be a tough sell in some places, but Clyde says the response to Torrey Pines has been “amazing.”
“We’re really testing the limits of the film to all audiences,” he says. “We play in bike shops, indie theaters, all-ages spaces, old churches. Every night we encounter a totally different demographic of the public and they seem to have a great time at the film.”
As gratifying as the tour has been, Clyde is looking forward to coming home—or at least to a place that once bore that distinction. The tour’s penultimate show takes place in Bellingham, where Torrey Pines will screen Dec. 14 at the Pickford Film Center. Clyde could not be happier.
“I’m so excited,” he says. “I love the Pickford and Film is Truth and the Horseshoe. I can’t deny that Bellingham severely informed my mind and body in my 20s.
I feel like culturally I was raised in Bellingham, so I am very excited to land there at the end of tour.”
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