The Agony and the Ecstasy

Filmmaker Benno Nelson parlays his trippy 'method' into a retrospective

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Benno Nelson remembers the rave review he received from the KGB's scrawny frontman, Eric "Toby" Tobias, while shooting the band's "Lover Undercover" video in a sleazy motel with a supporting cast of 15 gorgeous teenage girls. "[Tobias] pulled me over at one point and said, 'Dude, this is the best day of my life!'" Nelson says. " Of course, I had to tell all of the girls who were auditioning, 'You're going to have to make out with the lead singer and hang out in a bikini'--which made me feel old and lecherous."

Even if approaching collegiate girls for videos is a new and slightly awkward thing for Nelson, the former Minneapolitan (and former City Pages receptionist) isn't unfamiliar with the music industry's demands. For a decade before he moved to L.A. in 2000, he served as lead singer of the band National Dynamite. This year Nelson was nominated for a Music Video Production Award for his work on Dylan Hicks's "City Lights" video--a wry take on Behind the Music-like epics, loosely based on the stormy relationship between John and Cynthia Lennon. (Ranking at No. 2 on the vid's fake Billboard charts is, of course, National Dynamite.) And in 2001, iFilm gave Nelson the chance to spend four days following dance-music mavens the Crystal Method from Red Rocks, Colorado, to Fargo, North Dakota, surveying ravers and generally observing the kind of free love that'd make the KGB proud. The end result--"Tweeked, Geeked and Freaked: On the Road with the Crystal Method"--screens Friday at Intermedia Arts along with a collection of the director's earlier shorts.

As a self-proclaimed "armchair techno fan," Nelson initially believed that ravers were the new hippies--even though he had never attended a single rave before the Crystal Method gig turned up. "Hippies have a social conscience," says Nelson on the phone from his L.A. apartment. "So my question [for this film] was, Do ravers want something deeper than just to party? And I guess what I found out in my short experience with it is, Nope--that's pretty much it." He laughs. "But I'm not putting them down for that!"

Nelson admits there was as much agony as Ecstasy involved in the making of "Tweeked": He slept only four hours in the first three days of filming. And even though he admits that he still can't tell if someone is rolling or not, one assumes he can sympathize with the ravers who tweak their consciousness the old-fashioned way: Nelson's first short, "Screwdrivers," is based on Colleen Kruse's story about getting plastered for the first time. It's a milestone that Nelson remembers well in his own life.

"There was this group of college dudes, I was hanging out with them in their apartment, and I was 15, and there were some wine coolers," he recalls sheepishly. "I was like, 'You know, it's funny, guys, because I can drink and I just don't get drunk!' But of course I was getting druuuuunk. At one point, this dude picked up an acoustic guitar and played a sort of mellow song, and all of a sudden I started crying. One of the guys came up to me and said, 'Hey, it's okay, man, don't worry'--which of course was followed by me saying, 'I love you guys!' It was such a cliché!"

Perhaps someone can console the filmmaker with a big bottle of Boone's Farm when he comes to present "Tweeked" at Intermedia along with "City Lights," "Lover Undercover," the Run Lola Run-like "Moment One," and a five-minute film on the making of the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize??" video. And although he's returning to Minneapolis a bigger star than he was when he left, Nelson is quick to acknowledge the folks who brought him from self-financed shorts to the work he's doing today. In particular, he praises those who supported the $10,000 endeavor that was "City Lights." "I had these two really great executive producers," he recalls nostalgically. "Visa and MasterCard."

 
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