Alex H. Fischer and Eleanor Wilson are the writer-directors of the sci-fi comedy Save Yourselves!, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is out now through Bleecker Street. Alex’s previous film, Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone, a mid-length dance comedy space odyssey (a movie), co-directed with Rachel Wolther, premiered at BAMCinemafest in 2017. Alex was named in Filmmaker magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” along with Wolther, and their screenplay Nobody Nothing Nowhere was selected for the 2018 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, the IFP Project Forum and the 2018 Black List. Eleanor is a writer-director-producer from Adelaide, Australia, whose award-winning short films have played at festivals throughout the world. Her first, Possum, won best short film at the inaugural Nitehawk Shorts Fest, Everything All At Once, starring J. Smith-Cameron, premiered on Sundance.TV, and her latest, Low Road, which premiered at MoMA, was written as part of the Write By the Sea residency and is a recipient of the Future of Film is Female Grant.
Early on during the pandemic lockdown, a friend reminded Eleanor of a cherished movie from her childhood – Young Einstein. This was one of those well-loved tapes in her home collection in Adelaide, Australia — a cabinet full of movies, TV shows and music videos (film clips, as we called them back then) that had been recorded from the TV onto VHS. Often her dad had expertly paused the tape when the commercial break started, and knew the patterns of the commercials well enough to know when to anticipate hitting record again. She truly loved this movie, but when she moved out of her parents’ home 20 years ago, the tape collection did not move with her, and Young Einstein faded into movie memory.
Alex had never heard of Yahoo Serious, aside from maybe Stephen Colbert referring to someone’s hair being like his — a reference he never got. But his life, after watching Yahoo Serious’ three films, will never be the same. Mostly because in that time, a social uprising has redefined the era, fires have been burning the West Coast with no end in sight, the rise of QAnon, etc., etc. … but also because of Mr. Serious and his glorious films.
Yahoo Serious has made three movies, all of which he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in — the aforementioned Young Einstein (1988), Reckless Kelly (1993) and Mr. Accident (2000, just 12 months too late to be a part of 1999’s killer cinematic year). We decided to dive in chronologically, starting with the original, and best.
We watched Young Einstein at probably exactly the right time. Being completely news-addicted and drenched in despair, we found ourselves at the end of a day craving some sense of joy. Young Einstein did not disappoint. To give a short and sweet summary of the plot, it’s a biopic about Albert Einstein, only he is an apple farmer from Tasmania who splits the beer atom and invents rock & roll (or as he calls it, “roll and rock”). Marie Curie is the love interest. Darwin is in it. Ernest Rutherford, Freud, Edison. All the hits.
We love that amongst the wacky characters and ridiculous set pieces, Yahoo Serious never shies away from the message. It’s clear and uncomplicated: Art and science are much better off when free from the corruption of greed, ego and capitalism. It’s also unapologetically pure of heart. In an early scene where his dad (Mr. Einstein) asks him to take a large area of the surrounding bush land and “dam it,” young Einstein replies: “But if I dam it, I’ll drown all the wildlife.” (Now imagine this said in a naively confident and dopey deadpan Aussie accent).
The thing that was most striking, upon rewatching, is that Young Einstein is so beautifully and artfully shot. Maybe because of his background in painting (Yahoo Serious went to art school for a bit before painting jokes onto the front of the school and getting kicked out), but regardless, there’s a precision to every frame, which, when mixed with incredibly stupid jokes, is a real delight to watch. As he describes it, “Lawrence of Arabia meets Bugs Bunny.” There’s an early montage where Einstein travels from the remote island of Tasmania to Sydney (in 1905). Each shot in this short sequence is in a completely different location – showing off the incredibly diverse, harsh and wild landscapes of Australia – and the amount of time it must have taken to get to each shot, for such a brief moment in the film, shows a real commitment. In less dedicated hands, these scenes would likely have been shot in front of a green screen.
In general, the way Yahoo Serious approaches filmmaking is really inspiring to us. “Here’s this wonderful collusion of painting, music, literature, acting, theater and photography in this really young art form called movies.” In other words, taking full advantage of everything that filmmaking offers. If you’re gonna make a movie … make a movie. And if you’re going to make a comedy, why not make it look nice while you’re at it.
Together, his three movies feel like a trilogy, tied together by a version of the same character – the underdog battling the system. The title character in Reckless Kelly is a principled outlaw set against the evils of Hollywood. In Mr. Accident, he’s a creative kid born into a family of “parts people” who only know how to take things apart. Each movie sets a pure being against a decidedly impure world. And each film expands upon his love for silent-era physical comedy. Mr. Accident has one of our favorite moments where his character, Roger Crumpkin, tries to pull a hubcap out of a rock wall. The simplicity of this joke, played out basically in one shot, is perfection. Each movie is chock full of these beautifully executed pratfalls and stunts. He has a Buster Keaton-like purity for the spectacle. There are jokes in the production design, jokes in the cinematography, and the cartoon sound design punctuates every moment with an acknowledgement of the absurd. He perfectly mashes the highbrow with the lowbrow and parody with sincerity — celebrating science, Aussie culture and cinema history, while simultaneously poking fun at it all.
Yahoo Serious’ movies also seem strangely prescient to watch now, as the world is increasingly distrustful of science and our systems are geared to the benefit of the mega rich. It’s hard not to look at Preston Preston (the snobbish villain in Young Einstein) rushing to sell the untested formula for bubbles in beer (which he has stolen from Einstein), and not think about an unproven COVID-19 vaccine. Yahoo Serious firmly plants his ideals like a flag, doing so in an accessible and hilarious way. It’s something we hope to do with our work — if you make something ridiculous and entertaining enough, maybe you can sneak in a little statement.
So, if you happen to be a producer for Criterion, consider this the beginning of our lobbying campaign to get the undeniable work of Yahoo Serious into the Collection. Comedies, especially very stupid comedies, can be works of art too, and Yahoo Serious is about as pure an auteur as they come. And for those readers who don’t work at Criterion – in this time of despair, we hope you have a little time for some Serious films.