I’m glad this wasn’t a real movie.
When a self-propelled filmmaker inadvertently captures the idiosyncrasies of a community in lieu of producing an actual “film,” we, the audience, are witness to a beautiful experience. The no-budget film as cultural document — it’s a mesmerizing concept. Nowhere is this aesthetic more satisfying than within the regional-vérité triumvirate of Nathan Schiff’s Weasels Rip My Flesh, Tony Malanowski’s Night Of Horror, and Don Dohler’s Fiend. Of course, each of those projects were realized through the odd obsessions of a sole individual. Not so in Milpitas, CA.
Typically, suburban residents ban together to make their lawns greener, their little league teams tougher, and their train stations safer. But in 1974, the folks of Milpitas decided that they were too cool for stuff like that. So they made a monster movie.
The Milpitas Monster is the collective hi-five of high school art teacher Bob Burrill, hundreds of teenage students, moms, dads, uncles, grandmas, and anyone else who held an interest in queueing up some dry ice or stitching together a monster wing. Given that it’s the only film to be crafted by an entire city, Milpitas makes a mark by simply existing.
Garbage! Everywhere! The Milpitas Monster, a 50-foot winged behemoth comprised entirely of polluted trash, is sneaking around in the middle of the night and throwing garbage on people’s driveways. Meanwhile, three characters have names. There’s Jeff, a teenage nebbish, who studies a book called “Male Manners,” Priscilla, his girlfriend, who says, “Sit on it,” and George Keester, the town drunk, who falls into garbage cans a lot. Rambunctious teens fire a cannon. Everyone goes to a carnival. There’s a dance with a live band. Eventually, a machine named Odorolla is brought in to help dispense of the monster. All of this happens in and around the houses, front lawns, local pubs, and desolate carnival grounds of Milpitas. For that very reason, all of it is pretty awesome.
Landing somewhere between the comedy stylings of John Landis’s Schlock and the thrift store socialism of Fredric Hobbs’s Godmonster Of Indian Flats, Milpitas is exactly what happens when someone has no idea of what it is they’re setting out to do. That’s a compliment. In keeping with its regional-vérité cousins, inconsistency is bliss. Compositions veer from baffling to awful to magically inspired. Synth slabs fight for inopportune moments with Badfinger-esque power pop. Crude effects, both visually and audibly, walk hand-in-hand with people just hanging out and being themselves. Boredom sets in…then disappears…then sets in again. Beyond all of that, Milpitas is an earnest portrait of an entire community having good clean fun in Smalltown, USA during the mid-1970s.
Enjoy it in good health.