Film Review
By Ray Young


Landen Knowlton



Starring Landen Knowlton. Edited and directed by Kirk Demarais. Cinematography by Jamey Clayberg.

Produced by Todd Knowlton. Executive producer, Scott Alan Kinney. Running time: 15 minutes.

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Spooklight Productions


    Growing up during the early 1960s, as kid who haunted ‘ten-cent stores’ and scoured sweet shoppe racks for the latest issue of The Green Lantern or Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, is not a requirement for watching Flip, but it sure helps. Rooted in nostalgic idealism, this sharp little film looks back on a golden Baby Boom moment through rose-colored X-Ray Specs.
    It’s an extended live-action version of the animated cartoon, Uncle Laff’s Legacy, created by Kirk Demarais whose website, the retro savvy Secret Fun Spot, offers elaborate Flash displays of Cold War-era kitsch. This is where the Johnson Smith catalog serves as a road map to paradise lost, a land of whoopee cushions and the Magic 8-Ball, all-day suckers and jawbreakers as big as your fist.
    Working from a character that’s vaguely reminiscent of Carl Anderson’s mute comic strip personality Henry, Demarais and Todd Knowlton, who co-wrote the screenplay, have the prepubescent ‘Flip’ daydream fantastic scenarios to liven up a humdrum (and occasionally violent) small town existence. With a dollar burning a hole in his pocket, Flip peruses the exotic merchandise for sale in a comic book novelty ad, and sends in for a ‘giant’ (ninety-nine cent) Frankenstein robot he imagines can rid the neighborhood of its pesky bullies.
    At this point, most anyone else would prod the material with a dose of cynicism, that awkward jolt back to reality that seems to have tainted nostalgia in films and television ever since American Graffiti. But Flip maintains a folksy aura of childish naïveté.
    Functioning mostly without dialogue, it replicates the pace, camerawork and lighting of early 60’s TV commercials and independent features, evoking old Wham-O ads and the soft, faded color of vintage industrial and educational films. Despite the lack of budget, an abbreviated running time and inexperienced star, the experiment works. Plus there’s a continuous stream of 60’s public domain music humming on the soundtrack. One scene in particular — Flip emerging beaten after a fight, backed by a lush orchestral arrangement of Luiz Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnaval” from Black Orpheus — momentarily elevates the situation to tragedy, and the film within spiritual proximity of Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon.
    With so much emphasis placed on cosmetic detail, it’s easy to overlook the fortunate casting of young Landen Knowlton. Essentially carrying the picture (he’s in nearly every scene), his innocent, natural demeanor is crucial to the film’s integrity. Expressing a broad range of emotions and behaviors — delight, disappointment, jubilation, defeat, anticipation, frustration — Knowlton manages the part expertly, and embodies the charm of youth, whether during a gleeful dash down the aisles of a novelty shop or on the back of a flying Frankenstein. He makes it look like a whole lot of fun.