Heroic Misfits & Taxidermied Cats: An Interview with Trent Harris

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To look at a photo of Trent Harris, you might mistake him for an upper-middle class father of three with a yen for Solitaire and the odd nip of cognac by an open fireplace. To take in his warm demeanor and non descript mode of dress, you might imagine him as an archetype of the Baby Boomer dad on some 80’s sitcom…until you see the taxidermied cat that he’s holding.

“Me and my cat Thistle!” Harris exclaims, sharing with me a picture of him and his petrified pussy.

It’s then that you realize you aren’t dealing with Mr. Rogers. Trent Harris is an archetype all right, but it’s the archetype of the American iconoclast. Whether he’s taking on the Mormon faith with the beatifically bonkers Plan 10 from Outer Space or saying, “Andy Warhol sucks a big one” in the dead-cat-on-ice buddy comedy Rubin & Ed, Harris knows how to have some fun while blowing viewers’ minds.

While some know him for his obscure Beaver Trilogy, it was his first—and last—studio film, Rubin & Ed (1991), that is most remembered and most beloved by cult film fans today. The story of a down-on-his-luck real estate salesman with a cheap “rug” (Edward Hesseman) and his chance encounter with a hermetic oddball (Crispin Glover)  in search of a burial plot for his frozen pet, Rubin & Ed remains a timeless entry into weird cinema.

27 years later, Harris is back…except he never really went anywhere. The Utah-based auteur has been quietly churning out microbudget oddities that rival anything the so-called indie scene could even imagine, let alone execute. All of them are now available at his online store along with books, artwork and other strange ephemera.

Now, Trent Harris is ready to unleash a spiritual follow-up to Rubin & Ed whose title is a direct reference to the flick’s mysterious lost tribe. Crowdfunding is currently underway for Echo People, a rapturous romp that sounds very familiar for those who know and love Trent Harris films.

I asked the man if he’d be willing to do a short Q & A about his work and he was happy to participate. I trust you’ll find that his answers are every bit as enigmatic as his movies.

When I inquire about crowdfunding and whether he is working with a production partner or financier, Harris says, “I like making movies so I just do it!  If I keep things simple I don’t need a lot of money. All I need is an idea and people to help me out. That is the brilliance of digital technology. My motto is CRASH FORWARD!”

I ask him about the creative impetus behind Echo People and how it relates to Rubin & Ed. Harris responds with “ECHO PEOPLE is not about gender issues or race issues or police brutality.  It is not about the destruction of the environment, or politics or the Me-Too Movement.

“My film is about a blabbermouth with a speech impediment who loves frogs and meets a timid brain surgeon with a broken-down car.  It is about two totally lost strangers wandering through the desert looking at ants and telling secrets. So, in some ways it is a lot like Rubin and Ed.  Plus, I will shoot it in many of the same locations and there are other things Rubin and Ed fans will recognize.”

Interviewing Harris is a lot like decoding one of his pictures, particularly ones like Plan 10 from Outer Space which isn’t a sequel to the classic Ed Wood B-movie Plan 9 from Outer Space so much as it is a surreal mystery about theology. He doesn’t provide answers under questions, rather he sends responses under separate cover so that you’re not at all sure which question he is responding to.

 

The result is as mind-bogglingly fun and wacky as one of his films. For instance, I mention that many of his more recent cinematic works are available exclusively on his website and gave him the opportunity to tell people a bit about them.

Presumably, his reply was this: “I have made a number of other films that I really like.  It is frustrating that they get so little exposure. But I am thankful that people keep coming back to Rubin and Ed and Beaver Trilogy.”

It’s almost like he’s maintaining an air of mystery so that audiences will go in with zero expectations and subsequently have the rug ripped out from under them.  

When I ask him about the Beaver Kid trilogy and whether he would ever revisit it, I get his first straight answer, but even this one leaves one scratching their head. “I won’t revisit Beaver T,” he says. “I have done enough on that.  But it is interesting that other people have picked up the ball and carried on. I will be in Berlin September 26 where a gallery will be showing Beaver Trilogy along with two other spin-offs created by European artists. There is also a documentary called Beaver Trilogy Part 4, made by Brad Besser.”

Perhaps most telling is the through line that Harris sees running throughout his canon, a through line that seems to sum up the moviemaker as much as it does his movies.

“You asked me about a common thread running through my films.  Perhaps it is my respect for heroic misfits. Many of my characters certainly fit into that category.  Some people claim I am a misfit. I consider that a compliment.”

The funniest thing about our brief exchange is the utter absence of information about Harris’s crowdfunding efforts. No link to a crowdfunding page is provided nor does Harris himself bring up a crowdsourcing campaign. It can be found here for those who are interested (and you should be, Buster!).

Trent closes his email by saying, “I hope this answers your questions.  If you need more I am happy to help. Thanks so much, Trent.”

While my questions weren’t answered in the conventional way, Harris’s responses did what they needed to do. They planted a seed of mystery and raised more questions, questions that hopefully will be answered when we get to see Echo People down the road.

Thank you, Trent. And be sure to send my regards to Thistle.

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