Barkley's Barnyard Critters: Mystery Tail

This DVD formally introduces the animations and video work of Lightning Bolt's Brian Gibson. I had high hopes for Barkely's Barnyard Critters immediately comparing it to Brian Chippendale's renowned visual output, but aside from one video short, was sadly let down.



This collection of videos and animations that Gibson made over the past couple of years comes off like a quick toss together of bits and pieces. It contains two Barkley's Barnyard Critters episodes, two non-animated videos, a Wizardzz live set, and The Totem Tour.

It opens with the title feature, "Mystery Tail," a 53 minute animated short film. While it starts strong, it becomes tedious after about 10 to 15 minutes. The story starts out with Barkley in a swamp, talking about being happy, his town, and his band, the Barnyard Critters.  From here, there's a way-too-long shot of a bird flying over the town, and to the Critters' practice. Gibson's style of mixing live action and costumed actors with animated drawings uses techniques a lot of underground animators are using: Flash animated backgrounds and an organic and child-like feeling to the character design. The animated drawings, however, seem like Gibson's rough hand sketches and drawings made in what looks like MS Paint or the Mac equivalent.

I like the direction Gibson is heading in but it could have better content. The characters are a little too crude for me to appreciate. The personalities are shallow, in Episode #1, the most prominent roles are given to Clarence, W.T. and Horace. All of whom, in "Mystery Tail," are resigned to tertiary status, Clarence only repeating his catch phrase, "Booyah!"  Barkley, the title character, is finally brought in, and given focus in only the latter third of the short, and only works as a secondary antagonist.

The ten minutes of Wizardzz live footage is easily the best part of the DVD. In all its low-budget glory, it is simply three camera angles of a Providence basement show run through sepia tone and solarization filters. The resulting video bridges the gap between the all the V23 artwork used on 4AD albums and the grit, sweat and energy that the Providence scene is known for. As unimpressed as I was by the Wizardzz LP from last year, this footage is pretty awesome. "The Totem Tour," however, is a video montage of some costumed performance art troop that I can only assume Gibson had something to do with (there's no info about it with the DVD). Here, there's a lot of Barkley's Barnyard Critters costumes and people throwing shit around in kitchens.

This DVD is only for serious Lightning Bolt fans as these shorts would have had a better life on YouTube or a small run DVD-R for friends.