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Maxwell Menzies

I’m a filmmaker whose sensibilities are influenced as much by the critically acclaimed art house directors as by the >100 view channel of experimental cat animations. My free time is consumed by obscure comic books, Indian cinema, Japanese game shows, sungura music, Eastern European contemporary theater, Shaw Brothers movies, Marx Brothers movies, and Marx. My work reflects the aesthetic, theoretical, and sensational qualities of all of these influences and more.

Trailer for Next Generation Sorplecum Poseltoy (NGSP)

Maxwell Menzies, video


When developing stories for my films, I write porous narratives that open a space for the characters and audiences alike to negotiate and imagine futures, communities, while making a point to disregard an ever-present and egotistical authoritarian entity in the film. The characters and the films themselves express their emancipatory desires not through long-winded manifestos or dramatic dialogue, but through goofy effects, tropes, references, gestures.

When making the movie, I use heaps of cardboard to design cut-outs and miniature sets, hours of special effects work to composite the sets and characters, and yards upon yards of felt to create hand sewn costumes and props. Each component of the mise-en-scene, draws inspiration from the diversity of films, musical scores, and comic references stored in my head. Each detail is an intuitive response to many years of consuming a variety of art. This sense of cinephilic, artistic pleasure I imbue in my sets, props and costumes is something that I convey to my collaborators.

Covered in foam-cushioned head gowns, hot-glued accessories, and colorful antron fleece, my friends and siblings and I play around with the lines, strange movement, weird sounds, and the studio space itself, filling the room with laughter and ideas about what scenes can be done in what ways. By activating the space of the screen with humorous costumes, performances from friends, and a love of cinema, I try to reframe the screen as a space of conversations about imagining new desires, new communities, and new interactions. By reframing each movie in this way, they become a space where the characters, actors, and even the audience has agency to think about the aesthetic and emotional outcomes of the film. 

Next Generation Sorplecum Poseltoy (NGSP) attempts to create this space in its paratext, its production, as well as the cinematic object. The project is as much about the pleasure of cinema and of making cinema as it is about imagining political utopias. It’s a movie suffused with reflexivity: basking in its own references and ridiculousness, citing its own viewing and on-set joy as the point from which it attempts to engage the audience in the hard work of thinking.

Opposed to the delightful yet labor intensive cinematic production is the naïveté of the President—who I play. He comically accepts a Fukuyamaist notion of the “end of history,” insisting that, now, the only progress that can be made is to totalize his power by forcing what he considers civilization on the rest of the world and on the future by living forever inside a Super Computer. However, inside the world of the Computer, the test-subject ghost characters have decided they would prefer not to partake in his vision, instead playing with the digital landscapes, special effects, and gesture as ways of crafting a vision of their own. By eschewing the narrative’s purported urgency of an apocalypse scenario and a megalomaniac president, the characters, the actors themselves, and the audience in NGSP open up their imaginations to become the space embodied in the aesthetic qualities of the film. The typical Hollywood conflict resolution is unambitious. At the end of the film, the problems presented must be resolved not by imprisoning the bad guy, or snapping away all the evil space aliens, but by thinking. 

Maxwell Menzies has designed and fabricated costumes, puppets, and sets for his elaborate films. For the exhibition in the Vitrine Gallery, he creates an overwhelming installation in which his film is shown on a monitor embedded in these physical objects, calling attention to the artificiality of the fictive space. Rooted in the world in which we live, Maxwell’s wildly imaginative film of a future world addresses the humiliation and failure of a dystopia governed by totalitarian power and blind faith in technological advancement. With extraordinary powers of imagination, a wide range of references, and a playful approach to media, his work confronts us with alternative realities and alternate takes on reality that shake and tickle our humdrum lives into wonder and laughter.

Xiaoze Xie

Maxwell “F.A.” Menzies is a filmmaker whose work attempts to answer the most elaborate philosophical and political questions of the anthropocene age with the modest classical and experimental cinematic conventions. This tension between consequential content and pop-film framework in his movies results in an eclectic, cinephilic, and uniquely political body of work. Rather than manifestos, however, Maxwell’s films present themselves as sites of cinematic pleasure, desire, from which the viewing audience can imagine utopia within the space of the screen. And for Maxwell, the utopia will not be televised, it will be covered in felt!  

Maxwell grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Palo Alto. He attended Orange County School for the Arts in the film and Television conservatory, where he developed an intense passion for making movies with his close friends and classmates. At Stanford University, he had the privilege of studying abroad in Poland, where he studied artists like Tadeusz Kantor and Andrzej Żuławski. After his summer abroad, he returned to Stanford to investigate his obsession with puppets, felt, strange video effects, experimental theater, horror comics, and art house cinema. Maxwell later studied in Kyoto, Japan, where he worked alongside faculty artist Terry Berlier on sculptural parades and returned to Kyoto for a summer internship with costume designer Hanako Washio and the Kyoto Makers Garage designing a storefront display. His most recent film, Next Generation Sorplecum Poseltoy, is the culmination of this studied love of cinema and coursework with Sheila Pepe, Paul DeMarinis, Hannah Subotnick, and Camille Utterback. A trailer will screen at the Stanford Honors Exhibition, A Geography of Dreams.

He’ll be receiving an Honors in Art Practice from Stanford University in June. | @sorplecum_poseltoy