Berlin 2023

Hello Dankness review – compelling sample film for the painfully online

The new work from Aussie duo Soda Jerk grapples with the recent past using existing footage to fun but slightly weightless effect

Is it still too early for us to see the instability of the period between 2016 and 2021 represented on film? Do, or should, filmmakers carry a particular responsibility when it comes to framing extreme times imbued with so much human suffering? Hello Dankness, the new work from an Australia-based duo of sibling artists known as Soda Jerk, is what they refer to as a “sample-based film,” comprised of hundreds of audio and visual clips from existing media, ripped largely from Hollywood films, television and viral online content. Their approach certainly won’t be for everyone, but for those painfully online souls who will recognise the title's mash-up of two different memes, it might prove irresistible.

The film is set, as it were, in the golden haze of suburban America, and begins with Tom Hanks in 1989’s The ‘Burbs waking up to see digitally inserted coverage of the 2016 election on his television. Hanks is, of course, a symbol of Hollywood’s idea of the ordinary, and Soda Jerk wink at their audience by “casting” him (and adding a Bernie Sanders campaign sign to his front yard).

Told in several acts with sardonic titles intoned by a TikTok style AI voice, this narrative montage of films, TV etc. brings the events of the 2016 election and the pandemic to strange, artificial life, while returning to Hanks now and then as its uncanny protagonist. Annette Being in American Beauty boasts her own Hillary Clinton “I’m With Her” sign on her lawn and nearly runs over the boys from Wayne’s World; when Trump wins, clips of Seth Rogen from the apocalyptic This is the End collide with segments from zombie films, while a menacing Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg oversees. It’s like the most elaborate demonstration of the Kuleshov effect ever put to film.

As fun and genuinely funny as it often is to experience these media collisions, Hello Dankness perhaps doesn’t have much weight to it. Is there much political understanding to be gained from witnessing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles explain “Pizzagate”? In casting affable everyman Tom Hanks as a Sanders supporter, Soda Jerk’s own political leanings are evident, and they’re probably preaching to the choir. But the film does also function as a canny representation of the constant onslaught of media our brains are subjected to by the internet, how Hollywood is caught in a cannibalistic cycle of nostalgia, and the pernicious tendency to view every event, no matter how traumatic, as content. Hello Dankness may not have anything especially new to say, but there are some compelling, metatextual layers to the way it says it.

Hello Dankness was screened as part of the Berlin Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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