Summer of the Chew Toy Soul
by Tristan Newcomb
Back in October 2010, Tristan Newcomb debuted a short video, "Bred Into Captivity", for the 4th Annual Escapist Video Contest. The short — which you can view here — was a compartmentalized satire of the "video review"; a mumbling child-puppet gives a bizarre, rambling review of a decade-old game entirely off the few lingering memories of when he played it long ago.
In April 2011, Newcomb released the full-length version of that short, called 'Summer of the Chew Toy Soul'. As an extension of the original video, SotCTS is not only an attempt to bring more blasphemous puppetry into the world, but also an attempt to bring context and legitimacy to what was essentially one big slightly disturbing joke.
SotCTS very much exists in the shadow of 'Only Interstellar Pinball Lives Forever' — another film by Tristan Newcomb, which I reviewed here — and in fact it can be described entirely as the conceptual counterpart of its much more serious-minded sister. OIPLF was about sensory overload, and SotCTS is about sensory deprivation; OIPLF was surrealist existentialism, and SotCTS is absurd nihilism. OIPLF's listing of the days as they passed was so inconsequential to the plot that it was more bookkeeping, a way of reminding the viewer that yes, this is exists in a real word; in SotCTS the passing of time is of utmost importance: Dobo believes that if he can't figure out how to get a working N64 cartridge, he will literally die of boredom — but time is recorded in incomprehensible neologisms. Even the word-salad naming of both films has a different effect — 'Only Interstellar Pinball Lives Forever' has a very literal connection to the plot of its films, but there are no "chew toys" in SotCTS (hell, there aren't any dogs either, except for the final scene; the principal animal is actually a cat). The connection between film and title here is abstract, aesthetic. You don't reason how the title fits, you feel it.
The conflict between the mooring/unmooring of time in SotCTS is the driving force behind the narrative, and the primary way it distances itself from OIPLF. Time was gleefully ignored in OIPLF, thus keeping the film unmoored; here, Dobo is very much aware of his lack of options, and willing in any way to escape to the kind of unmoored state he drifts through in OIPLF, whether it be by concussion-induced hallucinations, oxygen deprivation, memory recall, etc. Yet at the same time, if he could escape from the single, completely whitewashed room that serves as the setting for the majority of the film he would be unmoored as well - he would chase around the cat, go to the beach, meet new people - essentially be able to ignore time and pursue happiness. At one point he literally tries to escape by sitting in a suitcase. But, as "Daddy" says, the outside world leads to lawsuits and car crashes from drunk driving. In a way, the room is a metaphorical (and perhaps literal) purgatory - a waystation between Dobo's solipsistic fantasies and the alternating harshness/joyousness of the outside world.
I would compare SotCTS to 'Eraserhead' in that it isn't necessarily "enjoyable" to watch, but it has a way of sitting with you. That it isn't "enjoyable" per se is not a knock against the film; I'd consider it a textbook example of how to do a film on boredom, and if you can see past its facade and into the underlying structure there's enough to keep you stimulated for days. I find that refreshing in a time when most movies evaporate from your memory the moment you step outside the theater.
One more thing - 'Summer of the Chew Toy Soul' is layered with references to its spiritual antecedent, 'Only Interstellar Pinball Lives Forever' (the amorphous blob at the beginning that turns into Dobo's eye, the graveyard framing Dobo's father's daily bus trips, the "at last, the little boy was absolutely sure..." speech, etc.) and it derives some of its humor from it. I would recommend viewing (or even re-viewing) OIPLF before watching SotCTS. You can find a link to both films below: