All hail the Baddies

This month’s Screening Room is courtesy of Auckland-based artist and filmmaker Joseph Jowitt, who has chosen three surreal shorts from Sam Kristofski to spread the cheer this Christmas.

The year is 1989. You’re 16 years old, obsessed with arcade games, hyped up on K Bars and cheap off-brand cola. You fall asleep with a head full of B-grade action films and Street Fighter. This is your dream. Welcome to the world of Sam Kristofski.

I came across these shorts online and couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing. The Baddies films are a heady stew of B-grade VHS aesthetics and arcade action games, steeped in a sort of deranged teenage logic. The arcade games are of a specific genre that requires very little puzzle solving, strategy or particularly complex thinking: they’re frantic, addictive and rely on reflexes and hardcore button pushing.

Watching the shorts through the lens of this reality allows you to understand the inherent bonehead logic that connects them. The protagonists have all the physicality of robotic and wooden Tekken characters, and they speak in a demented, monosyllabic, video-game dialect.

The arcade action-game plots are truncated affairs that set up the next fight scene – where the ‘Baddies’ battle their various foes with fists, arrows and laser guns. Baddies want two things: to understand how ‘Bad’ the other characters are, and most importantly to get more diamonds.

These films are the ultimate product of growing up in the 80s – a postmodern melange of arcade graphics and blockbuster anti-hero worship.

Transit Baddies 7

My first encounter with Baddies was Transit Baddies 7, which, following Kristofski’s arcade action-game logic, is the third in his trilogy. After an eerily accurate 80s trailer for the film Sand Bases, the ‘plot’ gets underway.

Set near Sydney Airport in 2001, some kind of shadowy handover gets interrupted by a man claiming to be a “pilon” (pilot). Be prepared for the mispronounced dialogue as the pilot is questioned on his flight history (“How many flies you got?”) and his authenticity as a ‘Baddie’ (“How many cashes you got?”). Brilliantly bad fight scenes ensue when it turns out he is not who he appears.

Nottingham Baddies 4 (R18)

This film introduces the Baddies in a forest setting, with random opening titles detailing snack suppliers. They encounter Robin Hood, who has supposedly switched allegiances – “I’m a Baddie now.” After the usual careful interrogation, a battle ensues, with some arrow FX that Kevin Costner would be impressed with. This one is R18, as it features drugs and alcohol.

Baddies vs Prenator vs Art vs Science 3

The most recent installment is the most complex and developed film in the series. Actually a music video for the Australian dance band Art vs Science, the Baddies clash with a whole host of new adversaries.

From the outset, it’s a batty, self-referential, inter-textual ride with a genuine heat-vision camera introducing the “Prenator”. Next they’re pitched against the Goodies, their doppelgangers clad in white. The ensuing helicopter action scene is ingenious low-budget insanity, made even crazier when “Siderman” sabotages it.

It’s a cacophony of pop-culture references bundled together with brilliant 80s computer-game graphics, and the mangled dialogue you expect from the series. Idiosyncratic, nutty as hell, and a heck of a lot of fun.