PORTLAND FESTIVAL OF CINEMA, ANIMATION & TECHNOLOGY 2023 REVIEW! The frontiers of your imagination will expand into a horizon of unseen wonders in director/co-writer Geoff Marslett and co-writer Howe Gelb’s animated trippy time travel western Quantum Cowboys. Using rotoscope animation in various photo-realistic styles mixed with live action, the film illustrates different timelines crossing through the old west era of the Arizona territory. Each animation style is another character’s timeline.
Off in some cosmic observatory, the entity Memory (Patrick Page) observes the cowboys’ different realities on monitors with the help of his big orange cat (Fat Face). Frank (Kiowa Gordon) and Bruno (John Way) are two s**t-shoveling saddle tramps who get pulled into a time paradox in Yuma. In one timeline, beloved singing cowpoke Blacky (Howe Gelb) is shot and killed; in another, he is not. Creating more ripples are a pair of time travelers from the future, Colfax (David Arquette) and Depew (Frank Mosley). They are wandering the wild west in loops as they try to get rich off the light bulb and Led Zeppelin tunes before they are invented.
“…Memory observes the cowboys’ different realities…”
Decrepit Father John Kino (Alex Cox) brings Frank and Bruno to John’s Bar and allows them to buy him a drink. John the Bartender (John Doe) pours while John the Business Man (John Doe) plays a tuneless guitar to the chagrin of John the Gunslinger (John Doe). While drinking, Frank and Bruno’s horses are stolen, and their only hope is the mysterious lady outlaw Linde (Lily Gladstone). As Linde helps them through the desert landscapes, Frank eats a bunch of cactus buds, including some peyote, so here comes some fun. Filming everything is a crew from the future consisting of Ray (Geoff Marslett), Victoria (Devon Wycoff), and Calvin (Gary Farmer).
May I be the first to crown Quantum Cowboys the new king of the psychedelic western? Visually it beats El Topo to the draw. It makes your brain slide further across the theater floor than Greaser’s Palace. It even out weirds the legendary French western Blueberry, which contains the most realistic depiction of DMT hallucinations in cinema. Marslett reaches past the cinematic beyond with his one-two punch of the rotoscope animation and the time travel structure of his and Gelb’s script. The rotoscope variations result in a sensory impact that is oddly both retro and futuristic at once. There are times the night stars frame Linde, and I could swear I am watching a Ralph Bakshi picture.
But then the film switches to cut-out techniques that are cutting-edge gloriousness. It is through this method Fat Face is experienced as a fuzzy prism of astral cuteness. The visual altering of the desert locations, shot mostly around Tucson, summons the strange and intangible spirit of the land. The time travel elements keep things weird, making it impossible to predict the next turn in the trail. The differently animated timelines cross over each out, opening up the story like the cartoon gatefold of The Adventures of Panama Red. All this and the peyote help the filmmaker take the traditionally conservative western genre and tie-dye its duster.
"…the new king of the psychedelic western."