Public access. The channel is in and of itself a punch line, a station devoted almost entirely to showcasing the lost dreams and ambitions of the local population. Public access is a brand of talent show for the general public who can find no greater outlet for their creativity and ideas. Given the amount of humor that could be derived from such a forum comes “On the Cliffs”, a humorous mockumentary detailing a program devoted to the “interpretation” of great works of literature showcased in Cliffs Notes. Such a production is the brainchild of lifelong friends Penelope (Lisa M Perry) and Dora (Jessie Hutcheson) who feel that if an old lady in Oneonta knows who Queequeg is then they’ve done their job. Instead of attempting to act out the plot of these works the women instead decide to concentrate on what they deem the theme of the novel, often resulting in bizarre performance pieces. Following up their “successful” renditions of such classics as “Moby Dick”, “MacBeth” and “War and Peace” (“That was tough” remembers Dora) the women set their sights on “Animal Farm”.
What makes this short film work as well as it does is that Perry and Hutcheson take an amusing premise and run with it. Since Orwell’s novel was a thinly veiled look at the Russian revolution then the women decide their production should embrace this theme and cut out the middleman, replacing the animal characters with the famous Russian figures they were supposed to represent such as Marx and Stalin. Penelope decides the best way to show her power over the masses would be whipping poor Dora who decides that she should express worker unrest through interpretive dance. The image of Dora dancing awkwardly while Penelope dressed as Stalin whips her is funny but the motivation behind the action makes it all the funnier. In addition to the humor derived from their interpretations is the relationship between the two women, played perfectly with passive aggressive barbs hidden throughout the dialogue and tension arising from who gets to act as secretary from their brainstorming sessions.
A lot of love was given to this short film and that is apparent throughout. Little side jokes such as the host of the public access channel being a puppet consisting of a pair of pants and joke glasses speaking with a bad Spanish accent named Senor Pantalones or the girls costume designer who gives them a gorilla suit when they mention “Animal Farm” are tossed off with confidence along with subtlety.
If there is any problem with “On The Cliffs” it’s that after a wonderful build up the end is anti-climactic. Since every clip seen from previous shows seems bizarre and unorganized (their production of MacBeth consisted of Penelope holding up props and reciting “out damn spot” while Dora is dressed as a witch in the background) then why do the girls have a meltdown over “Animal Farm”? There are not many films I would ever vote for to be longer but “On the Cliffs” would benefit from a few more minutes. Following the earlier clips and all the build up for this show the “Animal Farm” episode should be a more involved disaster than the previous ones.
This is a minor concern however seeing how the rest of “On the Cliffs” is so engaging. Perry and Hutcheson wrote, produced, edited and acted in this together and their amount of devotion not only shows but pays off. Given that public access programming is such an easy target it is wonderful to see a short film that lives up to the zaniness and humor provided by such a channel in such a rewarding way.