Film in the Tubes: The Herbivore

The contributors to Wikipedia define outsider art as art “created outside the boundaries of official culture.” They also define folk art as “generally produced by people who have little or no academic artistic training, nor a desire to emulate ‘fine art’.” Internet filmmaker James Rolfe has gained attention for his in-character video reviews of retro videogames, and also for his film reviews. Before he was a viral star, Rolfe made over a hundred short films, starting at an early age. These films are strictly low-rent, mostly made on his parents’ home video camera. As such, they mostly show the over-active imagination of a hyperactive child. Some of them are purely playtime — Rolfe hanging out with friends and convincing them to whirl around plastic swords while he tapes. But, in 1997, he hit gold.

The Herbivore is a ridiculous, five-minute long pastiche of one of Rolfe’s childhood friends walking through the woods of New Jersey chomping on bits of greenery, all to an appropriately insane soundtrack. It’s overwhelming. It pounds the viewer in the eardrums and is the perfect accompaniment to what happens onscreen. I’m not sure what the aim of the film was, or is. I don’t know if it is intentionally hilarious, or if Rolfe was being genuinely creative. It does reside firmly in the absurd. As satire of nature, satire of film, satire of seriousness, it hits all the right notes in weirdness. It’s a twisted film that makes no sense. Anyone with a normal sense of humor will find nothing in The Herbivore, but it is uproarious to those who like a little mischief with their laughs. This film defies any more detailed description.