Rhinoceros Eyes is a live-action/animated picture using stop-motion animation, directed by Aaron Woodley. It is a darkly humorous coming-of-age tale about Chep (Michael Pitt), a reclusive young man, who gets comfort from the movies and his vivid imagination. When Fran, (Paige Turco) walks into the prop house where he lives looking for unusual objects, Chep immediately develops a crush. Obsessed with her job designing movie sets, Fran insists that each prop be the real thing even if it happens to be a pair of rhinoceros eyes or human finger. Chep's growing love for Fran makes him willing to prowl the dark streets at night in search of items for her. As Fran's requests become more peculiar, Chep is thrown into increasingly bizarre situations. His life quickly spirals out of control.
As the strange thefts escalate, the singing and dancing detective Phil Barbara (Gale Harold) is assigned to the case and is soon on Chep and Fran's trail. When the film reaches its dramatic climax, a varied cast of characters must all figure out a way to bridge the chasm between their dreams and reality. The film also features Matt Servitto, Jim Allodi, Jackie Burroughs and Nadia Litz.
Rhinoceros Eyes world premiered at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Discovery Program Award. Learn what Eva Kolodner and Gale Harold had to say about the film at the 2002 year's Festival here.
The film opened in New York City on April 23, 2004. Visit the official website for more information.
Here are some screen captures from the movie trailer.
Review by Steve Gravestock, Festival Programmer, Toronto International Film Festival 2003:
It's difficult to describe what goes on in this startling first feature from Aaron Woodley. On the one hand, it hews to the conventions of horror films; on the other, it has little or nothing to do with them. On the third hand (entirely appropriate for this film), it is a twisted and innovative take on movie history.
Rhinoceros Eyes unfolds in a prop shop, the last stop for the detritus of pop culture. The hero, Chep (Michael Pitt), is a slightly addled orphan who has been adopted by the shop's belligerent, easily distracted owners – a motley crew who leave Chep alone to fetch the items clients request. Actually, they pretty much leave Chep to do all the work since his comically ferocious boss, Bundy, is fixated on tracking down a bunch of gorillas who roughed him up in a bar.
Chep becomes fixated on a stunning art director named Fran (Paige Turco). He's immediately smitten (perhaps because she seems to have strolled out of the B-movies he's obsessed with) and doesn't blink when she asks for a truly bizarre "prop." Determined to impress her, he becomes increasingly reckless in his pursuit of her weird requests. Unfortunately, Chep has a rather idiosyncratic take on reality: the objects in the shop gradually start to talk to him and, before long, they give him some disturbing advice.
Rhinoceros Eyes shares features with 2001's indie hit Donnie Darko, but you could just as easily mention Lolita (with its creepy Quilty figure) or the Cavalcanti episode in 1945's Dead of Night. In the end, however, the film is unique: a commentary on our need to believe in the most tawdry pop clichés and the necessity of getting past them. It's no accident that Chep uses a mask that evokes a character from schlockmeister Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space to liberate some of the more unusual items Fran asks for.
Watching Rhinoceros Eyes, you get the impression that Wood and Vladimir Nabokov finally completed their long-awaited collaboration, while Roger Corman kept an eye on both of them.
As many of his fans know, Gale is no slouch in the music department; he plays guitar and has natural artistic talent beyond just acting. At one point in the movie, Phil imagines himself in the Police Chief's office in the clouds, dressed as a detective from the 1940s, rolling his fedora down his arm and catching it in his hand. He sings about the case he is working on, dancing with complete abandon...
"When I'm on the case,
I put on a happy face,
make the bad guys run
police work is so much fuuuuuuun-"
He gets down on one knee, holding his hat against his chest
(a sequence reminiscent of "Singing in the Rain")
"Watching her from afar,
sitting in the quiet of my car,
I wonder - oh I wonder, will she ever see me?
Will she ever set my poor heart freeeeee?"
Michael Pitt .... Chep
Paige Turco .... Fran
Gale Harold .... Detective Phil Barbara
Matt Servitto .... Bundy
James Allodi .... Hamish
Jackie Burroughs .... Mrs. Walnut
Nadia Litz .... Ann
Victor Ertmanis .... Sweets
Sarah Brown .... Special Effects Assistant
Neil Crone .... Ted Sheldon
Daniel Fathers .... Producer
Ron Kennell .... Finnegan
Aaron Woodley’s film obsessions
by Michelle McCree
September 8, 2003
The Festival Daily (in pdf format)
If you're numb-bummed after days of sitting in dark rooms watching flickering images on the big screen, and you’ve gone from being a seemingly wellrounded fan of film to a Festivalgoer whose existence is now defined by the emotional arc of the characters you’ve been watching, the cinemania of Rhinoceros Eyes will amuse.
"It’s really about the nature of obsession," says writer-director Aaron Woodley, "and how our obsessions can cause us to lose a grip on reality."
The film tells the story of Chep (Michael Pitt), a delusional prophouse assistant with a film fixation and a compulsion to fulfill the item requests of Fran (Paige Turco), an equally single-minded art director. Fran’s obsession with authenticity gives the film its title – those rhinoceros eyes have to be the real thing.
Of course, that’s just the beginning, as the objects of Fran’s desire become increasingly outlandish, and Chep spirals out of control, adopting a 'by any means necessary' approach to acquiring them. Digitally shot, richly lit and stylishly directed, this darkly twisted comedy combines live action with stop-motion animation while evoking the eerie atmosphere of twenties horror films.
On the phone from his home in Toronto, Woodley sounds like he understands a thing or two about the obsessive pull of filmmaking. "It just feels very natural to me to make films,” he says. “[Film has] all the things that I love: music and visuals and lighting."
If he is obsessed, he comes by it honestly – some might even say genetically. The nephew of David Cronenberg, Woodley grew up visiting his uncle’s movie sets and knew from an early age he wanted to enter the profession. "I visited the set of The Brood; in fact, I was one of the brood," recalls the 32-year old filmmaker. "I played dead, basically, because I wouldn’t put the mask on. I cried because it was very scary. But visiting his sets was always very inspiring. I thought, 'What a great job, and what a fantastic world. Look at all these adults playing make-believe and having fun.'"
Years later, Woodley inevitably learned the other side of filmmaking. “I was surprised by how much work it was. It was something else."
Rhinoceros Eyes was produced by Madstone Films, a New York production company with a unique programme: promising directors from around the world are moved to New York, put on salary for two years and given a feature budget of up to $1.5 million.
Of the experience of making his first feature, Woodley says: "I learned if you are going to attempt something a little different, you really have to fight and be brave, because there are a lot of people saying: 'What the hell are you doing? What is this?'"
There was a brief mention of Aaron Woodley's Rhinoceros Eyes in a recent issue of Details magazine, featuring Michael Pitt as an up-and-coming star in Hollywood. Gale Harold co-stars in the movie with Michael, and the two were recently photographed together at the Details/Perry Ellis/W/Showtime premiere party for Queer As Folk in New York City.
Madstone Commences Inaugural Production
"Rhinocerous Eyes" to star Michael Pitt, Paige Turco, Gale Harold
Madstone Films, June 03, 2002
TORONTO, CANADA (6.3.02) - Madstone Films marks a milestone in its growth today as it commences production on its first feature title: the fantastical coming-of-age story "Rhinoceros Eyes" starring Michael Pitt ("Murder By Numbers"), Paige Turco (CBS's "The Agency") and Gale Harold (Showtime's "Queer as Folk").
"We are proud to be bringing such a wonderful and unique tale to the screen," said "Rhinoceros Eyes" producer and Madstone CEO Tom Gruenberg, "The Madstone directors program is an oasis for emerging filmmakers and it's fitting that our first production is such a marvelously collaborative and groundbreaking endeavor like 'Rhinoceros Eyes.'"
As part of its mission to empower new storytellers and audiences, Madstone has spent the past two years developing the work of some of the world's most talented emerging directors. "Rhinoceros Eyes' auteur Aaron Woodley becomes the first Madstone director to begin production on a film. Other Madstone helmers developing features include: Joan Stein, Lisa Siwe and the company's latest addition, Scotsman Ewan Morrison.
"Rhinoceros Eyes" is a darkly humorous coming-of-age tale about Chep (Michael Pitt) a reclusive young man, who gets comfort from the movies and his vivid imagination. When Fran, (Paige Turco) walks into the prop house where he lives looking for unusual objects, Chep immediately develops a crush. Obsessed with her job designing movie sets, Fran insists that each prop be the real thing even if it happens to be a pair of rhinoceros eyes or a human finger. Chep's growing love for Fran makes him willing to prowl the dark streets at night in search of items for her. As Fran's requests become more peculiar, Chep is thrown into increasingly bizarre situations. His life quickly spirals out of control.
As the strange thefts escalate, Detective Phil Barbara (Gale Harold) is assigned to the case and is soon on Chep and Fran's trail. When the film reaches its dramatic climax, a varied cast of characters must all figure out a way to bridge the chasm between their dreams and reality.
"Rhinoceros Eyes" begins principal production on June 3rd in Toronto and also features Matt Servitto, Jim Allodi, Jackie Burroughs and Nadia Litz.
The film is written and directed by Aaron Woodley, who makes his feature film debut. Tom Gruenberg and Eva Kolodner produce. Chip Seelig serves as executive producer. Daniel Hill and Jessica Levin co-produce. Cinematographer David Greene, production designer Karen Wilson, editor Robert Crossman, animation designer Veronica Verkley and costume designer Denise Cronenberg complete the creative team.
Madstone Films is a groundbreaking production company with a novel approach to the filmmaking process. The company taps the most talented first time feature filmmakers from around the world and brings them to its uniquely collaborative New York workspace. Then, with generous contracts and vital resources at their disposal, Madstone directors are empowered to make their films by combining artistic invention with the tools of the digital age.
Founded in 1999 by film veteran Tom Gruenberg and financier Chip Seelig, the Madstone family of companies shares a mission to be leaders in expanding opportunity, access and expression for diverse audiences and new storytellers. The companies include: Madstone Films LLC, Madstone Theaters LLC, Madstone DDN LLC and New Yorker Films.
Prop Obsessed Movie Gets Greenlighted
killermovies.com, June 05, 2002
Madstone Films has greenlit and begun filming the live-action/animated "Rhinoceros Eyes," in Toronto, reports Variety
The movie is penned and being helmed by tyro director Aaron Woodley and will star Michael Pitt ("Murder by Numbers"), Paige Turco ("The Agency") and Gale Harold ("Queer as Folk").
"Rhinoceros Eyes" centers on a reclusive young man working in an ancient, fantastical prop house. The young man grows infatuated with a movie set designer, so much so that he willingly prowls the streets at night searching for real-life substitutions -- such as rhino eyes -- for the props she needs. This obsession gets both into more than a bit of trouble.
"We are proud to be bringing such a wonderful and unique tale to the screen," said Gruenberg. "The Madstone directors program is an oasis for emerging filmmakers and it's fitting that our first production is such a marvelously collaborative and groundbreaking endeavor like 'Rhinoceros Eyes.'"
"Rhinoceros" shooting in Toronto
Variety, June 9, 2002
By Charles Lyons
NEW YORK (Variety) - Michael Pitt ("Murder by Numbers"), Paige Turco ("The Agency") and Gale Harold ("Queer as Folk") are starring in "Rhinoceros Eyes," a live-action/animated picture that has just started shooting in Toronto.
The film, which will use stop-motion animation, centers on a reclusive young man working in an ancient, fantastical prop house. He grows infatuated with a movie set designer, prowling the streets at night in search of real-life substitutions -- such as rhino eyes -- for the props she needs. It's an obsession that can only lead to trouble. It marks the feature debut of Aaron Woodley, who also wrote the script. It is also the first production for Madstone Films, which recently acquired New Yorker Films, including its 500-title library, and is in the process of launching a chain of movie and stage theaters.