If you missed its debut on the Sundance channel last week (or its showing at the actual Sundance festival), prepare to veg out to the above: Jason Wishnow’s take on Oedipus is, the subtitle informs, “the story of Oedipus, in 8 minutes, performed by vegetables.” The stop-motion flick, featuring elaborate stage sets worthy of Ben Hur, depicts what is perhaps the goriest vegetable-on-utensil violence since food surrealist Jan Svankmajer’s Exhaustive Discussion as well as the only tomato-on-potato incest scene we can remember (and trust us, we’d remember). The day after a party for the film at Manitoba’s (owner Handsome Dick isn’t exactly a veggie guy, but we’ll disregard that), we asked director Wishnow what it was like to spend two years of his life shooting produce.
I was a struggling filmmaker, and I thought it would be cheaper to do it with vegetables instead of human actors. Little did I know how expensive this production would be. I joke that the budget was somewhere between $100 and $100,000.
How did you get the vegetables to look so good?
Before every shoot you could potentially find me in any grocery store in L.A. County looking for the right characters. The best fruits and vegetables were not the succulent Whole Food types; we went to the big chain groceries and got the most pesticide-laden, iconic ideal version of what a vegetable should look like.
How did you keep your actors from spoiling?
It’s actually a different vegetable from shot to shot because it takes so long to shoot each scene. The very last shot of the movie took sixteen hours to shoot a ten-second shot. If you look closely at each shot, you can see broccoli wilting under hot studio lights.
Was it hard to cast the voluptuous tomato for what your disclaimer calls the “vegetable sensuality” scene?
My big concern was finding a tomato was that was the right size and would look appropriate next to the potato she was performing against. I looked for one that was as red as possible with a heart-shaped cleavage — so that her ample bosom would stand out.
Did you have to overcome any unexpected obstacles?
There was a broccoli blight in middle of filming the fight scene; we couldn’t find any broccoli that conformed to my aesthetic expectations of what a regal head would look like. Also there was a fruit-fly infestation in the middle of summer when we were shooting the nightclub scene. We were constantly batting away fruit flies between takes. You wouldn’t think fruit flies and mold would be such a problem, but …
Did you consider using fakes?
Some are more machine than vegetable — There’s a metal skeleton under Oedipus’s robes. Some of the characters, like the sheep, have an external exoskeleton to help them move around. But if you’re going to do the vegetable Oedipus movie, you need to use real fruits and vegetables. There’s something about the sort of glow and inner luminosity of a real tomato that can’t be captured in a fake. — Daniel Maurer
Oedipus the Movie [Official site]