Fishing With John (1991)

fishingShot in ‘91/’92 Fishing with John is a fishing program not at all about fishing. Resembling any cheap 90’s cable TV fishing program it mostly consists of horrible looking video, music that ranges from dodgy Casio beats to some lo-fi jazz noodlings and a Hollywood style voice-over dramatic enough to make fishing exciting. All these elements together are totally disarming at a passing glance, but give yourself 5 minutes and you begin to feel a surrealistic undercurrent. This is John and his friends getting stoned, talking a bit and failing to catch fish.

It’s hard to imagine under what circumstances this show came to be. Was it produced in the spirit of a parody from the start and if so who was in on the joke? Were they really all high? What was the audience and where was this to be shown? I get the sense that without this Criterion release of Fishing with John we’d be very lucky to maybe catch the show at an obscure cult video festival or tucked away in a very late night cable TV slot.

I listened to the full commentary with director and host John Lurie to try get a handle on it all. Apparently, in the early nineties John had developed a habit of shooting his fishing trips with his film industry friends on hi8. He’d been threatening to do a show for a while, his take on what he saw as the bizarrely relaxing cable TV fishing show. Somehow he came to meet a Japanese investor eager to invest in almost anything and thus came forward the money for Fishing with John. I can only imagine the face of the producers upon receiving the show they had paid for. It’s a surreal stoner’s odyssey. We travel around the world with John and his guests Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe and Dennis Hopper. The commentary reveals an episode that never got made with Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That would have been golden. But the thing is Fishing with John is golden. It’s so unusual, in some ways very arty and sometimes utterly dumb. One minute it’s philosophical musings, the next it’s staged scenes of drama. It has that elusive x factor, the allure of the too bizarre to be true found only in rare one off gems like King of Kong or I Like Killing Flies.

According to John, Tom Waits got so seasick and irate that they didn’t talk for two years after the making of the show, Matt Dillon clammed up every time the camera rolled, Willem Dafoe was hilarious, Jim Jarmusch was easy going and Dennis Hopper was high on sugar and couldn’t fish at all. I could watch this show all day if there were only more episodes that existed. Never mind Speed Racer, Fishing with John is the real ultimate stoner DVD.

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