Clay critters doing gross things: Douglass St. Clair Smith’s 1976 short “Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Under the Rocks of Mars”

By on May 1, 2018

Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Under the Rocks of Mars — now streaming on Night Flight Plus in our Church of the SubGenius section — is a ten-minute claymation short film directed in 1976 by Douglass St. Clair Smith (a.k.a. the Rev. Ivan Stang).

Smith has previously said he made Repro — which features simulated stop-motion slightly-NSFW sex — so he could “watch clay critters doing gross things.”

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Night Flight reached out to Douglass for more info about the film, and here’s what he told us:

“I was working as Assistant Everything at Century Studios in Dallas, and the boss (S.F. Brownrigg) let me borrow an old 16mm camera that had a stop-motion or single-frame feature and some space on the sound stage.”

“I had a little set there for a couple of months and would go in very late at night and shoot free-form claymation until I fell asleep. For the first half of the film I was drinking heavily; then I dried up and was sober for the rest of the animation — and you can’t really tell the difference.”

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“It was originally just going to be abstract weirdness with no narration. I had gotten all the film processed but it wasn’t really edited; I had a silent work print which I showed at parties, and found myself coming up with ‘narration’ for it.

My wife Shelby encouraged me to write up the narration and that’s when I got the library film, as kind of retro inspiration for the writing. It was one of my first pieces that involved the heavy word-splicing that I later used writing the SubGenius stuff.”

“As far as the inspiration for the claymation — since I was about ten, I wanted to be the next Ray Harryhausen (legendary stop-motion effects pioneer). I didn’t know how to make the kind of realistic animation models that he made so I animated clay dinosaurs and such on 8mm.”

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“When I was thirteen, I saw a true ‘claymation’ film by Eliott Noyse called Origin of the Species which was pretty abstract and jazzy clay-on-a-sike — I made a blatant imitation of it called The Wad and the Worm in 8mm. That got into a local high school film festival and won a top prize.”

“A local Dallas film company (Keitz and Herndon, long gone) wanted to be seen as ‘promoting young filmmakers’ and they suggested I re-film the claymation using their gear — in 35mm! So at age fifteen, I shot a 35mm revised The Wad and the Worm.”

“By that time I had completely forgotten that I was basically ripping off Eliott Noyse… anyway I entered that new Wad movie in The Kodak Teenage Movie Awards — and got grand prize for film by kid under sixteen!”

“Kodak was in league with the U.S. Information Agency (I learned later it was an ‘arts’ branch of the C.I.A.) and they took it upon themselves to enter prints of that film in foreign film festivals. Wad won a TON of amateur film awards all over the world including Iran (under the Shah back then).”

“I wasn’t all that into the claymation but I did enjoy shooting the abstract free-form unscripted stuff; also I was very influenced by the underground comics (like Zap) and artists like R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson, which were raunchy as hell, and I was a huge Firesign Theatre fan… those influences came together in the Repro Cycle animation.”

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Read more about Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Under the Rocks of Mars below.

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In 2000, Smith told the Cleveland Scene he spent a couple of years in college and held a variety of jobs while he continued to make short films.

He says that “most of my friends call [Repro] ‘that claymation porn film.'”

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Smith:

“I got some 7th-grade science textbooks and a 16m film called Life Among the Molds from the library, and word-spliced ’till the cows came home. I had originally intended to optically add fish and birds and more clay things, plus a whole alien landscape, to the upper half of the frame, but discovered that the primitive war-era animation camera’s registration was so bad that the two halves of the frame would jiggle independently of each other… that’s why the top half of the frame is black. This has never been shown on TV…”

“A classroom films distributor, Coe Films, had been renting prints of The Wad and the Worm to schools and it was popular; the old lady who ran the company, Bernice Coe, saw Repro but didn’t understand the obvious BLOW JOBS and such in it and thought classroom teachers would like it — I tried to warn her, politely, but she did indeed get complaints. I shudder to think of 5th graders in Idaho classrooms of 1979 being exposed to this…”

“I did a little more claymation for hire after that — a one-minute short called Mononucleosis and a birthday countdown for Showbiz Pizzas… but then The Church of the SubGenius started a-brewing and I kind of forgot my underground film animation career.”

Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Under the Rocks of Mars was shown at the Chicago International Film Festival, Houston International Film Festival, San Francisco Erotic Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, and the Southwest Science Fiction Film Festival.

Read more about The Church of the SubGenius right here.

Watch Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Under the Rocks of Mars on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.