The Petrol Can Rider, 2009

Launched at Bus Projects, 2009

The Petrol Can Rider screened in:
• Electric Shorts (Melbourne Fringe Festival) 2009
• The Canberra Short Film Festival 2009
• The Melbourne International Animation Festival 2010
• Australian International Animation Festival 2010
• St Kilda Film Festival 2010 – Top 100 Australian Short Films
• Revelation Film Festival 2010, Perth
• Melbourne Underground Film Festival 2010

Original score (composed, played & recorded): Daniel Bowden.
Everything else that made this film: Simon O’Carrigan.

The Petrol Can Rider, 2009

Press Synopsis

‘The Petrol Can Rider’ is a short, hand-drawn, cel animation. It follows a protagonist who, flat broke and having run out of petrol, is stranded by the road in the middle of an Australian nowhere.  Having spotted a roadside petrol merchant (whose scavenged fuel is sold by the bottle) he attempts to seek charity.  To remain motionless in this world, it seems, is to be as good as dead.
Set in a speculative future Australia, a post-Apocalyptic wasteland (with a nod to George Miller’s Mad Max), the animation engages with the centrality, in the Australian culture of moving images, of distance and isolation.
The narrative is adapted from a short story by Franz Kafka (The Coal Scuttle Rider), in which the protagonist faces freezing to death less the merchant give him charity.  The interaction with the merchant is hindered by, in The Petrol Can Rider, an over-zealous kelpie guard dog.

Themes of over-consumption and the scarcity of resources are bluntly present.  Transferring the coal for petrol updates Kafka’s story to bear wider relevance to contemporary issues. Beyond the simple story of trying to barter for petrol, the animation deals with themes of isolation, addiction and the inability to ever achieve satisfaction.  This satisfaction remaining out of reach can also apply more generally, and in current (not just imagined) times, to dependence and addiction.

In a climate where instant gratification prevails, and movement (speed) is everything, The Petrol Can Rider asks ‘what happens when the font dries up, when the supply ceases, when the resources are exhausted?  Can commerce outlast infrastructure?  Can commerce still exist when there is nothing left to sell, and no customers left to buy?  Is the death of community, human interactions the fault of the apocalypse (perhaps a war, or climate change, or any other kind) or the failing-to-die of commerce after the apocalypse?

The Petrol Can Rider

Essay by Martyn Pedler for launch of The Petrol Can Rider

As I write this, I’m hanging improbably in the air. The map that appears when I press a button on the armrest says I’m almost exactly halfway between Australia and my destination on the other side of the world. Looking closer – the map is unreassuringly staticky – I see that the familiar outline of home has disappeared altogether from the margins of the map.

Australia has always been defined in part by its unlikely geography. It’s not nicknamed “Down Under” for nothing. The isolation of living at the ends of the earth has also given us a strange, ongoing relationship with the end of the world.

George Miller’s Mad Max, for example, knew it would barely have to disguise the countryside to imply some kind of apocalypse. Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s cult heroine from the late-80s, Tank Girl, married a British punk sensibility with an Australian setting, mutated kangaroos and all. The Matrix starred a human population fooled into thinking the world hadn’t ended, but like Keanu Reeves’ Neo, we knew better – and locals knew the simulations was disguised Sydney streets, too. Worst of all, DC Comics basically blew Australia off the map in its series Invasion!, presumably thinking the rest of the world wouldn’t notice.

Which brings me, finally, to Simon O’Carrigan’s The Petrol Can Rider. This animation continues the tradition of imagining our staggering steps towards the end. His trenchcoated hero needs fuel for his car; that’s the only thing we know about him, or that we need to know. Without fuel, the story will be over. His desperation creates its own physics. Eventually, the empty petrol can he clutches itself begins to float, becoming a hopeful vehicle to carry him away.

O’Carrigan’s piece borrows its story from Franz Kafka’s short story The Coal Scuttle Rider. For many, Kafka has become shorthand for grinding, surreal bureaucracy. Does it seem strange, then, for this animation to use the kind of cartoonish logic in which the shockwaves from a dog’s bark can knock a man to the ground? People forget that Kafka is funny. It’s not so much black comedy as it is a slapstick of the soul. He’d be tickled, I think, with the O’Carrigan’s Looney Toons touches.

The script for The Petrol Can Rider includes the following line: “To remain still in this world is to be condemned to death”. This is true of any animation, of course. Some technologies of animation boast about the massive processing power and rendering times required to make their subjects move. Those giant transforming robots you last saw on the big screen? Press releases excitedly revealed that each frame required over thirty hours to process.

O’Carrigan’s apocalypse, however, is painstakingly hand-painted and cranked into motion at only 12 frames a second. Any faster than this and we’d risk missing the point. When fuel is so scarce and energy so precious, movement must be precisely calculated. Why would the back half of a dog move just because the front half does in a world collapsing into entropy? Equally, why would we see more of this world than we need to? Whatever’s outside this vignette doesn’t matter; it certainly doesn’t matter to the driver, the merchant, and the dog that populate it.

Now, I’m watching the screen in the back of the seat in front of me and its cartoon plane stutter across the simulated map of the Pacific. I imagine that if we ran out of fuel, right now, up at 33,000 feet, we wouldn’t fall. We’d hang here, landlocked in the sky like in Looney Toons, until physics finally noticed and animated our descent.

Martyn Pedler
22nd June, 2009
Halfway to New York