I have to start by saying this is completely true.
“I have a wet suit for you when we go,” said the voice on the other line the Wednesday night before we went. The voice belonged to that newly discovered on-line multi-talent sabateur, Justin Fornal, the current reigning culinary pod-cast king Baron Ambrosia with his infinitely bizarre, bewitching “Underbelly” broadcasts. Of course “discovered” is a relative term.
“I guess its my fault for playing Sonny as a Caucasian male,” he’d said dryly, referencing my discovery made about a month ago connecting his Underbelly persona, Ambrosia, to a random Turbo Tax Rap Contest entry made by a tobacconist guinny from the Bronx named Sonny Dimples.
I had to ask.
“Are there other characters?”
“We’ll talk about it when we get there,” he’d said and hung up the phone.
The wet suit was going to be implemented to conduct an interview beneath a dark, barely trafficked, abandoned subway corridor deep beneath Justin’s urban turf. Fornal had said he’d fallen in league with members of a society that discover and habitate abandoned portions of New York City’s underbelly, conducting art shows and séances there-in. I was neither given their name or their number of participants. But Justin was initially going to bring me to one such location, dismissing the easy and uninspiring terrain of a West Village Starbucks.
“Why will I need a wet suit?” I’d asked.
“Well, its really wet.”
When I talked to Fornal the following week he’d discovered that the dank portal allocated for our Plugg interview had actually been since sealed up. So we would have to opt for option #2.
We got together on a Saturday in the Bronx, Justin far from his Sonny Dimples attire, in a brown suit with a fedora and a yellow tie, his long hair streaming down over his face. He was very cordial, pretty funny, actually, and instantly garnered my absolute trust.
Instead of a wet suit, Fornal offered a blindfold. I felt like I couldn’t refuse. Besides, I would come to learn that this was what Fornal would call a “Canzo”.
Tyrone Davis – (Are you) In the Mood
When the blindfold came off we were outside some abandoned power plant somewhere in the 5 boroughs. Throughout the trip Fornal had talked my ear off about international fruits I’d never heard of, his upcoming Underbelly journeys to distant (and significantly dangerous) parts of the world, and more, all against the backdrop of esoteric 70s soul and the cool, robotic voice of his GPS system. And now we were here, and I was walking in the enormous, flooded interiors of a long abandoned power plant, 20 rickety feet in the air overlooking an uncomfortable possible plummet into dirty green water below.
“Its safe,” said Fornal. And with that, in the middle of the afternoon, trespassing in an abandoned power plant, the two of us started the interview.
A look at Underbelly Season 1
Alibastard – So lets get back to my main question. Are there other characters?
Fornal – Absolutely…quite a few actually. These one’s you’d never guess…and I can’t tell you who they are.
A – You knew I was going to ask.
F – Each character I play has created something, some work of art…hence they are all artists in their own rite…but it is less about what they do then who they are.
A – They are all you.
F – Right, but no one knows that. In that way the art creates the artist. I am creating people, real people…making truth from their fiction, it’s a backwards process. So many artists are pigeonholed and can’t indulge in works outside of how they have labeled themselves. Celine Dion can’t make a bestiality flick, even a tasteful one. But my army of aliases can do what ever they want.
A – Can I search for them?
F – You’re welcome to try, man. I’d love a little competition.
A – It’s a way to prevent categorization.
F – In a way, though that’s hardly the main goal.
A – Well, if you’ve made these other characters, and a significant amount of artwork as these other characters – have you made anything during this period as yourself?
F – Did you ever hear about this madman, climbed the Brooklyn bridge about three years ago?
A – I only started living in the city recently.
F – Well, its not like it was huge news, but some people knew about it – people definitely who were trying to get to work that morning at least(Laughter). You see, I think that making work that’s so close to yourself – it becomes a rite of passage. Putting yourself through some physical test in tandem with a film shoot, for example. It heightens your artistic instincts. It makes all the actors immediately attach to their present moment. I mean, no one loses their focus on the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. You stop thinking about craft services. You start thinking about the fucking heart of the thing your making. This is a Canzo.
A – Don’t stop there.
F – A Canzo is a rite of passage. For me, the Canzo should be at the heart of the human experience. We’ve become so sequestered, so infinitely bored. We can download anything, find anything, watch anything, and we don’t even have to fight or get off our asses for it. And we’re dissolving on the inside. The Canzo is what resuscitates us. If it’s a hamburger in Washington Heights, if it’s a lizard in Vietnam, if it’s a woman, the quest is an enormous part of all of my work. The environment alters your entire experience. When I was in Yemen and I heard some radicals were about ten minutes away and coming to kidnap me – seriously – things tasted a little bit different.
A – Jesus. So, one Canzo is in the making of the film. Climbing the Brooklyn bridge for a shot – did you actually do that?
F – We can talk about that later.
A –…Okay. One Canzo is in the making of the film, one Canzo is, what? If in the experience of the film, I’d imagine that would be in the film’s spectatorship.
F – Exactly.
A – So you’ve made a film, as yourself?
F – Baron Ambrosia is a kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing. As myself, I have some darker realms I travel.
A – And you’re going to show it to people…?
F – People need to see it within their own Canzo. To be vulnerable. To be stripped of their reality. Then what they are perceiving, if it’s a taste, if it’s a film, it becomes immensely more powerful than a Quicktime alongside their bevy of porn resources and potato chips.
A – Where would you show it?
F – I like this place.
A – Does it have a name?
F – It’s called Canzo Empyrean.
We walked back to the car, making sure not to be seen by any authority who’s obligation it would have been to quickly arrest us. It was a quiet ride back to Justin’s apartment where he’d show me his jar of Vietnamese bugs (distilled in vodka) and feed me dirt tea and chocolate with hot peppers, his knives from Yemen, his hookah shrine, and his Hieronymous Bosch on brilliant display.
“Will I get to see your movie?” I said as we took the rickety elevator back to the ground floor. I prepared for a rocky return to some semblance of reality.
“Only through another Canzo will I let you see it. But in the mean time you can search for my army of others circulating cyberspace.”
“Can you send me a trailer?”
“I’ll send you a little something else first.”
Justin’s trailer for the mysterious Canzo Empyrean, a film he has apparently been shooting in guerilla fashion for a full 7 years (and through a dangerous shooting method including off-limits locales, abandoned buildings and national monuments) is promised for Part 3. Till then, send any potential sightings of Mr. Fornal to firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps we can negotiate the inclusion of your person on a Canzo of its own.
Posted on May 13, 2007