CUFF Review: 'Where in the Hell Is the Lavender House: The Longmont Potion Castle Story' Gets in the Way of its Prank Call Chronicle Directed by David Hall and Thomas Rotenberg
Published Nov 11, 2019In one of many fan interviews peppered throughout Where in the Hell Is the Lavender House: The Longmont Potion Castle Story, it's observed that, in some of the phone artist's releases, the person on the call will complain they've been getting these calls for a long time. The suggestion is that, prior to the call you're listening to on a Longmont Potion Castle LP or bootleg, or in this new documentary on the prank caller's work, the Colorado man of mystery may have been digging at this person for months. He may have been prodding them day after day, waiting for the subject to ripen into something hilarious and to be ready to take the call in an unexpected direction.
Lavender House doesn't have its subject's diligence or restraint. The twin approaches of the documentary are one part standard fan flick, quizzing obsessives on what the oeuvre of LPC means to them, and one part mockumentary, with a B-plot of an Indiegogo-funded film gone to seed that tries to capture some of the artist's anarchic spirit, without adding anything to an appraisal of what he's released to the world.
Since the 1980s, the anonymous and pseudonymous phone artist has been releasing compilations that, to fans of the genre, elevated the prank call. The sonic hallmarks of his calls are unmistakable, like the distorted and looped vocals that disorient those called and those listening alike. At one point, a subject talks about the experience of having LPC call them and loop their own laugh back at them, a slice of surreality essential to the man's work. (Another trick of his: patching people into calls with one another, which brings about a great montage of his various calls connecting celebrities with Alex Trebek.) He's developed a language and an approach all his own that continues today.
Not without confrontation; as Ghoul Skool of Everything Is Terrible!, one of the interview subjects here, notes, the willingness to be mean-spirited is part of what defines LPC's work. Ghoul Skool is one of many who pop up, including members of Cannibal Corpse and Pinback, Rainn Wilson, writer/director Andrew Bujalski of Computer Chess and Disney+'s Lady and the Tramp. Together, these perspectives are the most intriguing part of Lavender House, rubbing out the contours of what makes LPC calls unique, the elements of his approach and the mystery that draw people in.
Eventually, they manage to talk with the reclusive LPC, who holds onto his secret identity and mostly discusses process. While what he has to say might pique the interest of diehards, for the un- or semi-initiated, he's not as engaging or interesting as his fans. He presents the how of the calls; every other person here has a perspective on the what and why of the calls that's more compelling. Without a tighter hand from the interviewer, LPC might just be content to let 16 albums and status as a cult fan favourite speak for themselves.
The side business is essentially siloed off from the part of the film that considers LPC. In a haze of Adult Swim tics, the filmmakers paint a portrait of a failing doc, where the money dwindles, producers and crew fight amongst themselves, and lawsuits are threatened. The gag doesn't intersect with anything being said about LPC in a meaningful way. Lavender House is unquestionably at its best when it sets aside its own joke to let someone be real about Longmont.