While not perhaps household names, for huge communities of fans Gábor Csupó (The Simpsons) and the musician, Frank Zappa, are legendary icons. I’m curious what the venn diagram of their respective fanbases looks like, but however large the overlap, it contained two important figures—each other. In Cosmic Debris, Patrick Waldrop crafts a touching mixed media documentary of a unique and unlikely friendship between two artists that, on the surface, had little reason to be thought of together.
Csupó was an über-fan of Zappa, but both admired each other’s work and over the years developed a bond that led to Csupó designing Zappa’s posthumous album cover, “The Lost Sessions”. The journey to that famous collaboration is the bones of the film, and is, at its core, a simple story of fandom and friendship. It’s unexpectedly touching—there is the vicarious thrill of watching someone’s hero meet their hero—and it’s all brought alive with deftness by Waldrop’s playful impressive formal approach. For fans of either artist the film is essential, but even if you don’t know either man’s work, the story proves pleasurable.
Waldrop heard the story from Csupó himself, and not only was he moved by it, he felt a strong desire to share it through film. The timing worked out perfectly as he had also been working on a feature length documentary for years, and saw in creating a short film the opportunity to exercise his creativity in a less arduous manner and gain the satisfaction of finishing a damn project. With easy access to his subject, a quick 45 minute interview gave him all the material he needed to enter postproduction with his editor Chelsi Johnston.
Csupó is a character, his life story is remarkable in many ways, but he also has a very entertaining way of recounting it. From escaping Hungary with the singular dream in mind to “do animation” and an undying devotion to Frank Zappa’s music, his story is inspiring. Waldrop lends flavor to the storytelling by breaking up the interview via different styles, and the approach aids in capturing Csupó’s story, and his charming sense of humor. The found footage is perfectly incorporated into Csupó’s interview, giving key moments additional impact, or illustrating a sarcastic remark. And of course, since we are dealing with a famed animator, Waldrop uses animation, but here it is of a quite uncommon kind—he utilizes watercolors as his primary tool, and the impressionistic quality to these drawings intensifies the film’s more emotional moments.
The first half of the film is Csupó’s life story, before he became one of television animations most celebrated figures by creating Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and animating early seasons of The Simpsons. It sets a tone—an artist who is willing to make art, work tirelessly for it in the worst conditions, and sacrifice for it. Like everyone, he has his inspirations, and Frank Zappa was one of the greatest. Given how his rise to fame was not handed to him on a silver platter, the role Zappa and his music take on Csupó’s ascent imbues deep meaning, and ultimately makes the relationship between the two men feel as though it starts before they even met. When it turns out that Zappa is also a fan of Csupó’s animation, the film turns into a friendship tale of two artists who appreciate each other’s work, gets inspired by one another and lift each other up… an unlikely pair that builds a bond on common grounds.
We caught Cosmic Debris when it premiered at the 2018 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, and Waldrop’s film stuck with me thanks to its memorable and entertaining style and of course Csupó’s genuine and poignant story. We’re pleased to be able to share it with you today!