Review: Folk Songs of the American Wood Elf offers something completely different

by Michael Roberts for TDS

“And now for something completely different,” said John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. 

It felt only fitting to start this article with that famous quote. The entire journey to this story felt like something out of the ordinary and “completely different.”

 Now thinking about it, I took a journey not too dissimilar to Teenage Bunny, the lead character in the film Folk Songs of the American Wood Elf. The film is from Yellow Springs, Ohio elf-core music and arts collective Toadstool Shadow, formed in 2019 by composer, director and self-proclaimed “half-wood elf” Chris Till.

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Taking notes from punk’s do it yourself aesthetic, the collective do everything themselves. From recording to filming to costumes and special effects. The similarities to punk stop at the music though. Chris describes their sound as, “neither loud nor aggressive. It’s lo-fi psych-pop.” 

They released their first album “Rainbow Nights” in 2020. When filmmaker Eli Bowsman joined them in late 2019, Chris started looking at opportunities beyond just making videos. “With Eli on board, the music videos quickly turned into a movie project,” Chris says.

Which brings us to the movie Folk Songs of the American Wood Elf. The movie is the second part of a planned three-part fairy-tale opera. The film had its world premiere at the Cut Cinema in Canton on September 9. Due to a last-minute scheduling change (the movie ran three nights instead of the originally scheduled one), I was treated to a private screening. It’s an experience I highly recommend if you have the chance. This made the experience of watching it that much more surreal. The theater resides in the basement of Canton’s Vital Arts Gallery, making it a truly underground film experience.

The movie tells the story of Teenage Bunny, a man in a bunny suit and backpack hopping through life. After a childhood incident where he was briefly transported into a magical world of elves and fairies, Teenage Bunny decides to recreate the experience to see if it really happened or was all in his head. 

Equipped with a video camera, he hides under a toadstool and reenters the magical realm. The story takes place after this has already happened. He takes the footage to a psychiatrist to see if it actually happened or was all in his head. I couldn’t help but wonder why he needed validation if he had video proof, but it’s probably best not to dig too deep. The majority of the film’s 40-minute runtime is devoted to musical interludes of Teenage Bunny frolicking with elves, fairies, leprechauns, unicorns and such. Quite often these take place among the streets and alleys of Yellow Springs, which leads to some interesting shots of passersby. The songs are separated with the narrative element of Teenage Bunny talking with his psychiatrist. With an ending that sets up part three of the tale Journey to Glass Mountain, the film leaves the viewer in a contemplative state about the nature of reality and our understanding of it. 

As Chris says, “The themes are the blurry line between visionary transcendence and insanity; the hidden world around us; and the pursuit of truth.”

Toadstool Shadow’s music elevates the movie above standard DIY cinema. The film’s opening song “Telepathic Corridors” gives a sense of the mellow laid-back tone the viewer can expect for the runtime. One thing that stuck out during this segment is that the lyrics are featured on screen. This led me to believe that the film might be a sing-along audience participation experience. However, the device was dropped after this song and never returned. “March of the Robot Elves” was to me the standout song. It’s sense of whimsy and groovy tone was a high point as the story reached its end. 

The film and music are definitely a niche unto themselves. For those viewers with an open and adventurous spirit, Toadstool Shadow’s Folk Songs of the American Wood Elf” is a testament to the joyous and creative essence of their collective. It is definitely “something completely different.”

The film will be showing in the Dayton area in October and Chillicothe in November. They are hoping to have it available for streaming in 2022. Upcoming dates and information can be found at toadstoolshadow.com The album can be streamed on Spotify, Amazon, Music, Apple Music, and other streaming services.

Michael (he/him) is a lifelong resident of Highland Square, a performance artist, a traveler, a writer and starting to look more like a wizard daily.

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