Featured Art: “Attack of the Brine Shrimp”

Mike CassidyMike Cassidy
Attack of the Brine Shrimp
1980, DVD
Courtesy of the Utah Independent Film Archives in Special Collections at J. Willard Marriott Library

Utah’s landscape has a storied history in the movies. John Ford’s quintessential Western, The Searchers, finds John Wayne looking downright iconic in Monument Valley. In countless other Hollywood films, Utah also serves as a no-man’s land, as a symbol for the untamed West, as a metaphor more than as a place with a latitude and a longitude; these films are not films about Utah, they’re just stopping by. Mike Cassidy’s 1980 cult classic, Attack of the Brine Shrimp, is a film about Utah. In Japanese Kaiju films, most famously Godzilla and its many iterations, the city where the monster wreaks havoc becomes a character in its own right, and Cassidy elevates Salt Lake to the status of Tokyo and New York City as a place worthy of such havoc.

Taking stylistic cues from the likes of Stan Brakhage and his found footage, Japanese Kaiju films of the 1950s, and stop motion animation, Attack of the Brine Shrimp pays homage to the history of film and makes not-so-subtle reference to Utah’s ties to Hollywood. Cassidy’s film is a send-up of Salt Lake City culture, a gloriously Do-It-Yourself version of a big Hollywood blockbuster. As the titular giant Brine Shrimp looms menacingly over the Mormon Temple, two of Utah’s most recognizable icons—one, a potent cultural and religious institution, the other, an unlikely but beloved signifier of that most strange, mythical place, the Great Salt Lake—collide in the most spectacularly weird fashion. If Cassidy’s film is cathartic to Utahns, it’s because we see our much beloved and bemoaned culture celebrated and ridiculously, humorously dismantled all in the short span of twenty five minutes. [Written by by Lee Asahina]