Presenting Mr. Peanut
Vancouver’s 1974 civic election was predicted to be an uneventufl one. The incumbent mayor was projected to win without contest, and there was little public interest.
That changed on November 2nd when The Vancouver Sun ran a cover story featuring a photograph of a man apparently dressed in a full-sized peanut costume inscribing his candidacy for mayor. His name was Mr. Peanut.
Thus began the weirdest political campaign in Canadian history.
Complete with a hard outer shell, cane, tap shoes, and a stately monocle, Mr. Peanut had an air of subdued distinction. He made daily appear- ances in public, tapdancing for people and handing out peanuts. He was covered widely in the media. And though everyone was talking about Mr. Peanut, he never once spoke a word.
He may have been a funny sight to behold, but Mr. Peanut was no joke. His candidacy had real political substance, despite his unorthodox methods. The truth is that the Mr. Peanut Campaign was – and remains – the most sophisticated performance-art project ever to occur in this country. His campaign represents the collective labour of dozens of influential Canadian artists in a time when art itself was being dramati- cally redefined.
Now, almost 50 years later, Mr. Peanut has been largely forgotten. But for the first time ever, the vault is being opened, and the story of this unique project is being brought to the viewing public.
Peanut For Mayor is the larger-than-life true story of how a group of artists hi-jacked an election, and put art itself on the ballot.
Synopsis (Part 1)
Throughout his electoral campaign – which lasted for 20 days – Mr. Peanut appeared on the streets, at all-candidates meetings, and in televised de- bates. In keeping with the decorum of the political process, he composed himself with the same dignity and earnestness as the other candidates.
He was an instant media sensation. Everybody was talking about Mr. Pea- nut. Who was he? Where did he come from? What was his platform? Did he even HAVE a platform?
In fact, his candidacy was conceived by a group of artists who lived and worked at The Western Front, an old building on Vancouver’s east side that had been recently converted into an artists commune. Frustrated and bored by the conventions of a rigidly formalized art world, their mission was to transform it into “something different” – to blend art and life seam- lessly.
Spearheaded by an enigmatic young artist named John Mitchell (look closely for him on the photo to your left), the campaign was conceived as a way of highlighting the absurdity of our political traditions. Unlike a paint- ing or a sculpture, this artwork was not bound by a physical form. Instead, it was composed of news segments, public performances, and newspaper headlines – all of which are preserved. The express purpose of the Mr. Peanut Campaign was to use the news media itself as an instrument of art. And it worked.
The project was a massive success, praised in conceptual art circles around the world as a masterwork of media manipulation. Mr. Peanut’s candidacy was officially endorsed by Andy Warhol, and William S. Burroughs, and the project stands to this day as a seminal work of conceptual art. Despite being one of British Columbia’s most celebrated cultural achieve- ments, the story of this campaign project is largely unknown, and has yet to be comprehensively and definiteively told.
Synopsis (Part 2)
Mr. Peanut’s roots go back to the 1960s, to a time when broad transfor- mations were taking place in Canadian culture and politics. New ideas and attitudes were starting to percolate, and for a brief period it seemed as though the rigid traditions and institutions of the past would crumble.
The Western Front was born during this time. It was a place where art and life blended into one – a fertile artistic community that fostered new and strange forms of interdisciplinary collaboration. For the first time, artists were beginning to see new technologies like video as media for expression. Art was increasingly seen as performance or “intervention” – and there was no rulebook.
The Mr. Peanut Campaign was one such intervention. It involved dozens of people from all backgrounds, including a troupe of musicians and dancers (including an all female group called “The Peanettes”), all of whom were unique artists in their own right. Heading the project was John Mitchell, the mysterious campaign manager whose writings and philosophy animat- ed the movement, and who was the only person from the campaign to ever speak officially on its behalf.
Of course, not everyone was happy about the campaign. NPA mayoral can- didate George Puil – Mr. Peanut’s arch-nemesis – confronted Mr. Peanut on live television, accusing him of debasing the democratic process. Many agreed with him. Mr. Peanut’s supporters argued that he was a lone voice of dissent against the city’s “bulldozer mentality” – that he was the authentic voice of the people, and the spark of a revolution that would see an end to “adolescent politics”, – the dawning of a new “art city”.
In the end, the fate of the campaign would rest with Vancouver’s electorate who, on November 20th, went to the polls to cast their vote, and render their verdict. In many ways it was a referendum about the rightful place of art in society. And though the election is long over, the questions it raised are still unanswered.
Our ApproachThe film will be narrated by the original artists who orchestrated the campaign, all of whom are famous Canadian artists today. Using a combination of archival materials, original footage, and interview content, the story will be told chronologically as the drama of the cam- paign unfolds, leading to its climax – election night. The story culmi- nates in a final scene in which the artists crash a live news broadcast for their “victory show”. The film concludes by prompting the viewer to consider for themselves whether artists succeeded in their mission, or whether their art – now canonized and displayed in official galleries – became the very thing against which it had revolted. In keeping with the spirit of our subject, “Mr. Peanut’s” meaning is ultimately left for the viewer to decide.
Why Mr. Peanut?
We have chosen to tell this story because it is uniquely British Colum- bian, and because it has a profound message about the interplay of
art, media, and politics. This story provides a unique insight into how political discourse in our province has changed since the mid-twenti- eth century, and how artistic attitudes have reflected deeper changes in the fabric of British Columbian life. The news segments covering the campaign – as well as records from the campaign itself – document a fascinating cultural moment in this province, one that has resonance today (a time in which absurdist political theatre is all too relatable).
Our Point Of ViewWe intend to tell this story with respect to the original spirit in which the Peanut Campaign was conceived and carried out – a spirit of irrev- erence, and a willingness to break with convention. This is tempered by a deep respect for the material, and for the artists who have agreed to work with us. The campaign (like the film) might appear absurd on its surface, but its sophistication and depth become more evident the more you learn about it. Despite his foolish appearance, Mr. Peanut is anything but frivolous.
We are extremely fortunate that the artists behind the campaign were diligent archivists. All media and ephemera associated with the campaign have been well-preserved, including several news segments, a televised debate – even footage of the live ‘unplanned performance’ at CTV studios on election night. These fascinating records have not been published since they were broadcast live in 1974. The artists and galleries have granted our team the permis- sion to publish these materials.
The audience for this film is broad in one sense, and narrow in an- other. First, the film features several contemporary artists who are famous both within Canada and internationally, so it is of interest to BC’s art community. It will also have particular appeal to Van- couverites, most of whom are curious to know more about this sur- prising moment in their history. Second, because the images of Mr. Peanut are so extraordinary, the film has a broad appeal to people’s basic curiosity:Who is Mr. Peanut? Our vision for this film is to have it featured at major Canadian film festivals, primarily VIFF and TIFF. Because the film is, in part, a story about Vancouver’s history, it is directly relevant to people who live in that city. But the themes of the film are sufficiently broad that anyone can enjoy the film. And when they do, they will ask their friends: did you know a Peanut once ran for mayor of Vancouver?
Stray Cat Media
Andrew Muir – Director/Producer
Stray Cat Media is a Vancouver-based production company specializing in documentary film and broadcast. It is owned and operated by Andrew Muir, who produces and directs all original content. Andrew is an independent producer/director working in film and broadcast, specializing in original documentaries. His work has a dual focus of art and history, and he is primarily focused on stories local to his home province of British Columbia. He has won 7 Leo awards, including “Best Director Of A Short Documentary” and “Best Short Documentary” in 2018 for his film A Theatre Near You.
Gab Films Inc.
Greg Bartels – Cinematographer/ProducerGreg is the owner/operator of Gab Films Inc., a Vancouver based production company. His work has earned him several notable awards, including two CSC Award and several Leo Awards for his cinematography on Hand Crafted and A Theatre Near You. He is committed to the highest technical and artistic standards in all his work.
The film has secured all necessary commitments from the relevant institutions, including The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, and The Western Front We’ve also gotten the full blessing and support of all the artists involved in the Mr. Peanut campaign, many of whom will narrate the film.
The Artists:- Vincent Trasov - Michael Morris - Elizabeth Vander Zaag - Hank Bull - Glenn Lewis - Eric Metcalfe - Lin Bennett - Marybeth Knechtel -
With your support, the spirit of Mr. Peanut may yet live on.
- Andrew Muir & Greg Bartels