Imagine Le Corbusier or Philip Johnson as a film noir protagonist or action-comic hero. That's the premise for Mister Glasses, Mitch Magee's series of video shorts featuring an embattled modernist architect and his quirky entourage. Outwardly dour yet determined to help the world, Mister Glasses (Magee) perseveres in the face of rampant Postmodernism. He narrowly survives an assassination attempt by a rival, restores harmony among his bickering staff, and uses a model of the Farnsworth House to aid a lovesick teen. His deadpan delivery and trim black wardrobe never waver.
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Magee has written and directed six Mister Glasses episodes since fall 2007. Each has debuted at the competitive monthly amateur screening Channel101:NY, where attendees have consistently voted to extend the series. The five-minute videos then become available on sites like ny.channel101.com, funnyordie.com, and YouTube. (The "videos" link on Magee's site points to Funny or Die.) You don't have to be an architect to appreciate the humor, but design references abound. The first episode credits Mister Glasses as the architect of masterpieces such as the "Amalgamated Orange Juice Building," instantly recognizable as Corbu's Unité d'Habitation, for example, and the old form-and-function debate spirals into absurd sexual innuendo in the sixth episode.
Magee keeps production costs below $500 per episode, working around the schedules of his actor friends and filming on borrowed sets. Like a Wes Anderson film, Mister Glasses is full of "weird situations that are played straight," says Magee. The lush black-and-white videography reflects his passion for film noir, while his protagonist's idealism alludes to "a particular strain of American Modernism that was meant to be a cure-all for poverty."
Magee plans to extend Mister Glasses to a total of eight episodes in 2009. An Art Institute of Chicago graduate, he performed with improv comedy groups before focusing on film and video for the past three years. Two of his other series, Sexual Intercourse: American Style and Welcome to My Study, are also minor underground hits. As for his architect hero's genesis, Magee says the character occurred to him while touring New York City with friends. They saw the Urban Glass House under construction, and one person asked who designed the building—a Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie creation, with interiors by Annabelle Selldorf. Magee replied, "You know, Mister Glasses."