platypus

Animator Andy Smetanka remembers seeing it back in his hometown of Billings.

The classic Rockin Rudy's T-shirt design featuring a funny-looking amphibian and the slogan, "Missoula Montana: A Place. Sort Of."

"The flying platypus is one of the first artifacts of Missoula that I remember seeing when I was growing up," he said.

"There certainly wasn't any hint of humor in any civic T-shirts for the Billings Centennial. It wasn't jokey at all. And then I see this T-shirt from this semi-distant weird place I'd heard of called Missoula," he said in an interview at his Northside home studio.

Smetanka is using that slogan, "A Place Sort Of," as the name and starting point for a documentary about his adopted home of 25 years, where he transferred for college and has stayed almost entirely since.

He said he'd like to make it a "looking glass" of sorts for residents past and present, into the city's quirks, moods, seasons and history.

"If you live in Missoula and you look at it, you'll see something of yourself and Missoula in it. Your version is not going to be my version exactly, but I don't want anyone to look at this movie and be profoundly alienated by my interpretation of Missoula," he said.

The film is a follow-up to his gargantuan one-man project, "And We Were Young," a stop-motion silhouette animated film about World War I that took him three years to complete.

As material, Smetanka is starting with a quarter-century's worth of Super-8 home movies, including scenic and time-lapse material, he's shot around western Montana. He thinks the nostalgic look of Super-8 will give his personal footage a broad appeal.

He plans on shooting additional Super-8 footage; recreating some scenes or events; tracking down old footage shot by others; and making some silhouette animation, all adding up to a 75- to 80-minute movie.

Some of film will revisit the city's past.

"It's a portrait of Missoula, but it's going to have a ton of history. I'm not going to set out to tell the complete economic picture of Missoula, or every last mayor or anything like that, but it's all going to be laced in there," he said.

It will include information about landmarks like the Wilma Theatre, which was once adjacent to a side channel of the Clark Fork River; "the unsettled etymology of the name Missoula itself"; "the grisly story" behind the name of Hellgate Canyon.

It will touch on quirks that leave every transplant scratching their heads, such as the Slant Streets neighborhood, whose diagonal grid awkwardly adjoins the rest of the city's conventional North-South layout. (It rose out of a conflict between two sets of power-brokers.)

"It's going to have all these anchor points in history, but it's not going to be devoted to a chronological telling," he said.

It will also include "a gentle poking and prodding of Missoula habits," he said.

Those include confusion about roundabouts (perhaps filmed in time lapse), the abnormally large number of potlucks, and the Missoula tradition of giving a standing ovation to nearly any visiting performer.

"I think it's touching (that) we're so eager to show visitors that we appreciate them coming here," he said. "I think it maybe harks back to a general insecurity to when Missoula was more of an entertainment, touring-band backwater than it is now."

He'd also like to revisit the city's various golden ages of arts and culture, which seem to depend on how old you are.

"There always seemed to be these mythical lost eras that came to an end some time shortly before you arrived," he said.

For the baby boomers, it was the Aber Day keggers ("That was a pretty spectacular happening that will probably never happen again," he said ). For the 44-year-old Smetanka and his friends, it was the rock scene that revolved around Jay's Upstairs bar.

The last thing he'd like to make clear is that "A Place Sort Of" is a personal film, but it's not about him.

The pronoun "I" won't even be used in the narration, and he won't even narrate it himself.

"You're going to have to maybe be able to laugh at yourself, chuckle at yourself as a Missoulian, but I don't want to be off-putting or hurtful to absolutely anybody. I want it to be an all-purpose mirror where you see yourself and your Missoula in it somehow," he said.