A lot of information is thrown at you very quickly in Danish documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, but the main things you need to know are these:
- Kim – aka Cannon Arm – is an expert at arcade video games, which he loves to play with his friends at the (wonderfully named) Bip Bip Bar in Copenhagen.
- His favourite is called ‘Gyruss’, and he’s very good at it – most players only have three or four minutes before Game Over, but his record is 49 hours.
- With the help of his friends, he decides to try and smash the Gyruss world record and play for 100 hours straight. It proves to be quite the undertaking…
Much of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is concerned with the complicated logistics of Kim’s unusual challenge. How will he sleep? How will he use the bathroom? The answers to these, and the many other questions that arise over the course of the preparation, are both charming and strangely impressive. Although the whole adventure is about as low stakes as it gets, watching Kim and his friends embark upon their quest as if they’re getting ready to climb Mount Everest (Kim is even sent to the doctor for a medical exam), it’s easy to get swept up in their excitement.
This is in large part down to the characters we meet, all enormously endearing misfits who make up a kind, supportive community. We’re emerged in the realm of the Bip Bip Bar to the extent that it becomes the documentary’s entire universe, and you get the sense that these men aren’t a natural fit for the world outside. During the course of the shoot, one of Kim’s friends was beaten up for having long hair and a quirky moustache – when we see him after the attack, both are gone. The film doesn’t linger on the incident, but it stays with you anyway. The rest of the world might not be kind to the denizens of the Bip Bip Bar, but at least they have one another; the sheer lengths they go to to help Kim attempt to achieve his dream proves the sincere affection that resides within this offbeat society.
In his loquacious, deadpan narration, Mads Hedegaard – who also directed the documentary – finds the perfect tone: jocular, and very aware of the low stakes involved, but tremendously warm towards his subjects. He laughs with them, but never at them. And that carefully balanced tone is what makes Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest not just an entertaining journey, but a moving one. As we watch Kim make his way through the many hours of his challenge, his friends are always with him – playing him Iron Maiden music when his energy flags, timing his toilet breaks so that he doesn’t lose all his lives (these scenes are a particular highlight), playing games on the neighbouring machines to keep him company. They don’t care about the absurdity of his goal – because he wants it, they want it for him. With friends like that, whatever happens in his Gyruss challenge, it’s clear to us that he’s already won.