I had posted a trailer for this film and was lucky enough to actually see it on the big screen this past year (one of very few, evidently.) I thought it might be good to say a few words about it. Here’s the trailer again:
The film was produced in 2009 and released the following year. But the film is not of this decade. Stylistically, thematically, structurally, and aurally it is the 1980s – a decade that many of us understand texturally if not intellectually, and that many more will never understand except through the transitive experiences of contemporary life, seen through a glass and darkly.
This is precisely what Beyond the Black Rainbow is. For all its structure, it is a fever dream of the 1980s: an electronic ghost born from young filmmaker Panos Cosmatos whose father, George Cosmatos, had gained 80s notoriety with films like Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra, and Leviathan.
Panos himself experienced 80s cinema the way many of us did: as a boy. He would walk up and down through the aisles of neighborhood video stores, stopping to read the backs of video boxes and gaze at pictures of monsters, mutants, and muscle-men - all the while breathing in…. Taking in sights, sounds, colors and forms as only an adolescent can: intertextually, out of context, as otherworldly phenomenon existing in its own right, seemingly independent of causes and systems. Pure aesthetic experience. When he exhaled, this aesthetic experience was formed into a temporal digital breath called Beyond the Black Rainbow.
The film’s narrative pacing is loose – almost as if the tempo were applied post-manifest to the images that spilled from the director’s mind- but also structurally familiar. Part slasher film, part escapist thriller, part science fiction…… The film creeps along slowly – testing our limits of attention. It is best with this film to allow the sights and sounds to simply envelope you. Relish the slow movements like a slow symphony. It is okay to be anxious, even bored. The phenomenon of perpetual entertainment was the worst thing to happen to film since the focus group.
The ending is sudden and awkwardly abrupt. I’ll warn you now that you will not be pleased. It’s a flaw – perhaps an intentional one, but a flaw nonetheless. It is also distinctly 1980s, so perhaps it’s the only appropriate ending. Further, I’m reminded that it is the flaws in things that give them their charm, their hand-made nature.
The film will remind you of Kubrick, of Jodorowsky and his psychedelic filmmaking, and also of THX 1138 by some director who would never direct that well again. Panos may be tied to the same fate. He has no new projects on the horizon and this film is anything but mainstream mass-market.
Ultimately we’re left with an experience of sight and sound perfectly married.
Anything different is good.