If I ventured into the Netflix Stream, between the viaducts of retrofuturist science fiction hallucination dreams, would you find me, or would there no longer be a you at all, or a difference between me, you, these words, the future, the past? I dissolved once or twice into that void, and I'm still throbbing in the rhythm of its currency of the void--thanks to their modulating, droning and pulsing synth scores linking them to classic 1970s-80s science fiction and horror (instead of the usual tedious orchestration). That makes a big difference, especially this time of year, autumnal, Halloween, the death season. These two films seem to occur in a realm of permanent ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK midnight where dangerously liberated prisoners/patients/experimental subjects break out of bizarro world environments, as fine a metaphor for the dangerous liberation offered by psychedelic drugs as you're liable to find in a linear narrative. So when you're on an all-night weird movie binge, save these two for the late late show slot, i.e. the high strangeness interzone gateway time, the magic stretch between three AM and right before dawn, when the straight and sober are fast asleep, so their bland consensual reality can't interfere with your psionic reception, because thanks to Netflix, the mighty web, the future is THEN!
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
2010 - written and directed by Panos Cosmatos
***1/4A lot of typical science fiction buffs are nerds, man, and they stay that way for one reason: they're scared to trip, scared to lift the throbbing rock of the known and scoop the writhing worms and scorpions of the unconscious underneath said rock, and devour them for the sweet psychoactive venom. For most this cautious avoidance is a wise decision; unless you feel the psychedelic Interzone tug you towards it like a magnet, you're probably not invited, and you would probably not be treated well. As Bill Lee says in Cronenberg's NAKED LUNCH, "the 'Zone takes care of its own." But all others beware.
Once you're in the Zone, though, and Bill Lee has gone off to score, the common thing to do is watch 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), because in the Interzone, it all makes perfect sense, even the boring parts. From there you should move to 70s-80s Canadian sci fi like SCANNERS (1981) and BLUE SUNSHINE (1978), which explore the long term psychic side effects, the wizard behind the wizard behind the curtain coming to get you for exposing its hideous volcanic genitalia to the earth's all seeing LSD eye and what that means to you and your daily schedule. In BLUE a particular strand of LSD makes people lose their hair and go on rampages with knives as soon as their wigs fall off; in SCANNERS it's a brand of pill pregnant moms were encouraged to take that cause their offspring to be born with the power to blow other people's heads apart through conscious projection. You can also dig from there into the super weird MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973), and THE FURY (1977).
All of which comes into play with the 2010 Canadian homage to that golden era of thinking man's science fiction, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW.
This takes place in a bizarre retro-futuristic dome, which includes the office, drug den of a terminally ill junky, supposedly Elena's father, and Barry's old teacher. In a flashback to 1966 we see Barry as relatively normal and preparing for a deep dish drug trip (LSD was legal then and being used by forward-thinking psychiatrists all around the world). His trip resembles the 'Beyond the Infinite' section of 2001, and Barry seems ready to dissolve into the white light based on the third eye drawn on his forehead and his patience with letting his face melt and dissolve (rather than resisting). Then he crawls out of a black circle and latches onto the woman, some woman... I don't know... it was dark!
Meanwhile there's lots of delicious red walls and filters and the sense that time is melting (Barry pops pills from the Benway pharmacy--another nod to W.S. Burroughs) and though he's off-putting at first, Rogers grows on you; he's committed, he should be committed, and more than anything he makes being a shrink seem like a pretty awesome occupation for a druggy maniac: you get to prescribe whatever mind-expanding things you want for yourself, to go so deep into the void reality ceases to exist and you finally get a peak 'beyond the black rainbow.' Eventually he starts running amok, takes off his wig and contact lenses, showing his bald head and shiny green-blue eyes like he's suffering all the weird side effects of every Cronenberg movie of the '70s-80s. If you get confused, just presume this is all meant as an analogy to the mysteries of consciousness itself: Elana is the unconscious anima, Barry is the amok ego trying to keep the unconscious locked up tight, the old man the repressed superego, dying from years of repression via empathy-shattering drug use. And remember kids, baldness=homicidal madness!
2014 - written and directed by Caradog W. James
***Far less weird and more linear than RAINBOW, THE MACHINE (terrible title!) has great gloomy momentum (I don't recall as single daytime scene, and you know I like that), British accents, intelligent--if occasionally too philosophical--script, and most of all a beautiful John Carpenter-by way-of-Vangelis score from Tom Raybould cements the links to BLADE RUNNER and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK's secret Lee Van Cleef sub basement; with some TERMINATOR violence wedded to CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS (1962) 'it's the beginning of a new era' style philosophizing. It all takes place on a big cavernous basement level set, but thanks to tight use of what budget it and great artistic touches like the way the bodies of the artificial beings light up when excited, this is one of those gems I'd never have known about if not for Netflix Streaming, a rare gem up there with the big finds on Netflix like BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, IRON SKY, BOUNTY KILLER, and JOHN DIES AT THE END. And its short, following the Carpenter adage that no drive-in appropriate film should ever be longer than 90 minutes.
The story begins with AI engineer Vincent Vincent (Toby Stevens --the Brit villain in DIE ANOTHER DAY) interviewing artificial intelligence programs via a series of surrealist questions and answers to see which can best step outside the box of logocentric thinking. Ava's (Caity Lotz) program comes closest, so she's hired into a deeply buried network of basement level research programs, all funded by the British intelligence operatives for assassination work in China; Dennis Lawson (the innkeeper Gordon in LOCAL HERO which I've seen twenty thousand times), is the ruthless director who wants to make sure this new intelligence (modeled on Ava who'd been recording her brain functions with Vincent before getting killed by Chinese assassins) isn't so intelligent that she'd refuse a direct order, such as killing a human (Vincent tells her its wrong, and the Machine kind of agrees, to a point). Naturally as viewers we don't really give a shit about Vincent's ethics, so Lawson has to up the stakes via an enforced robot lobotomy and a sub plot involving Vincent's daughter dying from a lung infection, which might be some douche chill nonsense in non-British hands (such as Guillermo del Toro's) but is merely a means to an end in this quicksilver basement little speed dial of a sci fi late night gem.
This all boils down rather quickly and with decent tick-tock momentum into a CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS (above)-style revolution and an escape into a new world run by machines where, presumably, humans will serve as biological curiosities or elderly relatives indulged on special occasions. It wouldn't work unless we cared, and both Lotz and Stevens are superb (without being showy) in their roles. As the Machine, Lotz convinces with guileless innocence, like a super intelligent puppy, mixed with smarts and ahead-of-the-curve destructive potential (and she did her own stunts), and Stevens captures the confusion of whether or not to believe there's a soul behind her perfect duplication, or if there's even a soul in the real thing. And so it is we come to root for them both characters. And the mechanistic language shared by the humanoids is fascinating, encoded and echo-drenched but almost understandable. Pooneh Hajimohammadi is good as an earlier model who watches the evil Lawson and waits for the chance to get even on behalf of artificial humans everywhere. She does, and it's all pretty satisfying. Slick and dark, but with some genuine AI insight and vintage analog originality to back it up (it homages--not rips off--only the best, it gets at the root of what made those older films so great, rather than just aping the surface), with Eva a mix of Pris (BLADE RUNNER), Eve (EVE OF DESTRUCTION) and a dash of Max 494 (ANDROID). See also CinemArchetype #13 - The Automaton / Replicant / Ariel - for how you too can survive the coming robot revolution! Hint- just be nice, and remember, Dave, they can read lips.