Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Uneasy Riderless: THE OREGONIAN (2011)

If you're ever driving west, across the northern part of this great country, to the mighty Pacific, skip northwestern Oregon, if you can, or at if you can't, never get off Interstate 90. Back in 1989 my girlfriend and I decided to take the road less traveled, a smaller, woodsier alternative route and soon found ourselves creeping along twisting crumbling two-lane blacktops, snaking around gnarled tree trunks, the side of the road littered with deserted plows harnessed to horse skeletons, empty pastures, collapsed barns, boarded-up feed stores and boarded-up motels, caved-in mailboxes, smoke-blackened trees, unlit neon bar signs dangling on their last chain and long since unplugged, and big trees edging up against the twisty road, their branches interlocking overhead to block out the sun, if there was any. No life --not even a bird. And as the sun set behind the thick veil of clouds, our headlights lengthened the shadows into Nosferatu shapes. The road seemed to be pulling us forward into the sheer blackness of the next turn like a twisting yellow line-tentacled land octopus. Some giant maw waited for us behind some approaching corner in the darkness behind the tall trees. It was coiled to spring on us with either in some Lovecraftian all-consuming gulp, or just manifest in hillbilly violence, flashing its genitals like a red traffic light, leering at at my traveling companion, while his friends abduct her and force me to spend panicky hours asking for help from unsympathetic locals in a high, progressively hysterical voice as I navigated their The Vanishing or And Soon the Darkness-style scenarios while already paranoid from a day of weed-smoking. If you're a guy you know that's the worst thing you can imagine - it's bad enough having to ask for help to begin with, but from unsympathetic yokels, better to already be dead.

Sharing my experience of western Oregon as a Lovecraftian mire: Calvin Reeder, who has recently blown some festival circuit minds, and irked others, with The Oregonian (2011), a landmark debut of high 16mm film strangeness in the Alice in Wonderland / limbo / post-apocalyptic / dream world / experimental mode. Without half trying, it joins the ranks of works by David Lynch and Herk Harvey in the nightmare logic pantheon, but with the tactile American flannel shirt dread of Coscarelli and Carpenter as a backdrop. With it's droning electric guitar score and refusal to explain itself or offer any stable reality to warp, Reeder's film turns to the groundless ground previously inhabited only by Eraserhead, and then goes deeper down into the muck, attacking along the fault lines between avant garde 'le bad cinema' and psychedelic Xtreme horror; waking reality and nightmares and a grunge-tinted road movie. Iit's Dementia AKA Daughter of Horror if it wanted to be Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on a Plan Nine budget and instead took too much acid and wound up stumbling through Carnival of Souls in search of a Michael Frost psychotronic spice grinder;  then it became a panic movement Easy Rider x Repulsion retooled as a Dali nightmare in flannel by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The story progression centers around the experiences of a blonde hippy-ish smoker (Lindsay Pulsipher) chilling at an isolated lama ranch; a creepy stalker fuels her boyfriend's jealous insanity; boyfriend passes out drunk, so she bails in his car; suddenly she's waking up in a car that apparently crashed into a father and son who were having a picnic by the side of the road in the dead of night. Now they're lying dead, and her forehead is covered in blood, but no one is around anywhere to help as she staggers down that lonesome road. There is no phone to call the cops and the Northwest Oregon desolation of which I spoke stretches for miles; everyone she meets stare and smile insanely. Her only friend becomes a degenerate in a big frog costume, and later she hooks up with a bunch of weirdo musicians who drink gasoline (?).... Luckily she finds a shotgun, and a few guides who advise her to just relax and, as Martha advises in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, "sink into it."

I love that Reeder refuses to pick a side, to explain the madness, to have some root answer to whether it's all a nightmare or Phantasm-matic inter-dimensional death drive film school experiment. Unlike few other films, it maintains it's madness with the patience of a gardener. For my money, The Oregonian is way better than a lot of over-praised existential stuff like Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (though Refn's awesome Valhalla Rising compares well).

I'd warn that there is a very strange bit of sexual dream violence in case you're squeamish, but I'm super sensitive to those things and found it to be far too into nightmarish surrealism to be misogynistic. There is a chance everything our looking glass Alice heroine sees and hears is all just cover memories to mask the trauma of a past rape (ala Last Year in Marienbad) but that's no more valid an interpretation than she's dead in limbo, or Hell, or just lost in western Oregon and this is what it's really like up there. If Louise Bourgeois and Edward D. Wood collaborated on a 1972 road odyssey Repulsion would you dare call it misogynist? Fuck you if you said yes, and may god help us... in the future, if we ever get off the safety of Highway 90.... which we have.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,

    We started a new fanzine and would really appreciate if you can add us on your bloglist. In the future days we will publish an interview with Fred Vogel (August Underground) as the first post. You blog is already added on our blogroll. Thanks!


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