Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

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colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
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Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#1 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Oct 08, 2012 6:06 am

This is a stunning looking but eventually underwhelming film. Flawed but beautiful and probably best approached as an avant garde music video full of stunning images than for its narrative, what there is of it.

It is difficult to talk about this film without talking of the films it reminded me of. So to get a feel for it, imagine a hybrid of Daft Punk's Electroma (the robot guardian, the melting faces and the general feature length music video vibe), Tetsuo II (the siblings experimented on by their father in flashback playing out their final conflict in the present; also the way that during the experimentation the characters duck under the surface of reality - although rather than doing so to merge with metal as in the Tsukamoto, here their faces and bodies melt and distort under the pressure from the drugs), the 70s avant-garde shorts by Clive Barker (the flashback scene has lots of images almost in negative or highlighting certain aspects of the characters bodies in black against a blinding white background), The Man Who Fell To Earth (Barry removing his 'appliances' and the melting hallucination scene), Equilibrium (the use of drugs to alter or suppress moods), 1984 (Elena's hidden diary and photograph), Argento (the characters crawling along corridors that are enormous blocks of primary colours and Elena communing with nature), Scanners (the telepathic powers of Elena), the 1970s 'escaping from society' sci-fi films such as Logan's Run and THX-1138 (the shots of Barry driving his sports car in this film are almost direct references to the framing of Duvall inside his car in the chase sequence of THX) and especially 2001: A Space Odyssey (the distorted landscape shots and 'drug trippy' scenes being the gateway to apparent godhood, or at least delusions of grandeur!)
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I particularly liked the way that many of the scenes are filmed almost as if the camera is short sighted, which pays off in Barry's reveal of what the experiments have done to him. I really like films where you have a 'successful' experiment having a confrontation with a 'failed' one, with them swapping roles at the mid-point with the flashback realisation, and how that realisation affects the usual self-assured characters.
Beyond The Black Rainbow does have two flaws however. The first is that it is extremely drawn out for what plot it does have. It falls into the trap of portentous oblique dialogue delivered in slow passages which do not really explain anything. Elena's drugged out escape from the facility also has to be in the running for slowest escape scene in history! I really liked these aspects however, especially when I got into the hypnotic mood of the scenes, but I could also see them driving other people crazy!

The second flaw is the really major one:
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in which just before the final confrontation Barry gorily butchers a couple of stereotypical drugged out young campers blasting death metal at full volume in the woods. I guess there is the slight idea there of the psychopathic results of medical experimentation into drugs confronting your casual stoned-out users but that generic slasher scene appears completely out of nowhere, with the campers being people we had never met before and there being no wider implications springing from the inclusion of the scene except to show some gore. That scene sadly almost totally ruins the pseudo-intellectual, ambiguous tone that the film has been building for the previous 90 minutes, whereas while the film might be narratively flawed before that it is at least tonally all of a piece. It is as if Bela Tarr included a scene from Transformers five minutes from the end of The Turin Horse!
Apart from that rather misjudged scene near the end I liked the film very much. It may eventually be less than the sum of its parts without much going on narratively but it is worth a look for the gorgeous visuals and the 1980s setting augmented by the fantastic electronic soundtrack.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:22 am, edited 7 times in total.

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Guido
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos; 2011)

#2 Post by Guido » Mon Oct 08, 2012 7:57 am

Thanks for the write-up colin. We anglo Canucks rarely make things like this (save for maybe Mettler and a few others), so it's great when they appear on the scene, especially out of nowhere. Speaking as someone who hasn't seen the film though, you might want to spoiler-tag a few things.

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colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos; 2011)

#3 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Oct 08, 2012 9:33 am

No problem - I've spoiler tagged the second major problem. I was debating with myself whether to do it or not as it is a big enough flaw to totally destroy the film so it is worth warning potential viewers about. However a film like this is much more about the experience than any particular narrative spoilers
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for instance the final confrontation after the slasher scene is extremely anti-climactic, although it feels intentionally so and actually feels as if it works in the context of the rest of the film
Your post reminded me - is there any good DVD version of Mettler's film The Top Of His Head available anywhere?
Last edited by colinr0380 on Tue Oct 09, 2012 7:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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The Fanciful Norwegian
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#4 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:34 am

In a weird coincidence, I watched this last night before this thread appeared, and share a lot of the same feelings. "Oblique" is definitely the right word to describe the plot. It's not dense or original, but enough is doled out that I eventually started using the "downtime" to construct a backstory in my head, which was more or less confirmed by what came later. In retrospect I realized the story was still pretty thin gruel, but I felt clever enough while watching it, so it's fair to say that a) I was engaged throughout and b) I'm a sucker. The dialogue is indeed almost totally banal (lines of dialogue that actually advance the story can be counted on two hands) and delivered with deliberateness that makes Twin Peaks seem like His Girl Friday, but it adds to the druggy ambiance, where everything is flattened/inflated to the same pseudo-cosmic significance.

The 1983 setting feels a bit rhetorical -- oh look, Reagan's on TV -- but I think it's also fair to read it as one of those sixties-idealism-crashing-on-the-shores-of-reality things. It's a sort of Cronenbergian inverse of the Tim Leary "pharmaceuticals will unlock human potential" line, and I think Cronenberg's early experimental films can be added to list of influences. On top of that, Cosmatos has a good grasp of one early-'80s aesthetic: 'Scope framing that gathers people and objects in one small section and surrounds them with empty space, as though he was already thinking about the pan-and-scan version. Or maybe he's just another inept director who doesn't know what to do with widescreen, but either way, it works here.

As for the ending:
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Cosmatos was obviously going for the shock of thrusting the characters (and the audience) into new and increasingly normal spaces, which seem as strange as anything else after 90 minutes of tinted, tightly-framed sci-fi environments. First it's some kind of shaft (for an elevator?) that appears carved from rock, then a well-lit, domestic-looking breakroom, then a lush greenhouse/bio-dome, then finally outdoors, where wouldn't you know it, some Real Dudes are lounging around listening to something that isn't eerie synthesizer drones. But I agree this last one is a leap too far -- partly because the juxtaposition isn't allowed to sink in (the girl never encounters them and the man kills them immediately), and partly because bringing in a couple of meatheads to call each other names and piss on the ground is like breaking the spell all at once. What happened afterwards was actually kind of satisfying for discarding the horror-movie climax the previous incident pointed towards.
I can't really imagine where Cosmatos (son of George, incidentally) will go from here; the retro "stuff I watched on VHS at 3 AM in the early '80s" feel could easily become affected if stretched much further than this. But I thought this was a promising start.

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colinr0380
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#5 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Oct 09, 2012 2:22 pm

I agree with your points Norwegian - the Tim Leary thing and early Cronenberg feel is definitely there too, along with a nod to William Burroughs in the "Benway Pharmaceutical" bottles of pills! (And in addition to Reagan on the TV there is the 'Noriega' brand leather suit!)

I liked the use of all that empty space which really comes into its own during the flashback where there are only slight silhouettes of features against the huge expanses of blank white background. There is also that strange sense, along with the 'shortsighted' shots, of the camera placement and editing almost willfully refusing to show a scene in a wide establishing shot (for instance in that early conversation between Barry and Rosemary when he returns home), so that the actual dimensions of a room remains off kilter.

The film becomes a bit more conventional in its last third or so when it becomes more of a straight line following Elena through the complex - while it still throws up some bizarre spaces, they are mostly bizarre because they are becoming more understandable as normal locations as they are bleeding into the outside world, which ties into your point about the rooms and the characters. Everything is resolving into something less interestingly enigmatic, but that change is weird enough in itself!

I like your interpretation of the ending:
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While I have problems with the Druggy Dudes scene, I really like that final shot of the girl approaching the suburban tract housing. Maybe it is the 80s period setting but it made me wonder whether any follow up would proceed along the lines of E.T.!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Oct 10, 2012 3:56 am, edited 3 times in total.

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htshell
Joined: Sun Jul 24, 2011 4:15 pm

Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#6 Post by htshell » Tue Oct 09, 2012 3:47 pm

Pretty much agree with what's been said: really excellent production design, sound and atmosphere. I didn't mind the thin plot as I generally tend toward the avant-garde with my taste. But the end was really a shame, needlessly schlockey out of nowhere.

And the 35mm 'Scope print looked excellent, for anyone that saw it in a theater.

James
Joined: Wed Jun 04, 2008 4:11 pm

Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#7 Post by James » Tue Oct 09, 2012 6:28 pm

htshell wrote:And the 35mm 'Scope print looked excellent, for anyone that saw it in a theater.
Hah, I wish! I didn't even know this masterpiece existed when it was in theaters.

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DDillaman
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#8 Post by DDillaman » Thu Oct 11, 2012 6:49 am

I saw this film at Fantastic Fest and loved it. Cosmatos was there, and when queried about the shift at the end, he said
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he felt like that after 90 minutes of being in the oppressive space of the institute, everyone would be fucking sick of it and would want to get out.
I'm not sure exactly how sarcastic it was; in general, he came off as a either a self-loathing guy or just a guy with an incredibly self-deprecating sense of humor.

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colinr0380
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#9 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:55 pm

Here's an amusing video of Cosmatos talking about some of his favourite films!

(I actually agree with him about The Fly II - it fares badly in direct comparison with the Cronenberg film, and the stand-in Geena Davis at the beginning is distracting but it has a couple of nifty scenes, especially the ones with the dog and its payoff, and the great little scene John Getz has as Stathis Borans, the only character to return from the first film)

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colinr0380
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Re: Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2011)

#10 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Sep 24, 2018 1:48 pm

This was quite interesting - somebody has reversed the audio of the early conversation that Barry has on the telephone and found out it is from a toy commercial for a Marvel character! In some ways that makes sense, as it prefigures the guardian figure that Elena encounters within the facility, as well as he ability to manipulate panels in her room to display cartoons. Maybe its her psychic powers from the shared experiment reaching out to touch Barry telepathically!

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