Beyond the Black Rainbow (a review within a review)

Saw this movie the other night. I’d been waiting to see it for a couple of months after I had found the trailer while I was ‘tubing. I didn’t think I was going to be disappointed, but really, upon seeing it, it had everything. In an interview, director Panos Cosmatos (son of the guy who directed Cobra) recalled how his parents wouldn’t let him see R-rated flicks as a kid. He would ogle the artwork on all the vhs boxes and imagine what the movies were like.

It’s true, he pretty much made his imaginings become reality with Beyond the Black Rainbow.  Back in college, a bunch of us were walking home from the first time we had ever seen Pulp Fiction. We were all floored by the film, as you probably were, but our friend Crazy Chris broke our joy and wonder with the critique, “Man, if you’re going to make a movie burly, make it burly through and through.

I don’t know if Mr. Cosmatos ever met Chris, but with Beyond the Black Rainbow, such advice was heeded. I had to write up a five star review on Amazon for it because I was entranced, and I think I still am.

All Killer, No Filler

Okay, we know by now that this movie is a visual and aural trip. That’s all that’s really being said about it, and I can understand because such qualities are hard to get around. At any point in the movie, and I mean ANY point in the movie, you can hit pause and you will have a museum-quality painting on your wall. Cosmatos has paid painstaking attention to divine proportion with each and every frame. Design, composition, light and color are all considered for every single second-per-second. Besides, say, “The Cremaster Cycle” I know of no other film that allows for this.

How about the story? By viewing the trailer and reading the hype, you might think it is this unintelligible dream like “Eraserhead.” Not at all. It owns a very digestible plot and I think that is where the power lies. By assaulting the viewer with relentless beauty, Cosmatos doesn’t need to be coy about what’s going on and because this moving painting has an identifiable narrative, it really forces the viewer to watch past the credits.

In a nutshell, a hippy-dippy love farm from the 1960’s becomes co-opted in the ’80’s by the government (yeah, it’s gotta be the government) for use as a Monarch programmer. Here, TK-enhanced supersoldiers will be cultivated so the West can have a leg up on the Commies. Young Elena is one of these hopefuls. Conditioned with a steady diet of hallucinogens and controlled by this pyramidal Gysin Generator on steroids, Elena gets fed up with the ritual abuse and seeks escape.

The abuser is Dr. Barry Nyle. Before seeing this, Daniel Plainview of “There Will be Blood” was one of my top movie villains. Dr. Nyle dethrones him as his Machiavellian rage is so intense that he cannot contain it as evidenced by inappropriate facial tics. He hates everyone, perhaps everything. His constant disgust literally breaks the seams of his Bryan Ferry veneer. Not one word is said without seething. Not one. Some have objected to this as bad acting, but since the movie is a fairy tale – and it is – I found it apropos for Cosmatos to render him a cartoon. I love Dr. Nyle!

Comparisons to other cult films are thrown at this film ad nauseum. Kubrick, Lynch (why?), more Kubrick and early Cronenberg are the usual list. Believe me, the film really goes its own way. If I had to make honest comparisons, I’d say maybe National Film Board of Canada animations (like Norm McLaren), some Bakshi and hints of `80’s-era Corman (think “Galaxy of Terror” and “Forbidden World”). Even then, Cosmatos outdoes those into its own thing. Sure, some of the plot is reminiscent of obscure flicks like “Dead Kids,” “Anna to the Infinite Power” and “Looker,” but the writing is more sophisticated than those. The soundtrack is much more derivative than the filming and I found the compositions to be evocative of Goblin, Hawkwind and Simon Park.

Going to have to own this one on Blu-Ray. Just saw it on the Xfinity channel and was grateful that they hosted it. “Beyond the Black Rainbow” gets five stars hands-down.


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