J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sundance ’15: The Forbidden Room

It is like Guy Maddin put his collection of vintage silent and early talky prints through a blender and then screened the puree, except none of these films ever existed before. Unlike his Séances project inspired by lost films, these odd (odd is indeed the right term) film fragments are entirely the product of Maddin, his co-writers: co-director Evan Johnson, poet John Ashbery, and co-conspirators Robert Kotyk and Kim Morgan. Yet, as is often true with Maddin’s work, they feel like they must be real on some alternate plane of existence. Prepare for a trip when Maddin’s The Forbidden Room screens during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

It is a tall order to summarize Room and it would be impossible to do the many plot strands justice. Just so you know you you’re in the right film (not that you couldn’t tell immediately), Room starts with a lesson on how to take a bath. It then segues into a submarine disaster film, which is interrupted by a woodsman, who has come to tell the suffocating crew his tale, as if he were the Ancient Mariner. Like Thomas Pynchon on speed, Room thus proceeds on tangents to tangents, as each flashback and incidental anecdote begets more of the same.

Eventually, we will meet Mathieu Amalric playing a collector who lives in a swanky elevator and the train psychiatrist working on the Berlin-Bogota Express. In one story arc, a man meets his doppelganger, while Udo Keir continually pops up as different characters in various sub-films, because he’s Udo Keir.

Trying to track the film from point A to point B is a losing proposition. It could almost play in a continual loop as an installation piece, except viewers would miss the realization of the moment Maddin opens up the final “Russian doll” (to use an apt term from the press notes) and begins to re-pack them again.

The real point of Room is the mind-blowing artistry of it all. Each constituent film begins with its own credits sequences, which are graphically striking and perfectly representative of their respective eras and genres. Likewise the work of cinematographers Stephanie Weber-Biron and Ben Kasulke is never less than stunning, flawlessly evoking the look of noir black-and-white as well as that early nitrate color. It really is like walking through a cinematic dreamscape.

Granted, Room will baffle less adventurous viewers, even though it has an excess of narrative coming out of its ears. This is truly Guy Maddin raised to the power of Guy Maddin. Without question, it is the work of a genuine auteur who has no close comparison. Highly recommended for fans of the unusual and the aesthetically daring, The Forbidden Room screens again tonight (10/29) and Saturday (1/31) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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