Tag Archives: Surrealism

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ONCE WITHIN A TIME (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: , Jon Kane

FEATURING: Sussan Deyhim, Tara Khozein, John Flax, Apollo Garcia Orellana, Brian Bellot, mystery celebrity guest

PLOT: Curtains open on a glowing, chanting golden tree woman, then children watch a couple with wicker cages around their heads wander through incidents of apocalypse, technology, and wonder.

Still from Once Within a Time (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Simultaneously ancient and hyper-modern, Once Within a Time is as an apocalyptic dispatch from the far reaches of reality. A bold and foolish (in the complimentary sense) work of cinematic art, dense with imagery and symbolism, this is octogenarian Godfrey Reggio‘s first narritivesque film—his vision of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century, teetering on the brink of cataclysm, but balanced by wonder and creative possibility.

COMMENTS: Godfrey Reggio announces Once Within a Time as a “bardic fairy tale”; an imposing description, but one that the film lives up to. Set to a new score by Philip Glass—with snatches of other music floating through the mix—it’s a carnival of free-flowing imagery and ideas, a techno-gnostic hymn about cataclysms and the birth of new worlds. After the red curtains pull back, we are launched into scenes of an Earth goddess singing from her glowing heart, and innocent children spinning on a merry-go-round. Then, Adam and Eve appear, only to have their equanimity quickly destroyed by a digitized Apple. Cell phones recur as dire artifacts: as cages, as monoliths, as bricks on a road that leads to an audience of faceless puppets. We watch a dance of harlequin emojis. Entertainers and demagogues speak gibberish. UFOs zoom into dreamspaces and blast giant robots with their ray guns. Monkeys experiment with virtual reality goggles. There’s a reference to 2001 that will probably draw laughs, and maybe cheers, from savvy live audiences. There is even a special celebrity guest whose appearance I don’t want to spoil, who speaks in John Coltrane solos and acts as a pied piper. And throughout it all, reaction shots of children, bemused, delighted, taking in the helter-skelter as best they can, their little minds gathering fuel… hope for the future.

The visual aesthetic is faded yet bright, digital but evocative of finely aged film stock. The style and imagery brings to mind experimental films of the 1950s-1970s, specifically : the wicker baskets around the lead adult’s heads like the birdcages of the Pleasure Dome, the UFOs possibly on loan from Lucifer Rising, the whole thing seasoned with occult premonitions of a New Age Dawning. There are fleeting scenes of destruction, decay, despotism, mushroom clouds: but the imagery returns, unfailingly, to dwell on innocent children at play, and themes of creation and re-creation. It ends on a Botticelli tableau, with children as angels and Venus yet to emerge from her throbbing egg sac.

A new Philip Glass score is, of course, something to celebrate. The soundtrack here is more of a suite of short pieces than a large scale composition, moving through numerous flavors to illustrate the Reggio’s many different settings. Glass’ hypnotic minimalism may not get the chance to do its accumulation-by-repetition thing here, but he makes up for with a wider palette of colors: unfamiliar elements like chanting, accordions, and even African percussion offer the composer new settings for his ideas. The contributions of Iranian singer Susan Deyhim (who also plays the tree) are most welcome.

The runtime is listed as 51 minutes, but the credits take up the final 8, so the film itself is a manageable 45-minute experience. Watching this on a big screen with an appreciative audience would be magnificent; it makes perfect sense that it debuted at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. It is uncommercial, personal, specialized, and fated to be underseen, but Once Within a Time is a major cinema event in 2023. Make it a point to track it down when you can.

Once Within a Time official site for trailer and screening calendar.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this strange new experiment — less scripted than staged — revisits early cinema with the same doom-laden playfulness that [Reggio’s] previous work used to push the medium forward. “–David Ehrlich, IndieWire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DALÌLAND (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Mary Harron

FEATURING: , , Christopher Briney, Rupert Graves,

PLOT: A young art gallery intern has a brush with the strange world of during the master’s twilight years.

Still from Daliland (2022)

COMMENTS: Tucked into this quiet biopic is as apt a description of what attracts us, here at 366 Weird Movies, to the films we hunt for, enjoy, and cling to. On a cash errand for the maestro, James interrupts a gallery owner pitching a signed art print. The woman is intrigued, but hesitant, not sure what to make of the image which stands before her. “You… like it?” she asks. “I find it upsetting… I don’t think I want to live with someone else’s weird dream on my wall.” James replies, “But that weirdness, that’s what makes it original. It got to you, that’s why you’ll never get tired of it; you’ll never forget it.” He nails it, inadvertently securing the sale. Simultaneously, his description of that piece explains, as best one can, what Salvador Dalì, and all weird visionaries, are about.

Mary Harron’s film is more of an ensemble piece than the name (and grandiose subject matter) might suggest. In fact, much of the film involves Salvador Dalì (Ben Kingsley), now old, at times bordering on caricature, observing those around him: the trendy hangers-on, his friend Alice Cooper, his inspiring—but harsh—wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa), his new assistant James, and, most of all, Dalì. He speaks in third person. He performs without surcease in the presence of others. And he ages, as it is “very tiring being Dalì.” Put aside his trove of drawings, paintings, and sculptures; his life was a work of art, a performance piece for the ages.

Dalìland is polished and straightforward, but that does not make it resonate any less. While there are many searing, satirical jabs at posers and poseurs, show-offs and charlatans, Harron neither glorifies nor denigrates these oddballs and outcasts dancing along society’s periphery; those who, through their mien and flair mitigate the day-to-day blandness of those around them; the eye-catchers who make others wonder, “Just what the heck are they doing?” and who devote their life force to lending us a touch of the unreal—the sur-real, if you will. Dalì was many different people over the course of his long life, and the performer behind these acts is impossible to know. Indeed, it is clear even to a layman such as myself, that the “real” Dalì probably never existed, and Dalì could not have been happier for having achieved that.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The latest of the director’s splendidly offbeat biopics captures the madness, the comedy and the tragedy of the surrealist legend who turned his very identity into a work of art.”–Owen Gleiberman, Variety (contemporaneous)