Tribeca 2011: A Chat with BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW's Panos Cosmatos


"Uncompromising" and "eye-opening" might be two of the adjectives that occur to you as you mull over the experience that is Beyond the Black Rainbow. Even more likely is that you'll leave a screening saying to yourself, "Well, that was... different." 


Which is more of a compliment than it might seem, given how familiar the film feels in terms of its overtones and undertones. In its cold-to-the-touch atmosphere and meticulous approach, Kubrick comes easily (perhaps facilely) to mind. But you'll also see hints and shadows of De Palma and Carpenter films from the '70s, Soylent Green, Blade Runner, The Prisoner, early Cronenberg, Lost's Dharma Initiative, and even stuff like the original The Electric Company TV show.  


But make no mistake, Beyond the Black Rainbow is not a fannish mash-up, but a highly accomplished, challenging, and ultimately unclassifiable genre film: dreamy, paced in a way that qualifies as "meditative" rather than "leisurely," and not quoting or sampling films so much as transfiguring them. In fact, I was struggling with a way to characterize the film's distinctiveness until I came across the director's statement from Panos Cosmatos. Here it is in its entirety:   


I wasn't allowed to watch R-rated films when I was a kid, but when we'd go to the video store on the corner, a mom and pop shop called Video Attic, I'd obsessively look at all the horror movie video tapes. I was mesmerized by the lurid box covers and the vivid descriptions on the back. So I'd imagine, in great detail, my own versions of these movies without having ever seen them. That was one of the key inspirations for the film. The idea of making one of those imagined movies.  
 
The mood of the film is my memory of how the late '70s and early '80s felt to me. Both the reality and the fantasy world of the pop culture I would immerse myself in. I think in making it I was trying to grasp something intangible. It's a nostalgic movie, but it's poisoned nostalgia.
 


In addition to being refreshing for its brevity, the statement provides major clue-age to the inscrutable-yet-intriguingly-so flavor that permeates Beyond the Black Rainbow. To amplify upon it, I cornered Cosmatos and forced him to answer some questions in the final days leading up to his film's Tribeca bow... 

 

Personally, I love non-pandering genre films like Beyond the Black Rainbow--keeps people like me honest by forcing us to reflect a bit more. Was it your intention to "reward" such genre audiences with the more visceral, more up-tempo third act? 


Thanks. My intention was only to please myself and maybe some of my friends. Some people seem baffled by the shifts in the film and the backgrounding of the story, but to me it makes perfect sense. I think the movie is somewhat of a Rorschach test. The viewer has to project something of themselves into it for it to come fully to life. In that sense I think it's a movie that rewards repeat viewings. 


Makes sense. Now, who are the big non-filmmaker influences on you visually? 


Probably too many to list. I've always felt a strong connection to the attitudes in what they used to call "underground comics." Often eccentric, deeply personal or marginal subject matters but also totally uncensored and open. I've always wanted to bring something of that to movies. 


Let's talk about running time. Was there the temptation to make cuts to come closer to the standard 90-minute-ish genre film--or do you see this film as not really being positioned for that target audience anyway? 


I cut the film to the length it needed to be to get the very specific feel I was after for this film. This movie couldn't be any longer, or shorter than it is as far as I'm concerned. 


Could you describe the appeal of retro sci-fi, either to yourself or to moviegoers generally? It seems like a particularly exotic form of nostalgia. 


I see new filmmakers exploring the inspirations of their past as somewhat akin to to what Landis, Lucas, De Palma, Dante, Carpenter and others did with some of their work in the '70s and '80s exploring '50s genre stuff they grew up with. It's kind of fetishistic and I see that as a good thing. 


Are you concerned, or delighted, for your work to be grouped with other note-perfect retro films and directors of recent years? I'm thinking of Ti West's House of the Devil as just one example, but of course there are others. 


Of course I'd be delighted to be grouped in with anything that is considered "note-perfect"! I haven't had a chance to see House Of The Devil but from what I hear it might be right up my alley, and I really look forward to checking it out. 


Having said that, I feel this film has as much in common with movies like Pink Flamingoes, Alphaville and Static, which take place in very esoteric, personal worlds, than any of the current crop of genre stuff, retro or otherwise. It's a very feminine film in that way, whereas most of the new stuff I am seeing feels very testosterone-driven. 


There is new stuff I love, though. For me the best genre film of the last ten years was Antichrist, because it is a horror film, but totally untethered from the expectations or restrictions of the genre and also intensely personal. I hope filmmakers that like to work in these areas will strive to inject a more personal level into their movies--otherwise they're just making Halloween costumes. 


What's next for you, then? And given your arts background, should we be looking to media other than film for your upcoming projects? 


I'm married to the movies, and I'm writing something now. 


Great--looking forward to it! Thanks for your time...


Beyond The Black Rainbow Screens at Tribeca on: April 22, 23, 28, 29


[Photo credit: Norm Li]

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