Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Artemis 81 (1981)

The film today is one of the more bizarre films I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen it twice now and I’m still not sure what to make of it. One person on IMDB called it "Kafka meeting Phillip K Dick", and on some level it’s a dead on assessment.

The plot of the film has a writer getting involved with a chain of coincidences tied to several deaths. Along the way he meets a musician who has ties to darker events and its all connected to two angels battling as to whether or not to wake their mother.

For the first half the film is straight forward thriller with supernatural overtones. The second half of the film becomes something else entirely with events seeming to shift to some sort of totalitarian country.

I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what to make of it. The dialog tends to be discussion of ideas relating to the events, everything has multiple meanings; it references religion, myth, Hitchcock movies, notions of love, the philosophy of life, and probably about seven or eight dozen other ideas. The plot goes off in its own way and you just have to keep up, and even if you keep up you’re still going to be at sea, but in a good way. This is a film you really have to work with.

As I said I’ve seen this three hour film twice and I’m still not close to sorting it all out. I read that this was originally intended to be shown on two nights and not in one three hour block. I’m guessing that the film may play better that way, however both times I’ve seen it on DVD I’ve watched it one sitting (The first time because I wanted to see what happened next and the second time because I figured if I didn’t crash straight through I’d forget something.) I suppose I could watch the film with the commentary track in the hope of having it all explained, but on some level I feel that would be cheating.

This originally ran at Christmas time in 1981 and then kind of fell off the face of the earth. I had read bits here and there that mentioned it over the years but until it was put out on DVD in 2007 the film had been very difficult to see (most things mentioned seeing the film when it originally aired but never again). Difficult to see or not, the film clearly had an impact on those who saw the film since one cannot watch the film and not see its echoes in so many stories, movies and comics that followed it. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that any number of English writers and creators who were old enough to have seen this when it first aired in England raided it and its ideas time and again, either consciously or unconsciously. One need only look at the work of people like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Grant Morrison (and others) to see how the film may have trickled down. From this film sprang some of our current popular culture.

Good bad or indifferent this is a film that stays with you.

If you like head trips and films from which came other films you need to see this.

I need to mention the cast which is very good, with Dan O'Herlihy giving a wonderful turn as an organist and key to the plot. I think on some level he gives one of his best performances here. (Daniel Day Lewis- listed high in the promotional credits for the DVD has one small scene as a library student)

Currently out on DVD in England.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Thanks. I still don't know what to make of it either but it was thought provoking.