Saturday, March 29, 2008

fishsticks in bali...

I've been threatening for months to blow the lid off this whole "Mystics in Bali" thing, but, for reasons great and small, the Netflix'd DVD in question sat unwatched atop my player from December through March. Until last week, that is. Consider "Mystics in Bali" watched and reviewed. Was it worth the wait? Well, no, not really, but that doesn't mean it's a film without it's merits. Details to follow.

For those not in the know, "Mystics in Bali" is a 1981 Indonesian film, directed by H. Tjut Djalil from a script by Jimmy Atmaja, from a novel by Putra Mada, allegedly based on a true story about an Australian woman who got herself mixed up in the world of Indonesian Leak witchcraft. The film itself was reasonably obscure, except among the most ravenous b-movie hounds (and Indonesians, presumably) until showing up on American DVD last year, but had some renown among the heppest of the hep for it's weird visuals and odd storyline.

On the weird visuals front, "Mystics in Bali" does not disappoint. While a film like "Horrors of Malformed Men" (reviewed here none too long ago) punctuated a fairly standard storyline with intentionally surreal tableaux, one gets the impression whilst watching "Mystics in Bali" that the film itself is meant to play fairly straight, hampered such as it is by generally inept filmmaking, and the surrealism on display is a by-product of such. Which is to say this flick is pretty wild and wooly, bad in a special way, with what I like to call "very special effects," which is to say, they're bad, but good, in a wonderful way. Which is to say that this is a bad movie that achieves a certain artfulness in its unpretentious ineptitude.

The story itself is almost insignificant, but it's got the lady student from abroad meeting, as arranged by her Indonesian boyfriend, a meeting with a local witch in order to learn about local occultism. Things, of course, soon go awry as the woman becomes possessed by something or another, and cool, cheap special effects abound. In one of the film's most memorable visuals, her head, spinal cord attached, floats out of her body and over the rooftops of the village. She and the witch also turn into pigs, first bipedal pig-women with humanoid breasts, then bona-fide oink oink piggy pigs. She also turns into a snake, which leads to the film's grossest moment, her post-serpentine hangover, which consists of her vomiting up live mice one after another in torrents of what looks like lumpy pistachio pudding.

The beauty of these effects are the admittedly rather resourceful, lo-fi ways in which they appear to be pulled off. There's some crude animation and bizarre rubber costumes. Some scenes appear to be transferred onto video then back onto film, giving the image an ultra-grainy yet oddly pixelated quality. The general sense of Indonesian design also lends some unexpected beauty to this oft-grotty affair. The Indonesian witch/vampire herself is a sight to behold, decked out in ornate, colorful ceremonial garb, sometimes deformed, sometimes simply made-up, or less deformed, or something.

While "Mystics in Bali" benefits somewhat from the lack of intent ala "Horrors of Malformed Men," it also suffers for the same reason. It may be artlessly artful, but that also makes it artless, which is to say that the story, characters, dialogue and all those other pesky cinematic elements don't really amount to much and you're basically just waiting for the next wild effects setpiece, which are fortunately fairly plentiful, but to be honest I got kind of bored after a while, and aside from the crazy business, remember very little about the movie in retrospect. Still, the effects imagery does have some power and beauty, enough for me to recommend a viewing of this one. It's a-a-a-alright...

What else? My job is kind of stressful and makes me sleepy, and I'm definitely not getting paid enough, but I still enjoy what I do and really like the people I work with. I think I may like some of my co-workers better than alot of my actual friends, which makes me kind of a horrible person, doesn't it? Meanwhile, my hair is getting pretty long and my beard is getting really thick and scholarly, which I like. I finished reading the 80s run of the comic "Suicide Squad" which was, overall, pretty awesome. I'd like to scan a little artwork from it, by Geof Isherwood, which is quite nice, especially when Isherwood is inking his own material (though later inks by Robert Campanella are also good, as are the series earlier pencils, by Luke McDonnell, with inks by Karl Kesel), and also some funny late 1980s/early 1990s advertisements. Expect this, plus more film and video reviews, to come soon. Don't get to worked up waiting in dire anticipation...

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