It is unlikely that this one will find its necrophiliac way to your neck of the woods. I picked it up on spec as part of the Raindance Film Festival at the UGC Shaftesbury Ave. Aiming I think for the seriously weird, it gets seriously stuck at slightly odd. The marketing pitches it as “unofficially banned” in the USA. This oxymoron pretty much reflects the unfocussed thinking at the heart of this promising, but largely unrealised idea.
Freaky actor obsesses about beautiful, elusive woman – Helen Catherine Howe (‘Hellcat’ – geddit?). In a radical new approach to removing her objections he removes her life. Her compliance and submissiveness to his every wish and desire is thereby greatly enhanced by her now being…er…dead. There are some very funny sight gags in the sheer absurdity of this Pythonesque idea. But it’s as if John Cleese takes the parrot home, lavishes it with affection, nails to its perch, and teaches it the rudiments of Latin Grammar. So the 30 minute idea at the heart of Dead Girl, is stretched to breaking point over a tad under 2 hours. Stripped to its essence Dead Girl might have become the “cult classic” they’re pitching it for.
There is real talent on show. DG is beautifully shot, lit and edited. And the performances are all pretty good. Including a Dorian Gray cameo by an impossibly young looking, Val Kilmer as fey psychoanalyst 'Dr Dark'. No I’m not making this up. It is genuinely a bit weird to be complimenting an actor with only two legs and no wagging tail, on ‘playing dead’ but Anne Parillaud does achieve an occasional Keaton-like dead pan brilliance. The trouble is Coleman Howard couldn’t go the whole experimental hog and dump a narrative thread. There is enough potential in the basic idea to generate a genuinely disturbing expressionistic sense of a deeply disturbed personality. But setting up the sight gags nails him to a narrative. And this screws him: because the mechanics don’t work. Humping, if you’ll forgive the expression, a stiff off to the pictures or to a boulevard café on his back, looks plain daft rather than surreal. True he uses the obvious device of a wheelchair for Cat’s wordless successful screen-test. And this is a nice little scene. But silly and surreal are uncomfortable bedfellows. However much you want to relish the joke, you can’t stifle the insistent thought that total wordless immobility, is a dead giveaway.
I guess the crass commercialism and tacky madness of Hollywood is the main target held up to ridicule in Dead Girl. Yet paradoxically it shares the besetting vice of its own target: the assembly of skilful and talented cinematic technique to express a basic idea not thought through with sufficient rigour or discipline to make it yield its potential. The endemic lack of substance in most of Hollywood’s venal output is a serious issue that needs focused sniper fire, not a knockabout scatter-gun black farce.
I went to DG from seeing Godard’s Le Mepris. In this superb movie, the wise and extraordinary Fritz Lang, remarks “It is entirely logical that illogicality should contradict logic” The delicious insanity of the basic idea in DG, needs a degree of sanity as counterpoint. And as they say, all successful comedy, even black, is a very serious business. An interesting but in the end unsatisfying resurrection.
'nail's, 'screws' irony unintended - just good old sloppy editing - sorry about that.