This Is Your Mind on Black Rainbows
'Beyond the Black Rainbow'
Canadian director Panos Cosmatos giggles a lot when talking about his debut feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow. It's a little creepy because, well, the film is a lot creepy. Set in 1983 in a bizarre medical facility in the Canadian woods, Black Rainbow is an intensely weird look at a power struggle between a possibly insane psychiatrist (Michael Rogers, wearing a permanent Bowie-esque sneering scowl) and his mute, teenage patient (the equally mesmerizing Eva Allan). Nothing is what it appears to be, and the less you know going in, the more likely you are to have your mind blown out of the back of your head by what transpires onscreen. It's safe to say, however, that Cosmatos' auteurist style owes much to the early work of fellow Canuck David Cronenberg, as well as myriad oddball Seventies fringe films. Complementing the clinically hellish imagery is a synthesized score by Black Mountain's Jeremy Schmidt, which is a marvel in its own right.
Austin Chronicle: This is one hell of a debut film. Can you talk a little bit about its origin?
Panos Cosmatos: I grew up on film sets. My dad was a director [George P. Cosmatos, director of Rambo: First Blood Part II] and my mom was an experimental sculptor, and I think that the combination of those two different viewpoints is where I'm coming from, you know? It's pop culture mixed with something a little bit more esoteric. I wrote a lot of film scripts throughout the Nineties, but I didn't even try to get them made – I was just practicing, I guess. I was making short films and artwork, trying to find my voice. After my father passed away, it gave me a new focus. I decided to just meditate on what, exactly, I wanted to achieve with the film, and this is what came out of it.
AC: What, exactly, did you want to achieve with Beyond the Black Rainbow?
PC: I don't even know that I can put it into words. It was a process of stripping everything away that was a distraction. It was almost like magnifying visual fetishes and tonal feelings and then throwing everything else away. I made everything in the film something that appealed to me.
AC: What kind of responses have you been getting from audiences? It's a very stately, paced film in this ADHD era. It's almost like that old Canadian television show The Starlost.
PC: Yeah, totally. I did want to have that feeling of being in this kind of obscure universe, like a half-remembered TV show or a movie that you saw on cable late at night. As far as how people have been reacting to the film, it's been extremely divided. I think that people either love it or they despise it to the core of their soul, for whatever reason, you know? We've had a lot of walkouts, generally. But I kind of take that as a badge of honor.
AC: It's set in 1983, with a prologue set in 1966, referencing all these films from the 1970s, and made in 2010. It's a vision of the already-passed future from a past that was fictional to begin with. That's pretty meta, wouldn't you say?
PC: Yeah, it is. We specifically looked at THX 1138 and Phase IV as reference points for how we wanted the film to look and feel, as well as a little bit of Dark Star and Mishima.
AC: What, if anything, would you like audiences to take away from your film?
PC: I kind of tried to structure the film, the tone of it, as a bit of a Rorschach test. The character elements and the plot elements I wrote very specifically and then muted them down almost as if I were turning down the mix on an instrument. Ideally, I want the audience to project their own personal experiences onto what's happening. I know that's a lot to ask, but if they can do that, then it becomes a whole other film.
Beyond the Black Rainbow screens Saturday, Sept. 24, 6:20pm, and Monday, Sept. 26, 11:45pm. Panos Cosmatos will be in attendance.