MALDOROR: The Blinding Light!!

Tuesday, August 6

There’s enough going on in this cinematic deluge to keep one’s brain babbling to itself for days. Its creators have called it “the last film ever made”—and the proclamation isn’t as bolshy and hubristic as it might sound. The implications of this kind of filmmaking are huge.

The feature takes its name from a novel written by Isodore Ducasse in 1868 under the nom de plume Comte de Lautréa-mont. Through his protagonist and alter-ego, Maldoror, the author vomits up visions of visions of horror and beauty in order to demonstrate the inherent evil and hypocrisy of humankind. Dying at 24, Ducasse not only shipped out before seeing his work acclaimed by other writers and artists (Blaise Cendrars and the early Surrealists were fans), but he also missed one glorious fucker of a screen adaptation.

The project began in 1998 when members of two underground film collectives—the UK’s London Exploding Cinema and Germany’s Filmgruppe Chaos—extracted 15 episodes from the book’s six cantos and distributed them among 15 of their filmmaking comrades with the proviso that they shoot on Super-8 and fund the work themselves. By 2000, 12 had delivered, post-production funding (all £2000 of it) had been raised and the films enlarged to 16mm. Maldoror premiered in Germany that April.

Although the filmmakers were all given hits from the same state-inducing book, their responses are as individual as the techniques they employ. Virtually dialogue free, the collection is blanketed by the voice-over from a single narrator. Some interpretations are more impressionistic than literal, while others take a single event or image from the text and run with that. Thus, the mention of an omnibus on a deserted street becomes a brilliant claymation display of a surreal bus journey, and the unforgettable closing segment, “The Spectacular Murder of Mervyn,” meticulously recreates the end of a protracted saga in which a young man foolishly trusts the malevolent Maldoror (and relocates his hideous death from the Place Vendôme to Trafalgar Square).

A few episodes unfold in succulent colour, others are monochrome dreams that seem lit by a torch with dying batteries; segments morph from live-action to animation and back again as gangrenous angels ascend to heaven and mechanical dogs rip an unseen child to shreds. Some films were so deeply atmospheric that you could only breathe your way through them. Simultaneously strange and familiar, the images felt like they might be coming loose from your own psyche.

The ghost of Derek Jarman treads softly through a lot of this—and that feels very right. After all, he was one of the most resolutely underground of Britain’s better-known filmmakers. The mesmeric pull of the voice-over and the apocalyptic bleakness of the images recall scenes from The Garden and Last of England.

The makers of Maldoror are justifiably chuffed with what they’ve accomplished on about a week’s worth of Spielberg’s lunch money—or, as they put it, making “a cult movie for the price of a second-hand car.” Of course there’s no virtue in involuntary poverty, but where passion and talent exist, it seems to beat Dogma for stying pure. Resilient as cockroaches in a nuclear holocaust, these filmmakers answer to nothing but their own vision.