Jan 7, 2013

The Blind Owl (1992)


Undoubtedly a mystifying film, most obviously due to the fact that it features no credits, no imdb.com page, no poster, and virtually nil information available about it anywhere, on top of being created by a first-time film director, The Blind Owl (1992) directed by the late Reza Abdoh – a gay Iranian-born playwright/theatre director who died at the mere age of 32, thus never really having the opportunity to develop into a distinguished auteur filmmaker – is an apocalyptic (yet seemingly apathetically so) avant-garde film set in the boiling but barely breathing bowels of Los Angeles that will make any viewer who watches the cinematic work feel proud that they don’t live there if they aren’t already a long-suffering resident. Extremely loosely based on Iran's foremost modern writer Sadegh Hedayat’s controversial novel of the same name – a work oftentimes described as one of world literature's greatest masterpieces that was also adapted for the silverscreen by Iranian filmmaker Kiumars Derambakhsh in 1974 and allegory-prone Chilean auteur Raúl Ruiz previously in 1987 – The Blind Owl as depicted by aberrant Abdoh is a gravely gut-wrenching work where skinheaded leather-fags fight and set one another on fire under bridges under the moonlight, severely disabled trannies are seedy yet sedentary sex objects, grown adopted sons buy their fathers prime ass streetwalkers, bourgeois clerks pay fag hustlers money where they wear nothing more than fishnet stockings in candid photos, Street Fighter II and real fights provide one with a constant source of adrenalin-pumping entertainment, and people get hit by cars just as often as they get their asses kicked. Like Alex Cox’s punk cult flick Repo Man (1984) as directed by a mind-numbingly nihilistic Rainer Werner Fassbinder on crack and dying froms AIDS, The Blind Owl (1992) is not a work for the fake or faint of heart and surely not the spiritually saved. Directed by a man whose life was cut short at the mere age of 32 via AIDS via unsafe sodomy who is best remembered as a plainly peculiar playwright/director who staged mammoth iconoclastic plays in rather unlikely places like rusty warehouses and abandoned buildings, The Blind Owl is surely engulfed by a foreordained coldness of the soul and spirit; a sardonic farewell to what was never meant to be. Apparently surprisingly minimalistic, low-fi, and low profile for a work directed by Reza Abdoh, whose plays were know to be quite antagonistic, dauntingly deranged and ADHD-driven, and high decibel, The Blind Owl does also share a lot in common with his theater of the off-off-Broadway and extra-absurd, including a curious collection of characters that would be better off dying in a nuclear holocaust, sickening human savagery, and his usual troupe of actors that made up his Dar A Luz company, including Tony Torn (the flabby, faggy son of Rip), Tom Fitzpatrick, Tom Pearl, and Juliana Francis.

Describing his first and only feature-length film The Blind Owl, director Reza Abdoh stated rather superficially but in a nonetheless insightful manner: “I’m working on a film. New ideas are coming because the experience is new. Basically my thoughts are the same. Someone said you’re always writing the same book or painting the same painting, but every time it’s so radically shifted that you can’t possibly say it’s the same thing. And in the same way, my film embodies what I’m thinking about, what I’m concerned with—not just my aesthetic but what I’m concerned with in life… And I’m finding that the film is depicting more and more that sort of a relationship in its poetics and in its language and in its politics and story.” Indeed, upon superficial glance, it would seem that The Blind Owl – a wonderfully wacked work with nothing resembling a linear plot, but absolutely anomalous Altman-esque meandering – has no serious objective, let alone sociopolitical subtexts, but from a more esoteric angle, the film has more to it than what meets the petrified and weary, turned blind eye. Essentially, The Blind Owl is a miserable and, some would say, misanthropic, if not 'empathetically' so, melodrama about a bunch of dorky and steadily deteriorating prostitutes who attract a virtual army of absurdly aberrant and anomalous Johns, Junkies, and Jerk-offs. Emotionally vacant anti-hero Ricky (Peter Jacobs), an 18-year-old hustler that seems like a middle-aged momma’s boy with an acute case of autism, so tragedy strikes when his mother Anna (Paulina Sahagun-Macias) collapses from an unmentioned illness that keeps her mostly bedridden for the rest of the film. Like most characters in The Blind Owl, Ricky is probably better off dead, especially as someone who makes a living getting and giving head from hysterical handicapped homos, so in a sense his madre’s slow but steady death is not exactly the saddest thing in the world considering she will finally achieve liberation of mind and body for eternity. Ricky happens to sell his flesh to the same diabetic and seemingly deranged mortician John as a young woman named Janey (Juliana Francis); a go-getter of an emotionally dead gal who often gets the shit beat out of her by her decidedly dickhead of a boyfriend.  Ricky also has an unsympathetic father who slips him some cash every so often. A flabby and faggy blind man named (Anthony Torn) with a crippled and creepy transgendered ‘wife’ (played by Johnnie Baima aka Sandie Crisp aka “The Goddess Bunny”) also calls on the call-boy services of Ricky, who helps bath, read to, and feed the ocular cripple. Ricky also has a new friend from Nevada with a fucked-up haircut and art fag mustache/goatee combo named Trenn (Tom Pearl) who provides a sort of silent, phantasmagorical comic relief to The Blind Owl, especially when bashing people's heads in with inanimate objects. In between the minimalist maniac melodrama of the film, individuals ranging from prepubescent Hispanic boys to elderly old white men fall apathetically to their deaths off the same house roof.

Featuring the same regional setting, zeitgeist, similar type characters (streetwalkers and morticians) and even some of the same actors (HIV-positive performance artist Ron Athey makes an appearance in his first film role) as Bruce LaBruce’s Hustler White (1996), The Blind Owl has a much different essence and tone than the quasi-pornographic film that would follow it. Although I cannot say that I have read the source novel that it is loosely based on, The Blind Owl certainly falls in line with the source book’s narrator’s thoughts: "the presence of death annihilates all that is imaginary. We are the offspring of death and death delivers us from the tantalizing, fraudulent attractions of life; it is death that beckons us from the depths of life. If at times we come to a halt, we do so to hear the call of death... Throughout our lives, the finger of death points at us." Indeed, while nothing seems ‘real’ in the film due to its ostensibly oneiric, ominous, yet comically absurdist feel, the final fate of fatality seems like the only thing guaranteed in The Blind Owl; a film that feels like the ‘Eraserhead of the West Coast’ as directed by Harmony Korine’s bastard Iranian-born cousin. The Blind Owl – a completely cynical cinematic work depicting the upper-lower-class rabble of L.A. – with a mongrelized bastard protagonist of Amero-mutt white and meszito admixture, is undoubtedly a picture of not just America, but the world of the deracinated and globalized future where prostitution, destitution, dysfunction, and destruction, both on the personal and collective level, is the norm. In a world where one’s dignity is bought and sold to gender-confused cripples and embalmers of the dead, and human automatons of various colors and creeds commit suicide like lemmings falling off a cliff, one need not to worry about the future, but instead, embrace one's death.  In the end of The Blind Owl, the L.A. undead walk the earth with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.  Although a choice that was not of his own, director Reza Abdoh would also ultimately have to give into death and as far as I am concerned, The Blind of Owl is his last will and testament, at least cinematically speaking.

-Ty E

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