Modular synthesizer worship music done right
May 29, 2013 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Panos Cosmatos 2010 feature film Beyond The Black Rainbow (previously) was largely panned as being a self-indulgent, incoherent mess. But just about every reviewer who couldn't stand the homage to 70's/80's mindfuck cinema agreed with one thing: Jeremy Schmidts original score for the film, itself distilling all the best essences of 70's/80's era synth experimentation was a triumph.
posted by mediocre (23 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Though for the record, I freakin LOVE that movie. All the best parts of early Cronenberg, and mid-era Kubric having a seizure while on DMT.
posted by mediocre at 4:54 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I saw this on the big screen some months ago, and really enjoyed it. I was surprised when I googled it afterwards and saw how badly it was panned - lots of critic obsession over plot structure, when the dream logic and lack of exposition seemed to be the point.
posted by thedaniel at 5:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't yet seen BTBR, having only been made aware of it earlier this afternoon, listening to Carl ShockOne give an interview in which he mentions it as an influence for the track Age of Enlightenment off his (imo brilliant) recent album Universus.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 5:05 PM on May 29, 2013

Jamie Zawinski's description seems appropriate:
This movie freaked me the fuck out. It's really slow, but so creepy that while trying to watch it late at night on two separate occasions, I fell asleep both times -- which doesn't sound like a good review except that it actually gave me nightmares. It has a look that is somewhere between THX-1138 those Dharma Initiative videos from Lost, and the whole movie seems to really be a delivery vehicle for the weird and kind of awesome analog-synthy soundtrack. I can hardly even describe what this movie is about, except that it is made entirely of drugs. Like I said, it's slow, but you should give it time.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:20 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Word is the soundtrack is supposed to coming out in vinyl in the near future, at least based on the few people I've spoken with who know Schmidt. Beyond the Black Rainbow totally creeped me out in a good way.

If you haven't heard Sinoia Caves before, dig up his 2002 album The Enchanter Persuaded. The video for Evil Ball not only represents his music well, but how it pairs with slow-moving visuals.
posted by myopicman at 5:26 PM on May 29, 2013

I thought it was fantastic. Solaris crossed with what I imagine it feels like to leave Scientology.
posted by Wemmick at 5:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Fans of BTBR might enjoy Amer, a kind of homage to 70s Euro-horror.
posted by cazoo at 5:45 PM on May 29, 2013

Aw, boo, I was hoping this would be an announcement of a full soundtrack release :(
posted by Merzbau at 5:53 PM on May 29, 2013

The movie is very very slow (oddly, I also feel alseep the first 2 times I tried to watch it). And the ending wasn't very rewarding (imo) for all the effort I put in trying to watch the whole thing. But visually, it does look amazing (perfect if you need some odd visuals to play onscreen for a party), and the soundtrack is great.
posted by stifford at 6:35 PM on May 29, 2013

Me too, Merzbau, me too. But since the film was a financial and critical failure, failing to even gather a cult following, I don't see any labels being too willing to release an album that will almost certainly not even recoup its production costs. Especially since I am sure there are also licensing issues because of the fact it is a film score. There may be a person or two out there like myself, who would be willing to pour the money into a Horrible Black Void with no hope of sales even in the triple digits out of love for the sounds.. but outside of that, I am not holding my breath. I know there have been teases of a vinyl release, but I will believe it when I see it.

They are a totally different beast but people should also check out Black Mountain, the psychadelic rock band Schmidt is a member of.
posted by mediocre at 6:51 PM on May 29, 2013

It appears to be gathering a cult following right now.

Optimistically, I think there's actually a pretty big market for weird retro synths on vinyl. Possibly bigger than for the movie.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:07 PM on May 29, 2013

If you want to enjoy a soundtrack, while ignoring the film, the ultimate would seem to be a soundtrack for a movie that no one made.
posted by thelonius at 7:08 PM on May 29, 2013

On the subject of Beyond The Black Rainbow failing to even be cult popular.. I just do not understand how this happened. There are so many elements of the film that if I were being cynical about it I would say were specifically designed to appeal to a cult audience. The VHS style artwork on the official website, the 80's redux complete with DeLoreon driving scientist, the obsessive detail put into giving it all the Reagan-era visual aesthetics all the way down to the film grain. The film has played twice here in Portland, and both times it failed to gather any more attention from any media here other then the rote description given by the press kit.

I am actually really cynical about it. I feel like the people who should have been messing their pants over it (Portland Mercury, specifically) did not even appear to have watched as much as a trailer. Like they saw that other tastemaker blogs/reviewers did not have an appreciation for it and just decided to ignore it. When The Mercury puts a film in their paper, it either is given a feature review (1/3 page, color image), short review (usually just a short paragraph with an overall score) as part of their Now Playing listings, or no more then the 1 sentence given by the press kit followed by the word "Okay!" which is their way of saying "We didn't even bother looking at it."

I mean, at least I could understand if they saw it and gave it a negative review be it Feature or Short. But they wouldn't even give it that, and I just do not understand why. I know it is a wholly different type of movie, but they gave a glowing OMG review to Upstream Color and though I am in love with that movie I can see how anyone who wasn't familiar with Shane Corrouth or otherwise not a fan of artistic cinema would see it as the same sort of "self-indulgent" and "incoherent mess" that Beyond The Black Rainbow suffered the labels of. But because Corrouth had the luxury of pre-existing respect, just the right amount of hype, and his name being on peoples minds after being an uncredited consultant for Looper.. his movie got the love.
posted by mediocre at 7:15 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and regarding the overall slowness of the film. That is very much intentional, writer/director Panos Cosmatos says he was trying to evoke a trance like feel for the whole of the film. Except for the final bits where there is a radical change of pace and appearance, the entire film is supposed to feel like a dream. Which.. yeah.. mission accomplished.

It is, in my opinion, the only film outside of that generation that addresses and/or critiques the boomer generations often overlooked heavy handed quest for enlightenment, spirital awakening, transcendance, etc.. through the use of pharmachology and occult practices. People for some reason do not seem to question why so many serious occult bands, movies, books, etc.. come from that era.
posted by mediocre at 7:25 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't actually seen Beyond the Black Rainbow, but your comparison to Upstream Color is interesting. It's obviously a weird experimental film, but it's actually pretty fast, overall: fast cuts, the narrative covers a lot of time, there are some emotionally intense scenes. The camera rarely lingers. I think this means it's less work to pay attention to, even for someone who isn't prepared to put a lot of effort into following a movie. And if you do get confused, it's an exciting kind of confusion where you're scrambling to try and figure things out again.

Slow movies don't have the advantage of grabbing your attention this way. When they get confusing, a lot of people are just going to find them frustrating and boring. I wonder if this is why it didn't catch on?
posted by vogon_poet at 8:22 PM on May 29, 2013

This totally sounds like a movie I want to watch. I loved 2001 and Blade Runner, and both of those (especially 2001) have a slow pacing. I think I slogged my way through the Russian Solaris movie, too. Is this really that much slower than those?

Second, I thought thelonius' soundtrack for a movie no-one made (Logan's Sanctuary) was going to be a link to Geoff Barrow (of Portishead fame) and Ben Salisbury (not of steak fame)'s DROKK project. Here's a track on soundcloud from the record label. And of course youtube has some tracks as well... This OP soundtrack didn't quite grab me from the few tracks I listened to, but it's hard to do that when watching clips from a movie vs the pure aural experience.
posted by symbioid at 8:26 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Beyond the Black Rainbow was a film that everyone told me I absolutely HAD to see. They said it had elements of Kubrick! Andandandand Lynch! Andandand Tarkovsky! Andandandandand Anger! Andandandandand Jodorowsky! OH AND also Super Cronenberg! The lightsandthemusicandtheAliesterCrowleyTeranceMcKennaTimothyLearyomg and it's amazing! YOU will LOVE IT!!1111!!!

And, to be fair, it did have all of those things. It was like a Tumblr of "ALL THE COOL THINGS I LIKE LET ME SHOW YOU THEM."

And it is an incredible film to look at. The sets very neatly captured the feeling of the early 1980s. And the soundtrack? Wonderful.


Look, I am not one of those people that demands a linear story with lots of action. Many people said that the story didn't make any sense, or that it was confusing.
I found that the story at its heart wasn't difficult to follow at all, it was just trite and not well thought out, which led to the frankly AWFUL ending. For me the slow pace failed to reward - it did not build tension or add depth to the story, it just gave me lots of time to contemplate how much I wished I were watching one of the better movies to which the director was clearly paying homage. It also led to me being distracted by the heavyhanded digital film grain effect, which randomly slowed down and sped up. Not just homage - early in the film there is a prominently displayed bottle of pills from Benway's Pharmacy, which surely caused many titters of delight from those that recognized it but made me exclaim OH COME ON NOW.


I also found myself wishing that the film had less of a plot. One of the most rewarding sequences was when Elena (who had spent most of the film in a fetching drugged out stupor that made me wonder if American Apparel was selling The Shapeless Hospital Shift) attempts to escape and finds herself lost in the labyrinth of the Institute. It's the only part of the film where she's more than a pretty ragdoll to be creeped upon, drugged, and granted Mysterious Powers. It's fascinating, tense, and enjoyable, especially when she stumbles into what I assume is the gardener's break room, a breath of fresh air and a jolt of alarming normalcy in the middle of the stylized WTFery that is the rest of Arboria. I could have watched a whole feature of that, and afterwards I wished that there had been more of that. In fact, if Rainbow had ended there, or with Elena just wandering off into the night (how will a girl with no socialization and catastrophically destructive powers survive?) I would have liked it more.


I do agree that it seems that a lot of people who reviewed it didn't really seem to have watched it, or went in with very different expectations due to tone-deaf marketing. And I must confess I am also mystified as to its lack of cult status, except among those in my immediate circle who are baffled by my antipathy. One of it's main drawbacks is that it seems like it is MADE to be a cult film, the director set out to make a cult film, the cultiest cult film that ever was. But you can't make a cult film happen. You make a film - the cult has to come to you.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:30 PM on May 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

Maybe Beyond the Black Rainbow just didn't hit the right audience at the right time, so after a few years it'll make cult status the old-fashioned way. The music and the setting were fantastic - I could see someone recasting the scenes with a few Boards of Canada tunes.

Kinda funny Upstream Color got mentioned here too, as I just got an Amazon shipment with both dvd's at my desk. The DVD labels definitely suggest different moods - UC is the modern, serious package and BTBR is more dark 80's sci-fi kitch.
posted by tservo at 8:32 PM on May 29, 2013

This movie had the best trailer. Not the full theatrical one, but the shorter festival promo. I liked this particular cut more than the entire film.

As for the film... pacing isn't the problem. It's the narrative format they tried to wrap the film into - the third act is tonally incongruous, which is a problem for a film that's all about tone.

I really really really really really wanted to like this movie, and there are parts of it that I think are great - particularly this one portion in the middle that could stand as a wonderful short piece on its own - but this really does end up being a case study in style over substance.
posted by bxyldy at 8:36 PM on May 29, 2013

I have tried to watch this several times, and I'll keep trying... but something about the scene where Dr. Nyles confronts his sister?wife? Rosemary and just treats her with utter contempt kills it for me. I feel like I should just remember the trailer and forget the movie.

So which synths did Sinoia Caves actually use? I just discovered synthesis, and while I'll never have the scratch for a real modular, I did just get the ARP 2600 V emulator from Arturia and now I'm all diode ladders and 4-poles and sawtooth ramps and control voltages and and slider pots and mmmmmmmm yes more please
posted by infinitewindow at 9:51 PM on May 29, 2013

distilling all the best essences of 70's/80's era synth experimentation

The good part about this story is that, RIGHT NOW, there are a LOT of people out there TODAY making fascinating modular synthesizer music who'd LOVE to get some attention and support ... for a change.

Their work can be found on netlabels and websites and even podcasts, which often die neglected - as so many 70s-80s synthesists have.
posted by Twang at 12:48 PM on May 30, 2013

Just saw this yesterday.

I did like the music but there sure was a lot of WWOBB WWOBB WWOBB WWOBB WWOBB WWOBB.

The 70s failed utopia aesthetic is dear to me so will give points for that. Overall though, the film made me ponder the difference between slow pacing on one hand, and not having much to look at or think about at any given moment on the other.
posted by fleacircus at 6:42 AM on May 31, 2013

Hey, yo, since I thought I'd added this as a favorite and hadn't (yet): Add some better tags, dude! It was almost impossible to find until I remembered the name of the movie!
posted by klangklangston at 4:40 PM on May 31, 2013

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