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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 01.02.12] cult experimental dystopic

Year: 2011
Directors: Albert Birney, Jon Moses
Writers: Albert Birney, Jon Moses
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 6 out of 10

The Beast Pageant is one of those unfortunate movies that begins with a fantastic premise and yet still manages to screw things up by the end. Or by the middle, in this case.

Wacky plot. Crazy characters. Bad production values. Yes, The Beast Pageant has it all, but what it mostly has is backstory: this sucker took four years to make and probably cost $49 in total. The result is the cheapest flick you may ever see, but one in which the frugality (such an ugly word) is foregrounded and used to its own effect, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

This movie is a sort of mirror of itself, with one side Orwellian industrial, the other a musical, picaresque romp with Mother Nature. The first part is funny fascinating, and marches right along as a satirical look at an insane techno-consumer society and its effect on our submissive hero, Abraham. The dismal sets and cheap banks of “technology” – the insides of dot matrix printers and old computers, with lots of wires and piping – are fascinating, and the hat tips to various classics are fun to tick off: Kafka, The Prisoner, Lewis Carroll, Star Trek… Regardless of all this fun, including the fact all they eat is raw fish, Abraham develops a growth on his abdomen that turns out to be a miniature, naked, singing cowboy version of himself. Yeah, really. This little guy starts giving Abe advice, and the next thing you know we’ve tunneled out of techno-dictator land and are flitting through fields, enjoying various dancing adventures with the beasts of nature.

Unfortunately for The Beast Pageant, as with all moralistic yarns in which good triumphs in the end, the bad guys are always more interesting. In this movie, where the sets are the stars, it’s even more so. Abraham’s little striped room with its Big Brother wall of interactive machinery is an amazing hunk of Goldbergian gizmos. You’ll also wonder about the odd little advertisements that endlessly punctuate Abraham’s childlike life at home. Not all hit the mark, but I loved the one for a soft drink called “Soda And Pop”.

Technically, the movie is purposely non-techno. The whole thing was shot in B&W on a 16mm Bolex found in a garbage bin, and all the usual visual nuances are missing. The sound is OK, especially when it’s distorted, and the only real actor is Jon Moses, who plays Abraham and his literal cowboy sidekick. He’s competent, but finally reveals himself as a folksy crooner called upon to act.

For me, this is a bifurcated movie… I loved the opening, but not the second half, nor the clichéd ending. Still, I doubt if you’ll ever see anything like it again. Gimme the pageant; hold the beasts.

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