Gimme Something to Watch: Beyond The Black Rainbow

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I looked into the eye of the god. It looked right back through me. It looked through everything… it was so, so, so beautiful. Like a black rainbow.

Released in 2009 and and billed as a “Reagan-era fever dream,” Beyond The Black Rainbow is a mind-bending hypercolor sci-fi psychotrope of a film that uses glacial pacing, minimal dialogue, gorgeous cinematography and stunning music to construct a captivating atmosphere of wonder and dread. It centers around the imprisonment of a young telepathic girl and her obsessive doctor/captor in the sterile and confining Arboria Institute in 1983. The institute, it seems, is not quite the transcendent utopia it was founded to achieve.

BTBR is the first directorial offering from Panos Cosmatos, son of kickass-movie-making director George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone, Cobra), and it wields a hypnotic eyeball-grabbing experience few other films can match. Visually, it’s equal parts 2001: A Space Odyssey, Drive and Phase IV. Symmetrical framing, slow movements, geometric patterns and colors fighting for screen dominance convey an other-worldliness that beautifully align with the film’s progressing story.

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Sonically, BTBR is wholly immersive in both sound and score. Scenes in the institute hum and rumble with the ever-present white noise of corporate air conditioning and the low thrumming of electrical infrastructure beneath the floors. The soundtrack, by Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain, is an analog masterpiece of retro keyboards and vintage synthesizer sounds that work hand-in-hand with the visuals to both evoke the era of the film and complement the cold indifference of glass-lined hallways or the unsettling nausea of flashbacks.

Here’s a perfect example. Just prior to the film’s halfway point, the film launches into a fantastic sequence set to a soaring moog-fueled space rock anthem (turn your speakers up for this one).

All of this begins to turn dark in the final act, once it’s revealed what the institute was founded on and the effects it caused. The 1966 scene is among the most dreamlike and nightmarish sequences you’re ever likely to see.

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BTBR is a film that eschews hitting plot points on a specific time schedule, and it is not forthcoming with wordy exposition or dialogue. Like many works of David Lynch, atmosphere, mood, and a cloud of questions about where it’s headed are practically characters in themselves. It is in no hurry. It trusts in its viewer to wholly accept the world it presents and reach the necessary conclusions, but also leaves many elements undefined and unexplained. It’s a film whose look, sound and overall experience stick with you long after the credits conclude.

If you have the means to set aside 90 minutes in a dark room with plenty of volume, an open mind and a clear schedule, I strongly suggest you watch this film and find out for your… self.

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Beyond The Black Rainbow is currently available on Netflix and DVD/Blu-Ray.

Soundtrack available via Jagjaguwar.

(images taken from DVD release)

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  • Dr. Dubz

    I think I’m going to try to watch this movie this weekend.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Do so, it’s fantastic.

  • I WANT TO SEE THIS!

    #Stay(In)Sanity

  • Dr. Dubz

    Great write-up, as usual, Robit.

  • Scrimm

    Need to get on this.

    • KJM

      Indeed, an excellent movie.

  • Seriously, where do you guys watch all your movies? Netflix is proving insufficient at watching all these things.

    • Dr. Dubz

      I suspect there’s a bit of piratin’ going on.

      • Just a bit.

      • Scrimm

        I only pirate old stuff that’s not readily available(movies and music) or very occasionally a new album if it is something I know I’m going to buy right away. For instance I downloaded a Morpheus Descends album cause it’s 250 bucks on ebay. Sorry but F that.

        • Dr. Dubz

          Good lord.

          • Scrimm

            Yeah And years ago I saw both Absu’s Tara and Obscura for around 4 bills.

          • Dr. Dubz

            I’m stoked about that Obscura reissue. As a testament to my skronkiness, I actually had it on as background noise while working on a report this morning.

          • Scrimm

            Yeah me too I haven’t had a copy in years. That’s pretty skronky dude, I don’t know if I could concentrate with that in the background.

      • KJM

        My first viewing was pirated. It was the only way to see it for a long while. It didn’t get any kind of commercial release in The US for years.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      I found this on Netflix. The streaming quality of it is pretty damn good.

  • This sounds very interesting, is it on Netflix by any chance?

    • Dr. Dubz

      “Beyond The Black Rainbow is currently available on Netflix and DVD/Blu-Ray.’

    • KJM

      Instant viewing. Ready to watch when you are!

  • KJM

    This is one of my favorite recent movies. I own the blu-ray and the soundtrack. I tagged Panos Cosmatos on Twitter(we follow each other) and let him know this was out there.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Thanks dude! I also own the soundtrack on vinyl (the only vinyl I’ve ever bought).

  • I’ll watch it when it gets put on Netflix. In my dreams.

  • KJM

    It’s even on Netflix instant! You can also pay to watch on Youtube.

  • so excited to see this movie featured!!!
    “an open mind” … pretty sure my brain would explode if i watch this high.

    BTW, @CyberneticOrganism:disqus, i’ll keep this as spoiler-free as i can: did you have any issue with the tonal shift (slightly comedic) in the events closer to the ending?

    • KJM

      I don’t view it as a tone change. Those two schmucks just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      • i went through and removed that part of my comment. i felt that it was pretty spoilery in itself! it rubbed me a little wrong (just a little) but i’ll take it from your perspective

  • JWG

    Ever since the industry moved past brick-and-mortar videos stores, I’ve found myself moving on to a “Give Me Something to Buy” attitude toward films by necessity (the tactile part of interaction with the film is more important than just “seeing it”).

    That also means being much more discerning with my film choices. I’m going to need to watch something multiple times to justify the purchase (the divisor of the cost of the film and the last known rental fee I paid for something similar) so it has to be good enough to get at least that value out of it.

    I would like to say this series has helped me find a lot of new stuff, but I’ve only so far taken away the ‘Ravenous’ recommendation. I’ll add this to the list to look out for, though.

    • Dr. Dubz

      My film purchasing has significantly decreased over the years. The only stuff I’ve bought recently are Kaiju films and Snowpiercer.

      • I bought two movies in the last… 5 years?

        • Dr. Dubz

          That would be right around the time Blockbuster gave up the ghost, right?

        • Shrimp in a Pizza Box

          Wait, people still BUY movies?

          • I’ll buy something if I absolutely love it so I can watch whenever I want. Still waiting for Tarrantino to release Kill Bill as one movie. Love that one but I refuse to double dip.

          • Shrimp in a Pizza Box

            I don’t think I ever willingly watched a movie I already watched in my entire life, actually.

          • sweetooth0

            Saw Kill Bill Vol 1 in theatres 5 times alone, lost count for home video

          • Dr. Dubz

            You only ever watch movies one time?

          • Shrimp in a Pizza Box

            Yep, I find them extremely boring if I already know what’s going to happen, and actually never got why people like watching them again.

          • Dr. Dubz

            Interesting. I don’t re-watch movies a ton, but there are plenty of films I’ve seen multiple times, and each time I pick up on something else.

          • Lacertilian

            That’s crazy.
            If I enjoy a movie I will watch it countless times, mostly while showing others or hungover.
            I picture it as you’ll listen to a good album many times, good movies are the same for me.

          • Pacific Rim FTFW

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            I’ve easily seen Amalie more than 100 times.

          • sweetooth0

            I have a fan edit that puts em both together in 720p. I think it might even use the full color house of leaves from the Japanese version (my Jap DVD is prob still the best release of this so far, despite the inferior PQ/AQ to the Region 1 theatrical blus).

          • I heard its supposed to be shown in select theatres sometime this year. If that’s true I’m going.

          • sweetooth0

            I’d be all over that, but I’m sure “select” theaters don’t include any in my neck of the woods.

          • The Beargod

            Got ALL the tarantino movies, sans django for blu-ray in one pack for about a tenner.

          • Lacertilian

            Bargain

          • …the best I ever had!

          • i’m one of the few who bought into 3D, so i buy some movies for the home theater at home experience (coupled with a good surround sound system)

        • CyberneticOrganism

          In the last 5 years I’ve bought BTBR, Trick or Treat (1986) and Miami Connection. Movies I know I’m gonna want to share with people.

          • I bought Dredd (because it did so poorly in the box office and I REALLY want a sequel), and Father’s Day. Because it cray.
            http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1727261/

          • ya, i bought Dredd for several friends as part of the campaign to get a sequel. it really does slay (and needs a sequel)

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            No Rob Schneider = no Judge Dredd!

          • <3 <3 why aren't you out getting plastered like the rest of us?

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            I already took care of that last night. I was a wee little minstrel!

          • mmm, dat Miami Connection, one of the best films of all!
            Friends for eternity, loyalty and honesty!

          • CyberneticOrganism

            YES!

        • JWG

          Two this Month:
          – Ravenous
          – TerrorVision / The Video Dead

          Got the latter set because of TVD. It’s kind of a must-have for fans of absolutely no-budget 80’s zombie flicks and awful B-movie “acting”.

          TerrorVision is generally a waste of 90 minutes; though the mutant creature is kind of neat (see next paragraph), and one of the supporting characters is an affectionate parody of an 80’s metalhead that’s remarkably restrained in the midst of a cast full of absurdly overacted 80s-comedy stereotypes.

          What I love most about 80’s horror, though, is prominently displayed by both: the extreme attention to practical effects detail (by necessity of low budgets) gives them a much more grounded and “real” feel in spite of their unrealistic premises.

        • Tyree

          Got to get those Criterion’s BRO!

        • Stockhausen

          I’m definitely buying Birman when it comes out.

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            Birdman so was so tight.

          • Stockhausen

            That friggin’ soundtrack knocked my socks off, and then flensed my foot skin down to my feet meat.

          • Ok if YOU like it, will watch.
            Did you see Whiplash? Did it strike a nerve with you?

          • Stockhausen

            My opinion is all. I have not seen Whiplash, I don’t think I’ll be checking that one out. I’ve heard that as a movie it’s great, but as a portrayal of music, music education, and drumming, it falls pretty flat.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          I don’t really see the point in buying movies anymore. I used to buy them a ton but I don’t watch movies over and over anymore like I used to. I like going to the theaters and renting them.

      • Scrimm

        Me too. I bought Phantasm II, Pumpkinhead, Sleepaway Camp and the Halloween box set this past year but nothing new. I ised to buy a ton of movies.

      • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

        Ever watch Kaiju Big Battel?

    • The Beargod

      #ToiletConfession

      I’ve bought maybe five movies in my entire life. And I am a movie-lover.

    • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

      Lol, the last one I bought was Uncle P years ago. Best 75 cents I’ve ever spent! It’s as hilariously awful as you’d expect, and it’s a film Master P practically dedicated to himself.

  • The Beargod

    I would greatly like to see this.

  • sweetooth0

    Yeah! This movie rules. I snagged the blu-ray but haven’t revisited it yet since I bought it, this makes me want to do that. I think I grabbed Enter the Void at the same time.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Youtube is being a dick right now so I can’t post em, but the opening credits for Enter The Void are fucking awesome.

      • Tyree

        Gaspar Noé is one fucked up yet brillient movie maker.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          Irreversible?

          • Tyree

            I really like that movie. I have it actually. I love the camera work and the long scenes (Except one of them, which was way too long).

          • Edward/Breegrodamus

            I haven’t seen it but I should watch it. I might watch a movie tonight. I have been meaning to see Syriana for a long time.

      • Tyree

        Have you seen I Stand Alone? I have not, but I really want too.

        • I Stand Alone is by far his weakest work, except perhaps for the closing WTF sequence. Watching that film is like being too drunk to tell what the fuck is going on in your own apartment, alone, at 2 in the afternoon in mid-February.

      • sweetooth0

        Yeah, also can confirm the DMT tripping scenes are 100% accurate

  • Scrimm

    Speaking of stuff to watch on Neflix I just remembered season 9 of Trailer Park Boys comes out today. YES!!

  • KJM

    A good second feature for this(IMO) is Ben Wheatley’s ‘A Field In England’. it’s been described as what would happen if a bunch of English stoners tried to remake Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbqgwSQk7vI

    • Ah, I keep putting this one off. It looks so dope tho.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      I really, really wanted to like this but I could barely get through it. I’ll have to give it another shot.

      • KJM

        How about “Kill List”?

        • CT-12

          I love “Kill List”

          • KJM

            As do I.

          • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

            You see The Devil’s Business? The other UK hitman horror of that year, makes for a fun comparison. Lower budget, smaller scale, mostly a two hander. Decent script and tight performances. Good creepy stuff.

          • CT-12

            I’ll have to check er out, thanks man!

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            Sounds kinda like The Iceman, but with a smaller budget.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Valhalla Rising also. I was hooked from the first shot.

      • Dr. Dubz

        Is that good? It’s been on Netflix for a while, but I haven’t watched it yet.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Guh, it’s amazing. Very much like BTBR in the sense that there’s very little dialogue and it moves very slowly, but it’s violent, trippy and Viking as all hell.

          • Dr. Dubz

            I’ll check it out at some point!

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            I’d highly recommend Hammer Of The Gods. Unpredictable and savagely violent film.

      • shit son, have it downloaded haven’t watched yet. my mistake. will remedy soon. definitely a fan of that Danish bro (and Mads Mikkelsen)

      • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

        Valhalla Rising is fucking sublime. Like a pagan Aguirre on a fistful of downers.

        • KJM

          Kinski is legit crazy.

          • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

            Didn’t he claim to have boffed his daughter in his autobiography? Who says shit like that?

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            From what I understand, she was the one that came forward about it a while back. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, considering how much of a perv as he was known to be.

          • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

            Yep! I forget which film it was, but he was kicked off the set several times for trying to stick his finger up the actress’s ass.

  • KJM
  • Edward/Breegrodamus

    Shit I wonder if this is streaming somewhere.

  • Tyree

    Has any one watched “Metalhead” yet since the last movie post robot did?

    • Edward/Breegrodamus

      Not me. I wanna.

      • Tyree

        Same.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          The Hateful Eight comes out this year, as does the next Bond film Spectre and The Revenant same director as Birdman. Plus Scorsese’s Silence is finally going to be a thing. I read that book a few years ago because I heard they were making it into a movie. Good book, sad as shit.

          • Lacertilian

            Yes

    • CT-12

      I haven’t either, but I tried looking for it at the rental store, twas a no go

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Apparently it’s available on iTunes next week

  • Stockhausen

    It’s been awhile since I’ve made it a point to watch a great movie at home, I usually default to watching TV shows I’ve seen a hundred times. I need to watch this and Ida, stat.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus

      Stocky did you see Nightcrawler? Great movie in my humble opinion.

      • Stockhausen

        I have not, I heard a lot of talk ’round these parts and I could never tell if I should or shouldn’t see it.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus

          You should, boom.

  • Dagon

    This looks amazingly beautiful. I will try to watch it sooner rather than later.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Cool review man. I’m wondering though, does this have much in the way of actual meat to it? I love a feast for the senses, I do, but I most like it when it all has something to say on mind or memory or society or sexuality, the nature of film or genre etc. Stuff to really chew on, like Tetsuo or Amer or 2001 or whatever. Or alternatively does it have tits and gore. I’m also pretty heavy about tits and gore?

    • JWG

      Those would be two (three?) reasons I’m a fan of Devanny Pinn

      http://www.horror-asylum.com/news/pics/a-bloody-devanny-pinn-in-hardcore-chainsaw-action.jpg

      • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

        Something is just so right about a woman with a chainsaw.

    • KJM

      1)no tits, but some gore
      2)It’s mostly about the journey rather than the destination, but I think it does have something to say about taking shortcuts to so-called enlightenment and inner peace rather than actually working toward it. I also think it says plenty about doing your best to be happy with what you have in your life rather than agonizing about what you can’t get(watch the Dr Nile character for this).

      • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

        Cheers for the info. The nature of/problems with the pursuit of enlightenment is something that interests me a lot, so I reckon I should get something out of this.

    • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

      Tetsuo The Iron Man is still one of the most fucked up films I’ve EVER seen. Even Ichi The Killer would have a hard time stacking up to it.

      • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

        Tetsuo sure is pretty mental, but I feel like at heart its all about flowering romance in a world that isn’t really good for it, the pain and the weirdness and manipulation and ecstasy. As cyberpunk goes (I’m admittedly not an expert) I find it one of the strongest in terms of having a point.

        • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

          I never saw much of a plot about it. Just pure nightmarish cyberpunk goodness (and sodomy with soldering wires and drill dicks). Couldn’t quite get into Body Hammer though.

  • CT-12

    I’ve only heard of this movie, still have not checked it out. Fucking great writeup about it dude, I will be sure to look for it when I hit up my rental place!

  • Óðhinn

    Worked in this film a few years back. Panos and Norm were definitely going for a specific retro look and shot on 16mm film (if I recall correctly) which was a good choice to achieve the look, but a bold choice because the industry was enamored with the Red Camera at the time and film was on its way out. The color was done by Claudio Sepulveda, who is a very talented and in-demand Colorist in Vancouver, Canada. The end product looks and sounds great. I haven’t actually seen the film all the way through. I think I will though. Good recommendation.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Cool, in what capacity did you work on it?

      • Óðhinn

        Postproduction. I worked for the company that processed their dailies and did the DI.

  • ThatGuy676

    Would anyone recommend watching this on acid?

    • CyberneticOrganism

      That would only ruin it

    • KJM

      Superfluous.

  • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

    Quite an interesting little film.