Sunday, June 19, 2022

Mad World: MAD GOD

In the beginning of Mad God, an eye is wide open in extreme close-up. In the end, it closes. This is an inversion, since what passes in between these shots is a pure, unadulterated nightmare. That it explicitly asks for our eyes to be open for these visions is a request that we stay alert to behold its wild imagination. It is a vision of decay and violence, of cycles of oppression and exploitation. It follows a small figure—wrapped in a thick coat and a tightly-fitted gas mask—making its way through hellish tableau and surrealistic dangers with only a crumbling map as a guide. This is a world in decay, disrepair, active conflagration, and brain-melting disorder and despair. It has been intricately and intuitively imagined by Phil Tippett, a long-time special effects wizard behind such memorable works as Star Wars, Dragonslayer, Willow, RoboCop, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Jurassic Park. Here as writer-director-animator he’s made something of a stop-motion masterwork, pulling every trick of the trade over the course of several decades to build up this mad vision of a world falling to pieces.

This is a largely wordless excursion, an ink-blot test of wild mad visuals and sound effects. The images are murky and muddy, full of smoke and fog, fire and sparks. The detailed tableaux descend into dark depths and extend back into the frame in frightening shadows. It’s a post-industrial wasteland riven with war, with unseen crowds cheering dismemberments and clay figures marched into kilns. Scientists squish around in guts like butchers. Creatures are barnacled with seeping growths or slaughtered with whirring machines or sliced apart like a wriggling gym sock full of raw meat. There are a few human actors in the machinery of this place—notably cult filmmaker Alex Cox who pulls levers and peers deeply into the darkest recesses of the world. As the plot slowly comes into focus, it’s never the driving force. There’s no solving this world. Instead, this is for sure a movie you watch in disbelief, awed at the imagination it took to create these images, pulled along by its nightmare logic. I tried tracking the other artists and projects these images reminded me of: Hieronymus Bosch, the I Spy picture books, Saw, Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, the Brothers Quay, all in a blender. Mad is right. This is a world distinctively its own. One can stare at it wondering if it is dream or premonition, history or haunting, fantasy or warning. All of the above. All it asks is an open eye.

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