Elliot is a wonderfully strange, layered and surreal experience; a shot on VHS film with a great deal to say and a beautiful way of saying it.
The disc tray slides open, humming its perfect mechanical song. I rest a black disc, swirling with neon streaks and distorted round shapes, on its tongue. My lovely machine takes the offering, this digital communion wafer. This is my religion, my faith. It takes me to enchanting, dreadful, and unforgettable places. But this disc is different. Like a glitch from a Videodrome virtual reality game, a moist electric hand reaches out from inside the Blu-ray player, tightly grips my shirt, and pulls me into the machine. I’m spread out like red gelatin on the disc, and it digests me. My sacred offering to the machine has been taken and digested by the machine, and now the offering takes and digests me.
Suddenly I am in a world of cotton candy asbestos, blinking light brainscans, and free-floating VHS tracking fuzz. The air has a visible static charge, and the walls surrounding me are of redesigned aluminum steel, blinking red and violet layers crushed inside a thousand child’s lunchboxes, then re-purposed. I am trapped inside a tin foil monstrosity of biomechanics. Dented metal columns, softened by rust and grease, do their best to hold up the ceiling. I try to navigate a way through this labyrinth of vibrant, melted video textures, but I only see endless hovering sheets of scrap metal, twinkling with prosthetic cathode ray LED Christmas lights.
Heat bulbs protrude from the foundation and twitch, and organic wire phalluses try to dance with them. So dizzy, I’m sinking into the colors. I feel like I’m swimming in silent, starry ambience, as if I were in a snow globe. I feel it shake, and the particles float in disorganized unison, like flocks of red and blue molecules. Further inside this eye-melting structure, I encounter an oddly-dressed girl dancing.
She beckons me forward and offers me peace, a soothing voice, and a kind ear. I begin to ooze back out of my lovely machine, but I don’t want to. Please let me stay! As I drop to my knees and beg, I encounter someone sitting on the floor beside me. The dancer tells me his name is Elliot. He talks to the dancer:
“I have a voice, but it’s not my own. I have an appearance, a physical existence, of which I am unsure of, and no longer interested in. I’m always somebody else . . . somebody who is but isn’t me. I don’t know who or what I am, or what I want, what I’m capable of having, what I do or don’t deserve. There is something inside me I hear all the time, but it doesn’t exist, and it never has. I don’t know what I am, what I used to be, or what I could be.”
Elliot is a digital germ losing the will to live. He is mechanical equipment, built for a reason, yet he finds no purpose. That’s quite similar to Sartre’s Nausea, is it not?
We are dealing with deeply soulful filmmakers here.
ELLIOT, the first full-length feature from Dreams for Dead Cats Productions, intimidated me tremendously the first time I saw it. I didn’t know what to make of it, or “how” to review it. Thankfully I returned to it, because after a rewatch I bought the DVD, and my movie library is a little more special because of it.
Although Elliot will cocoon you in delicious color and psychedelia, it is a very sad story. His encounters with the dancer (some sweetly quirky, some horrifying) seem to be at the center of Elliot’s anguish. But I can sense a mix of other things twisting around, too. Fear of technology, addiction to technology, contempt for authority, depression, and yearning can all be found in Elliot.
I was encouraged to make my own interpretation, so I’m doing that.
The filmmakers used VHS camcorder equipment (and no CGI) to film Elliot because it gave the image a special effect they intended to have on the viewer. But maybe they had a different purpose. I think using VHS technology is a defiant statement against our addiction to smart phones, social media, and our ever-upgrading (mutating) technology.
Filming with outdated tech is a defiant “FUCK YOU” against everything we plug into these silly little MSB ports. And a warning to perhaps rethink ourselves the next time we are so eager to upgrade.
See the beautiful thing Dreams for Dead Cats made. Support underground cinema. Let it lick your eyeballs.