Intangible, and just plain odd

Imagine this scenario.

The film you greenlit and is currently in production is coming together. Rough edits of scenes look great. The cast and crew and happy. The film’s moving along without a snag. Principal photography in beautiful rural Iowa wraps.

Post-production begins, and the first-time feature film director soon delivers his first cut of scenes in assembly mode.

Things are looking a little odd, but you can’t judge a film until all scenes have been fine-tuned and the pacing is tightened up. There’s no music score, but rudimentary sound effects impart the overall mood the director and his co-writer described to you during the original pitch meeting, or that pivotal moment where you decided to buy the script and make the film.

But your instincts are telling you something is off, and it’s an unsettling feeling, because even though you know the film’s story – Psycho, without the gore – backwards and forwards, it’s only now that you realize, having seen all the shot footage and every conceivable edit and re-edit, that the film is an intangible.

It’s a thing that will be a marketing nightmare because it’s neither straight horror, hard drama, darkly comedic, or a mystery film.

It’s called Peacock, and as good as the cast may be – Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon - it has no hope in hell of ever getting a theatrical release. There’s no way to sell the film without appearing deceitful, or off by a mile. Conventional ad campaigns wouldn’t capture its essence, because you don’t know what it is beyond ‘odd.’

Cutting a trailer might spoil the plot points, but then the film takes a few right turns anyways, so does it matter? Is it even worth making a trailer for a film you can’t sell?

It is a good film, but you’ve no idea what it is, so what happens next?

Smartly, the film’s eventual release on DVD (Maple in Canada, Lionsgate in the U.S.) comes with a few extras that aren’t pretentious, and although there’s no commentary track, there is a making-of featurette where enough people express why they chose the film, and describe the tangible elements that drew them to the project.

Most orphaned films are mediocre or banal, but Peacock kind of reminds of the odd little films that would sometimes make their way to Pay TV stations, VHS or laserdisc, and get discovered by accident, or were rented simply based on the cast, and a curiosity as to what the hell they were doing in what looked like a strange mess.

Probably my favourite examples of intangible films are those produced by New World Pictures during the 80s and 90s. Roger Corman’s old company was essentially giving new filmmakers the chance to make their odd little film, and in retrospect, most would never have gotten a theatrical release, or perhaps even been greenlit for production today. The best two that come to mind are Bill Condon’s Sister Sister (which did get a theatrical release, even in Canada, back in 1987), and Apprentice to Murder (1988).

Never heard of them? The former did enjoy a DVD release, while the latter is currently lost in oblivion (unless I just happened to trigger a memory cell at someone who owns the New World catalogue).

Most product sent straight to video today follows the usual genre patterns, and the box art further denigrates the film into something familiar. The makers of Peacock may have aspired for a theatrical release, but it had no hope because screen time isn’t allowed for intangibles. Sleeper hits and critical favourites, maybe, but not a thing that can only be described as odd.

It also comes to DVD as a mystery, unaided by any production controversy or reputation as being gory, sick, erotic or weird; it’s none of them, but it does feature an excellent performance by Cillian Murphy, and it’s kind of fascinating to watch the film struggle for an identity when only the filmmakers know where the hell it’s going.

Neither disaster, dud, or weak, it’s its own thing, which makes it a bit of a dare for those wanting to be surprised, or at least willing to subjectively proscribe some firm identity to this very odd little movie.

Check out the review, and maybe the film…

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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