Parallel Universes and How to Get There:
At the Box Office, In the Art House, and On Cable
by Artemus Konig Longfoot
This piece from Information Sickness #7 looks at how popular media in three different parallel universes are representing some of the stories that we've been following in previous issues.
Berkeley (Universes 2 & 4, 1995) -- The ultimate escapism is making a real escape. But what happens when you feel you have to come back? If you're an American, whether in Universe 2 or Universe 4 (or maybe other ones I don't know about), you continue to escape your old life by turning the story of your escape into escapist entertainment.
This holiday season finds us awash in adventure tales from parallel universes, which seems like the latest growth genre in the industry. Over in Universe 4, where ShadowPlanes and The Circuit Six Incident are based on real life political events, the tone is shrill and scary. But here in Universe 2, nothing quite so weird has happened, and most people would consider The Tall Ship just a fanciful musical with mega hi-tech effects.
ShadowPlanes, Universal's big budget offering, is based on the true story of Marine Corporal Nicholas Allaire, a sentry who chased some strange intruders into the bowels of the Pentagon, only to be drawn into an alternate eigenstate for the next 23 hours. Allaire, played convincingly by Will Smith, finds himself the prisoner of four humanoid beings with animal faces, who try to explain that his government has been harassing them for years. Smith handles all of it well: the stoic terror of a young soldier faced with strange creatures in a parallel universe; the relief and eventually the hilarity as he comes to appreciate his captors and their reasons for what they do; and the weary patience during his interrogations and debriefings at the hands of the big brass. Told as it is in the tired cliché of flashbacks, the story itself holds no big surprises. The real treats are the acid trip effects of Allaire's travel through the wormhole, and the startlingly life-like animal masks on the actors playing the ShadowPlanes creatures. Hats off to makeup artist Steve Weber for turning a run of the mill action adventure into something truly magical.
Down at the tawdry end of the spectrum, we have The Circuit Six Incident on Pay-Per-View, also based on actual events. Morgan Fairchild plays Elfie Tuttle, an Alabama taxidermist turned political activist by her husband's lengthy disappearance on a secret government mission. While protesting at the project site in the Nevada wilderness, she sneaks aboard a supply vehicle and travels to a place called Circuit Six, a parallel universe in which her husband and his compatriots have remained in voluntary exile. Their prolonged stay in Circuit Six has given their faces and bodies equine and pachyderm characteristics, and they haven't seen a woman in 15 years. You can guess where this is headed. If Fairchild were an actress of notable skill, we might be able to forgive her striking dissimilarity to the real Elfie Tuttle. But the producers of The Circuit Six Incident, eager as they were to have a pretty body on the set for scenes of implied nudity, might at least have found some one able to deliver her lines in a believable Southern accent. And the monsters in this one come off like a bad cross between Quasimodo and the Elephant Man in an Ed Wood movie. A real stinker! Save your money!
Finally, we come back home for The Tall Ship, a film by New York art band The Accidental Terrorists. Released by LillyProd MediaWorks, this extravaganza might not make it to your local multiplex, but it's a must-show for every art house that has 70 mm. capability. Band members Eric Liljestrand, Paul Godwin, and Paul Dikker grabbed a few cameras and took a two-year working vacation through a wormhole. Rather than going someplace filled with talking animals and government secrets, they chose Universe 5, where everyone is quaint and honorable, where the weather is spectacular, and where magic is the dominant technology. Our heroes spent their time on the Tall Ship, sailing multicolored seas under cyberspace skies, going ashore in places that Disney would kill for. The water shapes itself into landscapes, the sky puts on shows even bigger than Imax, and the people aboard the ship are cheerfully abusive to the camera. It's a level of hostility and disrespect that some of us show toward tourists in our own towns, a comical juxtaposition to all that magnificent scenery. The Accidental Terrorists have turned the screw even further by adding their own soundtrack once the three travelers returned to Universe 2's New York. There they reunited with Abby Cahn, Eric Gottesman, Mat Larson, and Harry Haller, the other four members who stayed home. Together, the group went on to produce a vibrant, glistening body of music that makes the fantastic experience even less believable. Despite his percussive mastery, some of Larson's rhythms are jarring when the scene is essentially soothing. Haller's satirical poems of urban paranoia complement some of the more abrasive moments with the Tall Ship's crew, but it's a one-note joke that ceases to keep pace with the mounting wonder of the experience. These are only a few small quibbles, however, about a monumental work that takes the art of the documentary film on one of its strangest voyages ever.