Saturday Matinee: Beyond the Black Rainbow

“Beyond the Black Rainbow” (2010) is a Canadian experimental sci-fi film written and directed by Panos Cosmatos. The Cronenberg-esque plot focuses on Elena, a test subject with ESP abilities, who struggles to escape a New Age lab facility called the Arboria Institute headed by the psychopathic Dr. Nyle. Set in 1983, the film is infused with a retro aesthetic heavily influenced by the director’s childhood experiences and recent tragedies as described in the following passage from Wikipedia about the film’s development:

As a child, Cosmatos frequented a video store named Video Addict. During these trips he would browse the horror film section looking at the boxes although he was not allowed to watch such films. During such times he would instead imagine what the film was. He would later reflect upon this experience when making Black Rainbow where one of his goals was “to create a film that is a sort of imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist.” The year 1983 was chosen for the story as it’s the first year he went to Video Addict. Additionally he thought the idea of setting such a film one year before 1984 was funny. The film’s genesis was an overlap between two projects Cosmatos wanted to do. One of these was a film about a girl trapped in an asylum while the other was an installation promoting a research facility that didn’t exist. Eventually Cosmatos realized that he could use both ideas in the same project.

The presence of his parents haunts “every frame of this film”, said the Rome-born filmmaker. His father was film director George P. Cosmatos (whose credits include Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra), deceased in April 2005, and his mother Swedish sculptor Birgitta Ljungberg-Cosmatos, who died in July 1997 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Unable to deal with his mother’s death, Panos “drifted into a slow motion mode of self-destruction and binge drinking”. When elder Cosmatos died, the grief he felt compounded. After that the aspiring writer/director started therapy and decided he wanted to make a film as part of the healing process. Cosmatos felt that his “filmmaking sensibility is a weird hybrid of both of them” – his father’s “popcorn movies” and his mother’s haunting, experimental art.

Beyond the Black Rainbow was financed by DVD residuals from Tombstone (1993), directed by Panos’ father. The film was shot in three weeks using a modified Panavision35 mm camera. This was suggested by cinematographer Norm Li, for he noted that Panos’ references – mostly films from the ’70s and ’80s – “were all grainy, colorful, and full of texture”, and he felt the 35 mm format was “the only way to shoot.”

Borrow and view the film from Hoopla here:

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