9 February 2019 | carltonct
A Naked Luncheon in Dystopian Wales
Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited was like visiting my teenage past when I went to revival theaters to revel in foreign and indy films. The 2019 reworking of TTM has the dreamy angst of Antonioni, the analytical distance of Kubrick's work in England, as well as the darkly whimsical surrealism of Alejandro Jodorowski. This is film as an internal experience, as a head trip or free association on the couch of a psychiatrist who has overprescribed the meds. It bears the mark of one of its contributors, William S. Burroughs, in its druggy, cutup dive into an unbound sexuality. Puritans beware - this film portrays humans, Mr. Paxton in particular, in the act of physical congress.
What's it all about? It's difficult to say. Paxton, at the height of his youthful, Jaggeresque good looks, plays Billy, a kind of sexual tourist arriving in a Welsh town whose main industry in a dystopian future is the flesh trade. A cadre of female scientists have bioengineered him as a kind of Manchurian candidate, a vessel for their plot to murder the old and heavyset Minister of Prostitution who resides in the town and ambulates on double crutches. Billy seems compulsive in his sexual behavior which includes attractive young women as well as young men but he seems conflicted, as if a new sexuality has been inserted in him. As he indulges his different impulses, he is also disturbed by them and it manifests in knife wounds and suicidal ideation. In response to the heightened patrimony of a destabilized world (its details are related by streams of radio programming) Billy is revealed as the victim of a neo-feminist conspiracy to destroy male power and make men the submissive sex. After his chemo-physical operation, we see him experimenting with makeup and emulating a sex kitten. In these moments, he bears a resemblance to Dr. Frank N. Furter.
Viewers expecting a traditional narrative will be disappointed but those looking for dark poetry and a savory chaos will be hypnotized ... and a hypnotist is given a credit at the film's end. Although the film takes place in a Welsh town, it has an Italian feeling with its open sexuality and its use of dubbing instead of sync sound. TTMR recalls some of Fellini's early Sixties work with its back and forth between the subjective and the literal and the dream world and collective reality. Part of the film's charm is in its aging - it has a kind of used future with laboratory scenes that feature a reel to reel computer and an IBM Selectric typewriter. That lab must have looked quite futuristic at the time and one of the stranger things in a strange film is to see female scientists smoking indoors.
The film's intentions are not to clear anything up or to soothe and sweeten but to immerse the viewer in madness and disassociation. The narrative has a loose, abstract quality which would become a standard in music videos just a few years later in which the viewer is asked to supply his own ideas. Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited brought me straight back to my own adolescence as I looked for answers and clues to my own identity while sitting in old, dark theaters to rummage through the cult, foreign and experimental films that were far outside of mainstream cinema and a very far throw from the blandness of television. This is a film that shows that a film does not have to be in color to be psychedelic.