Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alexander Hero, Raul Delarosa, William Cully Allen, Catherine Lerza, Nima Slone, Tiziana Perinotti, Penny Werner, Randall Zielinski, Diane Barnes, Daniel da Silva, Ravi Valleti, Alanna Blair, Kris Caltagirone, Leoni Figueredo, Deniz Demirer, Jeff Kao, Sharmin Sehat, Amy Larson, Audrey Levan, Jessica Waterston, Marianne Heath, Carol Carbone
Written by: Alexander Hero, Aaron Hollander, Daniel Kremer, based on a novel by Charles Brockden Brown
Directed by: Daniel Kremer
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 170
Date: 07/27/2019

Overwhelm the Sky (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Daniel Kremer's Overwhelm the Sky is a movie for any moviegoers tired of the same old thing. It bills itself as An Existential Epic Neo-Noir, and I couldn't have said it better myself. A nearly three-hour, black-and-white movie based on an 18th century novel — and presented in a "Roadshow" edition (with overture and intermission) — it's one of those rare movies that offers bragging rights for anyone audacious enough to even find their way to a screening, let alone sit through it. Incidentally, it's very much worth sitting through.

Its major flaw is a less-than-stellar sound mix, which enhances its feeling of being a micro-budget effort. (Conversely, David Lynch's low-budget Eraserhead broke new ground with its unsettling noises.) The volume (at least in the online screener I saw) wobbles up and down, and occasionally turns muffled or echoey, and attempts at dreamy, chanting audio effects don't really click.

However, if one can simply forgive this and embrace the whole package as an ambitious, low-budget, crackpot extravaganza, it's easy to forgive, and worth forgiving. Alexander Hero co-wrote the screenplay and stars as the "hero," Edgar "Eddie" Huntly. He comes to San Francisco to be near his fiancee Thea (Nima Slone), and also has an uncle, Charlie (Randall Zielinski), living in the area; Zielinski gives the movie's most laid-back, zenlike performance. A former talk radio DJ on the East Coast, Eddie is asked to take over a late-night shift from his friend Dean (Kris Caltagirone), who has grown exhausted of all the negativity.

Eddie's inner odyssey begins when he learns that his friend, and Thea's brother, has been killed, a victim of an apparent mugging in Golden Gate Park. Eddie finds himself repeatedly drawn to the place of the murder. There, he meets a jogger, Maggie (Catherine Lerza), who offers her services as a therapist. She also introduces him to her arty friend Daria (Tiziana Perinotti), who apparently knows more about the murder and also tries to seduce him. Meanwhile, he also meets Carmine (Raul Delarosa), a quasi-homeless friend of Uncle Charlie's, whose gruff, private attitude makes him suspicious.

A few other characters are harder to define, including Eddie's sister Faye, whose voice is heard reading letters to him, and is seen in one imaginary sequence. Eddie also meets a mysterious homeless man in the park, also a sleepwalker, who teaches him about sleeping on the baseball diamond. (It's in this poetic sequence that the enigmatic title comes in.) And while the movie initially poses as a detective story about a murder, it takes a wild swing into left field during its final stretch, in a section that may be described as both spiritual and bonkers.

Normally a movie like this would be judged "too long," but Overwhelm the Sky uses its running time to carefully conjure Eddie's interior universe, a place where everything that happens seems to be either an offer for, or an attack on, him. That these things unexpectedly happen one after the other, or even simultaneously, leaves a nightmarishly off-kilter feeling, like this is an extended dream. (The black-and-white, and the attempts at disconcerting sounds, serve this effect nicely.)

This comes from the 1799 novel Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker, by Charles Brockden Brown. It's possible that the jarring dislocation of two extreme time periods helps contribute to the movie's haywire feeling; it reminded me of Maria Giese's similarly low-budget, ambitious Hunger (2001), a modern-day adaptation of Knut Hamsun's 1890 novel. If nothing else, this movie proves that stories can come from anywhere, and that human imagination, audacity, and ingenuity are still forces to be reckoned with. (The movie plays July 28, 2019 at the Roxie Theater.)

Kino Lorber released the film on DVD in 2021. There's no Blu-ray, but there's a batch of interesting extras, including a commentary track by director Kremer, star Hero, and DP/co-screenwriter Aaron Hollander. Other bonuses include a featurette, An Overwhelming Sound: Costas Dafnis Discusses His Score, a deleted scene (about 2 minutes), an outtake reel (about 6 minutes), and a trailer. There's also a 26-minute Q&A filmed at my local Roxie Theater! The black-and-white transfer looks decent in SD, and the soundtrack holds up.

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