Friday, October 23, 2015

Dangerous Men

Waves crash on a beach as cheesy synth music bops along in the background. The words Dangerous and Men appear on screen, slam together, and explode, and the credits begin: "Created & Written By John Rad. Producer: John Rad. Original Music, Song & Lyrics: John Rad." It goes on like that for a while. It's clear from the opening moments that this is a singular work from a singular mind, but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the what happens during the next hour and eighteen minutes.

Dangerous Men
Director: John Rad
Starring: Melody Wiggins, Michael Gradilone

Iranian filmmaker John Rad moved to America in 1979 to make this movie, and he spent the next 26 years working on it. Finally finishing in 2005, he submitted it to film festivals and was rejected; when he couldn't find distribution, he rented out four Los Angeles theaters himself just so the movie could be seen. Though its audience was small, Dangerous Men became a cult sensation almost immediately. Largely unavailable in the years since, Drafthouse Films is now giving the movie a bigger audience than it ever could have reached on its own.

This movie laughs in the face of traditional narratives. Among side plots and characters that are picked up and dropped seemingly at random, here's what I can gather about the main storyline: when her fiance is killed right in front of her on the beach by biker thugs, a woman named Mina somehow convinces one of the bikers that she wants to sleep with him. At a seedy motel, she manages to get her hands on a knife and murder him, avenging the love of her life. She promises the biker's corpse that "all trash like you is going to end up dead, no matter what I have to do or what I have to lose," so she becomes a prostitute, lures men in, and kills them. (There are multiple montages of her stabbing random guys to death.) Meanwhile, the fiance's brother — a renegade cop (naturally) — is...trying to track down Mina? I think? Or maybe out for his own form of revenge? It's unclear what exactly he's doing, but it involves hunting down a biker gang leader by the name of Black Pepper, who isn't nearly as scary as everyone in the movie makes him out to be. Every few minutes, you sort of stop and wonder what the reasoning is behind what these characters are doing, but coming up with a legitimate reason often proves impossible. It's best to just sit back and let the movie take you on a ride, because if you're trying to figure it out, you might miss some of the most nonsensical scenes I've ever seen.

Rad's hilariously awful synth music, which sounds like it came directly from the auto-programmed options on a Casio keyboard, consists of about four different songs, all repeated ad nauseum throughout the film — there's rarely a moment without music chugging along in the background. The production values are worse than most student films, with one memorable fight scene comically using the same punching sound effect for fourteen punches in a row. And the acting is atrocious, with actors stifling smiles in circumstances in which their characters would absolutely not be smiling and awful dubbing that's regularly placed over shots of the characters not even moving their mouths.

But for me, the editing is the most baffling thing about this movie (well, aside from the logic-defying script and how the hell Rad ended up ever finishing this thing). At times the cutting seems almost aggressive with how disorienting it is, but then you'll get to a scene that lasts five minutes longer than it would in any other film — including extended make-out scenes that start to become uncomfortable to watch because of their length. A general rule for this film: any time you expect a normal movie would cut to a different shot, this one holds the shot for at least an extra five or ten seconds before cutting. The dispersing of information is wildly unbalanced: as we're just trying to keep up with the plot, Rad will stay on a side character that ultimately means nothing to the movie for five minutes until he cuts away before their story is even resolved, never to see that person again. It's confusing, maddening, and kind of funny, but mostly I just sat there slack-jawed at what I was watching. 

And that By the time it gets to the end, it's as if it's we're watching a completely different film from the one we started with, and I'm confident in saying that the last few minutes of this movie rank among the most perplexing things ever to be shown in a theater.

Dangerous Men is a majestic piece of cinematic lunacy gleefully unhinged from the basic rules of storytelling. It truly has to be seen to believed.

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