Produced, directed, written, edited by Mike Hoolboom. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 25, 1999. Running time: 71 MIN.
With: Ed Johnson, Kathryn Ramey, Jason Boughton, Moucle Blackout, Janieta Eyre.
Canadian avant-gardist Mike Hoolboom’s “Panic Bodies” is an abstract meditation on AIDS, mortality and the vulnerable human body. Likely to baffle or offend some viewers, it nonetheless offers complex aesthetic and thematic layers for discerning auds to explore. Gay fests and experimental showcases are signaled.
Pic is in six parts, each of which could stand alone as a short. One combines multiple images of home movies, medical reels and classic commercial features while a voiceover muses on loss of control over the body; others feature a masturbating man comically (and literally) losing his member and the reading of a letter relating a man’s protracted death from Parkinson’s disease. Last, longest and best section, “Passing On,” is potent enough to lend whole feature a certain unity and sense of summation, as it poignantly mixes the personal, lyrical and spiritual. Hoolboom deploys a wide mix of visual tactics throughout, from borrowed footage to tinted, sped-up and upside-down images. Earle Peach’s sound design is equally adventurous. Though many viewers likely will find it too nonlinear, and perhaps too explicit in occasional sexual content, “Panic Bodies” rewards the patient with a deeply affecting afterglow.