After making a modest festival splash with 2000’s “A Chronicle of Corpses,” a rigorously formal 18th century Americana Gothic, the very young U.S. underground auteur Andrew Repasky McElhinney goes in another direction entirely — albeit one affirming his certifiable coolness — with vid-shot “Story of the Eye.” Less literal adaptation than equally extreme contempo fantasia on French cult author Georges Bataille’s experimental novel, this unauthorized feature is a punk-pornocopia equivalent to “Last Year at Marienbad.” Graphic, unfaked sexual content will make it a theatrical impossibility in all but extreme fringe situations, as surely as same will guarantee degree of cultish homeviewing notoriety and adoration.
While impressive 16mm “Corpses” was like elegiac Terence Davies meets manic Z-flicker Andy Milligan, “Eye” is scabrous video art teetering between Œfalutin’ gallery and lowdown carnal imagery.
After medical stock footage vividly showing a breach birth (under voiceover narration summarizing Bataille’s controversial legacy), pic begins in earnest with a gaunt Edward Scissorhands-looking young man masturbating while two women — disguised in giant top hats, their breasts and bellies painted like puppet faces — tap-dance on a club stage. Then a blond white lad in sailor suit services a black man in full leather regalia, their penetrating idyll (set to Satie-type piano noodlings) closed by an apparent assassin’s bullets.
Rest of the film is filled with bizarrely fetishistic extended vignettes: A blindfolded nude woman gropes her way toward a 20-minute lesbian encounter; a fragile punky woman trembles up a deteriorated building’s endless staircases until she encounters canines, urinates inappropriately, has a hysterical laughter interlude, joins another woman in grimly unsuccessful self-gratification and finally forms a trio with the Edward Scissor-y man. After so many longeurs, the final shot is startlingly brief and (ahem) climactic.
Occasional intertitles quote French surrealist author Bataille, but McElhinney’s movie is a homage paid to the latter’s spirit rather than his letter.
Evaluating this project in conventional feature terms is a lost cause; relevant contexts are purely avant-garde and pornographic. Suffice it to say that helmer’s careful attention to framing camera, music and content signal primary allegiance to Art rather than Smut — though it’s inherent in p.ov. that any line between should be thin.