Hard on the heels of Guy Maddin’s eclectic legless woman opus “The Saddest Music in the World” comes more pedestrian dreams-within-dreams piece scribed by celebrated iconoclastic playwright Richard Foreman about a woman sporadically afflicted with hysterical paralysis. When not standing nude in a field playing an accordion, the heroine of “Planet Earth: Dreams” stomps around on odd electrically-stimulated braces. Even the impudently mesmerizing star presence (and songs) of gamine Cynthia Hopkins cannot elevate this surprisingly staid slice of surrealism beyond the realm of the curious. Beside avant-garde venues, where Foreman’s name constitutes a major draw, outlook seems lackluster.
The most curious aspect of “Earth” is its unsure visual style. Though shot on DV, helmer D.J. Mendel does not use the possibilities of video, ignoring morphing or blur-line impressionism for purely filmic dream-effects — simple jump-cuts, speeded-up action, split-screens and, in one instance, even reverse color negative imaging. While there is no particular rationale for these choices, Mendel merely seems to want to contain the “hysteria” of Foreman’s theatricality with a rigid cinematic framework.
In some scenes, the relative sobriety of Mendel’s fixed compositions counterpoint Foreman’s conceits quite well. At other times, however, Foreman’s more abstractly conceived theatrical props are less well served by Mendel’s obstinate literalism.
Mendel’s visuals consistently fall short of the strange oneiric quality of Foreman’s strategically normal-seeming dialogue, with its subtly irregular pauses and repetitions, its austere ellipses and enigmatic insistences. Rather than working out a cinematic aesthetic to parallel Foreman’s theatrical wordplay, Mendel has chosen to literally transcribe it — and “Earth” loses something in the translation.