Saturday, December 15, 2007


The first thought that came to me as I was watching the Leiser Brother's film Imagination is that it will never be the in-flight movie on a cross-country plane trip. Nor is it likely to pack the theater at your local multiplex. That's because it isn't so much a movie as it is a personal vision brought to life.

It's not an easy movie to grasp. I had to watch it twice in a row before I felt capable of reviewing it. And I would have watched it a third time, but it was getting late. I don't think I've ever watched a movie twice in one sitting before, which probably means that I liked it, or that I didn't understand it, or possibly both.

I'm not really sure how to review it, so I'll just try to collect my thoughts and write them down in a somewhat coherent manner.

If I said Imagination was a fragmented jumble of sounds and images, and you took that to be some sort of criticism of the film, we'd probably both be wrong. We'd also be right, but we'd mostly be wrong.

Part live action, part Svankmajer-style stop-frame animation, part crayon drawings, part claymation, and part everything else, it seems more like a multimedia work of art than an actual movie. It clearly experiments with the art of film-making, but it does so without becoming an "experimental film."

Watching Imagination reminds you that film is primarily a medium for the eyes, and that the images can do a lot more than simply illustrate a story. The symbolic imagery in Imagination is idiosyncratic and enigmatic, but the film somehow manages to avoid appearing arty and pretentious, except perhaps only briefly. And it doesn't seem particularly surrealistic either, because the bizarre imagery serves a purpose -- it's not there simply to confound or confuse.

Imagination is confusing enough as it is. Unlike most movies, it doesn't tell you a story -- it shows you a story and leaves you to interpret a lot of what you're seeing for yourself. There is a partial narrative -- enough to give you a basic idea of the film's premise and direction -- but nothing is spelled out for you, resulting in a film that is oblique and challenging, and at times almost impenetrable. A lot of people may find it exasperating trying to extract any meaning from its expressionistic non-narrative style of exposition and may criticize it for being deliberately obscure. That's a defensible position, but it's almost like criticizing Finnegan's Wake for being too hard to read.

The movie has its flaws. The weakest moments are during the live-action scenes. The acting is for the most part amateurish and unconvincing, but fortunately, the live action is kept to a minimum.

Imagination is not a conventional movie in any sense, even in its length. The end credits start rolling after a little over an hour, making it too long to be a short and too short to be a feature-length film.

I'm glad that films like this get made, because I like my expectations to be defied from time to time, and I'll keep an eye out for anything else the Leiser Brothers create, but I won't be too surprised if Imagination doesn't become a blockbuster mega-hit. And I won't be too surprised if it doesn't get a very wide distribution either. This movie is probably not for everyone.

But if it does end up playing near you, and if you're drawn to this sort of thing, you should go see it, if only for the experience. Whether you like it or not, you won't easily forget it. I don't know if you'll understand it any more than I did, but if you're worried that you won't, it might help if you forget who you are and imagine instead that you are twin girls -- one almost blind, the other with Asperger's syndrome -- who think with one mind and live in an imaginary world that somehow transcends ordinary reality.

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