Friday, December 5, 2008

DVD review: The Devil’s Muse

The Devil’s Muse is a very independent film, written and directed by Ramzi Abed, and released on DVD in 2008 by Halo 8 Entertainment, an independent film company “specializing in iconoclastic and music-driven cult movies and their related soundtracks.” If by “iconoclastic” they mean “amateurish, disjointed and undeservedly pretentious,” then this movie fits the bill.

Let me try to synopsize the story. Lisa Small, a struggling actress in Los Angeles, auditions for a role in a small movie about the real life Black Dahlia (a/k/a 22-year old Elizabeth Short, gruesomely murdered in 1947: found in a vacant lot in L.A., Short had been cut in two and all her blood drained, and the corners of her mouth had been slashed like the Joker’s). As Lisa reads through the script, reality starts to slide and she has difficulty differentiating herself from Short. Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the rampage, killing off all the other girls who are in the running for the lead in the Black Dahlia movie.

That’s what I guess is the plot. It’s difficult to tell for sure because the timeline is extremely disjointed and the movie is full of scenes that are trying very hard to be surreal, but are really just foolish. It doesn’t help matters that the pacing is uneven (too many art shots) and the acting is pretty bad too. The music is decent, however, although it’s not used subtly. I couldn’t decide if the movie was trying to make a point about how treacherous Tinseltown can be for women (hence the tagline: “Hollywood Murders Women”) but if it was, it should have trod a little lighter on the distracting weirdness. My prediction is that David Lynch fans will love this movie (I am not so much a David Lynch fan myself).

For all the movie’s flaws, the DVD certainly comes packed with extras. There’s a “making of” feature; concert footage of the soundtrack artists; an interview with a woman who appears to be a Black Dahlia researcher (the onscreen lettering of her name was unreadable); three deleted scenes; two music videos; trailers for other Halo 8 films; and a message from the writer/director in which he admits originally intending to make a movie about the Black Dahlia, but then scrapping that idea and making this movie instead. In addition, The Devil’s Muse DVD is a two-disc set and the second disc is all soundtrack, eleven tracks in all. That is an excellent promotion and I commend the production company for including the music disc.

I’ve been pretty harsh here, I know. I really don’t have anything against indie films. Independent cinema is extremely important in an entertainment world dominated by Hollywood excess and bloat. But independent doesn’t have to be sloppy and self-indulgent. Clerks and the original Bottle Rocket short are great (if dated) examples of indies done right, opening doors to better-funded creativity for all involved. I just can’t see The Devil’s Muse opening any doors for anyone.

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