Charlie Kaufman observed that “your dreams are very well-written,” suggesting that a stream of movies pours down on us while we sleep, immeasurably more vibrant and honest and expansive than the ones tailored and packaged for us by the daylight bards of cinema. Dan Schoenbrun, former film czar at Kickstarter and now producing with Vanessa McDonnell as The Eyeslicer, has enacted Kaufman’s aphorism in a manner that’s direct—in that its goal is literally to film dreams—but also cunningly mediated. The heart of the concept is a kind of parlor-game arrangement between five filmmakers, a ring wherein each filmmaker transmits their dream to the next as raw material for a film. The result is both novel and a throwback, riding on its clever concept while evoking the themed art-house anthologies of the 60s.
“Black Soil, Green Grass,” by Daniel Patrick Carbone (Hide Your Smiling Faces), is a dystopian tale, shot in magisterial black and white, about a world that’s variously tortured and enlivened by sound. Of all the segments, Carbone’s entry finds the most narrative tension in its source, constructing with patient, assured direction the path of the hero taking on the faceless forces that sonically subjugate his little valley. Mostly dialogue-free, it also announces the minute attention, present through many of the succeeding films, to soundscapes.
Both Frances Bodomo’s (Afronauts) “Everybody Dies” and “First Day Out,” directed by Josephine Decker (Butter on the Latch), bear witness to aspects of the fate of black bodies at the hands of American institutions (mass incarceration and police killings, respectively). Interestingly, Decker and Bodomo decline the invitation, implicit in the interior state of dreaming, to turn away from the outside world and into introspection. Instead, in the aesthetic looseness of the dream, both directors find space for a voice of advocacy, a loosening of their tongues to speak on topics not previously addressed directly in either of their work.
Decker’s piece stages a kind of anti-music video, wherein dancers portray scenes inspired by excerpts from interviews with several formerly-imprisoned men, read aloud in voiceover, in an anarchic travesty of the bling-bling of 90s-era rap videos. As the men’s recollections slide from sweet to somber, the bizarre and jittery goings-on on screen are a shifting metaphor for the dislocation and strangeness of emerging into the civilian world.
The title “Everybody Dies” suggests dark humor, and Bodomo’s piece is laden with the torched-black variety. Shot on a cardboard public-access set through the estranging fuzz of a VHS master, it envisions purgatory as a children’s game show hosted by an agent of the Department of Black Death. Faced with the never-ending transit of the souls of black children streaming out of Earth’s charnel-house, Death herself longs to die. Mordant, heartbroken, and yes, viciously funny, the plight of Ripa the Reaper is a reminder that in our dreams some laws of the waking world are exhilaratingly altered, while others remain dreadfully intact.
Lauren Wolkstein (Social Butterfly) turns in the anthology’s most plain-spoken chapter, concerning a battle of wills between a charismatic gym teacher who sees a vision of the apocalypse and his androgynous student who just want to escape without the requisite communal shower. Despite its poetic transposition of rivals, “Beemus, It’ll End in Tears” proves that even on the dream-plane, P.E. sucks balls.
Lily Baldwin’s (Sleepover LA) “Swallowed” is a mood piece following a young mother who comes down with an alien sickness. Drawing on other weird tales of seemingly-happy family women–from Rosemary’s Baby to Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession–“Swallowed” benefits from Baldwin’s training as a dancer, shown off in multiple carnival-esque group scenes, and its richly disgusting sound design, which conjures a chorus of burps, gurgles, and crunches from the throat of the heroine. In its tangential last act, we witness, perhaps, the origin story of something malevolent being born into our world.
Ideas of dream logic and the dreamlike have been with film since its birth. Un Chien Andalou, Dalí’s sets for Hitchcock’s Spellbound, Last Year at Marienbad, Eraserhead, and so on, these are all points in a now-familiar map of what it means for films to invoke the dream. By varying and complicating the voice of the dream within its component films, collective:unconscious doesn’t just take us on a tour of the existing points of interest, but expands the map itself, taking us into unexplored levels of “everyday trances” and further deepening the richness of meaning behind the overused adjective, dreamlike.
In addition to streaming for free on Vimeo, you can download the film and a bunch of other extras, like the filmmakers’ original “dream briefs” and a remixed version of the film made to fall asleep to, at BitTorrent Now.