[…] «Mad God» is only playing with the clichés of genre cinema in order to make explode them, with the radicality of another white-bearded artist, Paul McCarthy.
[…] «Mad God» is a film that is able to call five of our senses into play, a sensual film, for better or worse, and certainly for variety if we consider the heterogeneous and vibrant music track, until its ironic “Swiss” end (I won’t spoil it) – a precious coup-de-scène!
A soldier with a sort of post First World War anti-gas suit boards an iron lift and descends into an endless series of worlds, or underworlds. It is dark, there is no trace of natural light. All the evil and repulsive entities we can imagine seem to coalesce in scenes of violence: zombies, monsters, mutants; they fight, they exploit, they destroy, they torture. The soldier has a mysterious mission, which is bound to the mysterious case that he carries. He orients himself by way of a map that falls apart. He probably won’t come back from his mysterious mission. After a (cinematographically) enormous period of time, the lift touches the ground, but it is just the beginning of another nightmarish adventure. What the hell kind of film is this? Nevertheless, I like it. Like so much! Now, the question for the critic is “why do I like this?”.
The easiest answer could bring up the typical teenagers’ attraction for evil, as expressions of rebellion, something that heavily supports the fortune of fantasy movies, to which the name of Phil Tippett, the global guru of special effects in cinema, is bound. I am quite far from sharing the pleasures of teenagers though, and Mad God is only playing with the clichés of genre cinema in order to make explode them, with the radicality of another white-bearded artist, Paul McCarthy. Genre cinema is only the starting point, for a film that slowly builds its own original language. Rebellion is not an inappropriate word for this film, which approaches the major bio-political topics without hesitation. With an intriguing aesthetic continuity between the time of the First World War and the present day, Tippett focuses on the exploitation of people, more precisely of the human body, by all sort of machines, so that – through machines – all relationships are submitted to a vertical and conflictual balance of power. This is the hard truth of the soldier’s journey throughout the multi-layered underworld.
Now, this argument would explain my intellectual interest for the movie, not really my liking of it. The pleasure for this mad journey then is probably dependent on an aesthetic that spectacularly exalts the craftmanship. The 83 minutes of stop-motion are the result of the artisan work of Tippett himself and 60 more artists, that dedicate years to creating settings and puppets, relaunching a project that had already started in 1987. The epic conditions of this production speak of a generosity that exudes from every scene. In our current digitally oriented cinematography, these analogue special effects appear even more special. Mad God is a film that is able to call five of our senses into play, a sensual film, for better or worse, and certainly for variety if we consider the heterogeneous and vibrant music track, until its ironic “Swiss” end (I won’t spoil it) – a precious coup-de-scène!
There is definitely something more in this monumental film than an orgy of the senses though. If we do not leave the theatre and slowly learn the language of the film, then we start seeing a journey that is far more symbolic than simply anecdotal. It is not easy to decipher a clear discourse, or a meaningful path, through this hellish descent, which will introduce an upward movement back to the skies of a mumbling, deranged god. The soldier’s case contains a time bomb which could not explode. From the intact disorder of the underworlds a regeneration appears to arise, directly from the soldier’s guts (his soul?). The upward journey will cause a master of alchemy and a monster-child to join. Where are they leading us to? Can we really disentangle degeneration and regeneration? Is it merely a question of transformation? Will coming back to the God’s skies reveal only his capricious nature and vanity? Is it exactly for this reason that the law of eternal transformation will finally triumph? Mad God is definitely also a metaphysical journey, and this is why I like it.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: August 16, 2021
Mad God | Film | Phil Tippett | USA 2021 | 83’ | Locarno Film Festival 2021