Talk about a harmonic convergence of hipsters: Indie producers Anthony Bregman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and Megan Ellison (“True Grit”) are joining forces for an innovative new project that may best be described as a feature-film mashup of a narrative based on Alden Bell’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Reapers Are The Angels, and Danger Mouse‘s “Rome,” a concept album involving Jack White, Norah Jones, and inspired by Ennio Morricone scores to the classic spaghetti westerns. The visionary behind the film is one Chris Milk, an artist with a name so bland it almost sounds like a made-up stage name for a child actor. Fortunately, Milk more than makes up for his prosaic handle with an innovative body of work including “The Wilderness Downtown,” an interactive music video for Arcade Fire‘s “We Used to Wait.”
Before you roll your eyes, we’d like to emphasize that this is not your average Spike Jonze-Michel Gondry-Mark Romanek stylized filmmaking set to indie rock. This is truly vanguard stuff. But don’t just take our word for it. Click through, input the address of your childhood home, and try not to feel something profound.
We’re not the only ones taken by Milk’s work. The level of hype surrounding the project’s announcement was extreme, even by Hollywood standards. “Chris Milk is perhaps the most innovative creative voice working in any art form today, and the ‘Rome’ project criss-crosses at least a dozen of them, including music, animation, live performance, film, web, literature, music videos, and graphic novels,” said the film’s producers in a statement to Variety.
Even if their praise of Milk’s talents turns out to be understated, this project’s boundless ambition runs the risk of applying an art-for-art’s-sake ethos to a populist medium. In other words, a project with this many iconoclasts in the kitchen is predisposed to playing like a pretentious experiment if the filmmakers become more enamored with the concept than the storytelling itself.
If they hope to make it off of the festival circuit, they’ll spend more time on the script than the interactive bells and whistles connecting it to all of pop culture, past and present. Fortunately, there is no shortage of rich material to be found in Alden Bell’s novel about Temple, a fifteen-year-old girl fighting to survive the zombie-infested end-of-days nightmare into which she was born. Temple is a soulful badass of the Katniss Everdeen variety. But her unique gift — and what makes the novel so ripe for adaptation — lies in her innate ability to mine the beauty and joy out of whatever brief moments of reprieve she’s offered amid the onslaught of chaos and violence. Like Justin Cronin‘s The Passage, The Reapers are the Angels brings a literary eloquence and humanism to the harshest of genre terrain.
In other words, count us in. Big time. It will be interesting to see how the interactive element plays a role in the storytelling, beyond the marketing phase of the film. If it’s the former, this is already becoming a fertile arena for directors to express themselves creatively while stealthily seizing control of how their film is perceived early on. The most interesting example of this in big-studio terms is Mouth-Taped-Shut, the tumblr page for David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” We especially love the video they posted yesterday — a silent documentary depicting the making of the newest poster, overlaid by what must be a clip Trent Reznor‘s emo-industrial soundtrack. The footage plays like one of those Sesame Street segments revealing each step in the making of Velveeta cheese, from cow to saran-wrapped orange brick. Only this time, the final product is a dark and foreboding poster depicting a razor blade.
What are your thoughts on the potential of interactive marketing and filmmaking to deliver a more complete experience of a filmmaker’s vision? Is anyone else as excited as we are to see Chris Milk’s multimedia mashup? And did anyone else find “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” video strangely hypnotic?