Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Out of the Wilderness

Price: $2
Year: 2004 (supposedly)
Run time: 98 minutes
Director: Steve Kroschel
Cast: Black Feather, David Carradine, Amy Wiegert

Pencils tap nervously on the board room table. Production has not even started yet, and the sour news seems to be rolling in by the hour. There was enough trouble when the Dakota Fanning-esque star quit after her involvement in a kiddie porn ring was revealed. When the homely daughter of one of the main financiers was brought in as a replacement it was no consolation prize. It seemed like things couldn't get any worse.

The meeting on this particular afternoon was prompted by a frantic phone call from the wife of the trainer who raised the bear cub that the central narrative of the film focused on. Black Beary, who was normally a sweet little fuzz ball, had an unexpected mood swing, and had clawed her husband to death. The first bottle of whiskey was opened before the phone was hung up.

After the initial shock, and after the 10th shot, calls were made to every animal trainer in the country. Success, of course, was limited. There wasn't a single bear, penguin, iguana, parrot, sugar glider, or bison available during the shoot dates. These were desperate times, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Suddenly, Mr. Kroschel had an epiphany. Back at Evergreen State he'd had a buddy named Skunk. Skunk was the sort of fellow who nobody was particularly close to, but who one could always count on to be down for smoking weed. He wore no shirt well into the dead of winter, and always readily offered up his theories about the great beyond. Steve (Kroschel) would call Skunk up every couple of seasons to obtain psychedellic drugs. On the last one of these visits, Steve noticed that Skunk was raising what appeared to be a family of ravens. While these creatures had ruined Steve's 2CI trip by giving him ominous stares and reminding him of his imminent death, Skunk reassured him that they were part of a lucrative business venture, and that organizers of goth events often paid top dollar to have a flock of ravens skulking around their parties.

The producers did not share the enthusiasm of the goth night-life impresarios, but since time was of the essence, they deemed the idea a go. An hour later, Skunk swaggered into the conference room like an Iggy Pop for the new millenium with a Raven perched on his shoulder.

A handle of Jim Beam later, and half way through the week's weed supply, Out of the Wilderness was born.

Only an origin story such as this could have produced such an amazing film. The above might be false, but if that's the case, I'll only believe that something more ridiculous brought Out of the Wilderness into fruition.

While the cultural moment seems to have drifted away, the "child meets animal, and forms touching friendship" is one of the classic formats of family entertainment. To replace the cuddly puppies, bear cubs, and other friendly fuzz balls with an ominous black raven is a choice that nearly places Out of the Wilderness into the experimental film genre. The post-modern air of the piece is only exemplified by the disjointed voice over narration given by the Melissa character. She insists that Black Feather (the raven) is a purely benevolent creature who is exploited by humans, and constantly victimized. However, we are shown images of Black Feather drawing blood from people's wrists, causing car crashes, fires, explosions, endangering infants, and crippling humans. Rather than the picture Melissa paints, we are shown a raven who causes peril for nearly everyone who crosses his path, even those who are trying to help him. His love for shiny objects reveals that he is also an evil capitalist raven, whose greed causes him to endanger others. If Black Feather were human he'd be a robber baron.

Out of the Wilderness is still a true gem, perhaps despite itself. Those of us who get all hot and bothered over the accidental avant garde will eat it up. It might make a good double feature with Dario Argento's Opera ( another Raven centric film) and I can tell you from personal experience that it looks like Citizen Kane if you follow it up with Cameron Crowe's Singles.

Out of the Wilderness leaves me with one burning question: How much drugs must they have had to buy for David Carradine?

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