The final collaboration between writer/director/activist duo Jane Arden and Jack Bond, Anti-Clock is a film that I find very daunting to write about. It doesn’t follow a normal story structure, nor does it really have a story at all. It’s video experimentation at its most extreme, although if it had to be classified it comes off as a much more challenging forbearer to David Cronenberg’s masterpiece Videodrome, drenched in sci-fi overtones yet not really being sci-fi at all. Just like everything else about the film, even defining it proves to be difficult.
What we’re given as an initial plot is slim: A man named Joseph Saphna is cracking up. Well, not completely. He’s a successful club performer, enjoys gambling, and believes he can read people’s minds and see the future. Yet he can’t remember anything about himself. He doesn’t understand his own thoughts or his present life, occasionally hearing echoes of things yet not being able to break through and grab them. Looking for answers, he puts himself in the care of Dr. Zanov, a psychoanalyst who believes through technology he can restore Saphna’s memories. The thing is, once the treatments start working, Saphna wonders if he really wants to confront what lurks in his subconscious.
In pretty much every way possible, Anti-Clock is the epitome of an anti-movie; it's unlike what we've come to define a film as. To call it avant-garde would almost be selling it short, as it’s so much more. Yet, I can’t actually explain what. I know that sounds utterly bizarre, but Anti-Clock is like a really good painting, something that will evoke and conjure different moods and meanings for every single person that looks at it. I feel weird saying I thoroughly enjoyed a film that I absolutely didn’t understand, yet that’s just what happened. It literally hypnotized me for 95 minutes. I never rolled my eyes at the barrage of unassociated images and ideals, or never looked at my watch to see how much time I had left to waste with the film. Before it felt like I had blinked twice, the film was over.
Even if I’m not confident in analyzing the meaning of Anti-Clock, it certainly stirred a number of different emotions in me, such as a strong feeling of paranoia, as if there’s always someone watching, looking over my shoulder. Bond does a fantastic job of looping video and using all sorts of unique techniques that radiate a feeling of surveillance. It’s a great way of portraying Zanov prying into Saphna’s mind (two characters who are actually played by the same actor, Sebastian Saville…is Saphna acting as his own analyst?) There’s also an ethereal soundtrack that permeates just below the surface throughout the film, lending the proceedings a heady dreamlike vibe. All of this surely played into the odd stasis-like spell that I fell under while viewing Anti-Clock. I wonder if I should feel violated?
It’s nearly impossible to look subjectively at the acting in a film like this; it’s really not the type of thing where it’s important, nor does it particularly stand out. But the lead, Sebastian Saville, is solid in his role(s). Or maybe that’s just the trance I was in creeping up behind me and tapping my shoulder, as his voice is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s a monotone with little inflection, but it’s haunting and pained, and works just right in context. His mind is broken, and that would most certainly suck, especially if you’re aware of it.
And now thinking about the film some more while writing this review, maybe just the fact that I’m thinking at all was Anti-Clock’s intention all along. With Saphna believing he can help others and see the future, yet can’t figure himself out, there may be metaphors here in regards to the world not thinking for themselves anymore, relying more on technology and others to do it for them. As I said earlier, I believe any meaning one takes out of Anti-Clock isn’t wrong, but in this context, it makes the film seem way ahead of its time and pretty damn important in the modern age. Of course, I could still just be delirious.
If you happen to have an extremely open mind (and maybe some killer drugs), I highly suggest seeking out Anti-Clock; you may very well loathe every second of it, and due to its nature, I’d be hard-pressed to argue. Then again, you may find yourself at its mercy, attempting to put the puzzle together from the pieces that Bond and Arden have given us. Who are you? What are you? Where are we? What is life? Are they watching? Who am I? Can you remember? What is Anti-Clock? You tell me.
One look at Anti-Clock and the techniques used throughout shows that BFI is pretty ballsy when it comes to their Blu-Ray releases. Shot on 16mm and then heavily processed to look like video on many occasions, the 1080p full frame transfer (that’s its original AR) doesn’t exactly pop like you’ve probably become accustomed to with HD. Yet it has a high level of detail, and looks quite good. It’s just not fair to compare this to other transfers, but I have no doubt BFI has this looking the best it ever has. Audio is presented in LPCM 2.0 mono, and sounds damn good. I was always sketchy on how mono tracks would sound uncompressed, but having experienced a few lately, they definitely benefit. All pops and hiss have been removed, and it sounds clear as day. Truly a very nice sounding track.
BFI’s release is two discs, and also available on the first disc is Bond and Arden’s experimental Super-8 short entitled Vibrations. It runs 36 minutes, and sees the duo experimenting with some of the video techniques that they would use in Anti-Clock. It has a heavy meditation-like feel, and comes off as a visual poem of sorts. I didn’t find it nearly as engaging as I did Anti-Clock. Also included on the first disc is the film’s original trailer. A second disc is included (for review, I received a DVD. Not sure if when purchased, this disc will be Blu-Ray or not) which includes Jack Bond’s 2005 re-edit of the film. It runs 8 minutes shorter, and adds in a new voice over. It feels a bit more modern, but I have to admit I didn’t watch the entire film again. A sizeable booklet accompanies the release, which features numerous essays on Anti-Clock as well as Vibration, excerpts from one of Arden’s plays, and bios on the filmmakers. Another amazingly extensive effort from the BFI for a film that you’d never think (but does) deserves it.
*The clickable screenshots on the left are from the Blu-Ray, although scaled down to 720p to conserve bandwidth.
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