Srange Frame isn’t perfect. But there’s something fairly good for everyone here, because (contrary to its narrative’s revolutionary politics) the movie goes out of its way for its consumers. It has danceable songs, spaceships, nipples, clever dialogue, and an Up the Proletariat subversive pretext, the kind of nonspecific general “revolution” that appeals to college-educated people who remember having the energy to go down to the demonstration. It’s not stupid; though it makes some obvious and convenient choices, it has some fine writing, especially dialogue (by GB Hajim, who also directed, and Shelley Doty). And if it drags in the middle, it gets better as it goes along.
This movie speaks to its demographic in cinema shorthand: A virile father figure is animated to look like Morgan Freeman, because he plays virile father figures in this kind of movie (although the character is voiced by Ron Glass, who is fine as he is and does not sully himself with an impression of Mr. Freeman). The lesbian protagonists make out a lot instead of having to inhabit a real relationship – but mindless titillation is exactly what some people want in a relationship movie. The screenwriters have given their central lovers that staple of feminist literature, the mystical power of telepathy. The megacorporate overlords and exploited workers and technological touchstones and desperate underground are familiar to people who know Philip K. Dick from movies. And it’s the kind of ninety-minute movie that wants to be an epic, so a fair number of expository plot points are voiced over expressionistic visual imagery, because that’s easier (and cheaper) than writing (and drawing) the intricacies of a completely logical story.
It’s the story of lesbian musicians in love (voiced by Claudia Black and Tara Strong) and the record company Svengali (Tim Curry) who tears them apart, plus a lot of sexy downtrodden mutants who show up two or three times apiece. Strange Frame has a rather monotonous reserve in its storytelling, a mesmeric sameness of tone that can that make it hard to tell crisis from diversion. But this languid style affords for interesting digressions: a nearly killed-off tribe, asked to name the development built on its ancestral homeland, responds with a word translating as “Go Fuck Yourself.” A host of other specific, well-drawn minor characters and episodic scenarios almost make up for the shallow investigation each is given. And the kaleidoscopic animation is consistently busy and fascinating. If its look is derivative of every dystopian megalopolis narrative in Manga history, right down to embedding not only movie references but actual old movie footage into the CGI-scape, it’s also better executed than many, with more imagination and attention to detail than you can see in some anime classics.
But at one point a character says, “For every instance of beauty, a beast must be sacrificed.” So it is with this movie, in that the viewer must pay for the good stuff with moments of frustration. The ending is not only a downer but truncates several developing subplots; and, alas, it is not only a Blade Runner movie but also an A Star Is Born movie, and the songs (many of them by screenwriter Ms. Doty) are not equally tolerable. I think there’s a nice contrast between the more-or-less organic music the lovers make together and the soulless pop churned out by the Man; but the difference may seem slight to many.
Still, it’s a movie that confers, for the simple donation of watching it, membership in the side of righteous indignation. It’s a reassuring song of sisterhood in which the only reliable male character has had his legs removed. Hell, George Takei delivers a cameo to confer his blessing on this queer sci-fi effort, and there is no higher power in that particular universe.
photos courtesy Island Planet One Productions
Island Planet One Productions
U.S.A . / no rating / 98 mins
available on DVD March 19, 2013
to purchase, visit Wolfe Video