Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Realm of Never: Moratorium

Director: Christopher Del Gaudio
Writer: Christopher Del Gaudio
Producers: Christopher Del Gaudio, Vernon Gravdal, Loretta Mirabella
Cast: Darren O’Hare, Jason Murphy, Jacqueline Muro
Country: USA
Year of release: 2002
Reviewed from: screener disc

I don’t half get sent some odd stuff to review on this site. I mean, I love it, but boy, sometimes I really have to work hard to work out what to say. Not with the bad stuff. Really bad movies are easy - and fun - to review. And really good stuff gives me plenty to get my teeth into. But then there’s the stuff that’s not like anything else.

Moratorium is a half-hour episode of an anthology series called The Realm of Never which airs on public access TV in the States. Now, we don’t have public access TV in this country and, truth be told, I don’t really understand the concept, my only real knowledge of it coming from repeated viewings of Wayne’s World.

Most public access TV is, I gather, of the Wayne and Garth variety which is why The Realm of Never is so unusual. Not only is it drama, but it is shot live, using three cameras, in a deliberately retro style (and black and white). This, combined with the ‘set’ being not much more than a curtain and a couple of bits of furniture, gives the series (it seems, based on this one episode) a threadbare, archaic appearance which is, I have to assume, completely intentional.

Moratorium is basically a four-hander. Myles Goddard (Darren O’Hare) is a political intern who has been exposed to some sort of virus that grants him omniscience and thereby allows him to understand what is really going on in world politics. Medical expert Dr Beverly Mathias (Jacqueline Muro) and military advisor (or something) Wyndham (Jason Murphy) are interrogating him to find out what he really knows, much to the consternation of his aunt Amanda (Joannne Antonucci, wearing heavier make-up than I have ever seen on any human being). In the second half of the half-hour there is a military guard standing to the side who says a couple of lines (in Russian, I think) but otherwise seems to have no bearing on the matter.

Myles’ viral-induced omniscience reveals to him that our world is being run by shape-shifting aliens. I think. I mean, he never actually comes out and says this but it seems to be what he is alluding to for the best part of thirty minutes. Whether this state of affairs is a good or bad thing, whether Myles’ knowing about it is good or bad, whether other people know or not - sorry, I couldn’t pick up on any of this. There’s lots and lots of dialogue but it’s all very obtuse. There’s also a fair share of pauses and a disconcerting number of times when characters paraphrase what someone else has just said, prefaced with, “So you’re saying...”

I realise that the budget is about twenty bucks, the studio is the size of a telephone kiosk and the whole thing is done live, but my biggest frustration was that no-one does anything. This is the most static, non-visual thing I have ever seen on a TV screen. It’s basically a radio programme; although the Realm of Never website understandably claims comparison with The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90, it felt more like Dimension X or X Minus One.

But maybe that’s the intention, maybe that’s writer/director/producer Christopher Del Gaudio using his limitations. I find it very, very difficult to review Moratorium out of context as a stand-alone short film because I just don’t know what allowances to make for it. The cast are pretty stiff - but is that deliberate homage to the wooden acting that was more common on TV in the 1950s? There is also a colour epilogue, a Dennis Potter-style twist on what has gone before which raises still further the question of how one should view the preceding twenty-odd minutes.

I think the only coherent criticism I can make of The Realm of Never is this. It seems from the website that Del Gaudio writes and directs all the episodes, but the best anthologies work because of the range of writers and directors they use. Obviously The Realm of Never is not going to attract writers of the calibre of Richard Matheson or Harlan Ellison, but the script is almost always the weakest part of any low-budget production. The plot of Moratorium, inasmuch as it is discernible through the obfuscatory dialogue, seems to be a standard paranoid conspiracy theory which can’t help but make one think of David Icke and similar loonies. There didn’t seem to be any questioning of whether Myles’ ideas were merely drug-induced fantasies. The central idea was discussed to death but not really explored and it came across as a load of new age, crystal-gazing hippy hooha, which I don’t think was the intention.

I always review films on the basis of how well they achieve what they set out to do with what they have available, but I don’t have enough cultural experience of 1950s American live television to evaluate the former and I don’t have enough grasp of public access TV to judge the latter. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt, because Del Gaudio seems to know what he’s doing, but I can’t say this was really my cup of tea. Still, full credit to the guy (and his crew and rep company of actors) for doing something different and evidently doing it successfully.

MJS rating: B
Review originally posted 21st December 2006.

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