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Indie Snapshot: Hysteria

by admin May 18, 2012 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: Hysteria

A period comedy about the invention of the vibrator? What will those Brits think of next?

Hysteria
Given that a film about the invention of the most popular sex toy of all time -- the electric vibrator -- would invite a lot of sniggering anyway, the makers behind the British period piece Hysteria were probably right to play history as a lightly bawdy comedy. In this version of events, the vibrator's inventor, Dr. Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy), is a progressive, somewhat socially awkward London doctor frustrated with the increasingly backwards attitudes of the medical establishment. After getting fired from his latest hospital job for insubordination, Granville joins the private practice of one Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose clientele consists solely of middle-aged women suffering from what's been officially labeled "hysteria" -- a large umbrella of a diagnosis under which is grouped such symptoms as frigidity, mood swings and, for lack of a better word, horniness. No matter their specific ailment, Dalrymple gives all of his patients the same treatment, one that involves applying soothing oils to his hands and stimulating their... well, you can probably guess what comes next.

Granville is hired on to serve as another pair of hands but the demand for his services becomes so great, that his wrists start to give out. Convinced that there must be a better way to give these women the treatment they so desperately desire without bringing further injury to himself, he turns to his inventor pal Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) and the duo wind up developing an electric massager for "down there." Somewhere in all of this, Granville still has the time to romance Dalrymple's prim and proper daughter Emily (Felicity Jones), while also feeling strange tugs of attraction to her strident older sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a dedicated social reformer in favor of women's suffrage, public education and universal healthcare. It's her fierce commitment to these principles that lights Granville's fire, even as they cause her father to wonder she's also afflicted with the dreaded "disease" of hysteria.

Obviously, many of these plot details are not part of the actual historical (or hysterical) record. Rather, screenwriters Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer and director Tanya Wexler are more interested in using Granville and his invention as a dramatic (and comic) device to explore the larger issue of societal change, with the vibrator itself becomes the MacGuffin that sets said change in motion. The characters, meanwhile, are written more as types than individuals -- types that are primarily defined by whether they move with or fight against the shifting winds of time. It's left up to the actors to make them resemble actual human beings and they pull this off with varying degrees of success. Dancy's Granville, unfortunately, never amounts to little more than an earnest flibbertigibbet, but Gyllenhaal and Jones do a better job delivering performances that work on two levels: embodying both the yin-and-yang of Victorian femininity, while also granting Charlotte and Emily rounded personalities. (Everett probably gives the most entertaining performance of the entire ensemble, but that's basically because he's allowed to play Rupert Everett in period costume.) Hysteria is ultimately a modest trifle of a movie, but these two actresses give it some much-needed bite.

Indie Game: The Movie
There have been plenty of narrative and documentary features made exploring the plight of independent filmmakers -- time to give independent video game designers a turn in the spotlight. Directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, this Sundance-approved doc follows four self-employed developers of pixelated entertainment, all of whom are hoping that the blood, sweat and tears that they're pouring into their games will be rewarded with millions of downloads and lots and lots of dollars. There's Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, who are banking big on their creation Super Meat Boy, a platform jumper in the tradition of Super Mario Bros.; Jonathan Blow, who is trying to decide how to follow up his wildly popular game Braid; and, last but not least, Phil Fish, who has sunk four years of his life into his unique puzzle game Fez and openly talks about killing himself if he's unable to finish it. A lot of this material -- both in terms of the specific games themselves and the general challenges facing the independent game developer -- might be familiar to those viewers who avidly follow the gaming industry, but Indie Game: The Movie is an informative, entertaining introduction to this world for noobs who are looking to branch out beyond FarmVille and Draw Something.

Beyond the Black Rainbow
A sure-fire midnight movie in the making, the no-budget oddity Beyond the Black Rainbow is a stylish synthesis of vintage science-fiction films from the '70s and early '80s -- movies with titles like Zardoz, Silent Running and Logan's Run. Despite its bizarre trappings, the film's story is actually quite straightforward: born and raised in a secret laboratory, a teenage girl uses her unique psychic powers to mount an escape from her captor, a scientist who bears a striking (and almost certainly intentional) resemblance to Michael York, star of Logan's Run. But plot decidedly takes a backseat to mood here, as director Panos Cosmatos (son of '80s action guru George P. Cosmatos, director of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra, among others) creates a dreamlike atmosphere through unconventional pacing, strange imagery and shot compositions that render familiar environments entirely alien. Like the best cult head trips, Beyond the Black Rainbow is occasionally frustrating, but always fascinating.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

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