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Antero Alli: Film as Mystical Quest
by Steve Mobia and Doniphan Blair
Filmmaker, writer and philosopher Antero Alli and actress, singer, writer and wife, Sylvi. photo: courtesy A. Anterro
If you've never heard of Antero Alli's films, don't feel bad. The 59 year-old Finn, a "resident alien" in the USA since 1962, has made various shorts and an impressive
. His latest, "Flamingos", explores the metaphysical problems of being a survivalist junkie bankrobber hypnotist who is plagued by twin love interests, literally twins, one the wife now divorcing him, the other her sister, the double dealing girl friend.
"My fantasy with 'Flamingos' was to fashion an 'outlaw romance noir'," explains Alli, who lives, teaches and largely films in Berkeley.
"It is a swoon spiraling out of control and crashing through torrents of terrible longing. In the end, it's all about love: How we rush towards it, flee from it or how sometimes—when we stop rushing and fleeing—we find love within ourselves."
Alas, these are Underground Films, with a capital "u," which Alli self-distributes and rarely shows theaterically save when he's there to conjure the full Alli experience. Next stop: San Jose March 16 and Oakland's Bay Area Thelemic Temple April 21: see
But if you're in one of the cities where Alli is headed, do yourself a favor and take a look. Though low budget, they're uncompromising, unique and mystical, with excellent oddball stories, interesting sometimes visionary shots and lovely sound tracks, often featuring the stellar singing of Alli's wife Sylvi.
Previous Alli features delved into mystical science fiction with "The Drivetime" (1995) and "Tragos: a Cyber-Noir Witch Hunt" (2005); the struggles of the poetic soul in "The Greater Circulation" (2002), "Under a Shipwrecked Moon" (2008) and "Invisible Forest" (2009); and murder and terror threats respectively in "To Dream of Falling Upwards" (2011) and "The Mind is a Liar and a Whore" (2007) an unbelievably vivid title, if nothing else, see
Madeline H.D. Brown and Joe Estlack confront each other in Antero's 'Flamingos'. photo: courtesy A. Anterro
"Flamingos" returns to Alli's fascination with the collision of daytime and dreamtime but with a simpler surface, an almost Spartan feel, considering the entire film transpires in two rooms and a mystical, mountain-industrial facility.
As with his previous film, “To Dream of Falling Upwards”, it was created in conjunction with his Berkeley-based "paratheater" group, where drama study is a way to access the self as well as good acting, not unlike another Berkeley improv master and prolific filmmaker, Rob Nilsson. In lieu of Nilsson's Cassavetes, however Alli borrows from Polish theatre genuis Jerzy Grotowski and mines his own teachings and books like "Towards an Archeology of the Soul" (2003).
"I really adore them as filmmakers, teachers, facilitators of healing and just plain good people," said Krystal Willis, a designer, actress and musician, who was an extra in "To Dream of Falling Upwards", has participate in the paratheatre labs and is currently working with Sylvi in a ritual song series.
"In my opinion, both Antero and Sylvi are dialed into the dope shit. They have much wisdom to share. Their work, and their personal presence have had a huge impact on me. I intend to work with them in whatever capacity I can."
In "Flamingos", the main actors, Joe Estlack as the bankrobber and Madeline H.D. Brown as the two sisters, are very talented performers, making it an immersive experience. "Flamingos" is also dramatically written and edited and comparatively commercial for Alli, captures the uniqueness of his vision while painting it with familiar genre elements, which provide the uninitiated easy entry points to the alternative worldviews.
Indeed, "Flamingos" is set in the classic noir setting of the seedy motel room and attorney's office while much of the track is covers of torch songs like "Fever" and "I Put a Spell on You" albeit ethereally twisted by Sylvi. There is also a metaphysical bardo, filmed in a tunnel in the Berkeley Hills. Although some of the early plot exposition warrants editing, there are some great improvs between the conflicted gun moll and her hypnotist bankrobber boy friend, with excellent music and visual mystical interludes.
Joe Estlack and Alaska Yamada with Antero Alli and Joshua Bewig as camera operators in back on location, Hawk Hill, Marin Headlands. photo: courtesy A. Anterro
Before turning to film, Alli published Talking Raven Quarterly, a Seattle-based literary journal featuring Robert Anton Wilson and Hakim Bey, wrote and directed plays on mystical themes ranging from "Circles" (1976) to "Animamundi" (1989) and co-curated a touring venue of experimental shorts, appropriately titled the Nomad Film Festival. He's also an astrologer and a Scorpio!
Alli's characters are often haunted by guilt, desire and mystical yearnings which are rationally realized by a non-dogmatic mystic who is devoted to the intersection between spiritual aspirations and daily life.
The characters in "Flamingos" are based on Alli's initial ideas of Ray and Zoe, but, as played by Madeline H.D. Brown and Joe Estlack, many of the scenes were improvised after extensive discussion and rehearsal. Conversely, he wrote dialogue for the attorney's office scenes but did not rehearse the actors—indeed, Brown and Robert Hamm met for the first time on set.
Alli often crews extremely light. The Motel scenes had a solitary crew member, Alli on camera (Canon 35mm DSLR or Canon XL-2), microphone, and lighting. The Attorney scenes added Jeffrey Fisher as Script Supervisor and the Bardo scenes Joshua Bewig on camera and wife Sylvi as Assistant Director. "Flamingos" was rough cut old-school-style at home on 3x5 cards, without a computer before doing the final cut with Chris Odell, his online editor since 2000.
"It's all coming to an end," says Estlack as bank robber Ray. "The further we are away from people, the better." Ray goes on to warns of a massive solar flare that will wipe clean all computers and wreak financial havoc on the world. His bank robbing technique consists of putting tellers under hypnosis although in fact he doses himself with morphine to convince himself that the teller would give him money and his fearlessness evokes the hypnotic response.
When we meet him and his lover Zoe they making love with the heist money on a motel bed and shooting a video. But, even though they have the money to "get a fresh start", and are sexually sympatico, they are almost complete opposites: Ray wants children, Zoe no; Ray wants to live in the mountains, Zoe a commune in Brazil.
A weird pool where Antero filmed 'Flamingos' in Marin Headlands seems to tie into his vision of a vertical pool. photo: courtesy A. Anterro
Even more different is Ray's estranged wife and Zoe's twin sister Beatrice (also played by Brown), an elegant woman who dresses like a femme fatale from a film noir and who has an aversion to light, email and television. Beatrice seeks the help of Lester (Robert Hamm) an attorney to find both Ray and her estranged sister and facilitate a divorce. After initially rejecting her story, the incredulous attorney to set his romantic sights on Beatrice.
Most of the time we're at the Flamingo Motel, however, with Ray and Zoe. Even though this could easily become static and claustrophobic, the film never ceases to be captivating as Alli uses his hand held camera to great effect.
The most visually arresting scenes take place in a kind of industrial concrete conduit to the afterlife. A childlike "monkey" girl (performance artist Alaska Yanada) presides over a circular pool and seems stuck in time, as does a cloaked Bible-reading man (Ilya Parizhsky) who acts as a guide to the wandering souls on their way through a tunnel toward the proverbial light. In the end, evidently giving up on the twin sisters, Ray is seen to be following the monkey girl.
While it may strike you as too Fellini-esque, "Flamingos" in Alli's consumate hands is a well perprotioned balance between fantasty and reality, spiritual quests and mundane desires, weird situation and believable dialogue. God only knows what Alli might pull off it he got a bit of financing. Chalk another one up to the great potential of Bay Area Underground film, with a capital "u.".
Posted on Mar 13, 2012 - 12:11 PM