Arguably the definitive portrait of the postwar America of secretly toxic dreams and treacherous surfaces, Lewis Klahr‘s Tales of the Forgotten Future taps into the frustration, strangeness, delirium and dreary vertigo that lurks in the drywall of Middle America’s mid-century psychosexual tract house. And Klahr does it with super-8 cut-out animation, less technically sophisticated than South Park but as textually volatile as a shook case of canned champagne. The “forgotten future” posited in Klahr’s multi-part jeremiad is, of course, an Eisenhower-years future that never actually happened, and the twelve shorts are packed with images of dead fads and faded fashions, reaped from old LIFE magazines, real estate brochures, comic books, etc.: obsolete appliances, cheap furniture, garish wallpaper patterns, Steve McQueen-ish race cars, industrial futurism, luxurious department stores, all interrelated as if in a museum diorama. What keeps Tales from seeming quite as garage-made as it should is Klahr’s arresting manipulation of scale, theme and contrasting examples of high kitsch — in my favorite section, “Elevator Music,” jello molds and dish rack ad tableaus offset graphic suburban-confidential sex scenes Klahr shot himself. When the film’s lost, angsty housewife retreats into her bathroom, she reappears in a glossy Prell ad. In “The Organ Minder’s Gronkey,” a pivotal piece that incorporates photographic negatives into the mix, a post-apocalyptic landscape is virtually evoked by little more than radio hiss and car-ad images, standing in as open-doored autos abandoned by the highway. No filmmaker has ever mustered so much from so little.
Tales of the Forgotten Future screens tonight at Light Industry.