Film

Plan 9 from INLAND EMPIRE: Damon Packard's 'Foxfur'

Like David Lynch's digital experiment...merged with a myriad of outside the box ideas, Packard plays fast and loose with reality in order to steer the audience toward ideas they might not otherwise embrace


Foxfur

Director: Damon Packard
Rated: Not Rated
Year: 2012

Personality has always been an artistic element of cinema. At any given moment, how a character reacts to the circumstances they are in or changes the course of situations they are in charge of alters our perception of them and the narrative in general. More times than not, said transformations are exterior. They exist within places and because of things and can be viewed with the alert eye. Some filmmakers, however, have traveled this terrain in a more unclear, insular mode. The Double Life of Veronique, for example, explains its proposal from the title on down. There is something similar going on in many masterful films, from Hitchcock's Vertigo to that Gwyneth Paltrow dud Sliding Doors.

For Damon Packard, maverick mainstay of the underground LA indie art cinema scene, such a strategy becomes the basis for an examination of time, place, and person entitled Foxfur. Not really a full length feature (it runs a scant 60 minutes), in nonetheless represents the first fully formed effort from the outsized auteur since his brilliant sci-fi scramble, SpaceDisco One. In between, there have been lots of false starts, a startling live-action take on Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and a few cameo appearances in fellow film freaks experiments (Caleb Emerson's Frankie in Blunderland, The "Sweets" segment of The Theater Bizarre anthology). Driven by a dream few can comprehend and more than willing to place his unprocessed plans directly on film (or video), he stands as a singular visionary in a world made up, for the most part, of middling mainstream mediocrity.

When we first meet her, the title character is an editor, helping a pair of rap impresarios create their latest music video extravaganza. Almost instantly, she morphs into an obese geek who wants a ride to a local bookstore to check out a favored writer. Along the way, she changes again, into a sunny LA gal with a brain filled with conspiracy theories, posts from Disinformation.com, and self-created cosmic symbiosis. From there, we watch as Foxfur finally discovers her place among a group of animal skin wearing huntresses, the clan canvassing the California valley where the TV version of M*A*S*H* is currently shooting. After they are discovered by security, the girls head off into the woods, only to realize that their true fate lies in a past prophecy, ancient astronauts, a dismissed scholar, and the connection between the perceived world and the long gone apocalyptic passing of the same.

With its links to Packard's palpable obsessions - fantasy, technology, the '70s, extraterrestrials, West Coast New Ageism - and time/space/persona hopping conceit, Foxfur easily becomes the most inaccessible and therefore important, audacious, and satisfying film in the man's amazing catalog. Like David Lynch's digital experiment, INLAND EMPIRE merged with a myriad of outside the box ideas, Packard plays fast and loose with reality in order to steer the audience toward ideas they might not otherwise embrace. There's a level of ludicrous theorizing here that would make even the most seasoned thinker sweat. Foxfur, until the ethereal ending, is one of the filmmakers more "talky" efforts. Good thing Packard is as captivating with mono-dialogue as he is with visuals.

Indeed, there are visionary moments here, as when our heroine starts seeing the 'black threads' (oily streaks that scream across the sky), the dead-on shout out to Pixar's Brave, or when Foxfur and the gang stumble upon some members of the M*A*S*H* company. Packard is a Picasso of unusual juxtaposition. His first masterpiece, Reflections of Evil, played like a surreal speculation on Steven Spielberg and that '70s staple, the ABC Movie of the Week. Throw in a bit of freakshow physical comedy (he loves to put his actors, and himself for that matter, in ill-fitting fat suits) and you've got one of the most amazing movie experiences you can have. It might not always make logical sense, but when Packard puts on a show, something special is bound to break out.

Yet it's the message that's equally meaningful in Foxfur. Without giving too much away, the story suggests an alternate reality where, upon the actual end of the world, human remnants coalesce and merge. It's like past lives played out among extraterrestrial designs. What happens at the beginning may not 100% link to the eventual reveal, but Packard's aesthetic logic never fails to fulfill. He always manages to make things tie together. Like Lynch, his dreamscapes seem to defy easy explanation, but buried within their baffling anarchy are serious thoughts on equally sobering subjects. In the case of Foxfur, Packard appears to be outing the ambiguous pointlessness of post-millennial modern life. It's all artifice and attitude. No wonder Foxfur finds her fate in nature. Nothing about the high tech plane she was placed in can provide such satisfaction.

Like the Dylan ersatz biopic I'm Not Here, Packard also employees the intriguing device of having several actresses play Foxfur, and it works wonderfully. Instead of providing a singular spec for the character, each performer makes it her own. This is especially true of the opening, where one haughty version of our lead has a hard time tolerating the throw down between our hapless hip hop heroes. All throughout the film, Packard plays off such stereotypes. Security guards are actually much more than they appear, while bookstores are less arenas of thought as they are overloaded with suspicious, video-obsessed freeloaders. All throughout the backdrop, people are playing with their cellphones, locked in a kind of clueless consumer K-hole where nothing matters but the next text or Foursquare update. The call back to the origins of life is not only necessary, it's mandatory.

It's just a shame that no one in the industry sits down with Packard (and any of his peers, for that matter) and offers him the kind of creative development deal that would allow for access to financing and broader distribution. Sure, he might not be everyone's cup of cream soda, but he definitely fits in with all the oddball eccentrics that make up much of the current indie scene. In Packard's case, one imagines a possible rejection to such a pitch. He doesn't make movies so much as gestate ideas and give long, painful, flawless birth to them. While Foxfur may be smaller in running time, it's as big in ideas as any of his films. Even through all her different 'dimensions,' there is only one Foxfur...and she's fascinating.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.

Film

The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Books

'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.

Music

2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.

Books

'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.

Music

Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.

Music

Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.

Music

Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration in Her Texas Roots on 'World on the Ground'

By turning to her roots in central Texas for inspiration on World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz has crafted some of her strongest songs yet.

Music

Hinds' 'The Prettiest Curse' Is One of Victory

On The Prettiest Curse, Hinds create messy pop music that captures the vibrancy of youth without being childish.

Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.