I’ve become quite adept over the years at getting my hands on free DVDs. I will sometimes go to long and unreasonable lengths to get my hands on a DVD I’ve never even heard of, or am unsure I will even watch. If it’s free however, that’s enough to get me going. Such was the case with this fascinating and riviting film, which goes to show that my free DVD obsession sometimes pays off. This film was offered as a double (with Simon Magus, another film by the same director) with a subscription to Fortean Times. I took the offer, got the DVD, then cancelled the subscription suring the free trial period. Just call me Mr Scrooge.
But I’m glad I did. The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz has proved to be worth its weight in gold over the last couple of years. I am a teacher and have used this film several times in class as an example of fusing experimental film and video techniques with an inventive and intriguing storyline. It shows that a low budget can be an advantage to a filmmaker, who is forced to use their imagination to make up for any shortcomings the lack of funds may present. From what I can tell Ben Hopkins has not made another feature since this, which is a shame. He has stuck to documentaries, presumably because they are easier to distribute than strange, non-commercial offerings like this. But it is films like this that reinvigorate the viewer, and make cinema seem strange and exciting again. The kind of experience you get watching this film is vastly different to the mind-numbing loudness of the latest big-gudget, bloated Michael Bay-style blockbuster. The reaction I have had from students who have seen this film has mostly been positive.
The end of the world is nigh in this film. We are told several times by Hyde Park Corner-style preachers carrying boards. The impending solar eclipse will bring about the end of the world as we know it. As far as I know the film was shot in 1999, which was the last time we had a full solar eclipse. I remember watching it in Safeway’s carpark, where us lowly minions were allowed to come outside and look (which was probably a godsend for shoplifters). I didn’t have the special glasses and worried I might go blind, but sort of squinted and hoped for the best. I have assumed from the timing of all this that Tomas Katz was shot in 1999, and perhaps the eclipse footage was actually done for real, rather than relying on library footage. It would be nice to think of the film crew out there on that summer’s day, wondering if perhaps their little film was right and the world would end after all.
And what is bringing the apocalypse upon us (well, London anyway)? A strange, slightly alien character called Tomas katz, although in the film he refers to himself as No. He rises from a hole in the ground by the M25 and proceeds to possess the bodies of several people, causing mayhem and eventually destruction. He declares war from The Ministry of Fisheries and turns the underground network in the Underworld, where tube trains ferry the souls of the dead, which is how it often feels to be on the tube at the best of times. As one character in the film remarks, no one in their right minds would choose to travel underground. Worst of all, No/ Tomas has kidnapped the Astral Child, which represents existence, and only a blind, psychic police chief (played by Ian McNiece, the man who always looks like he’s wearing a neck brace) knows how to stop him.
To say any more would be unfair. Not only is the plot difficult to describe, it’s also pointless. You need to watch this film for the experience, not for the story. Hopkins uses a vast aray of experimental methods and jumps freely between them. He plays with editing to create wierd and eliptical effects, there are some scenes done in the style of silent movies, complete with overacting and captions. In some films this could distracting but here it actually enhances it. The film is also hilarious, and the comedy helps to keep the audience involved and smooth over the cracks. I read that the film went down a storm in Germany, which perhaps proves they do have a sense of humour after all. The central performance by Thomas Fisher is mesmerising, which is vital for a film like this. We have to remain fascinated by this strange and other-worldly creature, and believe that he can bring about the end of humainity. He has some brilliant lines, which he delivers with such conviction and sincerity, such as “If you’ve not had an alcopop today, your day has not truly begun”, and “I cut people open to find where their dreams lurk”. Apparantly a lot of the film was improvised, so it’s nice to think that he had at least some input into the script and his delivery of it.
I could go on about this film more or less indefinitely. I’ll finish off by just mentioning a couple of interesting points: The film features a brief appearance from Toby Jones, otherwise known as Truman Capote or Dobby the house elf, playing security at the Ministry of Fisheries. Also appearing are Kim Noble and Stuart Silver. In the early part of this decade I saw a late night experimental comedy show starring these two on Channel 4. It was wierd and brilliant and I’ve never forgotten it. I don’t know what happened, but their comedy careers seem to have not taken off. They occasionally pop up on TV. I’ve seen them in Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, Man to Man with Dean Learner and The Mighty Boosh. Their surreal and odd humour is well at home with those shows, but it’s a pity they are not headlining shows like that themselves. Last of all, the film features a brilliant performance from Tim Barlow, a prolific actor who has been in everything from Doctor Who to Hot Fuzz (2007). He has spent most of his acting life almost totally deaf, but this has not stopped him doing movies, TV and theatre. By a strange coincidence he has recently become a friend of my wife’s.
The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz is one of those films that once you have seen it, it will never let go. It’s haunting, you will find yourself chuckling randomly in public places, and even begin to question the fabric of reality itself. Perhaps the world really will end in half an hour.