Mondo Hollywoodland

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Mondo Hollywoodland
"What makes this film stand out more than anything else is Ambros’ stunning editing."

Living in a city like Los Angeles means getting used to all kinds of tourists, and quite a few unusual locals – so when somebody from the fifth dimension stops you in the street to ask the meaning of ‘mondo’, it’s really just more of the same. At least, that’s the premise of this small but ambitious film from Janek Ambros, who follows that unseen visitor – ostensibly the viewing public – on a journey through the city to find legendary dealer in magic mushrooms Normand Boyle (played by co-writer Chris Blim), who claims to know the secret of it all. The key to understanding, says Boyle, is to observe LA’s three groups of inhabitants: titans, weirdos and dreamers. Boyle then carries us through three chapters in which we meet a sample of each.

The quality of these chapters varies and non of the characters are very well developed except for Boyle himself, who is personally preoccupied by searching for his missing cat and trying to keep his apartment rat-free in its absence. In the first, we meet a film producer who is trying to bargain with an actress but has failed to understand how times have changed and, with them, the balance of power between them. The second concerns Venice Beach hippies, one of whom wants to start a political uprising, and features what is possibly the stupidest way to try and make a car explode ever shown on screen – do not try this at home. The third restores a bit of narrative cohesion as we join Boyle on a quest to find out what his nosy neighbour has been up to.

Beginning in pseudo-documentary format (with a natural debt to 1967’s Mondo Hollywood), the action continually shifts genre, speeding up as it goes, so that in the final chapter we progress swiftly from slacker movie to heist thriller, western and science fiction. This is beautifully done and is a very effective way of exploring the intersection between the mythic Hollywood of the movies and the lives of people who live there, many of who have lives which in one way of another connect to the film industry. Although the individual chapter stories are not particularly strong, and you’re likely to find your attention drifting during the middle one, their combined effect is something much more interesting – and, indeed, that is generally considered to be the point of the mondo cinematic experience.

What makes this film stand out more than anything else is Ambros’ stunning editing, both with new material and archive footage. It’s not just that his mastery of fast cutting technique is impressive, it’s that he knows exactly how to pace it in keeping with the rhythm of the narrative, and when to refrain. He also adjusts his style nicely to suit the film’s different genre elements, taking the same approach with his directing but, again, judiciously, without lapsing into cliché. In places the film looks rough, but only ever when it’s supposed to, and in keeping with the mondo tradition. The result is a film which it’s hard to look away from even where the plot and characters fail to engage.

Overall, Mondo Hollywoodland feels like an experiment, the early work of somebody who has a lot more to give. Ambros is a director worth keeping an eye on – if he doesn’t get overwhelmed with demand to spend his time editing other people’s work.

Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2021
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Mondo Hollywoodland packshot
A groovy mushrooms dealer and a man from the 5th dimension journey through Hollywood to find the meaning of 'mondo'.

Director: Janek Ambros

Writer: Janek Ambros, Chris Blim, Marcus Hart

Starring: Chris Blim, Alex Loynaz, Alyssa Sabo, Jessica Jade Andres, Janek Ambros, Miranda Rae Hart, Palmer Jones

Year: 2019

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US

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