Book of Shadows, documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger's sequel to The Blair Witch Project, announces itself as a "fictionalized reenactment" of something that actually happened after the movie The Blair Witch Project opened. By this, Book of Shadows means to reflect on its precursor's phenomenal success. The hype continues. Book of Shadows, which is set in the summer of 1999, features actual TV news items about Blair Witch along with some broadly staged satire of tourists and crazies descending on the Maryland backwater where the movie was supposedly set.
The basic premise, not too dissimilar from the self-parodic Scream and its sequels, sends a group of cute kidsincluding a Goth psychic, a Wiccan hottie, and an unhappy couple who are collaborating on a book with a title like Blair Witch: Modern Myth or Collective Delusion?on a magical mystery tour organized by the enterprising Jeff, a graduate of the local mental hospital. Their first night in the woods starts like a dorm-room bull session. Berlinger misses an opportunity here in not making this a discussion of possible sequels to the movie with which these happy campers are obsessed. Still, he shows a flair for drama by contriving to have this first bunch run into a rival tour group. It's a good joke that, unfortunately, turns out to be the movie's last. Suffice to say that something weird happens that night and the gang winds up at Jeff's isolated, bunkerlike souvenir emporium-cum-mixing studio.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Written by Berlinger and Dick Beebe
An Artisan release
Germany 2000: New Films
Museum of Modern Art
November 2 through 19
Where the original Blair Witch was based totally on the power of suggestion, Book of Shadows is filled with all manner of tawdry tricksdreams, hallucinations, flashbacks, flash-forwards, bloody inserts, raucous Satan rock, and inane run-ins with hysterical locals, most appallingly the local sheriff who seems to believe that he's Slim Pickens back from the grave. Blair Witch was conceptually rigorous; Book of Shadows is elaborately self-referential. The kids are trapped chez Jeff and so are wealthough the creepiest echo in this hall of mirrors is that of Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's 1996 Paradise Lost, a two-and-a-half-hour documentary about the murder of three Arkansas boys allegedly by a teenage trio of devil-worshipers.
Blair Witch's Dogme-like camerawork assaulted the eyes; Book of Shadows attacks the ears. The only thing in this noisy bore that's more clamorous than the various poltergeist visitations is the self-reflexive quipsmainly the characters screaming at each other that nothing makes any sense.
This year's edition of MOMA's annual survey of new German films marks the 10th anniversary of reunification and is typically immersed in 20th-century history. Joseph Vilsmaier's lavish Marlene Dietrich biopic finds its mate in Werner Schroeter's more economical documentary on Nazi-era movie star Marian Hoppe; Peter Schamoni's analysis of Kaiser Wilhelm's media celebrity is paralleled by Gordon Maugg's ingeniously staged actuality, Hans WarnsMy Twentieth Century.
The Legend of Rita, in which a West German terrorist goes underground in the East, is a compelling political melodrama and Volker Schlöndorff's best film in years; it's complemented by a screening of the 1985 Stanheim, Reinhard Hauff's gripping and scrupulous account of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Pondering the contemporary landscape, After the Fall is a disappointing portrait of the absent Berlin Wall, but Nightfall, Fred Kelemen's fado-scored exercise in long-take cine-miserablism, set in Germany's far east, is his strongest film yet.
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