A beguiling, navel-focused freakazoid as original and mysterious as Sundance award winners are ever likely to get, Scott King’s Treasure Island pretends to WW II-era hypernostalgia, but it’s actually a vision of all-American movie culture as alternative psychohistory. Though it apes the noir visual palette hilariously, it’s also eccentric, sexually anxious, and happy to be picking from the fields Guy Maddin and David Lynch have sowed. Far from merely doing an Ulmer or Ted Tetzlaff cover, King has created his own little cosmos, going so far as to preface his mock-feature with “King Movietone” newsreels and a fragmented episode of John Q. Nazi, a faux spy serial that reveals an understanding of the form George Lucas never had. Still, climaxing with images shanghaied from Ugetsu and Dr. Strangelove, Treasure Island can be thin and underrealized—Maddin’s balmy conceptual assaults dwarf it.
The titular locale is actually a Frisco naval base used during wartime as a mail filter and code-breaking think tank; Treasure Island is thus a litter ground of secrets and unreadable messages. Depicted mostly as a single institutional room covered with scraps of paper, the central office houses Frank (Lance Baker), a reedy, Buster Keaton-eyed agent who has two problematic wives and one fiancée he cannot bring himself to fuck, and Samuel (Nick Offerman), a Borgninian man’s man who spackles in his dead marital sex life by recruiting men for lifeless, tense threesomes with his wife. The two of them hatch a plan (lifted by King from an old pulp novel) to dump a John Doe corpse full of misleading tactical information in the Pacific, steering the Japanese wrong in the war’s final months. They keep the freshly dead body right in the office—in a metal casket, abstrusely hooked up to a generator.
As the two men fabricate The Body’s ultra-straight identity with stories that mirror their own lives, the stiff (a fey Jonah Blechman) manifests himself as a kind of gay phantom that begins to invade their dreams and then their reality. A haunted absurdity, Treasure Island reaches its most hypnotically harebrained when The Body shows up to double-team Samuel’s wife, or takes the witness stand—in blackface—during a military hearing. Park City hoopla or no, King still had to self-release this changeling—such is the cachet of even the nerviest Sundance laurel.
Just as fraught with phallic angst, if a good deal less conscious of it, Barry Blaustein’s Beyond the Mat focuses a fan’s unquestioning eye on the wide, wide world of pro wrestling, from Vince McMahon’s WWF empire (which has its own costume designers and scriptwriters, big surprise) to the dregs of wannabe training camps and amateur nights at the local gym. An ex-SNL writer, Blaustein suggests wrestling’s appeal—as a kind of primal spectacle closer to parades and pageants than any accepted form of sport—without wondering at all why he finds it compelling. In fact, after he demonstrates that wrestling and its attendant damage is real albeit rehearsed, Blaustein prefers to focus only on the not-so-private lives involved: the autumnal trials of fading star Terry Funk, the fascinating menopausal crucifixions of star-turned-crackhead Jake the Snake Roberts, and the traumas endured by Mick “Mankind” Foley’s family as they watch him get beat to a bloody pulp, over and over again.
More erectile dysfunctions: David Schisgall’s The Lifestyle, subtitled Group Sex in the Suburbs, tells us more than we ever wanted to know about America’s lumpy, lumpen middle class staging everythingathons and crowing proudly about it. Like an endless episode of HBO’s Real Sex, Schisgall’s movie dallies enough with loveless sport-fucking to make it depressing, particularly when you consider the padded playrooms, basement bars, and preponderance of overweight Barbara and George Bush-like couples wearing “Hi My Name Is” stickers. Monogamy never looked so good.