Hysterics bend the knee, or try to, in Planet Earth: Dreams, a rigorous space-out penned by our bard of staged aphasia, Richard Foreman. It’s a nonstop rabbit hole, a solid week of dream-infested sleep, for kewpie-faced, accordion-playing, occasionally accordion-playing-in-the-nude Agatha (Cynthia Hopkins), who within (and without?) her slumbers gets teleported to golf courses and alien bars, sits in on séances, and suffers from an antiquated affliction that results in a hysterical paralysis of her legs. Her husband cheats on her with the lingeried Dr. Wanda (Justine Priestley), while links-hitting Dr. Wanton (Ryan Holsopple) affixes a rudimentary rehabilitative apparatus to each of Agatha’s legs. The heroine’s handicap explicitly alludes to Anna O. (the first case in Freud and Breuer’s Studies in Hysteria) and shares something with the literal leglessness of Isabella Rossellini’s character in Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World. Foreman concocts a hyper-stylized dreamer’s deadpan (“Everything is delicious and goes down and hits the spot”) that’s a cousin to Maddin’s, and Hopkins at times resembles Music‘s other actress, amnesia-ridden Maria de Medeiros. But the film’s shoestring-naive look—affect, if you will—is strictly ready-for-public-access, harshly lit and crudely edited.
The acting is deliberately bad, directed to an ostensibly dreamlike flatness; and it’s also just plain bad. Everyone on Planet Earth is an eye-popping grotesque or a zombie. Indeed, Agatha wonders, several times, “Is there anything more boring than telling other people your dreams?”—perhaps betraying anxiety over the viability of the whole oneiric project. But the idiosyncratic language surprises even as the visuals enervate. In Breuer’s account of Anna O., he notes that she “systematically cultivated the art of daydreaming, calling it her ‘private theater.’ ” Foreman aficionados may want to keep the curtains of this theater drawn, and listen as his fertile lines suggest what could have been: “The space between the trees is blank enough for something interesting to happen in it.”