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  Strong Medicine Bitter Pill
Year: 1981
Director: Richard Foreman
Stars: Kate Manheim, David Warrilow, Ron Vawter, Bill Raymond, Harry Roskolenko, Scotty Snyder, Ruth Maleczech, Jill Haworth, Buck Henry, Raul Julia, Carol Kane, Jonas Mekas, Michael Kirby, Wallace Shawn
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rhoda (Kate Manheim) wonders where she is, could it be some kind of hotel? When she asks someone, he tells her that she is on vacation as if that explains everything, but her confusion and anxiety will only increase the further this experience goes on as it presents her whole life as a morass of bits and pieces that, when broken down this way, become something akin to a nightmare. There is a group of people at the hotel who tell her that it's her birthday and sing for her that famous song to indicate this, but when they ask her to play blind man's bluff or pin the tail on the donkey as an excuse to persuade her to wear a blindfold, she should have known no good would come of this, especially as there is, as far as she can discern, no escape from these people or her life...

Richard Foreman was the man behind Strong Medicine, a film that if it were better known would have gone down in history with some notoriety as one of the hardest to watch of all time. Not that it is chock-full of disturbing imagery, there is a degree of that but not enough to classify it as a horror movie, for instance, it was simply that it point blank refused to give away any of its secrets unless you were prepared to do a lot of research into the theatrical styles packed with alienation techniques this project owed so much to. It will come as little surprise to learn Foreman was part of an experimental theatre background which sought to find some truth within human interactions by presenting it as starkly and representationally as possible, you could tell that from this at least.

Foreman was the director of The Ontological-Hysteric Theater, which he also founded, an avant garde bunch who staged shows in the same vein as this film, which for many who were not prone to chin-stroking for entertainment, would have sounded like an evening's night out they could well do without. On the strength of this, their productions were more likely to satisfy the talents creating them onstage than they were the folks in the audience, though presumably even if you did not catch all the deeper meanings, you would have an anecdote to share with your friends about being confounded at the theatre one evening. Much the same went for the experience of sitting through Strong Medicine, it was hard work to put it mildly, and by the end, assuming you made it that far, you may well be all at sea.

There were recurring motifs, such as the group of older ladies who yell "Jesus Christ, our feet hurt!" at random moments, or Rhoda chanting "I can go fast, I can go slow!" along with visual elements in the same vein, like the doctor who has such a terrible manner that he is moved to grope our heroine in lieu of a proper examination - and what does she need to be examined for, anyway? The action moved from the hotel party to a train carriage that isn't moving, or a car that ends up in an offscreen accident, or a bedsitter where she literally climbs the walls at one point, everywhere unable to get any peace from the yammering masses who interrupt her at every turn. At one point she is on a stage, dressed as a chicken and doing the appropriate clucking, reminding nineties comedy fans of the Chicken Lady from TV sketch show The Kids in the Hall, but if anything was reminiscent of this it was Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis, another deliberately obscure nonsense piece that may be a comedy, but may not. If you did manage to watch the whole thing, award yourself a medal, and if you understood it, you have our admiration. Music by Stanley Silverman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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