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After Last Season, What?

November 11, 2021

The three pinnacles of the para-cinematic sublime in this century are R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (Chapters 1-12), David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, and Mark Region’s After Last Season. The first two of these triumphs of the human imagination are world renowned. The last may still need an introduction.

Some may object that After Last Season is not so much para-cinematic (what does that even mean anyway?) as plain cinematic, being a literal movie, shown in four actual movie theaters scattered across America for one week in 2009, subsequently released on DVD (now out-of-print), later showing up intermittently on YouTube. Technically it is a movie, like Citizen Kane, Star Wars, Klute, and The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Yet it discloses itself to our consciousness as something entirely orthogonal to those conventional entertainments, a kind of movie-shaped object from a different dimension, like but unlike. Some call it the Worst Movie Ever Made. They at least appreciate its singularity, but do not go far enough.

Who is Mark Region? A mystery. Despite—or because of?— the tireless efforts of his obsessive cult, no one has reached the other side of that impassive pseudonym. His actors report a man of Asian features speaking accented English who auditioned them in various Barnes & Noble coffee shops in the Boston area. In phone interviews he has claimed to be a businessman, in real estate or property management or construction. It is widely believed that it is his voice we hear narrating the trailer, the first artifact to alert the Weird Movie Web that a great new talent had arrived, bringing about a flurry of excitement and misguided speculation. It is generally assumed that he is the purest of auteurs, that After Last Season is practically handmade by the one man. The credits indicate that a whole horde of specialists worked on the production, but apart from the actors none can be confirmed to exist. Presumably he had some professional help, but the film displays no evidence of professional judgement or skill. One questions whether the maker had ever even seen a movie before; it is almost as if he were constructing one solely on the basis of rumour and hearsay, not only of cinema but of human life itself, so strangely is it represented.

The plot of After Last Season, such as it is, has to do with murder and the supernatural among medical students involved with the mysterious Prorolis Corporation. There is quite a lot about neurology. The mise-en-scène is purgatorial, the editing indeterminately either witty or witless or accidental, the cinematography unkind. Some very crude computer animation goes on and on and it is best to just lie back and let it wash over you, although parts of it are genuinely low-key horrific. The ratio of non sequiturs to sequiturs approaches infinity. Every single frame of the film is a cursed image.

It is a happiness like no other.

After Last Season takes place in a world in which every object and structure is shoddy, haphazard, uncared for, cheap, and banally contemporary. The spaces are confusing and unfit to such a haunting degree that we may consider Mark Region the Piranesi of our times. What is not constructed out of paper, cardboard, and tape may as well be, including the actors. In the interminable present moment of the movie all references to time remain speculative, unconvincing.

I long to be there.

Most people will dismiss this film as the product of delusion and incompetence. Love it or hate it, the work of a naif. There is plenty of reason to think this. And yet… and yet… something suggests otherwise. That this is the work of a sophisticated artist executing a precise aesthetic plan. You can find several advocates of this view in the Letterboxd reviews. For example, Scumbalina writes “No piece of paper or cardboard box or haphazardly placed chair is there by mistake. Everything was placed in perfect disorder.” Others propose that Region is an experimental filmmaker like Michael Snow or Hollis Frampton. Maybe. It is certainly fun to think so. And yet… and yet… that does not seem right either. For many years now I have wrestled with this movie, turning it around in my mind, looking for the gripping points. It always slips out of my grasp. It never tells what it is, it only is.

That great tyrant of our age and its sensibilities, knowingness, stumbles when it comes against this movie. We do not know how to categorize, digest, and, ultimately, excrete it. This is what makes it sublime. It defeats us. We will never know what goes on in the Pineapple Club.

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