Mike Hodges' "Black Rainbow," a psychic thriller with ecological undertones, is one of the most original independent features of recent years. But it's not getting a theatrical release and is instead going straight to cable, where it premieres at 9 tonight on Showtime, with repeat airings on Friday and on Aug. 26.
So popular was "Black Rainbow" at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last year that two additional screenings had to be scheduled.
As an example of contemporary Southern Gothic, "Black Rainbow" brings to mind such films as "Blue Velvet" and "Mystery Train" in its seedy Southern settings--rundown train stations, faded hotels and, in this instance, old churches and tabernacles.
In her most demanding, accomplished portrayal to date, Rosanna Arquette is a medium who seems to possess some ESP and even more showmanship. In the thrall of her florid, cynical alcoholic father (Jason Robards), they tour the South, with Arquette acting as "a spiritual telephone exchange," to use her father's description, putting people in contact with their loved ones who've "crossed over."
Suddenly, in mid-performance, Arquette has a prophetic vision of a maintenance worker being assassinated to prevent him from blowing the whistle on health and safety hazards at a local chemical plant. Arquette's flood of terrible visions is made worse by her hectoring father, who sees his meal ticket endangered, and by the persistence of a dogged small-town reporter (Tom Hulce) who senses he's on to a big story.
Through her ordeal, Arquette's medium--and now prophet--gains a bitter, shattering perspective on human nature, realizing as she never has before how people can become so all-consumed by the possibility of an idyllic afterlife that this becomes an escape from dealing with the ways in which they might improve the quality of life on earth.
Told via Hulce's reporter in flashback to a decade earlier, and ending in a coda as mystical and enigmatic as the conclusion to Robert Altman's "3 Women," "Black Rainbow" asks a great deal of the viewer's credibility. Yet it's hard to see how even those who cannot go the full distance in accepting all that occurs in the film could not respect its ambitiousness.