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Here Be Monsters! – Mad God (Locarno 2021 Film Review)

2 min read

Still Courtesy - Tippett Studio

David Cuevas takes a look at ‘Mad God′, as part of FilmHounds' ongoing Locarno Film Festival coverage.

Surviving the long-forgotten eras when practical effect wizardry was the norm and studio mergers were rarely encountered in the film-business scene, Paul Tippett's Mad God is the unique amalgamation of commitment, persistence, and patience in the cinematic form. Since 1987, Tippett and his small crew of dedicated animators have put their life and savings into creating their nightmarish stop-motion fantasia. Best described as a nuclear holocaust hellbent on grotesque creature designs and outlandish worlds, Tippett's remarkable dedication to the filmmaking craft is an outstanding achievement in its own regards. It's a film that is universally impossible to assign an academic grade of any form, since assigning something so derivative and insignificant would seem insensitive in the face of 30+ years of pure devoted craftsmanship. 

What can be best described as Journey to the Center of the Earth on bath salts, Paul Tippett's meticulously laboured commentary on the cruelty of survival is simultaneously grotesque and enlightening. There is so much to take in within every frame — from the character design to the basic compositing of rich techniques; including but not limited to pixilation and puppeteering — that the understanding of the allegorical is imminent after various repeat viewings. From images referencing the Tower of Babylon and other biblical motifs, Tippett has created an unholy world building exercise that infuses jittery 12 FPS motion and uncomfortable gory imagery to righteous effect. 

Still Courtesy – Tippett Studio

The film isn't without its flaws. Mad God, a film originally pitched as an experimental visual narrative, follows its narrative structure far too keenly within its grand-scope of hellish out-lands and post-nuclear tragedy. Even with the absence of dialogue, the presence and central POV of ‘The Assassin' character in the opening 45 minutes ultimately proves to be the most conventional aspect of Tippett's remarkable oeuvre. The evocative atmosphere and bewildering set-pieces are already fascinating enough, where the inclusion and semblance of a traditional three-act narrative feels drastically out of place. Various worlds and creature designs are also overlooked, in favour of an operatic end goal that never fully satisfies. Perhaps a tapestry of interwoven characters and distinctive tableaus would have provided a more satisfying and enriching structural base. 

Regardless of your preference in narrative scopes, one thing still remains consistent. Paul Tippett's Mad God is a work of maddening self-reflexive therapy. A projection of the current fears and escalating anxieties of doomsday anarchy in the climate of constant political corruption and duelling conflict, Tippett's original vision and thematic burdens that date all the way back from the mid-1980's still miraculously holds up, without the fear of any outdated material. Mad God is universal cinema, a refreshing cinematic amalgamation that transcends the limitations of language boundaries. A perfect treat for fans of Nukufilm, Jan Švankmajer, and Jules Verne. 

Still Courtesy – Tippett Studio
Mad God screened at this year's in the Fuori concorso competition. The film is currently seeking international distribution.


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