“Obsolete Gods” is an epic film, which explicitly addresses the notion of an epic journey and narrative in a purposefully abstract way which might be described as a subverted narrative. Episodically structured, the film has many individual vignettes, which gradually convey the idea of a journey from America’s rural heartland, through the suburbs, and into the (West Coast) city. These episodes are linked by travel shots, mainly taken from the windows of cars moving along the highway. The perky, kitschy musical themes which accompany these travelling shots, as well as accompanying many of the episodes, give the film its peculiarly light, jocular tongue-in-cheek tone, pleasantly at odds with the surrealist satire of the film’s nonstory.
Some of the episodes directly recall “The Odyssey,” such as the film’s prologue, set in a supermarket, in which a beautiful naked woman emerges from a freezer compartment and does a playfully seductive dance, which recalls various tempting ladies from Homer’s epic. Late in the film, in the “urban” section, we arrive in a menacingly chic club in which men and women use the same rest room and ritualistically swallow pills together, which is reminiscent of the “Lotus Eaters.” Some of the film’s episodes are grandly but spoofily mythological, such as an amazing scene where three goddesses and a man with a huge penis hanging from his white loincloth enter a field and ritualistically destroy dozens of black and white eggs which have been carefully set up on a long table. Some of the scenes seem to have the aim of giving the film a “narrative, journey” feeling, but disrupting the usual narrative links so that it is impossible to follow an actual story. For example, we see a woman running out of gas on the highway, and then walking, gas can in hand, along a long and lonely stretch of road. Next we see a rural family who’s dinner is interrupted by a knock at the door, but the stranger who they then invite inside is not the same one who ran out of gas. Later, we again see someone walking along a road with a gas can, but it is now a third person.
The film is even an honest-to-goodness musical: when we arrive at the city, we see a delightful dance routine, performed outdoors at a streetcar station in the middle of the city by a troupe of women dressed in white miniskirts, tunics, and angel wings. To a bouncy reggae song they perform an amateurish but pleasant dance, reminiscent of the Rockettes performing an “ancient Greek dance” at a football game halftime.
Other episodes include an “American Gladiator” style three legged race in an art gallery, meant, I suppose, as an arch comment on competitiveness in the art world, and a comparison in the sales techniques of three real estate agents, evidently meant to convey a sense of the population shift from the countryside into the city.
“Obsolete Gods” certainly succeeds in creating an epic feeling, with its cast-of-thousands, its elaborate stagings, and its many sections. The film’s tone of having cheeky fun while pulling apart classical myths and reforming them into a hallucinatory journey, make for an amiable adventure, and the subversion of narrative expectations creates a wonderful feeling of complex movement and change, without relying on the well-worn clichés of storytelling.