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By Timothy Brayton | June 3, 2007

By definition, the end credits can’t be the “first” warning that a film has problems, but certainly the card that closes out “The Walking Ink” is the clearest indication of what’s wrong with it. This card simply indicates that the film was made by a large group of people with no mention of which person performed what duty. There’s nothing inherently wrong with post-authorial collaboration in filmmaking, of course, but this unwillingness to identify who is specifically responsible for the film’s content speaks to the great flaw that “The Walking Ink” fundamentally lacks a coherent point of view.

Admittedly, “The Walking Ink” is also a surrealistic film with only the loosest ties to a narrative line, but yelling “Surrealism!” and pretending that a film can therefore do whatever the hell it wants to is just a hand-waving distraction. The reality is that all but the most avant-garde and experimental films have some ultimate structure, an inevitable reason why each image progresses into the next. At the end of a film like “Eraserhead” (which seems to be an unacknowledged influence here), no matter how much crazy s**t goes down, the end result is a complete and unified whole: even though there is no real link between moments, they fit together. “The Walking Ink” genuflects in that direction, containing repeated motifs and characters, but at the end there’s no sense that e.g. the talking pug was necessarily part of the same film as the crazy hypnotic nurse for any reason other than the filmmakers’ whims.

A crying shame, because there are some truly inspired images scattered throughout, and most of the component parts that make up the story are successful in and of themselves. There is for example a laugh-out-loud funny moment when a woman prepares to kill a man with a genetically modified pepper, and the film helpfully and abruptly cuts to a scientist awkwardly explaining how he and his development team created that particular breed. Or consider the quirky production design that lends the first few moments the feel of a particularly grimy and demented 1950s film noir, down to the setting in a peculiarly retro auto-body shop.

Tom Barndt (the unnamed director of the piece) is undeniably a great stylist, and it’s apparent that most of the cast had a lot of fun being crazy in front of the camera, but none of that translates for the audience. There’s no element of this film that means anything other than its own specific weirdness, and so, in “The Walking Ink” we find the rare spectacle of a film that is much, much less than the sum of its parts.

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