In the early days of cinema, Russian film editor Lev Kuleshov showed an audience a series of scenes featuring film star Ivan Mosjoukine. The sequences were short but powerful: Mosjoukine’s face, followed by images of a coffin, a girl’s face and a plate of soup. Audiences were apparently by Mosjoukine’s subtle but powerful emotions — “the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup… the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead child… the lust with which he observed the woman.”
As any Film 100 student knows, the audience’s interpreation of Mosjoukine’s expression is known as the Kuleshov Effect. Kuleshov had used the same shot of the actor’s face in each sequence; the “heavy pensiveness” and “deep sorrow” had been an audience projection, derived from the context of the images that bounded Mosjoukine’s expressionless stare. Kuleshov was discovering something about editing and the strange psychology of movie watching, but it also says something about the iconic power of the human face and our ability to read emotions from outside cues.
Our habit of seeing expressions in expressionless faces is part of what makes Wonderheads’ LOON so entertaining and engaging. The main character, only identified as “Bachelor no. 378,” is a grotesque but endearing gargoyle of a man, a hydrocephalic Danny De Vito with a fringe of flame-red hair. He’s a janitor and lonely bachelor who’s recently lost his mother. His only pleasure seems to be reading a magazine about space travel and occasionally fashioning a superhero outfit for himself out of a cape and a pair of goggles.
The first part of LOON is a pantomime character study of a lonely man who lives mostly in his imagination. Scenes from Casablanca, Star Wars and Gone with the Wind play over the soundtrack as he turns over various aspects of his life. Just when the action threatens to turn a bit monotonous, though, something extraordinary happens. He finds the love of his life. And it’s not exactly human. Or even earthly.
LOON is flat-out wonderful, and it’s all done without a single word. The mask doesn’t even crack a smile.