Those seeking to replicate the random strangeness of Television by ‘googling’ bizarre keywords may be afflicted by a sense of emptiness. This is because excess brings eternal hunger rather than satiation where there is always something darker, more obscene and twisted waiting for the right hashtag to emerge. One may eventually realize that even though the media junkyard of the Internet certainly supersedes Television in terms of perversity, it is missing the uncertainty that made the latter a special source of weirdness. Let us remember that unlike the sinister infinity of the online (nether) world, morbidities were promised but never guaranteed by the preprogrammed broadcast of the TV. This absence of choice imbued viewing experiences of the weird kind with a unique sense of awe; as one could equally stumble upon the bizarre—ranging from exposes on outlandish cults to psychosexual documentaries on alien abductions—or the oppressing normality of John Travolta in Look Who’s Talking Too (1990). The Foaming Node (65min, 2018) by Ian Haig, which recently screened at the Revelation Film Festival in Perth, seems to borrow from Television’s dark sense of marvel to deliver a story about a freakish cult.
Ian Haig is an Australian artist and filmmaker whose work has screened in over 120 Festivals internationally and shown in various museums, such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and Art Museum of China in Beijing. His new film is told in a talking head documentary style through the perspective of various survivors who narrate their hallucinating affiliation with the cult of the foaming node. Mimicking the conventions of sensationalist reportages, these subjects reveal the shocking details of their recruitment, which includes ‘some cannibalism’, physical mutations and plenty of foam. The foaming node is a seemingly alien entity that is spoken about throughout the film yet never clearly defined. However, we quickly learn that its aim is to re-manufacture human bodies as the survivors display a range of physical anomalies; including what could be described as a severe case of holes-on-the-face: an eye-catching mutation that afflicts an otherwise non-descriptive white middle-aged man (the type of balding casualty that is often spotted in public transport playing out of fabric videogames on their Android phone).
These oral accounts take place amidst standard backgrounds that are so sterile as to become sarcastic, since they are decorated to resemble an Ikea brochure. One of the weirdest aspects of the film, however, is that it is interrupted by several pseudo 4k advertisements for mobile phones. While this may appear jarring at first, it becomes normalized as one attunes to the televisual link established by this footage. Indeed, as the film progresses, the combination of new age delirium and high-tech porno-commercials increasingly resembles the pleasures of watching a ‘totally wacked out’ TV feature.
In some senses, The Foaming Node reads like a sequel to Ian Haig’s previous video work Chronicles of the New Human Organism (32min, 2005-2010). Recorded like a mondo documentary in different locations around the world, Chronicles played with similar themes of human evolution and new age evangelism. However, The Foaming Node is more subdued in style and content, as the video that precedes it borrows more heavily from science fiction—featuring saturated colors, hypnotic fogs and alluring liquid textures with a semblance to the world of Mario Bava’s Planet of The Vampires (1965). The strongest link between the two films is in fact the vampirism of ‘low’ or unpopular culture; which the artist exercises by incorporating references that appear to consume yet prolong the life of marginal genres (such as B-grade cinema).
Another point of difference is that the grotesque sensibilities of The Foaming Node have a stronger affinity to body horror. For instance, some Cronenberg-esque moments in The Foaming Node include a man lying on top of an operating table, where he is oozing detestable amounts of foam from his mouth hole, and a 3d tunnel of flesh that is occasionally superimposed on top of the survivor’s faces. Visions of disease and visceral degradation such as this are to be expected from director Ian Haig, who has been showing bodily horrors in galleries and film festivals since the mid-80s. In an article entitled Body Horror 2.0 written for the Australian journal Unlikely, Haig explains that “There is something about fucked up bodies, whether it be in art, movies, television, YouTube or on social media. Something about the body behaving and appearing in a way that it’s not meant to that is both compelling and at times confronting”. These ambivalent bodies certainly feature in The Foaming Node, where nodes get “fucked up” and begin to foam like rabies. Perhaps their fate is to explode like the dog in Alien 3 (1992), which is torn apart by the birth of an alien hatching within its loins. Whether the foaming node is friend or foe is yet to be revealed, but be warned that unlike a TV show, there is not remote control that can spare you from its unfathomable transmissions.