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Mondo Hollywoodland is a great name for a documentary. Director Janek Ambros does pay homage to a certain era in Hollywood, but his psychedelic comedy never tries to pass as something akin to Errol Morris. The plot follows a mushroom dealer and a man from another dimension as they try to figure out just what “mondo” means. But will audiences be able to follow along on the journey?
The film is stranger than the premise makes it out to be. It is an experiment that plays out more like a fever dream than a traditional narrative. People watching will not so much watch Mondo Hollywoodland as they do experience it. This makes it unlike most other movies, but it also means its appeal will be limited. It resides in an odd space that seems beyond background entertainment but does not require undivided attention.
This does not mean Mondo Hollywoodland will be completely foreign to audiences. There are a number of characters with motivations and as wacky as things can get, there is a consistent storyline. It is even subject to some of the problems of a “normal” film. Though it may seem otherwise, some of the people introduced end up meaning very little in the grand scheme of things.
The film is rightfully proud of its experimental nature. Still, it is hard to shake the feeling that Mondo Hollywoodland has gone too far. It never says anything that is outrageous; it is more in the presentation. The movie is too sarcastic at times – as if it does not want to be taken seriously. This is underscored by the fact that most of the characters are wild exaggerations.
This all may be intentional and Mondo Hollywoodland is an incredibly entertaining film. There is an improvisational feel and the fast and loose camerawork works in tandem with the random nature. It is also very funny at times. It is almost as if the movie is drawing viewers in before pushing them away. The story then seems to work at bringing them back all over again.
Ultimately, this may be the point of the experiment. As the film ends up pointing out, “mondo” is not something that can be easily defined by words or pictures. It is a state of mind that plays to people’s morbid curiosities before repulsing them. It is a feeling and not a definition. Or, Mondo Hollywoodland is just an inconsistent movie that misses the mark.
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