June 2019 will mark ten years since the release of 2009 feature film After Last Season. The director, “Mark Region,” is an alias for an individual whose identity is not widely known. Ever since the trailer for the film was released in March 2009, After Last Season has occupied a space in discussions of movies around which cults have formed to celebrate their perceived badness.
The most popular example of this class of films is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003). The Room, which has (d)evolved from a cult object into a profitable source for reproduction (see James Franco’s Academy Award-nominated 2017 adaptation The Disaster Artist), is emblematic of the process Benjamin describes as “the distracted mass [absorbing] the work of art” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” 62). This process contrasts with contemplative concentration that absorbs an individual into a work of art. In After Last Season, that which absorbs the individual involves both the film’s remoteness and the film’s awareness and acknowledgement of that refusal to be discovered.
The auric specificity of After Last Season is that of a ghost object in the digital to post-digital landscape. After Last Season exists within the sphere of “beautiful semblance” because of its harmony and various interruptions (“Goethe’s Elective Affinities” 340). The film explicitly and implicitly resists the processes of consumption and distraction that characterize corporatized cult films. As such, the work is much closer to a cult object in the sense that Benjamin describes than the post-modern midnight movie cult product. Additionally, After Last Season’s complex status as a veiled, unavailable film provokes thinking about the film’s unity and its sublimity. Benjamin writes that “the beautiful is neither the veil nor the veiled object but rather the object in its veil” (“Goethe’s Elective Affinities” 351). After Last Season exists within this rare sphere of the beautiful because of various boundaries that prevent viewers from getting too close to the object.
The filmmaker has so limited exhibition as to negate nearly all exhibition opportunity/value. The film only ever appeared in four theatrical engagements and in a limited digital release (on DVD). There is no official stream for the film. The prints made for theatrical exhibition are not publically available. The website is defunct. After Last Season, a film whose title intentionally emphasizes the present moment, is in part defined by the terms of its position in past time and space.
Even more interesting within a Benjamin framework is the substance of the movie itself. The film grammar and production values of After Last Season counter nearly every one of the market-driven illusions Benjamin associates with filmmaking in the classical or Hollywood style. Filmmaking equipment and the seams of production design elements are conspicuously visible. If there are “optical tests” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” 55) at work within After Last Season, then the frequently emptied-out performance style seems to be a critical component of those tests, not merely a consequence of conditions the actors are being subjected to. Many events in the film appear to be directed towards a spectral observer.
In the live-action portions of the film, disjointed conversations, arrows pictured on surfaces and other instructions invite viewers to participate and sort out the film’s system of causality. Yet a detachment remains, positioning viewers as ghosts that observe but cannot participate. The animated portion of the film coincides with a “psychology exercise” in which a number of questions are asked, and many of these questions engage with viewers’ attempted but frustrated agency. Examples of this dialogue include: “Several cubes are in a room. How would you arrange them?” “Are you imagining this scenery?” “Can you tell which house it is?”
Even if this approach to narrative fiction filmmaking rates as nonsensical in the context of evaluative systems that guide the conventional art and form of film, the distance Region creates between objects and viewers enlivens the viewing process. Rather than resulting in a “relentless destruction of the aura” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” 61) the many interruptive features of After Last Season exhibit (and arguably prefigure) the film’s fixed aura as the work is remembered a decade later.
After Last Season is also a film that continually testifies to the specific circumstances of its production. There are visible signs of extreme coldness at the location in which the actors performed and cast shadows that reify the necessity of using lighting equipment to illuminate actors. The most astonishing shadow in the film is the shadow of a piece of lighting equipment.
After Last Season might be described as a frozen film that is irreproducible because the disappeared director’s approach to narrative film production is highly unified yet also lacks any adherence to established cinematic traditions. Additionally, the source product, once an object of fascination because of an online trailer release and subsequent online discussions, has all but vanished within the digital to post-digital era. After Last Season’s many variations on expressionlessness fulfill the notion that “every work of art must stage a conflict between beautiful semblance and its mortification” (Menninghaus 410).
Benjamin, Walter. “Goethe’s Elective Affinities.” Selected Writings Volume 1, edited by Marcus Bullock & Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge & London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 297-360.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Film Theory & Criticism: Introductory Readings, Fifth Edition, edited by Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 48-70.
Menninghaus, Winfried. “Walter Benjamin’s Variations of Imagelessness.” Critical Horizons, 14:3, 2013, pp. 407-428.