The Blind Owl. 1992. USA. Written and directed by Reza Abdoh. Produced by Adam Soch. With Peter Jacobs, Tom Pearl, Tony Torn, Juliana Francis, Tom Fitzpatrick, Paulina Sahagun-Macias. 84 min.
Filmed in parallel with his raging, maximalist stage production Bogeyman (and including many of the same actors), Reza Abdoh’s sole feature film demonstrates an aesthetic vision distinct from his onstage work. Robert Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket is prominent among the influences on The Blind Owl, as much for its radically slowed-down cinematography and detached treatment of plot as for its overlapping themes of obsession, transgression, and eroticism. Abdoh’s film loosely follows a group of characters whose activities—among them caregiver, mortician, and prostitute—exist within a disorienting amalgam of illness, companionship, abuse, family, death, and sex. The intertwining narrative threads build a poetic, if ambivalent, study, in which the sorting out of identity and desire coexists with stagnation and mortality. While the film contrasts with Abdoh’s theatrical style, music remains as a marker of rhythm (and the use of Spanish-language songs also reflects the Los Angeles surroundings). The Blind Owl fits into a tradition of independent cinema rooted in 1980s performance culture, and is exemplary of the shift from analog film to video. Auspicious and unique in Abdoh’s body of work, the film poignantly points to an accomplished filmography that might have been.