Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees [US 1991]

Info: I embedded the full movie below.

THE PLOT

Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees is an independent science fiction movie about a programmer at NASA, Jacob Maker, who – much like his grandfather – studies bees as a hobby. He tells his story in the form of a pseudo-documentary, revealing insights about his grandparents, his wife, and his work, developing training programs for future pilots. After a dream-like experience, in which his beehive transports him to the past, he gets increasingly sensitive to his computer simulations, concluding that only his beekeeper’s suit can protect him from supernatural harm. He believes that the bees have implanted a crystal in his head, which is why he frequently finds himself in the past, having out-of-body experiences, and wandering aimlessly through the desert. As he slowly loses grip on reality, his connection to the rockets, that run on his software, becomes stronger, and he feels that he himself becomes a weapon that needs to kill.

WHAT I LIKE

The plot, or rather the blend of presented concepts, is pretty complex and also convoluted, as many seemingly random ideas are interconnected throughout the movie’s short runtime. These themes and concepts include biblical references to the history of violence in humans, weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy theories (like the Hollow Earth Theory), and the existence of ghosts. Some of these ideas work very well on their own or in connection with other ideas, e.g. when the connection between ghosts and weapons are explained or when the main character criticizes the use of intelligent weapons, something that is even more topical than in the 1990s, with the frequent use of drones in warzones. This makes the plot, although seemingly random paranoid clutter at first, highly imaginative and disturbing.

Visually, the movie might not be state of the art by 1991’s standards, however, the crude, low-resolution animations, the complex editing (e.g., shot repetitions, digital non-linear editing, distorted zooms, and spherically deformed transitions), and the exaggerated zooms fit the paranoid and dreamlike descriptions of the main character. Thus, the simplistic and experimental visual imagery really highlights the nightmarish atmosphere and efficiently represents the experiences of the protagonist, e.g. when he is being hunted by ghosts or when he reaches the Garden of Eden Cave.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

As interesting and unique the various concepts of the movie are, the narrative is still too convoluted and doesn’t follow through with some aspects of the story – and the unemotional narrator doesn’t help either. Seemingly relevant names and facts are presented in the first half that are only loosely connected to the fate of the protagonist (e.g., the Mesopotamia arch), while other aspects are never explained (e.g., the main character’s connection with his grandfather’s colleague). Also, the backstory of the protagonist’s grandmother and wife are mostly irrelevant. The journey through the desert feels longer than it should, considering the movie’s runtime, and concepts like the Hollow Earth Theory are dropped shortly after being presented. In addition, the visual effects are – even though novel at the time – repetitive, as the same effects are used over and over again (e.g., the wave-like image distortion and shots being repeated with only one additional visual effect). Overloaded scenes like the “Garden of Eden Cave” heading becoming “Vengeance of the Dead”, therefore lose some of their effect.

THE VERDICT

Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees can probably best be described as a philosophic journey through the paranoid consciousness of the narrator, which is presented in the form of a science fiction pseudo-documentary. Much like documentaries on conspiracy theories, the movie is cluttered with seemingly random information about beehives, ghosts, and weapon’s testing – just to name a few central themes. These concepts are mostly interconnected but overall the narrative still lacks structure and coherence. The visual presentation is perplexing with distorted images and heavy use of computer-generated effects, but the abstract shapes and intercut shots of bees match the dreamlike and hypnotic atmosphere of the movie. Overall, the movie presents some great ideas (e.g., criticism of intelligent weapons), and the presentation is, although being a low-budget production, unique and fascinating to watch – even though some aspects don’t come together all that well.

Overall 6/10

INTERESTING FACTS

 – A spiritual sequel series, The Telepathic Motion Picture of The Lost Tribes, was developed and has been shown in museums as a long-form moving image narrative installation since 2013.

 – The movie was the first film uploaded to the Internet in 1993 (waxweb.org). Additionally, it has been presented in museums worldwide, in a slightly altered version (Wax Web).

 – The main character frequently has out-of-body experiences and thought inspirations (i.e., the bees implanting ideas inside his head). Also, he goes on extensively long walks through the desert in a somnambulant state. Erratic behavior of this kind is also symptomatic for people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

 – Stock footage of William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was used for the character John Hivemaker. Burroughs was a post-modern writer (e.g., Naked Lunch, which was adapted to film by David Cronenberg in 1991) and visual artist (e.g., the “Gunshot Paintings”).

 – The movie was co-produced by the German television channel ZDF. When the main characters watch the space shuttle launch, both the American President, Ronald Regan, as well as the German head of state at the time, Helmut Kohl, are shown.

 – At the beginning, a London-based supernatural society is mentioned. There really was a short-lived “Society for the Study of Supernatural Pictures” (1918-1923); one of the members was writer Arthur Conan Doyle.

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