Mondo Hollywoodland: Psychedelic Freakout, by Tyler Smith

Like many low-budget endeavors, Janek Ambros’ Mondo Hollywoodland is a little rough around the edges and a bit saggy in the middle, yet manages to be a compelling piece of cinema. An existential comedy with more than a little experimentation, the film often feels more like a state of mind than an actual story. Both the film’s style and substance work towards creating a mystical, psychedelic vibe that is somehow haunting, funny, and even a little tragic.

The story – to the degree that there is one – revolves around an unseen man “from the 5th dimension” as he attempts to figure out what exactly modern Hollywood is. As he narrates the film – in a humorous blending of David Attenborough and Werner Herzog – our narrator encounters various lowlives, bigwigs, and artists along the way, chief among them Normand Boyle (Chris Blim), a mushroom dealer drifting aimlessly through life. 

At the core of the film’s journey is the belief that Hollywood is made up of Titans, Weirdos, and Dreamers, and the film takes its stylistic cues from those groups. There is a manic quality to the Titans, as they rush to keep their various industry plates spinning, while the Weirdos are a little more mellow but no less surreal. And, as one might expect, the Dreamers dictate a more melancholy tone. Given much of the silliness of the film, one might expect our narrator – and, by extension, the audience – to feel somehow superior to these groups, but there is actually a great deal of affection shown for all three.

While the freewheeling structure is appropriately disorienting, where the film truly excels is in its tone. Approximating the effect of various uppers and downers, the film is alternately beautiful and horrifying. One moment, we feel like we’re in great danger, then we shift dramatically to a feeling of bliss and elation. In these moments, the visuals, editing, sound, and music all swirl together seamlessly to create a complete visceral experience. That Ambros is able to achieve this despite an obviously low budget speaks volumes about his directorial talents.

At 105 minutes, the film does feel a bit long at times. This is especially true in those moments of expositional dialogue which, while necessary, drag the film down and remind us of some of the narrative pitfalls of micro-budget filmmaking, such as awkward lulls and subpar sound. Thankfully these moments are few and far between, and we’re back to the surrealism the film does so well.

While imperfect, Mondo Hollywoodland has an energy to it that many big-budget mainstream movies can only dream of. One can tell that Ambros and his cast and crew were engaged with the material, and that energy is infectious. The resulting experience shared by both filmmaker and audience is one of strange, bewildering beauty and an odd sense of humanistic optimism. It is a truly fascinating film.

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