Vinegar Syndrome: Taking Tiger Mountain (1983) - Reviewed

Not long after celebrated actor Bill Paxton’s untimely death in 2017, a long thought lost experimental/hardcore art indie film steeped in dystopian science fiction the actor participated in when he was only 19 resurfaced nearly a year after the actor’s passing.  Further still, the film’s writer and co-director Tom Huckabee working with previously shot footage by the film’s first director Kent Smith, went on to create a ‘Revisited’ director’s cut of sorts which the filmmaker posted online himself from his personal print. 

Loosely based William S. Burroughs’ novella Blade Runner (a movie), the title of which would later be reused for Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, the film initially started in the early 1970s with director Kent Smith shooting a lot of footage of Bill Paxton wandering the streets of Wales intermingling with the townsfolk.  Eventually Tom Huckabee took over production and shooting newer sequences with Paxton reshaped the film into an explicit avant-garde exercise in science fiction storytelling about a brainwashed young man on a The Manchurian Candidate-like mission to assassinate the Welsh Minister of Prostitution.

Though something resembling a plot emerges from the reversal stock black-and-white Techniscope widescreen photography, mostly this is a longform student film showing a side of Bill Paxton viewers haven’t had before or since.  A bit more graphic on the side of sex and nudity than the arthouse crowd is expecting and just meandering enough narratively to be considered exemplar of ‘pure cinema’, Smith and Huckabee’s Taking Tiger Mountain is a truly interesting and unique bit of microbudget do-it-yourself enigmatic sci-fi.  If Nicolas Roeg ever made a black and white film, it might resemble this.

Word has it this film was completed using leftover short ends from Bob Fosse’s biographical drama Lenny, making this and Eraserhead shining examples of what you can achieve technically using recycled bits used on someone else’s work.  With a soundscape as strange and otherworldly as any segment of sound from George Lucas’ THX:1138 and hyperkinetic approach to editing, Tom Huckabee takes what shouldn’t work and crafts it into something provocative and curious with a near-silent lone figure as our confused travel guide of sorts through a near-Orwellian future. 

Not everyone will take to this, as it sits somewhere between too hardcore for the arthouse crowd and too strange for the erotic cinema crowd.  Fans of Paxton also might have some apprehension towards seeing him in a role that bares all, leaving little to the imagination and treading a very fine line between art and pornography.  That said, Taking Tiger Mountain for the adventurous cinephile who don’t mind their films being a bit more on the dangerous or off-kilter side than others will find plenty to enjoy here.  It's worth noting the film forged a longstanding working relationship with director Huckabee who served as an executive producer on Paxton's directorial debut Frailty

--Andrew Kotwicki