Utopia: Give Me Pity! (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Utopia
Feminist arthouse writer-producer-director Amanda Kramer, best known for unveiling not one but two features in 2018 with Paris Window and the female psychodrama Ladyworld, is back with another psychedelic double feature of sorts: the surreal musical Please Baby Please and an intentionally lo-fi pseudo-television special entitled Give Me Pity!  Picked up by Utopia releasing which just recently put out Vortex and Holy Spider, this overtly VHS looking multicolored saturated throwback to a particular era of television which may have never existed is sort of like Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues if it were invaded by a dimethyltryptamine stroboscopic demon.  Think of it as a feminist television special by way of The Other Side of the Underneath and its distinctly feminine hysterics and horrors.

Sissy St. Claire (a powerhouse Sophie von Haselberg) gets her first live network television special event intending to be a night of music, dialogue, performance art and glitz replete with high production values and costume designing.  Broken up into vignettes separated by commercial breaks meant to look like those photocards indicating ‘we’ll be right back’, Sissy brings on board a number of performers who sing and dance with her on stage.  However, at the end of each episode, an implacable psychedelic monster of some kind tramples upon the proceedings, Too Many Cooks or Adult Swim’s Yule Log style.  Over time the film deliberately devolves into a lo-fi standard definition cacophony of stroboscopic multicolored kaleidoscopic madness until we’re not sure what plane of psychological reality we’re actually on with Sissy.

Featuring a number of ensemble guest performers including a maniacal Cricket Arrison as a tortured psychic, a nameless masked man who creeps into each vignette and several dancers, Give Me Pity! is largely a one woman show as writer-director Amanda Kramer and her leading lady Sophie von Haselberg proceed to attack and destroy our senses.  Aided by a brilliant sound design which starts out as stereo but bugs out into a 5.1 soundstage whenever things start turning demonically psychedelic, the film is a musical firestorm written and scored by not one but three composers Josh Ascalon, Giulio Carmassi and Bryan Scary.  The standard definition VHS filtered camerawork by Patrick Meade Jones is remarkable for just how much it looks exactly like Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That on Television if it were laced with acid.

A short and sweet companion piece of sorts to the aforementioned Yule Log viral film which starts out conventional before slowly going boldly mad, Give Me Pity! doesn’t quite stoke the irritating antics of, say, Turtle Dreams but it does come close at times.  Not all of it works but it could well be the most insane feminist film of its ilk since The Other Side of the Underneath, a film that whips up the hysteria to fever pitch levels and asks you to question the reliability of what you’re seeing unfold.  Is it real or simply imagined by Sissy?  Give Me Pity! doesn’t tell nor does it wish for you to really know, just as long as you take a swim in its neon-saturated video imagery.  If nothing else, see it for the confident and fearless performance by its leading lady Sophie von Haselberg in a film that’s certain to blow the minds of a few adventurous filmgoers.

--Andrew Kotwicki