Black Rainbow is a film by the British director Mike Hodges, who also made the undisputed masterpiece of a British crime movie, Get Carter. Hodges has had a very interesting but spotty career, with his most well-known film worldwide being Flash Gordon. He has also done movies he’s disowned, and his last two were a pair of good British crime films with Clive Owen.
Black Rainbow is a really odd movie that he made at the end of the 1980s. It was pretty much buried by both the UK and US distributors, Palace and Miramax, respectively. People who saw it said it was his best work since Get Carter, which was probably accurate, although there’s a lot of love for Flash Gordon as well. I don’t quite get it, but Flash Gordon is fine for the incredibly campy movie it is. Black Rainbow is a very intriguing, possibly supernatural, thriller. Rosanna Arquette plays a medium who contacts the dead. Her father is played by Jason Robards. From the get-go you have a suspicion that these two are not the most honest people. A journalist starts investigating what’s going on when Arquette predicts the incredibly violent death of a whistleblower at a local factory.
It’s one of the first movies of the ‘80s to go into the religious hucksters—with televangelists becoming a big thing in the 80s, there was plenty to look at (although her character is a much nicer person than most of them, and you can have some sympathy for her). It’s all told in a sort of weird flashback structure, which doesn’t quite come together in a really satisfying way. There’s an enigmatic ending that leaves you wondering exactly what happened, although something supernatural is suggested.
The film holds together mostly because of Arquette’s performance. She’d actually had quite an interesting career at that point, having just come off of working with Martin Scorsese twice, on After Hours and his fantastic segment in New York Stories, which the only real reason to see that film. It’s difficult to play a person who is clearly some kind of huckster but still leave the audience caring about them—and so it’s a very good performance. Robards is really strong in it as well. He’s always good, of course, and it probably helps that he was a notorious atheist. Tom Hulce is perfectly fine in his role as the journalist.
Black Rainbow is one of Mike Hodges’ better movies, well-made and well-shot. It has a sort of Twin Peaks-ish vibe, although it actually came out a bit before that series. There’s stuff in it that will definitely remain in your head, but if Hodges had figured out how to do the ending correctly, that would certainly have helped the film a bit. So, it’s a film that is ripe for rediscovery.
There are some extras, including an archival featurette from the old Anchor Bay DVD, archival EPK interviews and featurettes that are just strung-together versions of interview clips, an audio commentary track by film historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan and another audio commentary with Hodges, and the trailer. The first pressing also has a booklet with new writing on the film by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Hodges and more.