Zeitgeist opens an ongoing multidisciplinary series titled "Anachronistic World of Steampunk Art" with a film and concert Friday, Feb. 4. There's also an art show. The feature film Zenith by Vladan Nikolic combines retro and futuristic elements — and bills itself as steampunk — but ultimately it's a dystopic conspiracy thriller with some crafty nods to Fight Club and the novel Fahrenheit 451, with some Blair Witch Project jittery hand-cam effects.
Steampunk is most simply summed up as a time-warping fusion of technology and aesthetics, as in a computer powered by a steam engine or space travelers in Victorian garb. In Zenith, there's a time gap bridged by videotapes. In 2044, the main character Jack (Peter Scanavino) is disillusioned with his world and believes global conspiritorial activities are depriving individuals of free will. He's convinced the masses have been genetically altered to be blissfully ignorant, rendering them intellectually blank and apolitical. On the personal side, his father was obsessed with conspiracies, and Jack traces both his father's identity and shadowy figures and plots via a series of videotapes left for him to discover. The tapes allow Zenith to jump back and forth in time, and there are scenes with Jack talking to the camera, suggesting he also is making tapes (digital messages in a bottle) for future generations — or actually, the viewing audience, in order to spur us to join the resistance movement.
Jack finds fellow travelers in an erudite prostitute and an embittered bookshop owner. In both the present and videotaped past, mysterious agents and thugs seem to close in on people who may be on the brink of exposing the Bilderbergers or whatever grand cabal it is that the rebellious individuals are probing.
Vladan's film often is entertainingly fast-paced and visceral — like Fight Club — in heated nightclub sex scenes, drug deals and a couple of bruising interrogations. At other times, it delves into obscure maundering and paranoia. Heavy use of conspiracy buzzwords and some contrivances (like the official billing "a film by anonymous") may help it become a cult film for people who enjoy conspiracy kitsch, but it indulges a few too many conspiracy cliches. Vladan's filmmaking is impressive, but the movie is more enjoyable as pulp fiction than the ominous, almost believable harbinger he seems to have had in mind.
Also screening are the short films Cell Phone Psycho by local filmmaker David S. White and Nickel Children. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
7:30 p.m. Friday-through Feb. 10
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net