As someone who has dabbled in writing fiction from time-to-time, I truly appreciate a good story. A well-crafted plot with defined characters and plot twists can is truly satisfying, and is something which is not easy to construct. This is one of the reasons that I really don't like what I usually refer to as "art films". To me, these are movies which eschew a linear story and well-defined characters and instead attempt to enthrall the audience with striking visuals or by evoking a certain mood. Granted, some filmmakers, such as David Lynch, are able to do this. But, it's not as easy as it looks. Mad Cowgirl is one of these "art films" which wants to be quirky and disturbing, but only manages to be boring and confusing.
(Mad Cowgirl is all over the map in terms of story, but for this synopsis I'll report the plot points which I'm fairly certain actually happened.) Therese (Sarah Lassez) is a health inspector who specializes in inspecting butcher shops and meat processing plants. Her brother, Thierry (James Duval) runs one such shop and Therese is constantly having to help him avoid violations. Therese has been seeing Pastor Dylan (Walter Koenig) and despite the fact that he can be cold, she thoroughly enjoys their relationship. Then, Therese's life begins to go through some turbulent ups and downs. Pastor Dylan ends their relationship and refuses to see Therese. Thus, she begins going to a new church, where she meets and befriends Aimee (Devon Odessa), and the two become quite close. Things go from bad to worse when Thierry informs Therese that he may have fed her beef infected with mad cow disease. Therese's doctor, Dr. Suzuki (Linton Semage) -- who doesn't speak English -- informs Therese that she may have a brain tumor. From this point, Therese's life become a blur of wandering and violence.
Whenever a movie which isn't West Side Story begins with an overture, I know I'm in trouble. The above synopsis gives way too much credit to the cohesiveness of Mad Cowgirl and makes the film sound much more linear and lucid than it is. Co-writer/director Gregory Hatanaka lets us know from the beginning that this is going to be an odd film, as the first scene -- following the overture -- looks like a performance art piece being performed on-stage as opposed to a movie. The film is full of random shots of cows, slices of beef, and politicians debating about mad cow disease. The movie is filled with jump-cuts, scenes which have no discernible beginning or ending, and many silent passages. Actually, when examined closely, there isn't a lot of meaningful dialogue in Mad Cowgirl. There are also many shots of churches, as the film has a not-so-subtle under-current of religious symbolism.
The fact that Hatanaka has taken a more experimental approach to Mad Cowgirl would be fine if any of it were interesting. As implied above, the characters are ill-defined and we are only given hints of a finite story. As if that weren't bad enough, the traits the characters do exhibit make them unlikable. This is all quite unfortunate, because I think that there could have been an interesting story in this movie, as the basic premise appears to be about a lonely, unhappy woman whose life gets even worse when she contracts mad cow disease and goes crazy. Kudos to Hatanaka for avoiding the true exploitation route with this story, but the resulting film is too jumbled for its own good. By relying on visuals to tell the story, Hatanaka has created a wildly uneven film which goes from being quite bleak and depressing in the middle to bordering on wild camp in the finale when the movie wants to dissolve into being a Technicolor martial arts film. (I fully realize that the scrambled nature of the piece could be mirroring Therese's frantic life, but that doesn't make the movie any more entertaining.)
Mad Cowgirl stampedes onto DVD courtesy of Cinema Epoch. The movie was shot on digital video. The image has been letterboxed at...well it's somewhere between 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 (??) and the image is 16 x 9. Overall, the picture looks fairly good, as the image is clear and free from grain. The colors are good and very vibrant during many scenes. But, the image does display some noticeable artifacting and video noise is prevalent in some scenes. This can be easily spotted in any shot where there is an abundance of black, as shimmering pixels appear on that portion of the screen.
This DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While most of the dialogue comes from the center channel, the stereo effects are quite abundant here. The film's stranger scenes do involve some notable surround sound action. However, I didn't not any significant bass response. The occasional subtitles in the film are white and are difficult to read at times.
The Mad Cowgirl DVD contains a few extras. The DVD contains 22 DELETED SCENES which offers NO PLAY ALL OPTION! Some of these scenes are 1.85:1, while others are 2.35:1, but the aspect ratio never changes in the finished film. The most interesting thing to note about these deleted scenes is that many of them are dialogue scenes. As noted above, the film contains many quiet passages and one has to wonder why Hatanaka removed so much talking from the movie. (Does this imply that he had no faith in the script?) "Beef Sides" is an assortment of 9 scenes which are bloopers, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes footage. Again, there is no PLAY ALL here. The extras are rounded out by a STILL GALLERY, BIOGRAPHIES for cast & crew, and a TRAILER for the film.
I must admit that I feel duped by Mad Cowgirl. The cover art and the synopsis that I'd gave me the impression that this was going to be a wild, nasty cult film in which a woman went crazy and killed a bunch of people. I'm fairly certain that this actually happens in Mad Cowgirl, but the film's obtuse approach of the material made it cold and boring.