Predictions of Fire (Michael Benson)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

Interesting subject matter does not automatically make for an interesting documentary -- contrary to what is apparently the popular belief of many of the folks who make them. Last year's Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey chronicled events so mind-bogglingly surreal and inherently fascinating that it survived Steven M. Martin's careless, sluggish direction; Predictions of Fire, a less remarkable tale (though one with great potential), is not so fortunate. Written and directed by Michael Benson, who never met a frame of archival footage he didn't like, it examines the Slovenian performance-art/industrial-rock/political-gadfly collective known as Neue Slowenische Kunst (New Slovenian Culture), or NSK, which comes across in the film as a politicized, Eastern European version of groups like The Residents and Devo. Claiming that art and totalitarianism are in no way mutually exclusive, NSK stages provocative and controversial theatrical events -- onstage, or in public spaces like Moscow's Red Square, or even in self-created "foreign embassies" -- which incorporate plentiful fascist iconography but are untempered by any clear indication of irony or cynicism. In interviews, however, Laibach -- the rock group involved with NSK -- maintains that they are fascists "as much as Hitler was a painter." Does this not sound like something you'd like to know more about? Me too; trouble is, I've already seen Predictions of Fire. Benson's rambling, incoherent film offers the haziest view imaginable: lulling the viewer to sleep early on with a history of Slovenia and the former Yugoslavia that would feel right at home in a fourth-grade filmstrip; conducting interviews with talking heads who tell us nothing that we can't easily deduce for ourselves (oh, are some people upset by the use of fascist iconography?); and laboriously avoiding and sidestepping every important question that it manages to raise, apart from the simplistic "are-they-or-aren't-they?" debate. Even the voiceover narration is boring, delivered in a listless monotone by a man who could clear a Rotary Club luncheon in three minutes flat. Sadly, this is almost certainly the only movie that will ever be made about NSK, barring Laibach's sudden appearance at the top of the Billboard pop charts, so it'll have to do. If you're intrigued by the subject, it's better than nothing.