Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Davies, Karen Black, James Urbaniak, Josh Kornbluth, Thomas Jay Ryan
Written by: Lynn Hershman-Leeson
Directed by: Lynn Hershman-Leeson
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content
Running Time: 85
Date: 01/01/2002

Teknolust (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Clone Collector

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What do you get when you cross Tilda Swinton, three other Tilda Swintons, San Francisco, Karen Black, computers and donuts all wrapped up in a brightly-colored, digital package? An oddball, biotech Rocky Horror Picture Show for the intellectual set, that's what.

Local filmmaker Lynn Hershman-Leeson (Conceiving Ada) delivers a digital riff on biotechnology, sex and motherhood with Teknolust, a film that finally opens in Bay Area theaters almost a year and a half after its premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Swinton plays Rosetta Stone, a scientist who has created three computer clones of herself -- Ruby, Marine and Olive -- who live inside her computer. Unfortunately, since they lack a male element, Ruby must leave the computer from time to time, seduce random men and bring back their sperm to replenish the girls' health.

Another problem comes up when Ruby accidentally carries a virus with her that leaves her men infected with red, blotchy skin and a barcode on their foreheads. An FBI man (James Urbaniak, also in American Splendor) and a private eye (Karen Black), try to figure out what's going on.

Meanwhile, an ineffectual copy shop guy (Jeremy Davies) -- whose photocopies come out looking like strange, warbled artwork -- notices Ruby and falls in love with her.

Swinton gives a marvelous performance, giving each of her four personas a singular life force consisting of strengths and weaknesses. She's the female equivalent of Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers in that regard. And Josh Kornbluth shows up in a very funny supporting role as one of Ruby's "victims."

Shooting in high definition video, Hershman gives Teknolust a combination high-tech and low-budget look, which works perfectly for its intellectual "B" movie personality. The picture is just weird enough and contains enough odd dialogue and situations that it qualifies for future midnight showings -- although Teknolust discusses sex without necessarily being sexy, unlike Rocky Horror.

Intellectuals will have plenty to digest as well. While the computer clone Tildas know what they want and need, most of the human characters seem to lack something significant in their real lives. The Davies character delivers dialogue about where his job as a copy guy ranks in the grand scale of jobs, and even the FBI agent and the private dick are slightly less than human.

In regards to that, how can we dare to make copies of ourselves, when the original is still so imperfect? That's, of course, just one question in the midst of many, so grab a donut and your thinking cap and head out to the late, late show.

In 2010, Microcinema released a new DVD. Extras include an onstage discussion with Lynn Hershman-Leeson and Tilda Swinton, taped in 2009. There's also a short featurette about one of Hershman-Leeson's art projects. Image quality is just OK; it does not appear to have been remastered. In 2020, a Blu-ray was released.

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