These last few days, I revisited Jerry Zucker’s supernatural romantic classic, Ghost. Released in the summer of 1990, the main storyline revolved around Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) and his spirit that sticks around after a not so accidental murder. He attempts to contact his wife utilizing a con artist sidekick, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in an Oscar-winning performance). Oda Mae has been profiting off naive believers as she pretends to able to connect with the dead loved ones, offering stronger connections for an extra twenty bucks. It’s not until Sam shows up that she realizes she actually has a gift that has passed down throughout her family.
When a copy of Arrow Video’s release of BLACK RAINBOW landed on my doorstep, I have to admit this was my first time ever hearing of it. The new cover art was intriguing with transparent arms reaching out towards a woman clad in white, sitting in a throne-like chair with a cigarette in hand. Flipping over the case, I was excited to see that the woman was actually Rosanna Arquette, whom I grew up loving in Desperately Seeking Susan, but fell deeper admiration with Quentin Tarantino’s box office hit, Pulp Fiction.
The connection between BLACK RAINBOW and Ghost is not hard to decipher: Martha Travis (Arquette) travels on the road with her alcoholic father (Jason Robards, Once Upon A Time In The West) providing false hope on stage as a supposed clairvoyant. Her act is far from perfect as audience members aren’t afraid to point out missing details and she finds herself stuck on stage, forced to improv. However, one of these mishaps leads to her facing an actual vision, not of the dead, but of someone about to die. This ticks off her skeptic father who is simply in the game for financial gain, but Martha believes otherwise.
BLACK RAINBOW doesn’t play it straight as this is not a ghost story or that of connecting with our loved ones. Director Mike Hodges instead tells the story out of chronological order with a good chunk of the film set several years after the primary storyline. Another skeptic, a journalist, is following this father-daughter team, but seems to only find her in those later years as seen in the opening sequence. He’s also investigating the death she saw as a prophecy due to its violent nature as well as motives connected to corporate malpractices at a power plant.
Per Hodges, Martha Travis was inspired by Doris Stokes, a professional medium that toured Britain. He became fascinated with her and placed her character in America’s Bible Belt. Blending thriller aspects with quantum theory, BLACK RAINBOW sets up its own rules and is difficult to describe in a simple synopsis. This is probably why it never received a large theatrical release, shoved towards the home video market.
It’s important to point out that distribution was handled by Miramax, as in Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. Anyone who pays any attention to the media or even reading this review will be familiar with the #MeToo movement as well as the fact that Arquette is a vocal supporter of that movement. Supporting the safety of women in the workplace, it’s interesting to visit BLACK RAINBOW as her character fights for a similar cause in a film diminished financially by the monster who felt the consequences of said movement.
Arrow Video has provided plenty of archival material such as featurettes and a making-of documentary, but also gives a newly recorded audio commentary by film historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. Hodges oversaw and approved the new restoration which provides a sleek vision of a smaller seen movie from 1989.
BLACK RAINBOW will find a new audience with an original twist on a clairvoyant story.
You can now pre-order the DVD on Arrow Video here.