Joe Begos’s Bliss is a frenetic, strobe- and flash-filled look at the desperation surrounding artistic creation. It’s bad about the process of creativity–a common failing; it’s far harder to find movies that are good at it–and the way art actually made when it doesn’t involve slathering on paint in the middle of a drug-fueled ecstatic frenzy, but it’s good at evoking the crushing pressure of deadlines and artistic block. “What would you do to have your gift work the way you want it?” is an old question, and Begos answers it with a weird little psychedelic thriller where only blood can cut through all the fog and extraneous noise in its main character’s life.
Dora Madison plays Dezzy, a visual artist who has had some degree of success–enough to be recognized and approached by a fan at a bar, which I’m assuming has happened almost never. Nevertheless, her career is in decline. The gallery is no longer moving her pieces like they used to, and she’s behind on delivering her latest work; her agent is dropping her, and her landlord is angrily reminding her that the rent is due. Madison’s Dezzy seems to have no core, as if her artistic block has eradicated her sense of self. She has a boyfriend, but idly imagines dumping him for someone better, and doesn’t let that commitment get in the way of an impulsive threesome. She’s been sober for months–the film is ambiguous about whether Dezzy ever had an addiction or just stayed away from partying for a while–but this combination of crises sends her to her dealer, who lets her have something rare and special. It is, he warns her, particularly potent.
The best high of Dezzy’s life ensues, along with a creative outpouring that leads to what she thinks might be her masterpiece. The blackouts and craving for blood are the only inconveniences.
Bliss is busily miserable, with Dezzy throwing herself into parties and sex and violence as the camera throws itself into the next flash of light and the next flash of sound; there’s a hollowness to it that works thematically but also makes it feel as if, despite all the blood, there’s no meat to be had.
Bliss is available streaming on Shudder.