I first discovered Nollywood back in 2008, while killing time after we had finished packing for the World Science Fiction Convention/National Parks road trip that inspired my wife Emily to become a geologist – but that's another story. Clicking on the TV, I channel surfed into the farthest reaches of our cable service, and landed in a documentary called This is Nollywood. It blew my mind.
Already being a fan of the works of Nigerians like Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Amos Tutuola, as well as low-budget filmmaking from places beyond Hollywood, my curiosity was inflamed. I got online, did some searches, and found some trailers that also blew my mind.
I've shared these trailers on Facebook, and blogged about them more than once. When I need my emotions uplifted, I seek them out. They have a rapid-fire style that makes the movies seem even more outrageous. I hope to someday write short stories that pack that kind of a punch.
(Awk! I just found out that the trailers I embedded on those posts are no longer available on YouTube. Guess I'll have to do some more searching. But that's life in the Information Age . . . Meanwhile, dig the funkadelic digital fuzz!)
One movie that seem especially bizarre, and interesting, was Across the Bridge.
The trailers (at the time I found several) were incredible. It looked like blaxsploitation in Africa gone stark raving sci-fi. The laser-eyed giant-breasted goddess/devil is one of the most remarkable creations in fantasy film. Sure, her breasts are like something out of a cheapo Fifties Hollywood monster movie – Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman comes to mind – and her other special effects are examples of video primitivism, but she comes through with a power that today's CGI spectaculars can't match.
And the glimpses of Nigerian life – the clothes, neighborhoods, and curious practice of money spraying that I had heard about, but never seen, all promised an exciting new backdrop for the wild fantasy.
When I finally realized that entire movies could be found on YouTube (these last few years have been kind of hectic) I searched and found Across the Bridge. At first I thought the original had spawned a pair of sequels – I was thinking Hollywood structure and marketing – but to my surprise, Parts One, Two, and Three were sections of one long movie. It, like a lot of movies from other parts of the planet, has a slower pace than the manic trailers, and most of the first two parts deal with character development and motivation to want to “suck the breast of everlasting milk.”
I was a bit confused, but I was not disappointed.
The life in the Nigerian town, isolated, with tantalizing glimpses and tastes of a lavish consumer society just out of reach, was as fascinating as any science fiction or fantasy world. Everyone's jealous of those who seem more successful – but, of course, things aren't what they seem. It's the Nigerian Dream rather than the American Dream. Europe is the place where all the wonderful products come from. There it is: the reason for the upheaval and protests all over the world – including Nigeria.
Most of the wonderful cheap thrills of the trailer are concentrated in Part Three. I would recommend just watching that for most of you who are used to contemporary Hollywood's condensed storytelling, but you would miss out on a genuine chance to experience something outside the corporate-generated consumer reality of your pre-packaged life.
It's why I like to watch movies from other cultures without any Mystery Science Theater 3000-style buffering. You shouldn't face the alien with all your defenses up, hurling wisecracks to prove you are smarter than something you don't understand. How smart can you be if you aren't even trying to understand it?
If you cross the bridge, and let the alien weirdness sink into your brain, it just may expand your mind a little -- then you'll see things in the absurdity of it all that will make your laughter something greater.
You may also realize how much you have in common with the guys kneeling down before the tremendous breasts of the devil/goddess.