Dances With Films 2014: ‘The Ballad of Snake Oil Sam’ - Film Review

The Ballad of Snake Oil Sam is a surreal, colorful, and somewhat fantastical short film. The official description hails it as a “desert Steampunk fantasy,” but I wouldn’t really call it Steampunk. Still, it’s very visually striking and mesmerizing to watch all the way through.  

The 13-minute film by Arlene Bogna is entirely wordless, except for a few haunting whispers. We follow Snake Oil Sam as he prepares to do a medicine show in the desert. He experiments meticulously with potions and elixirs, trying to find the exact mixture that he’s looking for . . . but he seems to be suffering from Potion Block.  

I hesitate to get into too much more detail about the plot, since the film is so short. But, honestly, the plot itself hardly matters here. The film is very stylized and rather abstract, to the point where a full description of the events from beginning to end wouldn’t actually ruin anything. You won’t really get it until you see it for yourself.  

It’s definitely a film worth seeing, too. Everything about it is strange and beautiful, from the costumes to the soundtrack (by West Indian Girl) to the desert setting itself. There’s a lot to take in, but don’t waste too much time trying to figure out exactly what’s going on at any given time. Just let it wash over you like a warm desert wind, and experience it as it is. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll probably want to watch it again.

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