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The List Thus Far (Certified Weird Movies)

3 Women (1977)

8 1/2 (1963)

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Akira (1988)

Alice [Neco Z Alenky] (1988)

Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Allegro non Troppo (1976)

Altered States (1980)

The American Astronaut (2001)

Antichrist (2009)

Archangel (1990)

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Barbarella (1968)

Barton Fink (1991)

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Begotten (1991)

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Belle de Jour (1967)

Black Swan (2010)

Blood Diner (1987)

Blood Tea and Red String (2006)

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Branded to Kill (1967)

Brazil (1985)

Bronson (2008)

Careful (1992)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] (1994)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

The City of Lost Children [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

Clean, Shaven (1993)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Cowards Bend the Knee, or, the Blue Hands (2003)

Daisies [Sedmikrásky] (1966)

The Dark Backward (1991)

Dead Man (1995)

Dead Ringers (1988)

Delicatessen (1991)

Dillinger is Dead (1969)

Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez! (2012)

Dogtooth [Kynodontas] (2009)

Dogville (2003)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Don't Look Now (1973)

Elevator Movie (2004)

Enemy (2013)

Enter the Void (2009)

Eraserhead (1977)

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Evil Dead II (1987)

Eyes Without a Face [Les Yeux sans Visage] (1965)

Fantastic Planet [La Planète Sauvage] (1973)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Final Flesh (2009)

Forbidden Zone (1982)

Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Gothic (1986)

Gozu (2003)

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Greaser's Palace (1972)

Gummo (1997)

Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] (1922)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Help! Help! The Globolinks [Hilfe! Hilfe! Die Globolinks] (1969)

Holy Motors (2012)

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Horrors of Spider Island [Ein Toter hing im Netz] (1960)

House [Hausu] (1977)

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I Can See You (2008)

Idiots and Angels (2008)

I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK [Saibogujiman Kwenchana] (2006)

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

L'Immortelle (1963)

Ink (2009)

INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

John Dies at the End (2012)

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Keyhole (2011)

Kontroll (2003)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Kwaidan (1964)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

The Legend of Suram Fortress [Ambavi Suramis Tsikhitsa] (1984)

Lisztomania (1975)

Little Otik [Otesánek] (2000)

Lost Highway (1997)

Love Exposure (2008)

Lucifer Rising (1981)

Maelstrom (2000)

Malpertuis (1972)

Maniac (1934)

Marquis (1989)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

The Milky Way [La Voie Lactee] (1969)

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Naked Lunch (1991)

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nostalghia (1983)

O Lucky Man! (1973)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Paprika (2006)

Performance (1968/1970)

Persona (1966)

Phantasm (1979)

Pi (1998)

The Pillow Book (1996)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Floyd the Wall (1982)

Prospero's Books (1991)

The Red Squirrel [La Ardilla Roja] (1993)

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Repo Man (1984)

A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

Repulsion (1965)

Robot Monster (1953)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Rubber (2010)

Run Lola Run (1998)

The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

Sans Soleil (1983)

Santa Sangre (1989)

The Science of Sleep (2006)

A Serious Man (2009)

Shanks (1974)

Shock Corridor (1963)

Silent Hill (2006)

Sin City (2005)

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

Skidoo (1968)

Solaris [Solyaris] (1972) -

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

Stalker (1979)

Steppenwolf (1974)

Strange Frame: Love & Sax (2012)

Suspiria (1977)

Sweet Movie (1974)

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987)

Taxidermia (2006)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tideland (2005)

Time Bandits (1981)

The Tin Drum (1979)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

El Topo (1970)

Toto the Hero [Toto le Heros] (1991)

Trash Humpers (2009)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Trial (1962)

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Tromeo & Juliet (1996)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Upstream Color (2013)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Vertigo (1958)

Videodrome (1983)

Visitor Q (2001)

Waking Life (2001)

Weekend (1967)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Yellow Submarine (1968)

You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007)

Zardoz (1974)

ALEX MONTY CANAWATI’S RETURN TO BABYLON

In 1999, Alex Monty Canawati and his producer found a factory sealed bag of 16mm black and white Ilford film on Hollywood Boulevard. Using this, Canawati and his team began Birth of Babylon, which won Best Short Film at the Arpa Foundation film festival in 2001. This short silent film depicts the infamous, still officially unsolved murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor (played by Jack Atlantis). The Taylor murder involved a who’s who list of Hollywood celebrities as suspects. Among those were Mary Miles Minter (Devora Lillian) and Mabel Normand (Morganne Picard). Although no one was charged, the highly publicized investigation effectively destroyed the careers of the two actresses connected to the case (in 1964 silent actress Margaret Gibson confessed to the killing of Taylor on her deathbed).  The Taylor murder came a mere five months after the Roscoe Arbuckle rape scandal and was followed by the drug-related deaths of silent stars Olive Thomas and Barbara La Marr (Wendy Caron), prompting Hollywood to write morality clauses into its contracts. This regulation eventually gave birth to the Hayes Code.

Canawati had attended the University of Southern California and discovered a fascination for silent film aesthetics and . Apart from , Canawati was the only filmmaker of note producing silent films a full decade before the populist, Academy Award winning The Artist (2011). However, Canawati was not content with Birth as a short and wanted to expand it into a feature, encompassing far more than a single representative event of silent cinema. Due to financial struggles, Return to Babylon (2013) took over a decade to see fruition. It has been worth the wait.

Far from a mere nostalgia piece, Return to Babylon sports a beautiful ensemble cast, an authentic love of craft, and almost surreal, Catholic reverence for Hollywood’s silent era, which makes this Canawati’s own take, as opposed to Anger’s “dripping with cynicism” version of Hollywood Babylon. Canawati does not judge his subjects, and imbues his film with an all too rare and refreshing aesthetic joy.

Still from RETURN TO BABYLONTrue to the tenets of silent film, Return to Babylon is episodic, opening (and closing) with the notorious vamp Theda Bara (played by Sylvia B. Suarez) gazing into her crystal ball. It almost plays like an “Inner Sanctum” episode, with a real-life silent actress serving as the introductory host. Canawati stamps the flow of his film with idiosyncratic verve, making these episodes feel like jazz miniatures. Like Kurt Weill (a jazzy period composer whose music is utilized in the film), Canawati is prone to moments of seductive dissonance. In the opening, this dissonance takes the form of bursting legendary bubbles, yet one senses Canawati’s sincere embrace of the truth behind (what the sur-titles refer to as) “Hollywood: Metropolis of make believe.”

“It” girl Clara Bow (Jennifer Tilly) is one of the funnest of the silent sex kittens because her short career was replete with jaw-dropping scandals (most of which were true). Tilly, with an astute actor’s instinct, realizes this and makes for a commanding, humorous presence. Although her appearance is brief, it may be one of this underrated actress’ best performances.

The crystal ball often serves as a silent film iris (with surreal imagery, including a ghost fairy) introducing us to the likes of Alla Nazimova (), Louise Brooks (Shiva Rose), Josephine Baker (Rolanda Watts) and the tragic Alma Rubens (Marina Bakica). Canawati uses the music intelligently, juxtaposing Tchaikovsky’s manic-depressive “Swan Lake” with the read of Rubens’ imaginary lines. In addition to Tchaikovsky, Return to Babylon is a lucid example of artful eclecticism: Beethoven’s “Symphony Seven”, Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, Liszt’s ““Totentanz”, Brahms’ “German Requiem” and Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” all make the film as enjoyable to listen to as it is to watch.

Still from RETURN TO BABYLONTheda’s crystal abruptly transports us to the egomaniacal Erich Von Stroheim (Robert Sherman), and the doomed pair of Roscoe Arbuckle (Brett Ashy) and Virginia Rappe (Ione Skye). The tensions between Gloria Swanson (Debi Mazar) and studio head Adolf Zukor (Michael Goldman) are bitingly funny, as is Zuckor’s secretary, Mrs. Peabody (Tippi Hedren) and her trusty typewriter fending off an octet of silent stars nervous about transitioning to sound.

Even more whimsical pathos comes in the Lupe Velez vignette (featuring Maria Conchita Alonso, who also produced this feature). The hot-tempered Mexican spitfire took on Hollywood’s biggest studs, such as Tarzan Johnny Wiesmuller (Kevin Dailey, losing his loincloth) and Gary Cooper (Shane Markland) before her suicide as a pregnant, unwed Hollywood has been.

Canawati himself takes on the role of the enigmatic Rudolf Valentino, tragically short lived, disastrously married to three lesbians, yet dying at the right time (just before the coming of sound, which would undoubtedly have destroyed his career).

There is much more to Return to Babylon. Canwati is taking it to festivals and planning a DVD version with extended paranormal scenes. Already the film shows that essential silent film milieu: an ethereal, long dead, imaginary world.

Hollywood hollywood

Fabulous Follywood

Celluloid Babylon, glorious glamorous

City Delirious

Frivolous, serious

Goal of ambitious

And vicious and clamorous

These were the infamous

Innocent, sinfamous

Striving, conniving to gain recognition,

Faddists, fanatics

Fighting for fame

In the flickering fiction

(Spectral dance flickering )

Treachery, loyalty,

Celluloid royalty

Pickfords and Chaplins,

DeMilles and the Gishes,

Stars meteoric

Romantic, caloric

Peers in the kingdom of

Visions and wishes

Drama, a city full,

Tragic and pitiful,

Bunk, junk, and genius

amazingly blended.

Tawdry, tremendous,

Absurd and stupendous,

Shoddy and cheap…

And astoundingly splendid.

Donald Benson, “Hollywood”

Original “Birth of Babylon” (1999) short

Return to Babylon official blog

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