Category Archives: Certified Weird (The List)

120. FANTASTIC PLANET [LA PLANETE SAUVAGE] (1973)

“Cinema is showing more and more. It’s a paranoid, dictatorial cinema. And it’s saying less and less. We need a schizophrenic cinema.”–René Laloux

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DIRECTED BY: René Laloux

FEATURING: Eric Baugin, Jennifer Drake, Jean Valmont (voices)

PLOT: On a fantastic planet full of strange creatures, a race of mystical giant blue aliens (named “Traags”) treat humans (called “Oms”) as either pets, or as pests to be exterminated. An orphan Om dubbed Ter is adopted by a young Traag, but eventually escapes captivity, taking along an encyclopedic headband that holds all the aliens’ knowledge of their world. He meets up with a band of wild Oms scratching out a living in the surreal landscape and, using the alien technology, fashions a plan for humanity to escape its captivity.

Still from Fantastic Planet (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fantastic Planet was a French/Czechoslovakian co-production, and is often assumed to be an allegory for the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. The similarity between the enslavement of the Czechs and the Oms is coincidental, however. Fantastic Planet was based on a science fiction novel written by Stefan Wul in 1957. Laloux only used Czech animators because there was no real animation industry in France at the time and the Czechs worked cheaply; he began production in 1968, before the Soviet invasion. The newly installed Czech puppet regime canceled the production, but eventually relented, and work resumed in 1971.
  • The Czech animation team reportedly tried to depose Laloux and install one of their own animators as director. The coup failed, and friendly relations were restored.
  • “Oms,” the term the aliens use to refer to humans, is a corruption of the French word “hommes” (“men”). The original French novel was titled Oms en série (“Oms in series”), which is also an electrical pun (“Ohms in series”).
  • Writer/painter Roland Topor was the production designer for the film and the man responsible for much of the movie’s surreal look. Topor drew up the designs and the original cutouts used in the production, but left the project before animation began. Topor was a bit of a weird movie polymath; besides working on Fantastic Planet, he wrote the novel on which  Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) was based, and appeared as Renfield in ‘s Nosferatu the Vampire (1979). Topor was also one of the three co-founders of the French theatrical “Panic movement,” together with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
  • Fantastic Planet won the Special Jury Prize (the second most prestigious award) at Cannes in 1973.
  • The movie was distributed in the United States by Roger Corman‘s New World Pictures, known mainly for their drive-in exploitation movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The twisted topography of Fantastic Planet features flying sawtooth-beaked anteaters, bat-winged flora straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s worst nightmares, and glittering crystals which spontaneously grow and shatter with a whistle. Selecting a single souvenir snapshot from among these startling vistas would be an impossible task. Fortunately, Fantastic Planet‘s artists animate not only landscapes, but mindscapes as well, illustrating the giant blue Traag’s spiritual expeditions by showing their heads floating away in giant soap-bubbles and other trippy tropes. From among these, we’ll choose the moment when four Traags’ close their eyes and blank out while their bodies do impressions of lava lamps, morphing and flowing like heated wax, as the film’s indelible image (though we’d be unable to quarrel with anyone who chose to canonize almost any other moment of the film).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Terry Gilliam-meets-Salvador Dalí-in-space animation combined

American trailer for Fantastic Planet

with the acidic prog-rock soundtrack encourages (or even precipitates) altered states of viewing, but Fantastic Planet is more than just an astral trip. It’s a solid sci-fi parable set in a fully realized, incredibly detailed, and truly alien world that provokes more and more astonishment with each succeeding scene.

COMMENTS: Made between 1968 and 1973, at the height of the Acid Era, Fantastic Planet Continue reading 120. FANTASTIC PLANET [LA PLANETE SAUVAGE] (1973)

119. MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943)

“This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.”–Maya Deren, notes on Meshes of the Afternoon

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: , Alexander Hammid

FEATURING: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

PLOT: Approaching her apartment one afternoon, a woman picks up a flower, sees a figure disappearing around a corner down the garden path, then fumbles her key as she tries to unlock the door to her room. She goes upstairs and falls asleep in a chair looking out of the window, where she has a series of dreams that recombine these simple events and objects in unexpected ways. Doubles appear, she floats up the staircase, and the person she briefly glimpsed earlier appears as a figure of menace haunting the corners of her mind.

Still from Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

BACKGROUND:

  • Deren legally changed her first name from Eleanora to Maya (Sanskrit for “illusion”) just before embarking on her career as a filmmaker with Meshes.
  • Alexander Hammid, Deren’s second husband, co-created and appears in Meshes as “the Man.” The music that now accompanies the film was added in 1957 and was composed by Deren’s third husband, Teijo Ito.
  • Some commentators, including avant-garde director Stan Brakhage (who knew the couple) claim that Meshes was largely the work of Hammid rather than Deren, who went on to have the more noted career.
  • Meshes was made for $275 (which would be about $3,500 today adjusted for inflation). Deren once joked that she made movies for what Hollywood spent on lipstick.
  • Added to the National Film Registry in 1990. The registry began in 1989 with twenty five American films worthy of preservation due to their historical and artistic importance and adds twenty five more films each year since; Meshes was in the second class inducted.
  • Deren, a Ukrainian immigrant, was the first avant-garde filmmaker working outside the studio system of any importance in the United States. She was also a lecturer, wrote articles on film theory, and established the Creative Film Foundation and the Film-Makers Co-op. She unexpectedly died of a brain hemorrhage at 44 while studying and filming Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The image film critics usually invoke when describing Meshes is Deren with her face and palms pressed up against the windowpane, the reflections of palm trees merging into her curly black hair and an inscrutable expression on her face. The picture has an undeniable metaphorical power: here we see a portrait of the psyche, the plane where reflections from the external world merge into the self. But while there’s an undeniable intellectual appeal to that selection, we’re going to go instead with something freakier and more nightmarishly visceral: the cloaked form with a mirror for a face, a mysterious figure into whom the sleeping protagonist pours her suppressed fears and anxieties.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Many weird movies are about dreams, or plumb the sleeping mind to exploit dream logic and plunder the unconscious’ mutated symbols, but Meshes of the Afternoon is probably the most psychologically accurate dream movie ever made. From the way it repurposes everyday events and objects, turning keys into knives and passing pedestrians into emissaries of the unknown, to its impossible geometries where windows open onto stairs and distant beaches, Meshes captures the architecture of a dream—and traps us inside it.


Film student analysis of a scene from Meshes of the Afternoon

COMMENTS: A mesh is a net or a web, and this afternoon the strands that trap our nameless Continue reading 119. MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943)

118. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE [LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE] (2003)

AKA Belleville Rendez-vous (UK theatrical release)

Must See

“Don’t want to end my days in Acapulco
Stiff as a board, dancing the tango.
I’d love to be twisted, utterly twisted,
Twisted like a triplet from Belleville.

Swinging Belleville rendez-vous,
Marathon dancing doop dee doo.
Voodoo can can, balais taboo,
Au Belleville swinging rendez-vous…”
–English lyrics from “The Triplets of Belleville”

DIRECTED BY: Sylvain Chomet

FEATURING: There are voice actors, but the film is nearly silent

PLOT: An indefatigable old woman tries to rescue her cyclist grandson from the clutches of the mafia, with the help of her train-hating dog and a long-forgotten, frog-eating trio of Depression-era superstar singing sisters.

Still from The Triplets of Belleville

BACKGROUND:

  • Nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature (the first PG-13-rated movie ever nominated in the category, it lost to Finding Nemo) and Best Song (which fell victim to that year’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King juggernaut).
  • Writer-director Chomet began his career as a comic strip artist. His first animated film, The Old Lady and the Pigeons, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The stars of that film make a cameo appearance here.
  • Composer Benoit Charest’s score actually utilizes some of the fanciful instruments that appear onscreen, such as newspaper, refrigerator shelves, and a canister vacuum cleaner.
  • Although mostly animated traditionally, Chomet used 3-D computer animation for machines, such as cars and bicycles, which he argued would be too boring to animate properly by hand.
  • Gypsy-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (an obvious inspiration for the music who has an animated cameo in the film’s first scene) recorded a song titled “Belleville” in 1942. The Triplets themselves suggest the three Andrews Sisters, whose popularity peaked in the 1940s.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For a film built on memorable imagery, picking one is difficult choice. A tiny pedal boat chasing an enormous ship across a storm-tossed ocean? The explosive geyser that creates its own rain of frogs, or the gourmet meal that results? The city of Belleville, all enormous buildings and a fat Statue of Liberty hoisting a burger? A strong argument for each of them, but I’ll go with the monochromatic dreams of Bruno the dog, who imagines a dreamworld railroad in which he is towed by his master around the rim of a gargantuan food dish.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The film delicately blends a thoroughly unpredictable storyline, an artistic style at once beautiful and grotesque, and a fierce sentimental streak. Any one of these elements alone could have been off-putting, but Chomet pulls off the delicate balancing act, managing to capture the heartwarming ugliness of a cartoon by Charles Addams or Ronald Searle. As a result, truly bizarre moments arouse a sense of wonder rather than repulsion.


Original trailer from The Triplets of Belleville

COMMENTS: That plot description up there? Provides absolutely no insight into the twists and Continue reading 118. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE [LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE] (2003)

117. UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929)

An Andalusian Dog

“No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted… We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.”–Luis Buñuel on Un Chien Andalou

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DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff

PLOT: A man slits open a woman’s eyeball with a straight razor. “Eight years later” another man visits the woman in her apartment and apparently tries to rape her, but finds himself tied to two grand pianos bearing dead donkeys and priests. After further absurd adventures the woman walks through her apartment door and finds her lover on the beach; the happy couple stroll along, though “in spring” they are seen buried in the sand up to their waists, apparently dead.

Still from Un Chien Andalou (1929)

BACKGROUND:

  • Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí co-wrote the scenario; each of them would reject an idea suggested by the other if they thought it made too much sense. The concept for the film arose when Buñuel described a dream he had about a cloud slicing the moon like a razor, and Dalí countered with a dream about a man with ants crawling from a hole in his hand.
  • Buñuel appears as the man who sharpens the razor in the opening scene. Dalí appears as one of the priests who finds himself surprised to be tied to a piano.
  • Un Chien Andalou debuted as part of an avant-garde double feature alongside Man Ray’s Les mystères du château de Dé. Buñuel and Dalí reportedly hid behind a curtain and carried rocks in his pocket to defend themselves in case the audience rioted, but were disappointed when the movie was well-received.
  • Un Chien Andalou is sometimes called the first “Surrealist” film. Germaine Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergymen had debuted a year earlier, but the film’s Surrealist screenwriter Antonin Artaud denounced Dulac’s finished work as distorting his views, and even staged a riot at the film’s opening in protest. Still, Man Ray and Rene Clair had produced films that could easily be called “Surrealist” as early as 1924. There is no doubt that if it was not the first, Un Chien Andalou was at least the most memorable and influential of this small group of experimental films from the 1920s.
  • Un Chien Andalou is widely considered to be one of the most important movies ever made. Roger Ebert called it “the most famous short film ever made,” it is listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and it tied for #28 in Sight and Sound’s influential poll of the greatest films ever made (1992 edition), among other honors.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We chose an indelible image for every movie that makes the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies, and the choice is not always obvious. Un Chien Andalou is a relief in that there’s no possible controversy over our selection of the eyeball slitting sequence as the film’s unforgettable moment. This is one of the most iconic moments in all of cinema; no one can watch it without wincing. It is also the film’s only obvious metaphor: the razor is Un Chien Andalou and the eye is the spectator, and this is what the one intends to do to the other.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The word “surreal” is thrown about a lot when talking about unusual


Short clip from Un Chien Andalou

films. Un Chien Andalou is the real deal, the original Surrealist sensation whose impact all the others have been trying to imitate to for almost a century. It is the undiluted essence of the pure unconscious spilled onto celluloid like vitreous humor. At a mere 17 minutes it’s the perfect length for a pure Surrealist movie; it hits hard and never overstays its welcome. It’s shocking, disturbing, full of marvels and uncomfortably hilarious; in other words, weird, weird, weird.

COMMENTS: A cloud hits the moon. Eyeball jelly oozes around a straight razor. A man rides a Continue reading 117. UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929)

116. DAISIES (1966)

Sedmikrásky

RecommendedWeirdest!

“If there’s something you don’t like, don’t keep to the rules – break them. I’m an enemy of stupidity and simple-mindedness in both men and women and I have rid my living space of these traits.”–Vera Chytilová in a 2000 interview with The Guardian

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová,

PLOT: Two doll-like young women in bikinis theorize that because the entire world is becoming spoiled, they will be spoiled too. They set off on a series of anarchic adventures, many of which involve them permitting old men to take them to expensive dinners. Their surreal, sexy excursions are interrupted by Dadaist collages and sudden changes of film stock, and climax in a slapstick pie fight.

Still from Daisies (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  •  Although Daisies is frequently interpreted as a feminist statement, director Vera Chytilová denied that was her intent and preferred to describe the movie as “a philosophical documentary in the form of a farce.”
  • In 1966 film composer made his acting debut in two films: a small role as the butterfly-collecting beau in Daisies and in the major part of an absurd apparatchik in A Report on the Party and Guests.
  • Writer Ester Krumbachová co-scripted the screenplays for both Daisies and Report and also designed the sets and costumes for Daisies.
  • The Czechoslovakian censors banned Daisies in 1967 (at the same meeting in which they banned Jan Nemec’s overtly political A Report on the Party and Guests). Chytilová made one more feature in 1969, the equally surreal We Eat the Fruit of the Trees of Paradise, after which she was forbidden to make any more films for six years until she successfully appealed the government ban on her work.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Marie II (I think; the blond one with the circlet of wildflowers) modestly trying to hide her nudity behind her suitor’s butterfly cases is an image that’s so highly charged it graces every DVD cover. The picture perfectly encapsulates Daisies‘ knowingly naughty innocence.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Watching the bright colors and bratty joie de vivre of Marie I and II as


Short clip from Daisies

they slash and burn their way through square society, cutting up phallic symbols and the film stock itself with scissors, it’s hard to believe that Daisies wasn’t produced under the influence of drugs. Made a year before and half a world away from San Francisco’s Summer of Love, this proto-flower power film nonetheless captures the anarchic spirit of Sixties psychedelia; it’s a relic from an alternate universe populated by sexy Czech hippy chicks with serious cases of the munchies. Alternately described as a feminist manifesto, a consumerist satire, and a Dadaist collage, it seems that no one—possibly including the director herself—is quite clear on what Daisies is supposed to be about. Does it matter? No, it doesn’t.

COMMENTS: Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a censor in Communist Czechoslovakia in Continue reading 116. DAISIES (1966)

115. A REPORT ON THE PARTY AND GUESTS (1966)

O slavnosti a hostech

“When one lives in a society that is essentially not free, it is the obligation of every thinking person to attack obstacles to freedom in every way at his disposal.”–Jan Nemec

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ivan Vyskocil,

PLOT: Seven people are pleasantly picnicking by a stream when they see a festive bridal party in the distance; they wonder if they can join in the celebration. Later, walking through the woods, a gang of men accosts them and takes them to a clearing where the leader interrogates them without explaining why. The bully’s adoptive father shows up, apologizes for the son’s crude behavior, and invites the party to the outdoor bridal banquet; the older man becomes upset, however, when one of the invitees decides to leave the party and strike off on his own…

Still from A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Even under the relatively liberal 1967 Czechoslovakian regime, The Party and Guests was banned (at the same time as ‘s Daisies) because it had “nothing in common with our republic, socialism, and the ideas of Communism.” The movie was briefly exhibited during the Prague spring of 1968 then banned again after the Soviet invasion. In the second round of censorship, hardline President Antonín Novotný honored Party and Guests by naming it one of four films that were “banned forever” in the dictatorship.
  • The movie was filmed quietly and quickly in five weeks because director Jan Nemec was afraid that authorities would shut down the production.
  • Party and Guests was accepted in competition for the 1968 Cannes film festival, but the festival was cancelled that tumultuous year out of solidarity with striking French workers and students.
  • The common English translation of the title O Slavnosti a Hostech adds a pun on “party” (both a celebration and a political association) that wasn’t present in the original Czech. The American title also adds the word “report” (the British released it as simply The Party and the Guests).
  • None of the cast were professional actors; most were artists and intellectuals who held “counter-revolutionary” political views. Jan Klusák (who makes quite an impression as the bullying Rudolph) was a composer who scored many of the Czech New Wave movies (including Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), and later made music to accompany Jan Svankmajer shorts. Director Evald Schorm (“House of Joy“) plays the guest who decides to leave the party. This bit of casting suggested to the authorities that the film was a protest of their decision to ban one of Schrom’s previous films.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The idea of a functionary sitting behind a desk, your fate in his hands and an enigmatic grin on his face, is the preeminent vision of bureaucratic totalitarianism from the 20th century. The incongruous twist A Report on the Party and Guests puts on this disquieting picture is to set up that desk in the middle of an open forest glade, with birds chirping merrily in the background.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: When discussing A Report on the Party and Guests, every critic is required to use two words: “allegorical” and “Kafkaesque.” The second descriptor explains why this quietly disturbing examination of senseless conformity earns its place on the List of the best weird movies ever made. After watching this quietly absurd totalitarian nightmare, I can pretty much guarantee you will scratch Report on the Party and Guests off your list of possible wedding themes.


Short clip from A Report on the Party and Guests

COMMENTS: Understated to the point of madness, A Report on the Party and Guests slips Continue reading 115. A REPORT ON THE PARTY AND GUESTS (1966)

114. CEMETERY MAN [DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE] (1994)

“Michele Soari gave me the script. At first I didn’t understand anything, because it was really strange. It’s a horror movie, it’s a sex movie, it was really strange…”–Anna Falchi

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DIRECTED BY: Michele Soavi

FEATURING: Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi, François Hadji-Lazaro

PLOT: Together with his nearly-mute associate Gnaghi, Francesco Dellamorte is a groundskeeper at a cemetery; his most important duty is to blow out the brains of the zombies (“returners”) who rise from their graves after seven days. Weary of his life as a zombie-slaying gravekeeper, Dellamorte is reinvigorated when he falls in love with a beautiful young widow. Things grow stranger when he hears the voice of Death speaking to him, suggesting another approach to his job…

Still from Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] (1994)

BACKGROUND:

  • Cemetery Man is adapted from the novel (or possibly graphic novel) “Dellamorte Dellamore” by Tiziano Sclavi, who went on to enormous popular success in Italy with his “Dylan Dog” comic book series about a supernatural investigator with a Groucho sidekick.
  • In Italian “della morte” means “of death” and “dell’amore” means “of love.”
  • Michele Soavi has had an odd directing career. He apprenticed under Italian exploitaion impresario Joe D’Amato, and later worked as a second unit director for both Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam. Given the opportunity to direct his own features, between 1987 and 1991 he produced three solid but relatively conventional horror films (Stagefright, The Church, The Sect), but nothing suggesting he would produce anything as demented as Dellamorte Dellamore. Despite the fact Dellamorte was a domestic and critical success in Italy and eventually became a cult hit around the world, at the peak of his acclaim Soavi retired from both horror and feature film making, choosing to direct movies in multiple genres for Italian television instead.
  • Soavi has talked from time to time of possibly making a sequel. In 2011 fellow Italian director Luigi Cozzi informed Fangoria magazine that Soavi had started on the script and planned to make the film in 2012, but there’s been no further news on the project since that notice.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An honorable mention must go to the eerily erotic midnight interlude when Everrtt and Falci make love in a Gothic graveyard lit by spermatozoa-shaped glowing will-o’-the-wisps. It would be a crime, however, if the movie’s most indelible moment didn’t involve Cemetery Man‘s two weirdest characters, the mute child-man Gnaghi and his girlfriend, an underage severed head (buried, for some reason, in a bridal veil) whom he keeps in the broken shell of his television set. You won’t forget what happens when she unexpectedly reveals that she can fly…

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a film criticism fallback cliché to describe an outrageously eccentric movie using the following formula: “it’s [insert name of familiar movie or genre] on acid!” I’m not above recycling useful boilerplate, though: Dellamorte Dellamore is a George Romero movie on acid. The world’s only surrealist arthouse zombie black comedy is too unique (and too poetic) to leave off the List.


Clip from Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore]

COMMENTS: The typical zombie-movie enthusiast will find Dellamorte Dellamore strange and Continue reading 114. CEMETERY MAN [DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE] (1994)