Dennis Schwartz is editor of the Vermont based film magazine “Ozus’s World Movie Reviews.” He has been a prolific online movie reviewer since 1998, also contributing to publications all over the globe and maintaining an active website–where it’s not uncommon for him to review 365 films a year. In his other life he was a poet, teacher, restaurant owner, wanderer and follower of Tibetan Buddhism (where he studied with Lama Govinda and lived in Kasa Devi, India).The first film he saw as a child, Bob Hope’s Paleface, left a hunger for films that has not been sated with all the passing years. The critic who influenced him the most was Walter Benjamin, not a film critic but one of the truly great literary critics of the 20th century. The lesson to be learned from him and other serious critics is that all true art is subversive and unsettling.
Dennis has kindly supplied 366 Weird Movies with his personal Top 10 Weird Movies list.
1. The Dybbuk (1937, d. Michal Waszynski). One of the most interesting Yiddish films ever made. It was made at the time the Nazis were going into their ‘Final Solution’ plans and were publicly blaming the Jews for all their troubles. Sholem Anskil’s folk tale of a disembodied spirit who possesses the body of the woman he is about to wed serves as the theme. What is eerie, even as the irrational is presented onscreen, is the evil that lurks for the actors and audience, as the incomprehensible is soon to descend on them in the form of a Holocaust. Also, the film’s “Dance of Death” scene has become a legendary one. [full review].
2. The Killing Kind (1973, d. Curtis Harrington). The sullen 21-year-old Terry (John Savage) is released from the slammer after serving a two year sentence for raping a teen named Tina (Sue Bernard) under the pier and moves back in with his former dancer mom, Thelma (Ann Sothern), who suffocates him with overprotective love. What’s there not to like about this perverse cult horror pic helmed with a tongue-in-cheek black humor by Curtis Harrington (Ruby/Night Tide/The Dead Don’t Die)? This obscure pic is one of those treasures that few have seen due to the studio’s unwillingness to promote a film it didn’t understand, as it had only a short theatrical run and for many years was unavailable on DVD. It’s one of Harrington’s best films. Writers Tony Chechales and George Edwards keep it a wacko mix of psychological suspense with large dabs of sleaziness, in a script that strays dangerously close to going overboard on camp. [full review]
3. The Last Bolshevik (1993, d. Chris Marker): Noted French filmmaker and essayist Chris Marker’s (The Embassy/The Sixth Side of the Pentagon/The Case of the Grinning Cat) unique documentary is about his personal friend and mentor, the artistic pioneer Soviet filmmaker Alexander Ivanovich Medvedkin (1900-1989). It’s one of the better documentaries, though not one many have seen. Marker writes six video letters to his true believer Communist friend in death, things he never put down in writing to Medvedkin when he was alive but must now try to communicate with his spirit. He uses Medvedkin’s bio to tell of the history of Russia and the history of Russian films during that period covering most of the 20th century. [full review]
4. Slither (1973, d. Howard Zieff): Hilarious offbeat parody of Duel, that’s also part crime drama, part road movie and part thriller. One of the small film gems that passed under the radar and is worth tracking down. James Caan shows a superb comic touch as the likable dim ex-con, who is not as dumb as he appears to be and a lot funnier than he was in The Godfather (1972). W.D. Richter’s quirky script keeps things twisty and the former TV commercial director of the comical Benson & Hedges cigarettes Howard Zieff (Hollywood Cowboy/The Main Event/Private Benjamin), in his debut film, keeps this pleasing crime caper tantalizingly absurd and gives free rein to the colorful characters to air things out on the side of enjoyable mayhem. [full review]
5. Syndromes and a Century (2006, Apichatpong Weerasethakul): The 37-year-old experimental filmmaker from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady/Blissfully Yours), has called this most unusual and original film “an experiment in re-creation of my parents’ lives before I was born.” It’s a puzzling non-narrative film that defies understanding, as it takes ordinary events and makes them seem strange and hypnotically fascinating in a dreamlike way. The pic has a Buddhist aura surrounding it, leaving a warm and happy feeling with the viewer. It’s a pic that calls for many viewings to fully explore its lucid and carefully thought-out visions, that are probably too much to fully take in with only one sitting. [full review]
6. The Saltmen of Tibet (1997, d. Ulrich Koch): An astonishing Swiss-German produced documentary by the German Ulrike Koch. She’s a filmmaker, Sinologist and ethnographer who sneaked cameras past the Chinese authorities who denied her permission to film in a remote part of the northern Tibetan plains a small band of nomadic saltmen who take a caravan of 160 yaks on a three-month round-trip for their annual spring trek to Lake Tsentso to collect salt, their only means of survival for the year. If the price is right they sell the salt and/or trade it for barley. This annual pilgrimage to Lake Tsentso, or to the other salt lakes in the region, has been taking place for 2,000 years, but has never before been recorded. This amazing film captures this way of life that might be soon extinct due to encroaching modernization. [full review]
7. The Exiles (1961, d. Kent MacKenzie): The late (died at 50 in 1980) London-born, USC grad, producer/writer/director Kent Mackenzie’s (Saturday Morning) poignant and realistic “social problem” black-and-white documentary is about contemporary Native Americans futilely hanging out one night in downtown Los Angeles (from Friday night to Saturday morning), who live in the Bunker Hill district (where they can commute by a trolley navigating a steep hill that is known as “Angels Flight,” in an area now mostly demolished in a controversial corporate-works urban renewal project that went on for more than 50 years). It’s a honky tonk rock ‘n’ roll venture, that follows the sympathetic but hardly saintly souls around to their favorite hangout neon-lit bars, liquor stores, their bare homes, their card games, fistfights, flirty actions and to the top of Hill X–their secret late night meeting place where they wile away the night after the bars close at 2 am to be unwatched by the Man and let go in a ritualistic medicine man like dance as they beat on their drums. [full review]
8. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954, d. Kenneth Anger): Experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger (“Fireworks”/”Lucifer Rising”/”The Man We Want to Hang”) directs this sensuous mouth watering madman ritualistic costume party that’s so arty, so weird, so magical, so trippy and so gay. It’s dedicated to the chosen few. The film is based on one of black magician Aleister Crowley’s (Anger was a follower of Crowley) dramatic occult rituals where the cult figures smear on heavy doses of pancake makeup and don costumes to assume the identity of a god or a goddess. [full review]
9. Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009, d. Manoel de Oliveira): A bizarre arty pic that like a Buñuel film plays with our sensibilities in odd ways. In this case, the playful director tells us to be wary of blind love. It’s based on a story by Portugal’s great 19th century realist writer Eça de Queiroz, who died in 1900. It’s a mesmerizing, charming and disturbing morality tale of doomed love, where the pompous romantic protagonist is longing for love with a beautiful woman he does not know at all and will suffer dearly from unrequited love because his passions blind him to reality. Oliveira throws out warnings about love at first sight, as he shows the inexperienced young man has no clue on how to distinguish lust from love. It’s a timeless film that’s grounded in the formalities of the past and its bustling modern times seem oddly archaic, giving the film an out of this world look. It strangely takes us on a voyeuristic ride through the director’s rarefied world and shows us a stark Lisbon that could be framed like a Georges de La Tour painting. [full review]
10. Who is Bozo Texino? (2005, d. Bill Daniel): Bill Daniel’s experimental documentary is about the search for the true identity of the world’s greatest boxcar artist. It follows the 100-year tradition of hobo and railworker graffiti, and has interviews with some of the railroad’s current hobo and railworker graffiti artists. It also calls to attention some of those legendary monikers that include: Colossus of Roads, The Rambler, Herby, Bozo Texino, Frisco Jack, Water Bed Lou, and Coaltrain. It’s one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in years; it captures some of the history of the hobo subculture from its 19th century roots in America and why it’s appealing for these featured misfits and outsiders to ride the freight train boxcars and not be part of mainstream society. [full review]