CAPSULE: THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Strickland

FEATURING: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna, Fatma Mohamed, Eugenia Caruso

PLOT: An entomology professor and her student are very much in love, but their romance is threatened by the latter’s preference for BDSM practices in the bedroom.

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WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though the subject matter might seem strange or unusual to some viewers, the film itself is simply an examination of two women who are going through a trial in their relationship. There is some bizarre dream imagery and a choppy narrative style, but nothing truly Weird.

COMMENTS: The Duke of Burgundy opens with a drawn-out sexual role play as the wide-eyed Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) enters the house of domineering mistress Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) to act as housekeeper. Evelyn scrubs and shines and soaks as Cynthia thinks of more demeaning tasks for her to do, ending the day with punishment for unsatisfactory work in the form of urination into Evelyn’s mouth. This scene returns in multiple forms later, as we see different perspectives and points in time, serving as an anchor for our understanding of their relationship. The film unfolds over a semester at the isolated women’s school where Cynthia lectures and Evelyn studies, but most of the focus is on their private moments at home. As the persistent Evelyn comes up with new ways to be dominated, she believes she’s found the perfect partner in Cynthia, who is willing to act the dominatrix if it makes her lover happy. However, it soon becomes clear that the older woman is uncomfortable with the parts Evelyn creates for her, struggling to emotionally and physically abuse her lover even in the context of role playing, and then growing to resent her for her increasing demands.

Strickland made waves two years ago with his stunning, unnerving ode to giallo, Berberian Sound Studio, in which a British sound technician sinks into a paranoid fever dream while shooting a gory horror in Italy. Here, the director again treats the eyes to a sultry palette, ornate settings, and thoughtful camerawork, matched by an effective soundtrack that pairs fuzzy synths with the hum of insects. The opening credits use freeze-frame and oversaturation to reference vintage softcore film, but thanks to the soundtrack and visceral color choices, other moments are more reminiscent of a slasher. The retro vibe is heightened by the somewhat ambiguous setting and time period. Fashions and hairstyles suggest the 1950s or 60s, the aesthetic is more 70s, the landscape and architecture is classical, evoking rural Italy (though filmed in Hungary), and everyone speaks English with different European accents. He clearly devotes much of his time to mixing and matching different film references, from art house to grindhouse, but ultimately the focus is on the characters. Even the weirder touches, including frequent close-ups of insects and stark shots of architecture, are meant to communicate the sense of dread that is hanging over Cynthia and Evelyn’s relationship as they move into darker sexual territory. There is a palpable feeling of intimacy in Strickland’s approach, utilizing close-ups and lingering shots to effect a kind of quietude over most of the proceedings. It is easily to believe in this relationship, though the world around them is often hazy.

On paper The Duke of Burgundy sounds like it should be a sleazy straight male fantasy about lesbian kink, and yet Strickland forgoes all sensationalism—there isn’t that much (explicit) sex or even nudity shown. Evelyn’s mental stimulation is highlighted, as she derives pleasure from being locked in a chest, verbally berated, and sat on by Cynthia. The BDSM scenes are often treated with humor, not to make fun of those practices but to reveal the kind of goofy accidents or strange conversations that might come with it, and to break the tension for an unfamiliar audience. At other times they are presented in a cold, almost sterile manner, with Cynthia eventually injecting a form of revenge into their role play. What is both wonderful and striking about this film is its undertone of normalcy, its relatable and honestly touching portrayal of a romantic struggle, despite its apparently sexploitative premise. The basic story could easily be rewritten with different conflicts, with different genders, with different settings; the BDSM elements are both central to the narrative and secondary to the overarching theme. The film asks if sexual preferences can damage an otherwise strong relationship, and if personal contentment can exist without complete sexual fulfillment. It allows us to peek into something extremely personal, but universal, intermingling with our own insights and experiences, with a dreamlike style so lush and distinctive we still walk away feeling like we’ve left behind a world of fantasy. It might not be List-worthy, but it is certainly worth seeing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the question of who’s really in charge of these scenarios is complicated. Exactly the same deceptive quality can be found in the dreamlike artifice of Strickland’s film itself, set in a lush and aristocratic European fantasyland that’s entirely nonspecific as to geography and chronology… But while Strickland’s films already aren’t like anyone else’s, his real secret is that even in this strange constructed world, his characters feel like real people struggling with issues that aren’t exotic at all.”–Andrew O’Hehir, “Salon” (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

First off,  there is only one more week to vote for 2014’s Weirdcademy Awards. In the Weirdest Short Film of 2104 contest, “Earthworm Heart” is trouncing “Too Many Cooks” due to a fan campaign, and it looks unlikely that any other film can win without a similar viral campaign. The other races are closer; although The Dance of Reality is leading every category in which it’s nominated, the second place nominees are at least in striking distance. The closest race is in the “Weirdest Actor” category, where ‘s fake-headed mentally ill musical genius Frank leads the doppelgangers of Enemy by a mere 8 votes.

Next week’s review slate includes Alex Kittle‘s report on The Duke of Burgundy (a classier, better and weirder S&M-themed movie choice than that Shades thing, for sure), while G. Smalley looks into the bluesy melancholy of 2013’s Memphis. G. will also venture into that absurdly long reader-suggested review queue to cover 1992’s dysfunctional fantasy/drama Leolo.

Now for the feature you’ve all been eagerly awaiting: our weekly look at the weirdest search terms used to locate the site this week. In keeping with this week’s minor Duke of Burgundy/50 Shades theme, this week’s contestants are fairly kinky, and that’s not even counting the likely innocent but unfortunately worded “the abominable dr. phibes organ.” We’ll start in earnest with the remarkably specific “naked girl on broken toilet in junkyard”—remember, that’s the least weird search we’ll be highlighting. Next up is a question we’ve often asked ourselves, “can women have a organisms setting moving their legs together upskirts.” Who are we kidding, we’ve never asked such an absurd question, and nor has anyone else in human history. That’s still not our weirdest search of the week, however, as we’ll select “vintage erotica shaving sombrero” as the kinkiest query we saw. Our forefathers sure had some weird fetishes (and, apparently, hairier sombreros than we have today).

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: Léolo (next week!); The Fox Family; AngelusThis Filthy Earth; Conspirators of Pleasure; Innocence; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Blue Velvet; ID (2005); Master of the Flying Guillotine; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/12/2015

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014): A professor becomes a vampire-like creature, then strikes up a romantic relationship with a woman. The background to this movie may be stranger than the actual film: this is Spike Lee’s crowdfunded remake of the minor 1970s black vampire romance cult film Ganja and HessDa Sweet Blood of Jesus Facebook page.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Endless Poetry (Poesia sin Fin): really is back. In his typical extravagant fashion, he’ll be announcing his next project in a live YouTube address tomorrow, Feb. 15th (no word on whether he’ll be wearing clothes), and a Kickstarter campaign will be launched at the same time. There are few firm details: the press release explains the movie will explore “the magic reality underlying our surrounding world,” while Screen Daily says that this will be another autobiographical effort starring sons Brontis and Adan, focusing on Alejandro’s time as a poet in Santiago. Tune in to Endless Poetry‘s official site tomorrow for the live address!

NEW ON DVD:

Don’t Look Now (1973): Read the Certified Weird entry! The Criterion Collection gets their hands on Nicolas Roeg‘s psychological horror of parental grief, compiling an entire disc’s worth of extra features for fans. Buy Don’t Look Now [Criterion Collection 2-disc].

Nekromantik 2 (1991): The female necrophile from the original must choose between her dead lover and a new beau, one who lacks that certain putrescence she so adores. A sticker on the front cover explains that this is a limited edition of 2000 copies with collectible artwork. Buy Nekromantik 2.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

An American Hippie in Israel (1972): A Vietnam vet founds a nudist utopia on a deserted island while being hunted by mimes with machine guns. Grindhouse Releasing calls it a “one of cult cinema’s legendary lost classics” and “the most psychedelic movie ever made.” Although this was released last year, this is the first time it is available on Blu-ray alone (as opposed to the more expensive 3-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo pack special edition). Buy An American Hippie In Israel [Blu-ray].

Don’t Look Now (1973): See description in DVD above. Buy Don’t Look Now [Criterion Collection Blu-ray].

Nekromantik 2 (1991): See description in DVD above. There are 5000 copies of the limited edition Blu, making it less than half as rare as the DVD. Buy Nekromantik 2 [Blu-ray].

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)/High Spirits (1988): Vampire’s Kiss, wherein a literary agent believes he has been bitten by a vampire, is the movie with the unhinged losing-it performance that first convinced the world that might actually be mentally ill. This cult curiosity is paired with the far less interesting Steve Guttenberg/Daryl Hannah comedy High Spirits, about a man’s love affair with a ghost. Buy Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits [Blu-ray].

FREE MOVIES ON SHOUT TV:

Dreamscape (1984): A psychic tries to rescue the President of the United States, who’s trapped inside his own nightmares. Watch Dreamscape free on Shout TV.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

BUNUEL’S VIRIDIANA (1961)

Viridiana (1961) has quite a reputation among film critics and historians, often being listed as one of ‘s best efforts. It is certainly among the most heterodox offerings in his considerable canon.

Viridiana marked Buñuel‘s return to his native Spain after a twenty-five year absence. With the fascist Franco still in power, Buñuel was severely criticized and accused of making his bed with the enemy, but the filmmaker’s critics should have known better. Buñuel had an ulterior motive, with a predictably incendiary opus tucked securely in his Surrealist vest pocket.

Upon receiving Buñuel’s original script, which ended with the protagonist nun engaging in ménage a trois with her cousin and his mistress, the government promptly rejected the story. Undaunted, Buñuel rewrote it, with all the implications gloriously intact through the trio joining in a card game inside the cousin’s bedroom. Having outwitted the censors, Bunuel congratulated himself over an even more immoral ending.

Despite Viridiana having won the , the Spanish government was furious for having been so easily duped by the insurgent Surrealist, and banned him from the country until after Franco’s death. Predictably, the Vatican followed suit and condemned both filmmaker and film as blasphemous. Fortunately, attempts to burn all existing copies proved futile. It had to be a hell of a compliment to Buñuel, who soaked in his resounding success of provoking the status quo. Years later, when a pope removed a ban from one of Buñuel’s films, the filmmaker was reported to have lamented: “What has my life and this world come to when even a pope accepts me?”

As one may expect of Buñuel, Viridiana is a far more labyrinthine composition than its shock publicity would indicate. Rooted within an anti-clerical, anti-pious battering ram is a film so intrinsically religious that its heterodox classification was inevitable.

An incandescent  embodies the title character with such singularly stoic personality that her Buñuel  followup as the Devil in Simon of the Desert (1965) seems perfectly apt in hindsight.

Viridiana is content in her cloister, about to make her wedding vows to Christ, when Mother Superior orders her charge to visit uncle Don Jaime (). He is Viridiana’s only living relative and, more importantly, a financial backer of the convent. Viridiana is the quintessence of objectified perfection, a forbidden Eve’s apple in a black habit. Viridiana is so thoroughly reduced to potential receptacle that she never entirely convinces as a novice, which was clearly Buñuel’s motive. In typical Buñuel fashion, it is the ecclesiastical curator who throws the innocent out of a self-styled paradise into a fetishistic, reptilian den.

Dom Jaime could be seen as a prodigal’s uncle, lording over the remnant of his estate with the wayward niece returning from her explorations of a pious, alternative culture, as opposed to one of debauchery. The returning pariah is not treated to a celebration with fatted calf, prepared by the loyal servant maid. Rather, the servant aids and abets her master in drugging Viridiana in a pathetic effort to transform the virgin into a centerfold for “Necrophilia Illustrated.”

Disgusted with her uncle’s incestuous advances, Viridiana flees the homestead yet again, only to be stopped by the news that Dom Jaime has hung himself and left her half of his estate, which she will share with her cousin.

Viridiana’s interpretation of St. Paul’s dictum: “the greatest of these is charity” proves delightfully absurd when taking in the uneducated derelicts of the world. Buñuel shows the underclass as having sensibilities of cruelty and avarice equal to, if not surpassing, the affluent elite. “Sin” is not the sole property of a single social status. Both rich uncle and penniless leper like the feel of a garter on their thighs while squeezing into heels.  Uncle and son seek to soil  the unspoiled flesh. Viridiana’s self-humbling only squeaks with charitable intent. She is a counterpart to Buñuel‘s earlier, hopelessly naive Padre Nazario from Nazarin (1959).

Still from Viridiana (1961)The film contains two infamous scenes. The first is a cruelly symbolic one, involving two dogs and their carts. Bunuel choreographs the vignette like a rabid string duet, doused in venomous futility.  It is a canine stations of the cross with Simon of Cyrene alleviating the dolorous passion of one mutt, only  to be oblivious to the sight and sound of a second dog’s death march.

The second vignette is less restrained; a setting of da Vinci’s pedestaled “Last Supper,” brutally mocked and violated in a   photo session.

Of course, it all ends with a cinematic assimilation of  theological trinity, filtered through Bunuel’s compulsively subdued filter. Viridiana herself is rendered something akin to the Ever-Virgin’s ripped holy card, scattered and stained with the lay wasted epithet: “I don’t want to be touched.”

What is so holy about that?

191. GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro

“A fiendish vampire from a strange world in outer space drains his victims’ blood and turns them into weird corpses!”–U.S. tagline for Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell

DIRECTED BY: Hajime Satô

FEATURING:Teruo Yoshida, Tomomi Satô, Eizô Kitamura, Hideo Kô, Kathy Horan

PLOT: A Japanese airliner crash lands in a remote mountain area after a close encounter with a UFO during a hijacking attempt. On the ground, the hijacker flees but is drawn to the glowing flying saucer, where the blob inside splits open his forehead and possesses his mind. Meanwhile, on the crashed plane the survivors squabble in a power struggle between an arms dealer, a senator, and the take-charge co-pilot.

Still from Goke Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)
BACKGROUND:

  • Goke was the most notable of four horror/science fiction films made by Shochiku studios (previously best known for Yasujirō Ozu’s award-winning chamber dramas) in the late 1960s to attempt to replicate the success of rival Toei’s smash hit Godzilla.
  • Goke wasn’t shown in the U.S. until 1977, when it played on a drive-in double bill with 1965’s Bloody Pit of Horror.
  • This movie is a favorite of , who paid tribute to Goke‘s blood red skies in an airplane scene in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s tempting to pick the scarlet heavens the airliner cruises though in the opening scenes, which makes it look the the clouds are saturated with hemoglobin and about to rain blood. After all, this was the image Tarantino chose to homage in Kill Bill. Instead, we’ll go with the vertical slit that forms in the assassins forehead at the climax of his psychedelic encounter in the alien spacecraft, a look affectionately know to the film’s fans as “vagina face.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Goke is a run-of-the-mill alien-blobs-in-glowing-orange-UFOs-turn-airplane-crash-survivors-into-vampires-by-crawling-inside-bloody-slits-they-carve-into-their-foreheads flick, but with a delirious psychedelic twist.


Japanese trailer for Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro

COMMENTS: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell is frequently described Continue reading 191. GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

CAPSULE: WINTER IN THE BLOOD (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Alex Smith, Andrew J. Smith

FEATURING: Chaske Spenser, , Saginaw Grant, , Casey Camp-Horinek, Julia Jones

PLOT: Virgil First Raise, an alcoholic half-breed Blackfoot, wakes up from a blackout and is told that his wife has left him, taking his rifle and electric razor with her and setting him off on a boozy, hallucinatory quest to recover the items.

Still from Winter in the Blood (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A vision quest seems like the perfect plot structure for a weird movie, but although there is a lot to enjoy in this slightly surreal, unusual Indian-themed movie, it isn’t strange enough to overcome its narrative shortcomings.

COMMENTS: Waking up from a bender in a ditch, seeing visions of his dead father, Virgil First Raise complains he is “caught in an in-between place… vulnerable to the spirits.” Though not entirely successful as cinematic psychoanalysis, Winter in the Blood does capture Virgil’s physical and psychological tipsiness and vulnerability to the spirit world, which bleeds into reality. Flashbacks frequently interrupt the present-day action, often introduced in interesting ways; for example, Virgil fishes in a river and sees his childhood self and his (now absent) brother frolicking on the opposite bank. The movie also incorporates the rhythms of hard drinking; we see Virgil tippling in a bar, following up on a lead, and suddenly he wakes up in a strange bed, leaving us with a suspicion that crucial plot information may have been irretrievably lost to a blackout. That structure of memories and ellipses would be confusing enough for the average viewer, but then there are also entire subplots that are probably imagined, such as Virgil’s dalliance with a Canadian “airplane man” who is being tailed by mysterious men in suits and who wants to enlist the Indian in an obscure smuggling plot, the details of which keep shifting. The quirky and sinister airplane man scenes, particularly one where Virgil finds a fellow diner at a lunch counter inexplicably falls face-first into his soup, give the film an exciting Twin Peaks-on-the-reservation sensibility that it could have used more of.

Virgil suffers from a horde of demons—too many for a single movie—from alcoholism to survivor guilt to incompetent parents to the manhood ritual he never completed to fretting over the Caucasian impurities in his blood. His troubles materialize in an equally numerous series of symbols: the rifle, a mysterious blonde barmaid who sometimes has a tattoo and sometimes doesn’t, the airplane man, a stuffed teddy bear, a rabbit in a haystack. As a work of Native American cinema, a field that’s not overly crowded, Winter in the Blood ranks as a minor standout. The performances are mixed but generally good, the soundtrack is alt-melancholy, and the excellent widescreen cinematography captures the agrarian grandeur of Big Sky country. But all of the floating symbolism, subplots and narrative loose ends, together with the impressionistic style and some fumbling at the finale (the emotional climax feels misplaced, with Virgil’s despair unexpectedly peaking after the scene that should have brought him insight and redemption) result in a film that ends with an unfortunate lack of closure.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Real and surreal weave together, and an impeccably chosen soundtrack — by, among others, the Heartless Bastards and Robert Plant — reinforces a mood that veers from dreamy to violent with shocking suddenness.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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