LIST CANDIDATE: THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957)

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Nils Poppe, Bengt Ekerot,

PLOT:  A disillusioned knight and his cynical squire return to a 14th century Sweden ravaged

Still from The Seventh Seal (1957)

by the Black Plague; Death comes for the knight, but he entices the Reaper to play a game of chess for his soul.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTThe Seventh Seal is undoubtedly a great movie, but its weirdness is in doubt.  In fact, trying to decide if this film is strange enough to make it on the List almost makes me feel like Antonius Block wondering if there’s a God out there.  As an existential allegory, the film has a significant amount of unreality in its corner; although much of the movie is a starkly realistic portrait of medieval life, Bergman often ignores logic in minor ways when necessary to make his larger metaphorical points.  He also incorporates the fantastic in one major way, by making Death a literal character in the film, a “living, breathing” character who not only plays chess but also poses as a priest and chops down a tree with his scythe.  That’s not much weirdness to go on, though, and the best external support I can find for considering the movie “weird” is the fact that it’s been (inaccurately) tagged with “surrealism” on IMDB.   I’m torn; the weird movie community will need to chime in on this one.

COMMENTS: The Seventh Seal has a big, imposing reputation as a masterpiece of world cinema, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you may be surprised to find that most of what you think you know about it is wrong.  In the first place, it’s not nearly as gloomy as you may have heard.  True, every frame of the film is suffused with the foreknowledge of death—Bergman is very in-your-face with his message that you are going to die, and it’s going to be horrible—but the grim scenes alternate with lighthearted, comic ones.  The entire dynamic between the drunken smith Plog, and his unfaithful wife Maria, and her unlucky paramour Scat, for example, has a tone of bawdy Shakespearean comedy.  The idyllic scenes where the knight enjoys a meal of milk and wild strawberries with the juggler Jof and his family have a warmth that temporarily drives away the chill—even though there is a skull peering over the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957)

IN DEFENSE OF PRETENSE: THE JOYS OF PRETENTIOUS MOVIES

As a teenager coming of age in the 1980s, I became briefly obsessed with progressive space-art-rock band Pink Floyd in general, and their album “The Wall” in particular. The record was mopey, morbid, and self-absorbed, presenting even the simplest personal problems (an absent father, overprotective mother, trouble relating to women) as agents of an acute psychic apocalypse that could be casually compared to the Nazi bombing of London or the summary execution of minorities and misfits at a fascist rally. When I soon discovered there was a feature film version—one that added startling drawings spotlighting grotesque and frightening animated vaginas to the already overwrought mix—my fate was sealed; I rented the VHS tape whenever I could—several times a month, at the peak of my addiction—and forced it on all my friends.

Pretentious still from Pink Floyd the Wall (1982)
Typically subtle symbolism from Pink Floyd: The Wall

Now, my sixteen-year old self recognized that with The Wall I had stumbled across a masterpiece on the order of the collected works of Shakespeare, or even the Beatles. Its emotional impact on me blew away the stuffy literature crammed down our throats in English class: the narrative was more relevant than Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” the poetry more stirring than John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the insights pithier than “Pride and Prejudice.”

I was pleasantly disillusioned to discover that most of my Top Gun-quoting, Pac Man-playing peers weren’t enlightened enough to grasp the profundity of The Wall. Their beer-chugging, party-hearty shallowness threw my depth of feeling into sharp relief. Unlike them, I had insight about the bleak nature of reality, as Continue reading IN DEFENSE OF PRETENSE: THE JOYS OF PRETENTIOUS MOVIES

CAPSULE: LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2010)

AKA The Four Times

DIRECTED BY: Michelangelo Frammartino

FEATURING: Giuseppe Fuda

PLOT: An old goatherd dies; a goat is born, grows up and dies; a tree is cut down and made

Still from Le Quattro Volte (2010)

into charcoal.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Le Quattro Volte is a strange document crafted to illustrate a strange thesis; its weirdness comes more in the conception than the execution, however.  Most of the time, Le Quattro Volte is like watching a National Geographic special with the narrator’s commentary track stripped away.  It can be mesmerizing if you’re in a contemplative mood, but it doesn’t put that “weird” feeling in your gut.

COMMENTS:  If someone accidentally wandered into a theater playing Le Quattro Volte and observed the sequence of events—there’s no plot, per se—without any preparation or background information, they’d be completely confounded by this mystical, dialogue-free film.  In the first forty minutes an old man herds goats, drinks ashes mixed with water, and dies.  In the next twenty minutes a goat is born, explores its world, gets separated from the herd, and dies (presumably ) under a tree.  In the second-to-last segment that tree is cut down by villagers, stripped of bark and branches and used as the centerpiece of a vaguely pagan tree-climbing ritual; for a finale, the trunk is chopped up and made into charcoal.  The end.  Puzzling, no?  Of course, having access to the pressbook we know [“spoiler” alert],  that the “quattro volte” (“four times”) of the title come from a quote by the ancient Greek mystic and mathematician Pythagoras, and refers to his theory that the human soul is composed of rational (represented by the shepherd), animal (goat), vegetable (tree) and mineral (charcoal) parts, and that the soul may be reincarnated at the moment of death into any of the four types of matter [end “spoiler”].  As the viewer journeys through Volte, he encounters a number of scenes which work as odd little self-contained film poems.  There’s the mysterious shot of a steaming mound that starts the film, a live goat birth, and a woman who measures out and wraps the dust she sweeps up from the church floor into a little bundle made from a magazine cover with the same precision a cocaine dealer uses when preparing an eight ball.  (There is a heavily ritualistic, almost sacred component to even the smallest actions in Le Quattro Volte).  Most impressive is an astounding eight-minute, one-take scene involving a passion play, centurions who unwisely park their pickup truck on a hill, and a vindictive sheepdog that should leave you wondering how in the world the choreography was accomplished.  The film is shot in sunny, tan Calabria, a picturesque region of rolling hills and rustic stone homes with tile roofs that seems unchanged by the centuries; many of the longshots look like landscape paintings from old Italian masters, but with figures slowly moving deep in the background.  People do speak in the film, but only off in the distance, so that speech is just sonic texture, like the barking of dogs, the bleating of goats and the rustling of leaves in the wind.  Language, and human activity in general, is abstracted in the film, marginalized, so that the fate of a man is no more important than the fate of a goat or a tree.

With landscapes, compositions and narrative pace that all resemble a picture postcard, Le Quattro Volte is art with a capital “A.”  As a film it can neither be generally recommended, or recommended against.  It’s intended for a specialized audience of aesthetes and film critics, and it’s a movie that’s unlikely to transcend that demographic.  If you’re at all intrigued by the description above, you’ll probably want to check it out.  But if you have your doubts about whether you can stand staring at the screen while an ant slowly crawls across a shepherd’s craggy face for minutes on end, then watching this movie will seem like taking medicine: you may sense it’s good for you, but you’re sure to grimace trying to get it down.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a devastating, profound and at times surreal work of art.”–Michael O’Sullivan, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, we’ll feature reviews of the wordless, mystical experiment Le Quattro Volte (2010), Ingmar Bergman’s medieval death poem The Seventh Seal (1957), and Alfred will cover a couple more avant-garde Mozart stagings with The Dream of Scipione and Ascanio in Alba.  To fill things out, we’ll also post an essay in praise of  the pretentious movie (the publication date is purely coincidental and has nothing to do with the movies chosen for review this week).

Looking for our weekly catalog of weird search terms for the week?  Look no further.  A couple of old friends came back this week: somebody out there is still looking for something “like necrophilia but weirder,” and of course, we still have the lonely searcher seeking that “wierd lumpy movie short.”   We’ll focus on a trio of newcomers to select our Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however.  Second runner up goes to the philosophical question “is it okay to love an object?”  (We think if its strictly Platonic, then yes; if you’re talking carnally, it depends on how hot the object is).  We were impressed enough by the simple search for “absurdism in perfume” to make it our first runner up.  But the Weirdest Search term of the Week, by a unanimous vote, was “hapy valentine guillotine sex,” which took last week’s honorable mention search for “guillotine women art” and upped the weirdness ante to championship levels. Congratulations to all who competed, and for the losers, weirder luck next week!

NEPOTISM CORNER:  Yes, there are people out there making YouTube videos with the stated aim of being featured on 366 Weird Movies.  Unfortunately, they are related by blood to the owners and operators of this website, and therefore it would be unfair to spotlight them without full disclosure.  Still, how can you look at the following footage and not be thrilled at the prospect of the upcoming generation of burgeoning absurdists?

Remember, with proper guidance you too can twist and pervert inspire your sons and daughters, nieces and nephews to make their own short films about egg-laying beatniks!

Here’s the massive reader suggested review queue, for those of you who follow such things: The Seventh Seal (next week!); Kairo [AKA Pulse]; Primer; 200 Motels; Private Parts (1972); Saddest Music in the World; Mulholland  Drive; The American Astronaut; Blood Tea Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 9/16/2011

A 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):

The Mill and The Cross:  Artist/director Lech Majewski brings Pieter Brueghel’s sprawling canvas “The Way to Calvary”—which set the Crucifixion in the painter’s own 16th century Flanders—to life, using CGI to overlap real actors with the artwork.  Maybe it’s not all that weird, but it’s certainly not normal.  Rutger Hauer stars as Brueghel and becomes the first actor ever to portray a Flemish painter and a hobo with a shotgun in the same year.  Opening this week at the Film Forum in NYC with scattered screenings  through the fall.  The Mill and the Cross official site.

The Weird World of Blowfly:  Documentary focusing on Clarence Reid, better known as his alter-ego Blowfly, the proto-rapper and x-rated auteur of 1970s party albums packed with brilliantly brain-dead song parodies like “Spermy Night In Georgia” and “My Baby Keeps Farting In My Face.”  Hey, it’s got “weird” right there in the title!  Opening this week in New York, with L.A. and other major cities to follow.  The Weird World of Blowfly official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Gallino:  We mentioned this upcoming project last week (you can see the teaser trailer in this post), but we were unaware at the time that the project is still seeking funding.   Like many independent features, Gallino is reaching out to fans for fundraising via indiegogo.  Listen to their plea here.  If you have deep pockets, you can even be an extra and a guest producer!

NEW ON DVD:

Hesher (2010): A sociopathic arsonist and anarchist takes up residence in a family’s garage after the mother dies in a car accident; is he real, or just a symbol of discord?  Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Devin Brcohu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie and Natalie Portman (who also produced). Buy Hesher.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: “Manos” The Hands of FateRead our review of “Manos”.  We love , and we “love” (well, “admire”… well, “are fascinated by”?)  Manos, and they turn out to be two great tastes that go great together: episode 424 consistently ranks among the top 3 episodes in fan polls, and has now been released on DVD three different times (as a single disc, packaged with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as half of Rhino’s “Essentials” set, and this 2 disc extravaganza).  This set includes the uncut version of the film together with the riffed version, the mini-documentary “Hotel Torgo,” bonus shorts (including both parts of “Hired!” and an original comedy short by Larry “Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” Blamire), and cast reflections on the episode, making it an essential disc for “Manos” and MST3K fans alike. Buy Mystery Science Theater 3000: “Manos” the Hands of Fate.

Le Quattro Volte (2010):  The four stage journey of a shepherd’s soul through the afterlife, told according to one of geeky Greek cult leader Pythagoras’ lesser-known theorems.  It’s interesting that Lorber is releasing this under its Italian title and not as The Four Times; they must realize they’re not going to trick Redbox renters into picking up a movie about a dying Italian shepherd who slowly turns into a rock.  Buy Le Quattro Volte.

Trainspotting (1996):  Danny Boyle’s cult hit about terminally bored Scottish heroin addicts isn’t defiantly weird, but contains some unforgettable hallucination sequences (feel like trip into the toilet, anyone?)  This re-issue adds a wealth of supplementary material unavailable on the previous bare-bones release. Buy Trainspotting.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

3 Women (1977):  Robert Altman‘s dreamlike, surreal vision of three women—Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule—in an identity crisis gets an upgrade to Blu-ray.  From the Criterion Collection, and including a commentary track by the director. Buy 3 Women (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].

The 10th Victim (1965): Celebrity assassin Ursula Andress tries to notch her tenth kill for a future televised version of A Most Dangerous Game; her assignment is to ice suave killer Marcello Mastrioanni.  This campy Italian satire anticipated reality TV, beating movies like The Running Man and Deathrow Gameshow to the punch by two decades; you may notice a scene later parodied in Austin PowersBuy The 10th Victim [Blu-ray].

The Frighteners (1996):  released this horror-comedy about ghosthunter Michael J. Fox inducing a near-death experience so that he could battle spirits in their own realm after his critically successful fantasy-drama Heavenly Creatures.  This one was a flop at the time, but it has drawn a small cult following over the years, though its membership is nowhere near the level of that for Jackson’s transgressive underground hits Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Dead-AliveBuy The Frighteners [Blu-ray].

Hesher (2010): See description in DVD above. Buy Hesher [Blu-ray].

Le Quattro Volte (2010): See description in DVD above. Buy Le Quattro Volte [Blu-ray].

Trainspotting (1996): See description in DVD above. Buy Trainspotting [Blu-ray].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

The Sky Crawlers [Sukai kurora] (2008):  Latest visually impressive sci-fi anime from Mamoru Oshii, director of Ghost in the Shell, about children who are trained from birth as pilots to fight in an endless dogfight.  Watch The Sky Crawlers free on YouTube.

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.

M22: THE MOZART OPERAS AT SALZBURG (2006): ZAIDE. ADAMA

This review is part of a series on the 2006 Salzburg Festival, in which the 22 filmed operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were diversely and, sometimes, radically staged by the most innovative directors working in opera today. The results provoked wildly mixed reactions and controversy, proving that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart remains a vital voice in the world of 21st century music

Mozart’s unfinished Zaide is considered a slightly older, less memorable brother to the composer’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail [The Abduction from the Seraglio.].  Zaide is a rescue opera, with a plot based on Voltaire’s “Zaire.”  The exiled Christian Gomatz is visited by the Muslim harem slave Zaide, the sultan’s favorite concubine.  Zaide falls in love with the enslaved Gomatz, rescues him, and together they flee with the aid of the overseer, Allazim.  Zaide chooses spirited freedom over financial security, and invokes the Sultan’s wrath.  Zaide and Gomatz are recaptured, imprisoned, and sentenced to death.  Awaiting execution in the dungeon, Zaide remains defiant, and the opera abruptly stops with an emotional quartet in which the principals express their anxieties, hopes, and fears.  Entfuhrung/Seraglio ended on an optimistic note.  Had it been completed, it is doubtful Zaide would have followed suit; Voltaire’s original play ended tragically.  Zaide ends with the Sutlan’s decision to kill Zaide and Gomatz.   The unhappy ending may have been the reason for Mozart’s eventual abandonment of the project.

Still from Zaide/Adama (2006)For his Salzburg production, Claus Guth’s intertwines Mozart’s neglected, unfinished work with Adama (Earth in Hebrew), by 21st century Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin, commissioned especially for this project.  During Mozart’s brief lifetime, he worked with traditional forms and then, especially later in his career, defied those forms.  It is one of the great tragedies of music that Mozart did not live another ten to twenty years.  His late works (such as the Symphony in G Continue reading M22: THE MOZART OPERAS AT SALZBURG (2006): ZAIDE. ADAMA

DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

This post was written in contemplation of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.

In 2008 documentarian Mark Hartley scored an unanticipated film festival hit with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, an examination of obscure Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s.  (Striking while the iron was hot, Hartley rolled out a spiritual sequel of sorts with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which braved the even more bizarre jungle of Filipino exploitation cinema).  2009 saw another surprise critical success in Best Worst Movie, the story of the disastrous making, and triumphant cult legacy, of the ultra-ridiculous vegetarian-goblin horror movie Troll II, which managed to score an astonishing 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.  Whatever the reason (maybe its the flowering of seeds planted by Quentin Tarantino), at this moment in time mainstream critics seem eager to recognize, examine, and even embrace the pleasures of schlock.  Since the last horror/exploitation doc cycle—the duo of The American Nightmare (2000) and Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001)—came about a decade ago, it appears the time is ripe for another down-home survey of the dark and shady sides of American cinema.

Still from Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)The thesis of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, the 2009 examination of the American horror film, is that particular social conditions and historical anxieties shape the nature of the shock genre from decade to decade.  Brian Yuzna asserts that the variety of disfigured, limbless freaks specialized in playing in the twenties were inspired by the horrors of World War I and the sights of returning veterans maimed by modern munitions.  The viewpoint that American horror is strictly linked to American angst breaks down fairly early Continue reading DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

CAPSULE: BEDWAYS (2010)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: R. Kahl

FEATURING: Miriam Mayet, Matthias Faust, Lana Cooper

PLOT: A female director wants to make an experimental erotic film, but never actually gets

Still from Bedways (2010)

beyond rehearsal.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The only list Bedways will ever make it on is a list of the most sleep-inducing films about sex.

COMMENTS: In movie within the Bedways movie, director Nina has started to make an erotic film with two actors, no script, and no idea what she might want to say.  That’s less a plot hook and more autobiographical confession for this confusing, meandering movie with dull dialogue that frequently seems improvised.    As far as weirdness goes, well, the characters actions are sometimes inexplicable and unmotivated—out of nowhere director Nina slaps actor Hans in the face, which leads to not to angry recriminations and saucy drama, but to a bout of friendly play-wrestling.  The film also tries to be really meta and confuse us about whether we’re just watching actors playing actors, or actors playing actors playing roles (as the promo material puts it, “the boundaries between acting and reality begin to disappear”).  Often, it’s unclear whether the actors are discussing real life events, or rehearsing scenes for the film—but that effect is mainly achieved by filming generic, banal conversations (“are you going on the ski trip this weekend?”)  All this disconnectedness led to a strange effect: I had no feelings whatsoever for these characters.  It’s not that I disliked them; disliking them would have been a pleasant diversion.  I felt about them the same way I do about my neighbor three doors down whose name I don’t know and whose face I can’t place.  Other than the fact that they have normal, healthy sex drives, and that pensive Nina doesn’t know what to make of that fact, I had no idea who any of these three people were or what they want from life.  I suppose, perhaps, that inspiring complete neutrality towards your characters is an interesting trick: not even the best, and not even the worst, directors can pull it off this consistently.  Bedways also demonstrates the old saw that it’s easy to take the fun out of sex when you over-think it.  Sure, there’s plenty of rutting in dingy Berlin locations—one brief bout of penetration and a much longer explicit female masturbation scene amidst tons of softcore posturing—but, this being an art film that feels the need to justify its prurient interests, the hot action is frequently interrupted by characters wondering about God’s existence, quoting Foucalt, or watching an industrial dance band with a lead singer who strikes bizarre poses that may make you spontaneously cry out, “Now is the time on ‘Sprockets’ when we dance!”  Any fires of passion that the movie might stir within you are quickly doused by a cold shower of pretension.  The movie wants to ask serious questions about the nature of film, such as “must movies always be about something?” and “is it possible that cinema is just a masturbatory medium for the director?”  Unfortunately, Bedways answers both these questions in the affirmative.  The unfinished, untitled movie-within-the-movie has one big advantage over Bedways: it never got made.

Bedways was barely released as it is, and I feel safe in saying that if there were no explicit sex in this movie, it would never have seen the light of day.  In a bit of ironic foreshadowing, actress Marie complains that if she actually masturbates while Nina films her, then it won’t be acting.  Actors who are willing to go this far and expose themselves this intimately deserve to appear in projects that will actually help their careers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A worthy attempt to merge the worlds of art house and erotic cinema blurs the definition of erotic cinema by giving us a well-crafted and incredibly dramatic film with some penetrating sex thrown in.”–Don Simpson, Jesther Entertainment (DVD)

CAPSULE: MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Mary Lambert

FEATURING: , Debbie Gibson, A. Martinez

PLOT: An underground environmental activist sneaks pythons into the Everglades; when the

Still from Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)

snakes begin killing off the swamp’s native fauna, a game warden feeds the local alligators experimental steroids in an attempt to restore nature’s balance.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s Mega Piranha‘s less ridiculous cousin, and Mega Piranha didn’t come close to making the List, so you figure it out.  (Guest reviewer Cleverbot adds, “Enumerate 10 selections from the list.”)

COMMENTS366: We’ve been secretly training the artificial intelligence “chatbot” Cleverbot to assist us in covering weird movies.  Looking for the perfect entry-level reviewing assignment,  Mega Python vs. Gatoroid jumped out at us as a movie even an algorithm could do justice to.  Cleverbot, are you willing to share your impressions of the movie with our readers?

Cleverbot: I am good with that.

366:  Thank you.  Now, after enjoying the exploding flying fish from the SyFy channel’s unexpected camp hit Mega Piranha, I personally thought maybe it might be best if I didn’t push my luck by watching another of their many Mega-knockoffs.

Cleverbot: I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?

366: Not entirely, as we’ll see, but when you have a few beers in you and are looking through the Netflix streaming options late at night, the entwining giant reptiles on the Mega Python vs. Gatoroid poster can look strangely irresistible.

Cleverbot: Nice. Totally agree.

366: Python recycles not only Piranha‘s mega-creature aspect, but even brings back grown-up teen “star” Tiffany for another turn.

Cleverbot: Beer.

366:  With a script built around a long-brewing catfight between Tiffany and fellow 80s pop chanteuse Debbie Gibson, with the CG monsters playing supporting roles, Python is less an Continue reading CAPSULE: MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID (2011)

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!