138. DOGVILLE (2003)

“To take ‘Dogville’ primarily as the vehicle for this [anti-American political] view, however, is to make it a much less interesting movie than it is… Mr. Von Trier offered, ‘I think the point to the film is that evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right.’ It is the pervasiveness of that evil — the thoroughness of the film’s pessimism — that may seem most alien of all to doggedly optimistic American sensibilities.”–A.O. Scott quoting Lars von Trier in his New York Times article on Dogville

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Paul Bettany, , , , , Philip Baker Hall, Chloë Sevigny, , Siobhan Fallon,

PLOT: Tom Edison, who fancies himself an intellectual and a moralist and dreams of becoming a writer, is bored with life in the tiny, isolated mountain township of Dogville, until one day he comes across a beautiful, refined young woman who is fleeing gangsters for unknown reasons. Tom falls in love with her and convinces the town to take the woman in and hide her; they agree that the woman, Grace, will do chores for the townspeople to earn her keep and gain their trust. But the more the self-effacing Grace offers to the people of Dogville, the more they abuse her forgiving nature, until they have turned her into the town’s slave; then, the men who were searching her out arrive…

Still from Dogville (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Dogville is the first movie in a proposed trilogy from von Trier entitled (ironically) “America: Land of Opportunity.” The second in the series, Manderlay (2005), was shot on a similar minimalist set, also narrated by John Hurt, and featured the character of Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Manderlay was not as well received and was a financial flop. The third film has not been announced. Von Trier refuses to fly and has never been to the United States.
  • Von Trier set up a reality-show style confessional booth next to the set where (sometimes disgruntled) actors could enter and speak to the camera. This footage was edited into the 52-minute documentary Dogville Confessions, which appears as an extra on some DVD releases of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The shot of Nicole Kidman lying in the truck bed among the apples, seen through the transparent canvas, is probably the film’s most beautiful image. Dogville itself, however, is the film’s most memorable image: a single blank set, with house walls and gooseberry bushes indicated on the floor with chalk.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Think that maybe Dogville may not be such a weird movie? Imagine you are about to pop this DVD into your player when your friend with the most ultra-conservative movie tastes walks in the room and asks what you’re about to watch. You respond, “Nicole Kidman plays a saintly woman fleeing mobsters who’s taken in by a small American town and used as a sex slave. Oh, and it’s shot in a warehouse with the buildings painted on the floor.” If your friend doesn’t immediately leave the room muttering “sounds too weird for me” then congratulations! Your most normal friend is a complete and utter weirdo.


Misleading original American release trailer for Dogville

COMMENTS: What director has a lower opinion of humanity than Lars von Trier? An acid moral parable, Dogville is almost weirdly ultra-rational, in Continue reading 138. DOGVILLE (2003)

CAPSULE: SHEITAN (2006)

DIRECTED BY: Kim Chapiron

FEATURING: Olivier Barthelemy, ,

PLOT: Four young people agree to spend Christmas at the country home of a beautiful stranger they meet at a Paris club, but the oddball caretaker takes an intense and unhealthy interest in one of the crew.

Still from Sheitan (2006)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The adjective “weird” pops up a couple of times in reviews describing Sheitan, but we suspect that the misusage must be due to a lack of exposure to the truly bizarre stuff. Up until Sheitan‘s final act, there’s little—other than Vincent Cassel’s oddball performance—to suggest this French slasher lies very far outside of the normal range of teens-in-a-cabin horror. Unusual direction and a strange finish nudge Sheitan just barely into the weird column, but not enough to compete with the big weird boys.

COMMENTS: Honestly, despite a gonzo performance by an uncomfortably peppy Vincent Cassel, a steamy male-male-female threesome, and a startling final image, the thing that sticks with me most about Sheitan is how hateful its protagonists are. The movie starts with the fours youngsters at Club Styx, where the most emblematically despicable of the lot, Bart, is chilling out with drunken resentment. He finally works up the courage to make a clumsy pass at an understandably disinterested chick, then starts verbally abusing her when she rejects him. He sucker punches a Prince Charming who steps in to defend the innocent girl’s honor, spits in a bouncer’s face, and gets a well-deserved bottle upside his head. This, ladies and gentlemen, is our antihero, and he doesn’t get much more pleasant from here on out. He dreams about taking advantage of a female friend while she sleeps, kicks a goat, and blames everyone around him for all the bad karma he brings on himself. Although his buddies are shallow, sex-obsessed petty thieves, their worst quality is that they willingly remain friends with Bart. Bart is so abhorrent that when the clearly deranged groundskeeper Joseph (Cassel) of the house at which the gang has decided to spend Christmas Eve immediately emerges as Bart’s nemesis, we enjoy it. The perpetually grinning Joseph (Cassel’s jaw must have hurt like hell when he left the set each night) makes ambiguously homosexual suggestions to Bart, while at the same time constantly forgetting the boy’s name. The annoyance Joseph breeds in le bagge de douche whets our appetite to see these kids finally get bumped off in grisly ways (but warning: the obnoxious cast survives for far too long). There’s no doubt that this reversal of our expected sympathies is deliberate, or that it has the disquieting effect of tempting us to root for the “evil” character. As an experiment playing with the audience’s feelings and expectations, Sheitan is successful; that does not, however, make it pleasant watching these nitwits. There is symbolism along the way: religion, from the Garden of Eden to the birth of Christ, is referenced frequently and sometimes cleverly. And the fact that each of the feral French twentysomethings is from a different ethnic background—an African, an Arab, an Asian and a native Gaul—seems somehow significant. On the movie’s plus ledger, Cassel is possessed and magnetic, Mesquida is a sexy revelation, and the hallucinatory ending leaves us with some lingeringly sick imagery. Still, the thing I will remember about the movie is it’s painful vision of odious, amoral youth with horrible taste in music. This movie really hates young people, which is cool and all—hey, we all want those damn kids to stay off our lawns—but Sheitan goes just a little too far.

Sheitan is sometimes considered part of the “New French Extremity” genre of transgressive horror, along with movies like ‘s self-mutilation feature In My Skin (2002), Alexandre Aja’s ultraviolent slasher Haute Tension (2003), and others. It’s Deliverance-style urbanites-at-the-mercy-of-peasants theme is reminiscent of the similarly unpleasant but far weirder NFE feature Calvaire (2004). Ultimately, Sheitan isn’t very “extreme”—you will see more blood in any typical Hollywood horror—but it shares the genre’s queasy pessimism about human nature.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…deeply weird, art-housey, nerve-shredding French horror…”–David Mattin, BBC (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Irene. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY – THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett

FEATURING: Graham Chapman, , Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin,

PLOT: Fourteen different animation studios bring chapters of Monty Python alumnus Graham Chapman’s farcical written autobiography to life, with narration provided by Chapman himself (recorded before he snuffed it in 1989 at 48 years of age).

Still from A Liar's Autiobiography (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s weird enough, but the appeal is too limited—it’s mainly Monty Python memorial fanservice.

COMMENTS: It begins (after thirty seconds of abuse) with Graham Chapman, or rather with a photograph of Chapman’s head digitally pasted onto a cutout of Chapman’s body, forgetting a line while onstage performing a live sketch. As the audience and his cutout co-stars grow restless at the awkward silence, the roof opens and helpful aliens beam the suffering actor up into a psychedelic Saturday morning kid’s show version of a spacecraft. It appears that the foregoing was all a hallucination, however, and after spewing a beautiful chunk of rainbow vomit into a gas mask as he’s being wheeled into surgery, Chapman begins reflecting on his childhood. He focuses on a (perhaps unreliable) early memory of being taken for a stroll through the wartime streets of a British city, calmly smoking his pipe as mom pushes his pram over the severed limbs littering the street. And that’s just the first ten minutes of this odd opus. At its best, A Liar’s Autobiography skips along from one insane sketch to another with the absurdist impatience of a good episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Unfortunately, the script is rarely at its best, and things frequently bog down with scenes like Chapman’s memories of arguments over getting haddock or halibut during a childhood vacation; incidents that neither enlighten us about the enigmatic comic’s artistry nor, more importantly, make us laugh very hard. Chapman adds silly little jokes to his life story—such as the notion that his parents were disappointed when he was born because they were hoping for a “heterosexual black Jew with several amusing birth defects” because they “needed the problems.” This autobiography, however, probably could have used more substantial and ongoing lies, like a recurring supervillain nemesis, because a gripping life story does not emerge here: the movie plays more as a series of digressive comic essays loosely organized around Chapman’s personal chronology. The genesis and operations of Monty Python are largely passed over, though fans will catch some throwaway lines and references, and clips of some classic sketches are incorporated. None of the rest of the troupe are more than minor characters in the story. The two themes Chapman keeps returning to are his homosexuality (bisexuality, if he’d had a few drinks) and his alcoholism. From what appears onscreen, Chapman never struggled with his homosexual urges, but became a “raging poof” quite enthusiastically. Nor were his friends particularly shocked—though he does make Marty Feldman faint from giggling at his coming out party—so there’s no element of conflict to the movie’s sexual subtext. Alcohol proves a more fruitful antagonist, and scenes of hazy hotel room escapades with random groupies and a squiggly Edvard Munch-ian delirium tremens sequence add darker textures. What keeps Autobiography watchable even during its driest patches are, firstly, the constantly shifting animation styles, which range from a dingy variant on Pixar-style 3D to a blocky children’s storybook style to an experimental bits with partially translucent figures. The other thing that keeps you watching despite the lack of any compelling storyline are the completely off-the-wall bits that may pop up at any moment. A man walks out of a bomber cockpit and finds two lesbians making love in the cargo bay; Cameron Diaz voices Sigmund Freud as he analyzes the previous segment; Chapman rides in a roller coaster shaped like a penis past bizarre clumps of suspended breasts. Though not the funniest by a long stretch, Autobiography may be the most surreal project any Python was ever associated with, which is saying something in itself. Overall, this is an uneven piece, but regular readers of this site will surely find something to admire in it. Python fans will obviously want to check it out, although they also stand to be the most disappointed in its lack of probing insights into its central character.

The movie’s official site is worth a click; by answering an interminable series of silly screening questions designed to identify your level of (im)maturity, you can gradually unlock content from the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an engaging trip: miscellaneous, wittily surreal, with a sadness to lend it a structuring heartbeat.”–Nigel Andrews, Financial Times (contemporaneous)

3RD ANNUAL WEIRDCADEMY AWARDS: THE WINNERS

In just a few hours, the telecast of the Oscars (or, as we refer to them, the “Weirdcademy Awards for squares”) will begin. We’re happy to steal the Academy’s Thunder by announcing the winners of 2012 weirdest movies.

In the category of “Weirdest Short Film,” the Weirdcademy Award goes to Andrew Huang for “Solipsist.”

In the category of “Weirdest Scene,” the Weirdcademy Award goes to Holy Motors for the intermission where Denis Lavant strides through a church playing R.L. Burnside’s “Let My Baby Ride” with a full accordion band.

In the category of “Weirdest Actress,” the award goes to Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild for her role as Hushpuppy, the 6-year old pre-orphan who sees prehistoric monsters on the bayou.

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

In the category of “Weirdest Actor,” the Award goes to for playing Merde, the fashion model-abducting leprechaun, and ten more roles in Holy Motors.

Still from Holy Motors (2012)

And in the category of “Weirdest Feature Film,” the award goes to Holy Motors, the movie where Mr. Oscar tools around Paris taking on the role of a leprechaun, accordionist, a chimp’s hubby, and more.

The full voting results can be viewed here (here for short film nominees).

Thanks to all members of the Weirdcademy, and see you again next year!

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

We’ll start off next week with a look at Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (2012), a surreal animated concoction narrated from beyond the grave by Chapman himself. We’ll follow that up with a couple of flicks from the reader-suggested review queue: the “New French Extremity” horror Sheitan (2006) and Lars von Trier’s misanthropic Dogville (2003). To cap off the week, Alfred will finish up his survey of the overlooked career of with a review of The Chaser (1928), the second (and last existing) self-directed feature from slapstick’s “forgotten clown.”

Nothing (for you) to worry about, but our Google traffic took an unexplained nosedive this week. We still manage to locate mucho weird search terms sticking out of the statistical traffic wreckage like severed limbs. We’ll start with the person looking for advice to “stop dogs humping gf wakeup” (wanting to stop dogs from humping your girlfriend is perfectly understandable—it’s only the unexplained “wakeup” at the end that turns it into a weird search term). If that doesn’t ring your weird bell, how about the guy who’s looking to “chat shrewish directly”? And, while we’d actually like to see “bizarre movie about love transforming into goat,” if we had our video druthers we’d check out this week’s Weirdest Search Term of the Week winner, “naked barbarela vs. king kong,” instead. Why, oh why did Dino de Laurentiis have to die before he could greenlight that script?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Sheitan (next week!); Dogville (next week!); Liquid Sky (re-review); Society (official review); “Foutaises”;  Julien Donkey-boy; Amelie; The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao; 1; Fast, Cheap and Out of Control; Tokyo Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/22/2013

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 DEVELOPMENT:

Les Sources Occultes (2013?): This French trailer was dropped off on our Facebook doorstep; it’s from the director of Vampyres (2007) and looks pro. Our French is rusty, but as we read their Facebook page they are seeking inverted transvestites and teenagers inside flowers to serve as extras. Les Sources Occultes Facebook page.

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NEW ON DVD:

Highlander 2: Renegade Version (1991): The first Highlander movie about battling Immortals was a cult hit because of its originality; the sequel is a notoriously confusing and illogical mess that’s a cult movie for the wrong reasons. Roger Ebert called the original cut “hilariously incomprehensible,” but this “Renegade edition” (which has been previously released) purports to make more sense. Buy Highlander 2: Renegade Version.

Repligator (1996): A military experiment turns male soldiers into female nymphomaniacs who turn into alligators when they reach orgasm (!) We don’t know if it’s a “cult classic ripe for rediscovery” as the ad copy claims, but the plot synopsis and the box cover featuring a bikini babe with a gator head makes it worth a mention. With scream queen Brinke Stevens. Buy Repligator.

Small Apartments (2012): A lunatic surrounded by eccentric neighbors (a wannabe stripper, a curmudgeonly artist, a stoner) tries to hide the fact that he’s killed his landlord, while dreaming of escaping to Switzerland. The curious cast is headlined by Matt Lukas (who plays most of the movie in his underwear) and also features Billy Crystal, James Caan, Juno Temple, Johnny Knoxville and Dolph Lundgren. Buy Small Apartments.

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NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Highlander 2: Renegade Version (1991): See description in DVD above. Buy Highlander 2: Renegade Version [Blu-ray].

Shutterbug (2009): A photographer begins to see spots before his eyes after staring into the sun, then realizes he’s seen into another dimension and takes a Dante-esque trip through New York City looking for an explanation of his vision. This little-seen independent feature makes a surprise appearance on Blu-ray. Buy Shutterbug [Blu-ray].

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.

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