QUIRKY, NOT WEIRD

“Quirky” can be defined as “full of quirks.”  A “quirk”  is “a strange attitude or habit” (synonyms: oddity, queerness, crotchet).

In the late 1980s to early 1990s, about the time of the rise of the Sundance Festival, “serious” (as opposed to exploitation-style) independent films exploded in the United States.  “Quirky” comedies quickly became a staple of independent movies and low budget movie festivals.  These films had light tones but serious, life-affirming themes, were witty and gently wry (but never ruined the mood by going so far as to be biting), and were filled to the brim with eccentric characters.  The fast-developing sub-genre became a darling of film critics.

One of the first quirky comedies was the early Coen brothers effort, Raising Arizona (1987).  Holly Hunter played an infertile cop with a male name (“Ed”) who falls in love with peaceful burglar Nicolas Cage, who also has an odd name (“Hi”) and occasionally speaks in Shakespearean dialogue.  These characters were highly eccentric but essentially harmless, and although the movie was actually a little bit weird (with Tex Cobb as a mystical biker/bounty hunter with supernatural abilities that surpassed the merely quirky), once the Coen’s more bizarre proclivities were snipped away, Raising Arizona served as a template for quirky movies to follow.  (That quirky and weird can still coexist in the same movie was proven by Chan-wook Park’s I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK [2006], though notably it took an outsider to the American independent film tradition to pull it off.)

The first movie I think of when I think of the modern quirky formula is Baghdad Cafe (1987).  It’s an exemplary cast of quirks: a stranded German housfrau who does magic tricks, a sassy and irritable black woman, an Indian short-order cook, a tattoist, Jack Palance as a retired Hollywood set painter.  It’s set in the desert, the quintessentially quirky locale.  It’s light (real danger never raises its head) and life-affirming (in the end the characters learn and grow from each others’ diametrically opposed quirks).

Other movies that clearly fall into the quirky genre are Roadside Prophets (1992), Benny & Joon (1993), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Clerks (1994) (a bit more profane and piquant than typical quirk), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), the recently reviewed Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006), and of course, anything by the reigning King Continue reading QUIRKY, NOT WEIRD

FREE (LEGITIMATE) WEIRD MOVIES ON YOUTUBE

In a move that says “if you can’t bring yourself to actually police people uploading copyrighted movies, you might as well encourage copyright holders to upload their own,” YouTube has recently invited movie studios to upload copies of their own movies.

I’m personally against watching full-length movies on YouTube (or any computer service), at least with current technology. The quality of the video is typically so bad that it’s often an insult to the film, and even the most expensive monitor usually provides an inferior viewing experience to an inexpensive television. You also have to deal with clumsy navigation, occasional network outages, and of course, ads. Ads inserted into the YouTube videos are unskippable and occur about once every twenty minutes. But, the service is offered for free, and you get what you pay for.

As might be expected, the initial selection of films is motley. Currently offered are a few moderately popular older movies (like DePalma’s Carrie adaptation and Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger) mixed in with public domain features, some forgotten B-movies that (given their limited audience) might as well have lapsed into the public domain, PBS documentaries, a few Bollywood movies, and some independent productions of varying quality. There are also a few gems on offer. I’ve tried to list some of the titles that may be of interest to our readers (keep in mind that I haven’t viewed any of these all the way through and make no guarantees as to quality or editing).

Animal Farm (1954): The animated version of George Orwell’s classic cautionary fable about the Russian Revolution.  Watch.

Casino Royale (1967): With five directors and an all-star cast (David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles and Woody Allen, among others) in an out-of-control nonsense plot, this non-canonical Ian Fleming spy spoof is the weirdest Bond film ever made. Watch.

Do You Like Hitchcock? [Ti Pace Hitchcock?] (2005): Recent Dario Argento thriller/giallo. Watch.

Elvira’s Movie Macabre: Blue Sunshine (1976/1983): This movie about some bad LSD that turns hippies into serial killers years later is viewed as both atmospheric and ridiculous; voluptuous 1980s horror hostess Elvira comments on the latter aspects between commercial breaks. Watch.  Also available for Elvira fans:  Monstroid (watch).

Even Dwarfs Started Small [Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen] (1970): This early Werner Herzog movie about little people overrunning an institution is his most surreal effort.  Watch.  There is actually a wealth of Herzog of youtube courtesy of Anchor Bay: you can also find the classic Aguirre, the Wrath of God (watch), Fitzcarraldo (watch), Woyzeck (watch), and the documentary My Best Fiend about the director’s stormy relationship with intense actor Klaus Kinski (watch). NOTE: As of 5/23/04, the Herzog material has been removed, with the exception of My Best Fiend.

The Film Crew: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett’s post-MST3K direct-to-video
Continue reading FREE (LEGITIMATE) WEIRD MOVIES ON YOUTUBE

21. THE WICKER MAN (1973)

“I think it is a film fantastique in a way… a film fantastique can have almost anything in it, it’s based on facts but it can take flights of fancy which are still rooted to the truth, to the reality of the story, so the imagination can roam.”–Robin Hardy

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Robin Hardy

FEATURING:  Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland,

PLOT:  A devout Christian policeman flies to the isolated island of Summerisle off the coast of Scotland to investigate a report of a missing girl.  When he gets there, everyone denies knowledge of the girl, but he notices with increasing disgust that the entire island is practicing old pagan rituals and licentious sex.  As his investigation continues, he uncovers evidence suggesting that the missing girl was a resident of the island, and may have met a horrible fate.

the_wicker_man_1973

BACKGROUND:

  • Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer was a hot property in 1973 after adapting his own successful mystery play Sleuth into a 1972 hit movie with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and penning the screenplay for Frenzy (1972) for Alfred Hitchcock.  His clout was so great that this film was released under the official title Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man.  He later adapted Agatha Christie novels such as Murder on the Orient Express (1974) for the big screen.
  • Director Robin Hardy, despite doing an excellent job on this film, did not direct a feature film again until 1986’s Wicker Man variation, The Fantasist.
  • Christopher Lee, who had just come to the end of his run as Hammer’s Dracula, donated his acting services to the production.  He was quoted in 1977 as saying, “It’s the best part I’ve ever had.  Unquestionably.”
  • The “wicker man” was a historically accurate feature of Druidic religions that was first described to the world by Julius Caesar in his “Commentary on the Gallic Wars.”
  • In Britain the film was released on the bottom half of a double bill with Don’t Look Now, perhaps the most impressive psychological horror double feature in history.
  • Shaffer and Hardy published a novelization of the film in 1976.
  • “Cinefastique” devoted an entire 1977 issue to the film, calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror movies.”
  • In 2001, an additional 12 minutes of deleted scenes were added to create a “Director’s Cut” version.
  • Some of the original footage is believed to be lost forever, including part of the scene where Sgt. Howie first meets Lord Summerisle.  The original negative was accidentally thrown away when original producer British Lion Films went under and cleaned out its vaults.
  • The climax was voted #45 in Bravo’s list of the “100 Scariest Movie Moments.”
  • The 2006 Neil LaBute remake starring Nicolas Cage had as little as possible to do with the original story, was universally reviled, and was even accused of being misogynistic.  Some argue that it is so poorly conceived and made that it has significant camp value.
  • Hardy released a “spiritual sequel,” The Wicker Tree, in 2011.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The wicker man itself (although, for those of a certain gender, Britt Ekland’s nude dance may be even harder to forget).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Hardy and Shaffer create an atmosphere like no other; it’s an encounter of civilized man with strange, primeval beliefs.  Select scenes are subtly surreal—observe how the villagers break into an impossibly well-choreographed bawdy song about the innkeeper’s daughter preternaturally designed to discomfit their sexually repressed guest.  Other weird incidents are more outrageously in the viewer’s face: the vision of a woman breastfeeding a child in a graveyard while delicately holding an egg in her outstretched hand.  Almost invisible details such as the children’s lessons scribbled on the classroom blackboard (“the toadstone protects the newly born from the weird woman”) saturate the film and reveal how painstakingly its makers constructed a haunting alternate world of simultaneously fascinating and repulsive pagan beliefs.  The rituals Sergeant Howie witnesses don’t always make sense (and when they do, their significance is repulsive to him), but they tap into a deep, buried vein of myth.  The viewer himself undergoes a dread confrontation with Old Gods who are at the same time familiar and terrifyingly strange.

Original trailer for The Wicker Man

COMMENTS: CONFESSION: The version reviewed here–horrors!–is the 88 minute theatrical Continue reading 21. THE WICKER MAN (1973)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/15/09

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):

Anaglyph Tom (Tom with the Puffy Cheeks) (2009): Here’s a weird one I wasn’t aware of.  In 1969 SUNY Binghampton film professor Ken Jacobs took the old Thomas Edison Biograph  short Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1905) and performed nutty psychedelic manipulations on the film stock to create what some regarded as an avant-garde masterpiece.  Now, he’s revisited the same material using modern film techniques, and it’s in 3-D!  Unlikely to play much outside of Manhattan, but keep an eye out of you live in a large city with an artsy community (there’s also a showing in Salt Lake City).  No official site.

Big Man Japan [Dai-Nipponjin] (2007):  A postmodern Japanese superhero tale about an unglamorous slacker who transforms into a giant man periodically to fight kaiju (giant monsters a la Godzilla).  Very well reviewed.  Big Man Japan official site: (English)

The Brothers Bloom (2008):  Looks to be a quirky indie comedy about a pair of con-men brothers pulling one last job.  Kurt Loder of MTV called it “wonderfully weird,” but for all I know he thinks “Masterpiece Theater” is weird.  The Brothers Bloom official site.

O’Horten (2007): Apparently a pleasant quirky comedy about a recently retired (and therefore directionless) Norwegian train engineer.  Opens this week in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. O’Horten official site.

NEW ON DVD:

S. Darko: A Donnie Darko (2009):  The much-dreaded sequel to Donnie Darko (2001) lands directly on DVD.  Try to keep an open mind. Buy from Amazon.  Also available in 2-pack that includes both Donnie Darko and S. Darko.

Wise Blood (1979):  John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s (only) novel is a southern Gothic tale of a preacher who founds his own church sans Jesus Christ.  The movie fell through the cracks on release and is finally being released on DVD.  Buy from Amazon.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Fargo (1996): Not really weird, but the Coen brothers are always offbeat enough to be worth a watch, and this is one of their classics for videophiles who want to upgrade their copy.  Buy from Amazon

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.

HARRY LANGDON’S “THREE’S A CROWD” (1927): SILENT CINEMA’S MALIGNED DARK HORSE

Approaching Harry Langdon’s Three’s a Crowd is a loaded task. This film, possibly more than other from silent cinema, comes with an almost legendary amount of vehemently negative appendage. One time collaborator Frank Capra played the self-serving spin doctor in film history’s assessment of Langdon and this film. He characterized Langdon’s directorial debut as unchecked egotism run amok, resulting in a career destroying, poorly managed misfire and disaster.

That assessment is a grotesque and clueless mockery of film criticism.

The startlingly inept critical consensus, in it’s failure to recognize this dark horse, existentialist, Tao masterpiece, reveals far more about reviewers than it does this film. The complete failure of that consensus to rise to Langdon’s artistic challenges, to appreciate his risk taking towards a highly individualistic texture of this most compelling purist art of silent cinema, only serves to validate the inherent and prevailing laziness in the art of film criticism.

Capra’s statements are frequently suspect. As superb a craftsman as Frank Capra was, he also made amazingly asinine, disparaging remarks regarding European film’s penchant for treating the medium as an art form as opposed to populist entertainment. So, likewise, Capra’s inability to fully grasp Langdon’s desired aesthetic goals and intentions is both understandable and predictable. Samuel Beckett and James Agee are considerably far more trustworthy and reliable in regards to the artistry of Harry Langdon.

Capra credited himself for developing Langdon’s character through several shorts, along with the features Strongman and Long Pants. Actually, Langdon had thrived as a vaudeville act for twenty years and had appeared in over a dozen shorts before he and Capra began their brief, ill-fated collaboration.

Aesthetically, Langdon was Capra’s antithesis and the surprise is not that the two artists Continue reading HARRY LANGDON’S “THREE’S A CROWD” (1927): SILENT CINEMA’S MALIGNED DARK HORSE

JAMES MANNAN’S TOP TEN WEIRD FILMS

In this occasional feature where we ask established directors and critics to list what they feel are their top 10 “weird” movies.  There are no constraints on what the author can pick. This list comes from James Mannan, owner of Liberty or Death productions.  James has directed and produced Wannabe, To Haunt You and Hallow’s Dance with partner R. Panet.

  1. Un Chien Andalou (France 1929; dir. Luis Buñuel):  The keystone of surrealist cinema. In its short 18 minutes this film turned the cinematic conventions of its day on their ear. The disturbing, subversive aesthetics continue to challenge today’s audiences and filmmakers.
  2. Die Nackte und der Satan aka The Head (West Germany, 1959; dir. Victor Trivas): The ultimate summation of the mad scientist/transplant sub-genre, this is far more artistic and conceptually challenging than the better known knock-off The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (which was made in the US 3 years later).  Expressionist production design was by Hermann Warm (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and atmospheric cinematography by George Kraus (Kubrick’s Paths of Glory).  The most amazing (and later copied) image is, of course, the living severed head of Michel Simon as Dr Abel, but seemingly all of the characters are touched in some way by mad science, including the villainous Dr. Ood.
  3. Manos, the Hands of Fate (USA 1966; dir. Harold P. Warren):  This is a favorite of the “Mystery Science Theatre” crowd, but Manos needs no running commentary to point out its delicious oddities–chief among which is the performance of John Reynolds as the servant “Torgo.” Every element of this below-grade-Z production is sublimely dreadful in a way neither Ed Wood or Al Adamson could have achieved.
  4. Satánico Pandemonium (Mexico 1975; dir. Gilberto Martínez Solares):  A Mexican Nun is possessed by the devil and is soon corrupting the innocence of her fellow nuns and the nearby villagers. And you thought Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix was shocking…
  5. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (USA 1973; dir. Richard Blackburn):  Blackburn was fresh out of film school when he directed this gothic coming-of-age tale, inspired in parts by both H P Lovecraft and The Night of the Hunter.  Extraordinarily ambitious, considering the low budget, the film has a unique atmosphere of weird dread.  Lemora benefits enormously from the performance of Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith as the “singing angel” Lila Lee.  Smith marvelously projects the adolescent girl’s wariness at each new threat to her innocence, in what amounts to a kind of a demented version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Continue reading JAMES MANNAN’S TOP TEN WEIRD FILMS

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SEX AND LUCIA [LUCIA Y EL SEXO] (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Julio Medem

FEATURING: Paz Vega, Tristán Ulloa, Najwa Nimri

PLOT:  Lucia, a waitress, falls in love with Lorenzo, a young novelist with a secret in his past; their passionate love story is intertwined with dramatized scenes from Lorenzo’s novel, with it left to the viewer to decide what is “real” and what is “fiction.”

sex_and_lucia


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTSex and Lucia‘s fractured narrative is more confusing than weird.  It’s meta-narrative conceits call to mind Adaptation, another movie that ultimately felt too much like an intellectual exercise to be extremely weird. Sex and Lucia treats it’s fiction-within-a-fiction structure with more subtlety and ambiguity, though Charlie Kauffman’s screenplay exists on a satirical plane that in the end makes it the more centered and satisfying effort.

COMMENTS:  The best things about Sex and Lucia are sex (important enough to get its own paragraph!) and Lucia (Paz Vega, whose acting is as naked as her body). While counting its plusses, we should also mention the cinematography, done on a digital camera, with the scenes on the Mediterranean isle bleached like a seashell in the sun.  The story is another matter.  Many viewers find it frustrating that Medem riddles his script with narrative wormholes which shuttle the story back in time or to an alternate resolution, then demands the viewer assist in the construction by choosing what is part of the “real” story and what is in Lorenzo’s imagination. The bigger problem may be that none of the possibilities he offers have a tremendous emotional resonance.  The movie is arty and self-conscious throughout, with multiple obviously significant shots of the moon. Symbolism is pervasive and tends to make sense, but adds up to little in the way of genuine insight.  While these difficulties make Sex and Lucia less than it might have been, it’s still beautiful enough to be lightly intoxicating, like a Mediterranean vacation or a one-nighter with a beautiful woman.

The sex scenes, especially those between the gorgeous and unselfconscious Vega and Ulloa, are undoubtedly a major attraction.  The lovers’ exploration of their bodies and sexual tastes during their whirlwind courtship is erotic and tasteful; the scenes are arousing, but are also beautifully constructed to create a sense of true intimacy between the characters.  The sex is front-loaded; after the middle of the film, when a sordid and pornographic but equally erotic fantasy occurs, sex leaves Lucia and Lorenzo’s relationship, replaced by tragedy and arguments.  Medem refused to let the sexier parts of the film be cut for distribution, but the scenes of tumescent male nudity and fellatio are so brief that they are unnecessary and reek of gimmickry; it’s difficult to rationalize the director’s passionate defense of the artistic necessity of erections.  The film may be purchased in either a unrated cut or in an R-rated version; your enjoyment of the movie is unlikely to be affected by which version you choose (I can’t determine if there’s a difference in runtime between the two versions).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“At its best, Sex and Lucia works literally like a dream, like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away — the narrative is fractured and oblique, the meaning suppressed. It will infuriate a lot of moviegoers, perhaps especially those looking for a high class dirty movie.”–Phillip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (DVD)

20. GUMMO (1997)

“When I saw a piece of fried bacon fixed to the bathroom wall in Gummo, it knocked me off my chair.”–Werner Herzog

DIRECTED BY: Harmony Korine

FEATURING: Chloë Sevigny, Jacob Reynolds, non-professionals chosen for their freakish looks

PLOT:  A tornado devastated the town of Xenia, Ohio in the 1970s.  Twenty years later, a teenager (Tummler) and a younger tagalong (Solomon) hunt feral cats, selling them to the local grocer for money they use to buy sniffing glue and trysts with a fat, mentally disabled prostitute.  Meanwhile, other white-trash characters roam the landscape unsupervised, including two trashy teen girls who seem to be raising their kid sister and a shirtless mute boy who wears pink bunny ears.

gummo

BACKGROUND:

  • Harmony Korine (who is male) had previously written script for Kids (1995).  He was given $1.5 million and free reign by Fine Line Features (the now-defunct “independent” branch of New Line Pictures) to create exactly the picture he wanted to.
  • A devastating tornado really did hit Xenia, OH in 1974.
  • Gummo was the fifth Marx brother, who left the group before they began their successful film career.
  • Although critical reaction was largely negative (scoring a disappointing 29% on Rotten Tomatoes tomatomer at press time), several established directors—Werner Herzog, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Luc Godard, Gus Van Sant, and Erol Morris—expressed admiration and support for the picture.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  No one forgets the scene of Solomon eating spaghetti and chocolate in the grimy bathtub with oily green water (with, as Werner Herzog marveled, bacon taped to the walls).  The most illustrative image, however, may be when “Bunny Boy” (the shirtless waif wearing pink bunny ears) thrusts a dead cat at the camera.  This vision brings to mind the act of this director presenting this work to his audience.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDGummo looks a lot like what might result if someone took home movies from that embarrassing, welfare-addicted branch of the family no one likes to talk about and mixed them in a blender with the final project short films from the NYU Film School graduating class of ’97.

Brief clip from Gummo

COMMENTS: Gummo is an exasperating film that compels the viewer mainly through the odd Continue reading 20. GUMMO (1997)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/8/09 (WITH “ILL-ADVISED HOLLYWOOD REMAKE” SUPPLEMENT)

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):

Little Ashes:  Not itself a weird movie, but an art-house drama about primal Surrealists Salvador Dali, Luis Buñuel and Federico Garcia Lorca, exploring a long rumored love-affair between Dali and Lorca.  Reviews are poor; it doesn’t appear the movie transcends its intended gay romance audience.  Little Ashes official site

Since there’s so little this week either in theaters or in new DVD releases to appeal to fans of the weird, we turn to… 

IN DEVELOPMENT (ILL-ADVISED HOLLYWOOD REMAKE EDITION):

Angel Heart:  Scheduled for 2011 per IMDBAngel Heart has dated well and features Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro, who still have box-office drawing power, so why not just re-release the original?

The Birds:  In my opinion, Michael Bay should keep his damn dirty paws off Hitchcock.  The original The Birds was a great movie with horrible special effects; we should expect the exact reverse from a Bay-produced remake.  Here’s the rumor from Film Junk.

I Walked with a Zombie:  The atmospheric and literary Val Lewton classic is getting a Hollywood update.  What director could tackle this project with the sensitivity it deserves?  The first name that comes to mind, of course, is Adam Marcus, who showed with the subtle Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday that he is the true spiritual heir of Lewton’s “quiet horror” aesthetic.  Per IMDB it’s a go.

Let the Right One In:  I haven’t even fit the original into my busy viewing schedule yet.  I suspect it will be a dumbed-down version aimed at people who loathe subtitles and quiet passages.  Unlike some of the other ill-advised titles on the list, remakes of foreign hits are inevitable.  Readers at BloodyDisgusting.com are infuriated.

The Man Who Fell to Earth:  This is slated for 2009 per the IMDB, though it’s not in production yet so time is running out.  One would assume the point of remaking Nicolas Roeg‘s cult sci-fi film would be too sanitize and de-weirdify it for mass consumption, but who knows for sure? 

Plan 9 from Outer Space:  Um, how (and why?) do you remake a movie that is notoriously considered the worst ever made?  (By the way, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 was not the worst movie ever made, not by a long shot, but it is probably the most unintentionally hilarious Z-grade film ever created).  Direct-to-video director John Johnson suggests he will do “a serious-minded retelling of the original story,” which sounds like he will simply strip off everything that made Ed’s original beloved and produce another schlocky, forgettable B-movie.  It’s set to be released in September 2009, with scream queen Brinke Stevens (in the Vampira role) apparently top-billed, and Conrad Brooks returning from the original (he’s been promoted from patrolman to lieutenant).

But not so fast!  An underground outfit named Drunkenflesh films (no website, but a Myspace page) has rushed out a virtually contentless teaser trailer announcing their own remake of Plan 9, under Ed’s preferred title, Graverobbers from Outer Space:    

 

Continue reading WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/8/09 (WITH “ILL-ADVISED HOLLYWOOD REMAKE” SUPPLEMENT)

ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏

Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema will not appear this week.  In it’s place is Alfred’s list of his top 10 weird films in the genre he calls “naive surrealism.”

For 366 Weird Movies, the following is a list of “all the way under the radar” Weird Movies.

These are the films that would fall under the category of being either “Naturally Weird” or “Naive Surrealism.”  For instance, no film of David Lynch’s makes the list, mainly because Lynch is too self consciously aware and too clever to be called natural or naive.  Nothing against Lynch’s films, which are some of the most delightfully weird films ever made (well the earlier ones, at least).  The same could be said for the undeniably great Luis Buñuel, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Jan Svankmajer, and Guy Maddin, to name a few.  In the same vein, overtly “Experimental Films” (ie: Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Daina Krummins) are excluded, regardless of the temptation.

* Also excluded is Donnie Darko which is good, but annoyingly overrated and oh so “trendy weird on the sleeve.”  The same goes for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” which is not good at all and was 1980’s “trendy weird” (besides, that band really lost it’s genuine, honest to goodness weirdness with the departure of Syd Barrett).

  1. Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Cinema’s most celebrated outsider artist; Ed Wood.  Wood defines the meaning of “natural auteur.”  One always recognizes an Ed Wood film, even when accidentally stumbling upon it.  Wood stamped his honest, eccentric personality onto everything he touched and this is what separates him from the rest of the Z grade amateurs of his time.  Indeed, Wood is far preferable to both his peers and the mere “assignment” directors.  Anything from Wood’s oeuvre could fit, but it is Glen or Glenda, rather than Plan 9 from Outer Space, that is Wood’s most zany, personal unintentional masterpiece.
  2. Tod Browning‘s The Unknown & Freaks.  Browning, could hardly be called naive, but his attraction to the outcast and misfit was sincere as he had spent many years making his living in the carnival circuit.  Browning knew and spoke the freak language, which is what made his bonding collaboration with Lon Chaney possibly the most unique Director/Actor collaboration in film history.  Both The Unknown and Freaks were among Browning’s most personal films (a third would be 1927’s The Show with John Gilbert), but The Unknown (his greatest achievement) slightly trumps Freaks with a genuinely startling plot development that is absurd, dramatic and without drawing attention to itself.  The accomplished acting of Chaney certainly helped Browning pull this off (and, no question, Chaney’s acting ranks with Chaplin and Coogan as the greatest of the silent era).  Lesser artists would have done this with bells and horns, but with Chaney and Browning, it goes way under the skin.  Browning certainly knew Freaks was going to generate reactions, but was undoubtedly taken back and unprepared for the level of intense negativity unleashed, which destroyed his career.  Tragedy aside, the ensuing drama perfectly capped his legend.
  3. Charlie Bower’s Egged On. Not enough is known of Charlie Bowers to determine whether or not his surrealistic, independent shorts were intentionally surreal or knowingly experimental.  It is known Bowers was (and remains) the perennial outsider, unfortunately inept in areas of self-promotion, marketing and perseverance.  His best films were the ones that mixed live action with animation and included his character, even if that character lacked the charismatic personality of Keaton, Chaplin, etc.  His later, strictly animated films that did not include the live action mix and character lack the overall unique whimsical quality of the earlier shorts (although some of that eccentric whimsy is present). A Wild Roomer, He Done His Best, Now You Tell One, and It’s a Bird are some of the most idiosyncratic shorts of any era (and evoke a spirit similar to the much later Dr. Seuss).   Andre Breton understandably adored him.  Egged On has to be seen to be believed and involves a basket of eggs which hatch, giving birth to a litter of miniature Model T Fords!  It is almost heartbreaking that only 15 of his films survive, but one has to be forever grateful that those 15 were finally discovered and restored.
  4. Jack Hill’s Spider BabySpider Baby has earned it’s cult status.  Nothing else Hill did (which is very little) has quite this flavor.  It’s not a surrealist film, as some have claimed, but it is an enjoyably demented one of a kind.  Lon Chaney, Jr. actually gives a good performance (reportedly he laid off the liquor as he liked the script) and the rest of the cast match him.  This low budget film seems very much like a happy accident.  It sat collecting dust for four years, was horribly distributed under numerous titles, but eventually found it’s cult audience, which is a lucky thing.
  5. John Parker’s Dementia: Daughter of Horror.  Speaking of mini budget obscurities: nothing is really known of director Parker, if he did any other films, if this a pseudonym, etc.  For several years this was believed to be a non-existent film, then a copy turned up.  Good thing, this gem of a film (which has no dialogue) is a bridge between z grade horror and arthouse; outsider art meets surrealism head on.  It first made the circuits as Dementia and later under the different title Daughter of Horror.  Both versions exist now (Daughter has narration by Ed McMahon). Continue reading ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏

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