Tag Archives: 1974

267. FEMALE TROUBLE (1974)

“The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.”–Aunt Ida, Female Trouble

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , , Michel Potter

PLOT:  Baltimore rebel Dawn Davenport runs away from home, gets knocked up by a rapist, and turns to a life of crime to help pay for the daughter she hates. After a brief and disastrous marriage, Dawn is scarred for life after her ex-husband’s Aunt Ida throws acid in her face. Transformed into a freak celebrity by a salon-owning couple, Dawn embarks upon a murder spree before an inevitable trip to the electric chair.

Still from Female Touble (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Shot on a $25,000 budget, Female Trouble is puke poet laureate John Waters’ riotous followup to his midnight cult hit, Pink Flamingos. Waters capitalized on the previous film’s surprise success and advertised Female Trouble as having the returning cast of Pink Flamingos. It is the second entry in what Waters later called his “Trash Trilogy,” which begins with Flamingos and ends with Desperate Living.
  • After acting in Waters’ films for twelve years, this was David Lochary’s last screen appearance. He was cast for 1977’s Desperate Living but bled to death as the result of a fall while under the influence of PCP shortly before filming began.
  • Waters’ tagline for Female Trouble was “A high point in low taste.”
  • Divine based part of her portrayal of Dawn on her nightclub act, during which she threw mackerel at the audience and claimed to be a mass murderer.
  • Female Trouble was dedicated to Charles “Tex” Watson, of the Manson Family, who partly inspired the film’s theme of “crime is beauty.” The wooden toy helicopter in the film’s credits was Watson’s gift to Waters after a prison visit. (Waters later said that he regretted the dedication).
  • Alfred Eaker‘s Staff Pick for a Certified Weird movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Dawn jumping up and down on a trampoline, wearing a mohawk and a sparkly pantsuit, at her big performance art showcase.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Divine rapes Divine; chewed umbilical cord; Auntie in a birdcage

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An expressionistic nightmare set in the hell of East Coast suburbia highlighting the rise and fall of a 300 pound transvestite mass murderer, Female Trouble reaches its first climax of lunacy when Dawn chops off Aunt Ida’s hand, locks her up in an oversized birdcage, and goes on her daughter for joining the Hare Krishnas. A second bouncing-off-the-wall climax follows when Dawn murders audience members as performance art before going down in a blaze-of-glory finale that could compete with Cody Jarrett blowing himself up or Tony Montana rat-a-tat-tatting away after being riddled with bullets. Accompanying all that is a beauty myth from the bowels of a white trash hell that would send Naomi Wolf screaming for sanctuary. Female Trouble is even more subversive than Pink Flamingos.


Short clip from Female Trouble (1974)

COMMENTS: On the surface, Female Trouble may appear to be Continue reading 267. FEMALE TROUBLE (1974)

CAPSULE: PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK (1974)

DIRECTED BY: Francesco Barilli

FEATURING: Mimsy Farmer, Maurizio Bonuglia, Mario Scaccia, Jo Jenkins, Daniela Barnes, Orazio Orlando

PLOT: A wealthy, workaholic bachelorette chemist begins seeing visions of a lady in black, and a young blond girl; is she going mad or being tricked (or both)?

Still from The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With its hysterical hallucinations and hints of witchcraft, plus a grisly surprise ending, a case could be made for certifying this quality offbeat occult giallo; but ultimately, it falls into the category of “you gotta draw the line somewhere.”

COMMENTS: In his interview comments accompanying the Raro Video release, writer/director Francesco Barilli acknowledges The Perfume of the Lady in Black’s debt to , but you’d probably sniff the lingering scent of Repulsion early on even without that admission (not to mention a whiff of Rosemary’s Baby, too). Perfume is part of a line of 60s and 70s horrors playing on the anxieties of young single working women. Thanks to sexual liberation, a class of working women living on their own without a live-in male protector was a relatively new phenomenon, and for all the necessary freedom, the fact is that it can be scary to be a woman in a man’s world. Lone females have more to fear than solo males: they fear all the same things men do, plus, they have to fear men. Silvia is competent enough to manage a chemistry lab, but she can’t trust her surroundings, her neighbors, strangers who stare at her on the street, or her even own senses in the dead of night. Whenever she’s alone, she’s endangered, and returns to sanity only when her boyfriend rushes to her side.

Perfume takes place in that lush giallo world, an existence full of tennis dates, elegant silk robes, and apartment courtyard’s with Roman fountains. The art direction is sumptuous, and at times a little outrageous, such as the jungle mural that hovers above Silvia’s friend’s bedpost. Surely such bourgeois elegance can only be there to cover up the stench of decadence. Mimsy Farmer, while not star material, is a treat in this role, constantly frightened and almost reluctantly sexy. The plot seems to be being made up as it goes along. It turns out that there are really two storylines, one of which involves oblique divulged secrets from Silvia’s childhood. The dual plots are mashed together, which produces extra confusion, but less satisfaction, since there’s not a single resolution, and nothing in particular to tie them together. Highlights include a ghostly little girl, “Alice in Wonderland” references, and a séance with a blind psychic (which may be the most giallo scenario ever). The ending is a genuine shock surprise, leaving a strong enough impression to make you forget the somewhat tedious early moments.

Raro Video upgraded Perfume to Blu-ray in 2016. The disc includes an interview with writer/director Barilli (which might be cut down from a longer one included on the DVD release) and a bonus short film, the 23-minute “The Knight Errant,” a shot-on-video variation on Death Takes a Holiday with a couple of surreal surprises that’s well worth a watch.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

The Perfume of the Lady in Black piles on the weird, somewhat to its detriment.”–Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk (2011 DVD)

CAPSULE: THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER (1974)

Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Every Man for Himself and God Against All)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Walter Ladengast, Willy Semmelrogge

PLOT: After nearly two decades growing up in a basement cell, Kaspar Hauser is abandoned in the town square of a nearby village. Illiterate and knowing virtually no words, the man is adopted by the townsfolk, first by the town jailer and then by a local professor who finds him on display at a fair. As his awareness of this new world grows, Kaspar becomes increasingly disenchanted with his surroundings.

Still from The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While the story is based on an historical oddity that morphed into something of a legend, the movie structure, flow, and presentation are conventional. The tragedy of Kaspar Hauser is rather weird, but Herzog tells his tale through traditional storytelling methods.

COMMENTS: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser proves that the young Werner Herzog had the golden touch. It could be argued he single-handedly launched the volatile to art-house superstardom with the success of Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Right on that movie’s heels, he cooked up a heartwarming tragedy for the then-very-unknown street performer, Bruno S. In the titular role in  Kaspar Hauser, Herzog directs the non-actor in a performance that is moving, amusing, and, most impressively, believable.

Herzog took the historical but semi-legendary story of Kaspar Hauser at face value. The movie begins, as with so many Herzog pictures, with shots of mesh-enveloped nature. As in Aguirre, an informative title card is presented to provide the viewer with background—in this case, ironically, to introduce him to the protagonist’s lack of background. Having spent all his formative years from birth locked in a dimly lit cellar, with only one man’s company (limited to feeding time and perhaps cleanings), Kaspar Hauser has no basis for experience other than four walls, a straw covered floor, bread, water, and a wheeled toy horse. For unknowable reasons, one day the captor releases Kaspar and then ditches him, standing in a daze with a letter in hand, in the center of a prosperous 19th century German town.

The truly blank slate of Kaspar allows Herzog to force the audience to observe mankind from the character’s detached perspective. The town is bewildered by Kaspar’s presence and lack of interactivity. The authorities, one of whom is an excitable clerk keen on getting everything recorded in his reports, are officious, slightly suspicious, but ultimately kind. The children of the jail keeper teach Kaspar all they can. When the town government are irked at the stranger, they force him to act as one of the “Four Riddles of the Spheres at a town fair. Kaspar engineers an escape for himself and the three other “riddles,” only to be found later in an apiary by a kindly professor. Things do get better for Kaspar, but also worse.

The movie is sprinkled with amusing moments, largely observational oddities from the unworldly Kaspar, but it is ultimately a tragedy. Throughout, Herzog’s camera digresses into gossamer fields, dunes, and water. These signature shots ably convey Kaspar’s sense of wonder, but also his detachment from the world in which he finds himself. Near the beginning, he lightly sobs to the jail keeper’s wife,  “Mother, I am so far from everything”; later, he remarks to the professor, “It seems to me that my coming into this world was a very hard fall.” At a sort of “coming out” party put on for a visiting prat of a nobleman, he glibly tells the assembled bourgeois gawkers that life was better for him in his cell.

Kaspar Hauser has many moments of quiet beauty to behold, and Herzog further demonstrates his mastery of his craft with this addition to his oeuvre. The reality it creates is as wondrous and sad as the reality Kaspar experiences when he finally gains his bearings.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In Herzog the line between fact and fiction is a shifting one. He cares not for accuracy but for effect, for a transcendent ecstasy… The last thing Herzog is interested in is ‘solving’ this lonely man’s mystery. It is the mystery that attracts him.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (1974)

AKA The Cars That Eat People

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Terry Camilleri, John Meillon

PLOT: Mild-mannered Arthur survives a car crash that kills his brother and finds himself stranded in the insular, automobile obsessed town of Paris, Australia.

Still from The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Like its director’s last name, this one falls just a little short of “weird.”  Park The Cars That Ate Paris in the oddity yard.

COMMENTS: You could look at The Cars That Ate Paris as a psychological horror, or a semi-surreal black comedy about a fish out of water, or as a satire of Australian car culture, or even as a dramatic character study of a broken, phobic orphan desperate for acceptance. The movie even starts, rather inexplicably, with what appears to be a cigarette commercial, for further confusion. Without revealing too much, the plot revolves around the town of Paris, New South Wales, an isolated burg with a junkyard barter economy based on salvaged car parts, and Arthur, an annoyingly meek wreck survivor with an automobile phobia who finds himself stranded in a community that insists on taking him in and teaching him their way of life. There are also out-of-control teenagers in roving automobile gangs and a hospital that, given the out-of-the-way hamlet’s low population, is surprisingly stocked with brain-damaged “veggies” (of the full, half and quarter varieties).

Cars zooms back and forth between understated comedy and looming horror, constantly grinding its gears. Scenes like the one where the town’s psychiatrist/surgeon slips disturbing photos into Arthur’s Rorschach-type test have a dark-alley-of-the-mind quality to them. At other times, the movie jaunts off in a different direction, suddenly rolling into a Sergio Leone parody. The ending, quite naturally, is a violent demolition derby, complete with growling cars, wherein the entire town is trashed while costumed loonies wander the street. Cars offers a bumpy ride, and goes pretty much nowhere, but the scenery out the window can be astonishing.

Understandably, The Cars That Ate Paris was a hard movie to market. In the VHS era, it was housed in the “horror” section (sometimes under the misleading alternate title The Cars That Eat People) with a box cover that stressed the cool spikemobile and copy that suggested it was something like an Australian version of Death Race 2000. The movie got bad word-of-mouth through this mismarketing when legions of teenagers rented it expecting a fast-paced horror movie about killer cars and instead getting a thoughtful, weird little arthouse drama. Its reputation changed for the better after the Criterion Collection picked up the film, repositioning it as a cult classic.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Effortlessly employing surrealist and fantasy tropes in a story that is, ultimately, never very far from the possible, Weir steers us on a dizzying journey through autophilia, survivalist politics, and the darker side of human nature.”–Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by the Awful Dr. Orloff, who believed it to be “much, much weirder” than Picnic at Hanging Rock. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

179. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

“The reason Fox found it unwieldy — the scabrous humor about the music industry, the unhappy love story and the weirdness of some of the characters — are exactly the reasons why people love it now.”–Gerrit Graham on Phantom of the Paradise (quoted in the New York Times)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: William Finley, , , Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli

PLOT: Swan is the world’s most powerful music producer, who dreams of opening a grandiose concert venue called the Paradise, while Winslow is a composer who has created a rock cantata version of “Faust.” Swan steals Winslow’s work; while seeking revenge, an accident disfigures Winslow’s face and destroys his vocal cords. Now wearing a mask, Winslow takes up residence in the basement of the Paradise and strikes a deal with Swan to rewrite the opera for Phoenix, a female singer whom both men lust after.

Still from Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
BACKGROUND:

  • Although Brian De Palma became famous for thrillers and action movies like Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible, he began his career making subversive underground comedies, and his earliest films for major studios were oddball farces. Phantom of the Paradise marks the apex of De Palma’s comedic phase; his next film would be the horror hit Carrie, following which he would largely abandon his burlesque and experimental impulses.
  • De Palma was inspired to write a satire on the commercialization of rock music when he heard a Muzak version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” in an elevator.
  • Paul Williams, a successful songwriter who had penned hits for The Carpenters, wrote and performed the soundtrack (dubbing in William Finley’s singing voice). Williams was originally cast in the role of Winston, but asked to play Swan instead, and proved a natural for the role.
  • The movie was a financial flop, but Williams’ score was nominated for an Academy Award.
  • A bizarre bit of trivia: although Phantom was a box office bomb, for some reason it was immensely popular in Winnipeg, Canada, where it played screens on and off for over a year. (I like to imagine famous weird Winnipegian , who would have been about 18 at the time, was a repeat customer).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll go with the assassination of Beef, who is killed in improbable fashion by a neon lightning bolt. To ecstatic applause from the spectacle-hungry audience. Not only is it an unforgettable sight, it’s also the moment when the operatic Phantom solidifies its weird credentials.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a wadded-up plot of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Faust,” with a bit of “Dorian Gray,” rolled up into a music biz satire ball and sprinkled with a dusting of crazy.


Edgar Wright commentary on the original trailer for Phantom of the Paradise (from Trailers from Hell)

COMMENTS: There’s a critical cliche that says that you can’t deliberately fashion a cult movie; it must be discovered. In other words, it’s the Continue reading 179. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

BLAXPLOITATION ZOMBIES: SUGAR HILL (1974)

Guest review by Brandon Engel, a freelance writer specializing in entertainment and pop culture, as well as an aspiring filmmaker.

What if a real zombie outbreak occurred during a zombie pub crawl? Imagine everyone liquored and latexed up to such a degree that nobody could differentiate the real zombies from the fake zombies. My point, I guess, is that this zombie thing has gotten out of hand.

Hearken back to a time when people were still appropriately freaked out by the living dead. Because of directors like George A. Romero, zombies became a fashionable cinematic device to address a myriad of social issues, starting in the late sixties. The films might have made more of an impression because zombies still elicited a strong reaction from viewers. Romero’s frequently remade and frequently cited Night of the Living Dead (1968), for instance, addressed the increasingly violent and sensational mass media coverage of the Vietnam war, and was notable also for featuring a black actor (Duane L. Jones) as the film’s leading man. Dawn of the Dead (1978), Romero’s follow up, offered a satire of North American consumerism by having a bunch of zombies putter mindlessly around a shopping mall.

Dawn also, incidentally, also featured a black male in it’s lead (Ken Foree), and even delved thematically into race issues with the extended segment that shows how the zombie apocalypse might manifest in the projects. But a few years prior to Dawn, the blaxploitation/horror film Sugar Hill (1974) had also appropriated the zombie motif to comment on race relations and social inequities.

The film was directed by Paul Maslansky, whom some may know as producer of the Police Academy films and Return to Oz (1985).  In the film, Diana “Sugar” Hill (Marki Bey) is engaged to marry the owner of a lucrative Haitian-themed bar. At the beginning of the film, members of a predominantly white crime syndicate approach Sugar’s fiance. When he refuses to acquiesce to the gang’s protection racket, Sugar’s fiance is beaten to death.

Still from Sugar Hill (1974)Sugar seeks the assistance of a voodoo priestess, Mamma Maitresse (Zara Cully), who in turn summons Baron Samedi, the Voodoo Loa who presides over funerals and acts a medium between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Samedi enlists an army of Voodoo zombies to avenge Sugar’s lover’s murder. The white gangsters are picked off, one by one. One guy is fed to a pack of hogs. One guy is thrown into a coffin filled with dangerous snakes. Blaxploitation films usually depicted black characters in positions of power over the “archetypal white oppressor” character. The title character from Superfly accomplishes this by dominating the drug trade. Shaft and Cleopatra Jones were cunning law enforcement agents. Part of what makes Sugar’s story so compelling in the annals of blaxploitation/revenge films, however, is the supernatural element. The film even evokes the transatlantic slave trade directly by suggesting that Sugar’s band of voodoo zombies were all slaves transported to the United States from Guinea. So, it becomes a revenge film in a much broader sense. It’s not merely about Sugar avenging her boyfriend’s death, but she’s also avenging (symbolically, at least) the wide-scale oppression and dehumanization of her ancestors.

The film was produced by American International Pictures, who were eager to follow up on the success of their earlier blaxploitation/horror genre blenders Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream. Part of what distinguishes Sugar Hill is that it isn’t based on a piece of 19th century European literature, but is instead a more distinctly black American narrative which synthesizes elements of Voodoo iconography, fairy tales, and classic b-horror film tropes. It’s occasionally clumsy and highly stylized script offers all of the cliches that you’d hope for in a blaxploitation film.

While Sugar Hill is frequently overlooked (even by cult film fanatics), it’s now enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to midnight screenings throughout the U.S., and regular showing on ‘s El Rey Network. Vintage horror fans (especially anyone with a fondness for either blaxploitation or seventies Italian zombie films) should absolutely check this one out.

159. SHANKS (1974)

“Released by Paramount Pictures and utilizing top-tier talent like composer Alex North, cinematographer Joseph Biroc, and production designer Boris Leven, Shanks is an exceedingly strange film, a horror-fantasy punctuated by stretches of dialogue-free narrative, morbid black comedy, and occasional sentimentality.”–John M. Miller, TCM.com

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Cindy Eilbacher, Tsilla Chelton, Phillipe Clay

PLOT: Malcolm Shanks is a talented mute puppeteer who lives with his shrewish step-sister and her alcoholic husband. A reclusive local scientist, who is working on a device that allows him to animate dead animal bodies with electrodes activated via remote control, hires Shanks as his assistant. Shanks’ puppeteering training makes him a natural at controlling the corpses; naturally, it is only a matter of time until he finds a human subject to experiment on.

Still from Shanks (1974)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was the final film directed by B-movie gimmick-meister William Castle (Homicidal, Strait-Jacket). At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, Castle was known for his outrageous promotions such as “Emergo” (glow-in-the-dark skeletons that flew above the audience at a scary moment in House on Haunted Hill) and “Percepto” (electrified theater seats used to shock patrons’ rears in The Tingler).
  • Although famous mime Marcel Marceau played may bit parts in films (including a role in Barbarella and a notorious cameo in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie), this is his most substantial role as an actor. Marceau plays both Malcolm Shanks and the inventor Old Walker, often acting alongside himself. Marceau came to Hollywood searching for roles but found producers unwilling to hire him for parts other than cameos or appearances as his alter-ego, Bip the clown. “I was a great admirer of the silent-film comedians, Chaplin and Keaton, and I thought producers would recognize that I could also perform the same broad pathos comedy. But nothing happened,” he told an AP reporter in 1973. When Shanks came along, it “was exactly what I had been looking for.”
  • Marceau originally hoped would direct and Castle would produce; he asked Castle to direct when told Polanski was unavailable. Castle reported that Marceau was a perfectionist, eccentric and difficult to work with, and didn’t seem to appreciate the practical aspects of shooting on a tight schedule and budget.
  • Although the movie was not generally well-received, it did earn an Academy Award nomination for Alex North’s eerie score. North reused and re-worked some of the compositions he wrote for 2001: A Space Odyssey that had been mothballed when decided to use an all classical score.
  • Shanks had not been available on VHS or DVD until Olive Films’ 2013 release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The herky-jerky birthday cake cutting scene, when Shanks’ typically impeccable control over his remote control zombies breaks down for one brief moment for comic effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This is a movie about a mute puppeteer who learns to control dead bodies by remote control, and eventually harnesses that power to fight a biker gang. Calling itself “a grim fairy tale,” it’s a black comedy that uses silent movie aesthetics to tell a tale of reanimation of the dead. It stars Marcel Marceau, the world’s most famous mime, and is directed by William Castle, the world’s most famous B-move huckster. The chances that the results of this collaboration would not be weird approach zero; it’s like nothing else out there.


Clip from Shanks

COMMENTS: Shanks is one of those rare movies that just wants to be what it is. Although the reanimation of the dead setup suggests a Continue reading 159. SHANKS (1974)

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

Phantom of the Paradise has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies. The official Certified Weird entry is here.

Brain De Palma, , , and  were among the directors whose films we passionately watched and discussed in that now extinct haven once known as art school. It was De Palma who topped our list, enough that we ranked him as high as, if not higher than, Alfred Hitchcock. There is justification in the criticism that Hitchcock’s films are often cold, mechanical exercises. De Palma was more experimental, and emotionally incinerating in ways that Hitchcock could not be. De Palma is decidedly unbiased when it comes to provocation: Scarface (1983) unintentionally inspired the current trash thug culture, and Casualties of War (1989) still manages to boil the blood of extremist patriots. He has been accused of being a misogynist and a feminist, an innovative bohemian and a plagiarist, a shrewdly manipulative avant-gardist and the quintessential sell-out. Any director this divisive deserves attention.

Unfortunately, one must briefly address the De Palma/Hitchcock comparison primarily because lazy, hack critics have long held De Palma to Hitchcock’s standards. De Palma was too much his own man to simply imitate Hitchcock. Rather, Hitchcock was one of several influences filtered through De Palma’s preexisting sensibilities. was another, and it is no accident that De Palma has been referred to as an example of American Nouvelle Vague.

Greetings (1968), The Wedding Party (1969), Hi, Mom! (1970), Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972) and the scrappy Sisters (1973) were distinguished early films that reveal De Palma’s eclecticism and underrated sense of humor. De Palma’s horror-comedy-musical Phantom of the Paradise (1974) came out a full year before The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Despite the fact that the latter came to define cult hit, De Palma’s is the better film; its shrewd satire was not accessible enough for American audience, even of the cult variety. It is the only worthwhile adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s pulp tale “The Phantom of the Opera”, possibly because Paradise recognizes the source as pedestrian. Even the unjustly famous silent version of Phantom of the Opera (1925) is primarily noteworthy for its star’s masochistic makeup, set design and a few choice scenes (such as the masque of the red death ball and the unmasking). Despite these highlights, Rupert Julian’s direction was flat and uninspired, resulting in a dissatisfying whole. The less said about Opera‘s remakes, the better; the story reached its nadir when adapted for the musical stage by  (but then, Webber’s treatment of anything could probably be considered its ultimate low point).

Still from Phantom of the Paradise (1974)De Palma’s Phantom is not content with a sole source: strands from “Frankenstein,” “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and Psycho are woven into a glittering glam horror extravaganza staging of “Faust.”

The casting of  as a gnome-like demonic cherub is delightfully idiosyncratic. De Palma regular William Finley (as the titular Phantom) and 70’s favorite (as the love interest Phoenix) fill out an equally odd cast. Gerrit Graham, as the glam rocker Beef, virtually steals every scene he is in, revealing a musical magnetism on a par with the likes of and .

For all the sharp satire and cynicism regarding the pop music world, Phantom of the Paradise has at its center an authentically felt camp sentimentality. On paper, this sounds like yet another postmodern disaster, but De Palma’s innovative approach melds it into a cogent, maniacal, cinematic firework display. The nexus of De Palma’s film is locating the grandeur amongst the pandemonium, making one regret that it was Oliver Stone and not De Palma who eventually helmed The Doors (1991) (which De Palma was originally slated to direct).

148. SWEET MOVIE (1974)

“Not everything can be explained.”–Potemkin in Sweet Movie

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Carole Laure, , ,

PLOT: A billionaire marries a virgin beauty contest winner. Meanwhile, a Socialist ship captain sails down an Amsterdam canal with a Marx masthead and hold full of sugar and candy. The virgin escapes her wedding night and goes on a sexual odyssey around the world, while the ship captain lures a proletariat man and four children onto the ship and kills them.

Still from Sweet Movie (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Yugoslavian Dusan Makavejev made some highly regarded movies in the beginning of his career, but he really came to international notice when his strange psychosexual documentary WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) was banned in his home country and he was exiled from the relatively liberal Communist state for making it. Makavejev landed in Canada where he made Sweet Movie. After the outraged reaction to this provocation, Makavejev did not direct a feature again for seven years.
  • Makavejev was a devotee of psychoanalyst William Reich (the “WR” of WR: Mysteries of the Organism). Reich began his career as a controversial but serious psychologist advocating total sexual freedom, but descended into madness and crankery in his later years when he claimed to have discovered a mysterious invisible energy named “orgone” that could cure cancer, among its other godlike properties. The film’s orgy performed by members of the Vienna Actionists’ commune under the leadership of performance artist Otto Mühl, who was also a follower of Reich’s teachings.
  • Makavejev turned down an invitation from Francis Ford Coppola to direct his script for Apocalypse Now to make Sweet Movie.
  • The black and white footage of corpses being disinterred is actual archival footage shot by the Nazis when they discovered the mass graves of the Katyn massacre, where the Soviets had murdered 22,000 Poles on Stalin’s orders in 1940.
  • The story was originally intended to follow the adventures of Miss World. Actress Carole Laure felt pressured on the set to perform sexual acts that made her uncomfortable, and she quit the production after shooting a scene in which she fondled a man’s flaccid penis. She later complained that the film was edited to make it appear that she engaged in more sexual activity than she actually had. To fill out the running time, Makavejev added the plot with Anna the ship captain.
  • The Polish government revoked actress and cabaret singer Anna Prucnal’s passport because of her involvement with Sweet Movie, and she was unable to return home for seven years.
  • Sweet Movie was banned in Britain (and in many other countries). In the United States it played with 4 minutes of scatology cut out.
  • Sweet Movie was one of two films selected as among the weirdest movies of all time in 366 Weird Movies 4th Reader’s Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: After watching Sweet Movie, you’ll wish, in vain, that you could wash some of the images out of your mind—particularly the commune feast featuring food in all its forms, pre- and post-digestion. There are other moments that are strikingly beautiful, for example, Anna Planeta and Potemkin making love in a vat of sugar as a white mouse crawls over their bodies. For the most memorable image, however, we’ll go with the film’s first and funniest shock: the wedding night, when, after rubbing his new bride down with isopropyl alcohol while she clutches a crown of Christmas lights between her thighs, Mr. Dollars reveals his uniquely pimped-out phallus.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Mixing beauty with disgust like sugar mixed with blood, Sweet Movie is a confused concoction of politics, sex, excreta, and Reichian psychology. Exiled director Dusan Makavejev abandoned all reason to make this movie, a fact which ironically makes its stabs at political satire ring hollow. Still, as a strange cinematic thing, Sweet Movie has an undeniable freak show appeal for those with strong stomachs: just be prepared for a cavalcade of unsimulated urine, puke, feces, mother’s milk, and pedophilia.


Unofficial 2013 trailer for Sweet Movie (made by Chelsea Sweetin of Montreal’s “Garden Scene Evenings”)

COMMENTS: Dusan Makavejev must have been very confused when he was making Sweet Movie, but probably even more so when he was editing Continue reading 148. SWEET MOVIE (1974)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (1974)

Le Fantôme de la Liberté

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Adolfo Celi, Michel Piccoli,

PLOT: There isn’t one! Numerous bizarre situations are briefly explored, but none are resolved. It’s the ultimate shaggy dog movie.

Still from The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Monks behaving badly are randomly exposed to exhibitionist sadomasochism. Two people are somehow the same person. A spider-fixated family find architecture pornographic. The dead make phone-calls from their coffins. People who feel no shame about sitting on lavatories together are embarrassed and disgusted by any mention of eating. Etc., etc., etc…

COMMENTS: As with the other two films (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire) in Buñuel’s very loose swansong trilogy, Phantom of Liberty gives us a sense of an artist tying up loose ends. In many ways Phantom is one of his most Surrealist movies, as if he was revisiting the glories of his youth one more time. And yet, it should be remembered that, although he is often described as a Surrealist filmmaker, Buñuel formally abandoned Surrealism in 1932, being forced to choose between active membership of the Spanish Communist Party, which regarded Surrealism as a decadent bourgeoise affectation, or belonging to a pretentious club that mucked about with art and pretended it mattered. Or maybe, like most other short-lived Surrealists, he simply couldn’t stand the movement’s awful, awful founder, André Breton. Since Buñuel was a control-freak himself, the latter explanation is perhaps the more probable.

Given his obvious intelligence and love of complex in-jokes and hidden meanings, it’s significant that in an interview recorded around this time, Buñuel says—very perceptively—that Surrealism triumphed on a superficial level, while utterly failing to change the world in any way that truly mattered. (In the same interview, he jokes about making a melodramatic but utterly insincere deathbed conversion to Catholicism just to wind up those of his friends who militated against religion in the most humorless way imaginable). Sure enough, The Phantom Of Liberty uses almost exactly the same dramatic structure as “Monty Python’s Flying Circus“: the ultimate manifestation of unofficial Pop Surrealism. And yet, given the very short difference in time between the creation of Python and this film, and the implausibility of an initially marginal BBC series being sufficiently internationally famous for Buñuel to have already seen it in a language he understood, it has to be assumed that any similarities are purely coincidental.

And similarities there most certainly are! The episode in which a crazed sniper randomly kills numerous people (which was cut from early UK TV broadcasts on grounds of unacceptable nastiness) and then, having been found guilty, is unaccountably released with no consequences at all, and instantly becomes tremendously popular, is almost identical to a Python sketch aired the previous year. Plagiarism? I doubt it. Zeitgeist? Almost certainly. More significantly, the entire film follows the Python ethos of not wasting a good idea just because you can’t think of a punchline. Problem ending the scene? Forget it, and arbitrarily move on to something else!

As more than one critic has observed, Richard Linklater’s 1991 Slacker is remarkable for being the first film (or at any rate, the first film that anyone’s heard of) to use the technique invented by Buñuel 17 years previously. But actually they’re wrong. Richard Linklater shows us vignettes from the lives of various people who are going nowhere, then cuts away to somebody else because if we followed this particular non-story any longer it would become boring. Buñuel gives us glimpses into situations that have no rational explanation whatsoever, and abandons them because any punchline he could possibly provide would be an anticlimax. The title, insofar as it refers to anything, seems to invoke a spirit which pervades the movie without ever being in any way discernible to the characters or the audience—a direct reference to The Exterminating Angel, in which the Angel of Death is supposedly responsible for the inexplicable events without directly manifesting itself at any point in the film. The characters drift into completely random situations, every one of which involves a massive breach of social norms, or laws even more fundamental than that. And nobody notices a thing. The entire film could, if the title is taken literally, be said to document the progress of an invisible and otherwise totally undetectable entity that capriciously drifts around altering the nature of reality for reasons all its own. And that’s the spirit in which it should be viewed. Buñuel’s best film? No. Buñuels weirdest film? Definitely in the top three. Worth watching? Yes! Just don’t expect a satisfying sense of closure.

PS – In recent years certain scenes in this movie have been played out for real in the UK by radical Islamists with no understanding of irony, who used their democratic right to demonstrate to hold demonstrations against democracy. What a pity Buñuel didn’t live to see it! Though maybe he wouldn’t have been all that surprised.

PPS – Are there any other films featuring two Bond villains?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“An uproarious summary of Luis Bunuel’s surrealistic concerns… a crazy, subversively funny film about convention-bound characters who have a hard time dealing with sexuality and freedom.”–Michael Scheinfeld, TV Guide

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