Tag Archives: 1977

LIST CANDIDATE: ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1977/1988)

Na Srebrnym Globie

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jerzy Trela, Andrzej Seweryn, Iwona Bielska, Grazyna Dylaq, Jerzy Gralek, Krystyna Janda, Elizabeth Karkoszka, Maciej Goraj, Leszek Dlugosz, Jan Frycz

PLOT: An expedition crash lands on a planet, and the surviving astronauts establish a tribe and a religion explaining their origins. After a recording of the crash is found, another astronaut, Marek, is sent to investigate and is received as a messiah whose arrival has been prophesied. He becomes involved in a struggle against the planet’s original inhabitants, a birdlike race called the Sherms.

Still from On the Silver Globe

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the few science-fiction adaptations that can earn the adjective of “epic,” and not only in terms of not dumbing down its ideas in favor of effects. The Polish government attempted to kill it, and end its director’s career. Despite it being only 80% of a finished film, there are images that will remain in the mind long after.

COMMENTS: In the best of all possible worlds, On the Silver Globe would be more widely known for the epic saga it is intended to be rather than as an unfinished curiosity, and it would’ve been the blueprint for science-fiction cinema to follow, rather than George Lucas’ Star Wars. Or possibly not. After all, its source material, “The Lunar Trilogy” written by Jerzy Zulawski (Andrzej’s great-uncle), which Stanislaw Lem acknowledged as an influence on his own writing, STILL has never gotten an English translation, making it unknown in the U.S. and other English speaking countries. This is one of the few films where its backstory is as fascinating as the actual film.

To wit: after the success of The Most Important Thing Is to Love, the exiled Zulawski was allowed to return to Poland to work. It was at this time that his marriage collapsed and his wife left (we’ll get to that later on…), and he chose to adapt his great uncle’s trilogy. Two years of work went into the enterprise, with most of the shooting done in 1976 and 1977, until the Deputy Minister of Culture and Art, Janusz Wilhelmi, saw some of the footage and in June 1977, ordered the production to shut down. Props, scenery and costumes were warehoused and/or destroyed; Zulawski was once again persona non grata in Poland, couldn’t get any work, and was again forced to leave home. (Out of this experience came the cult favorite Possession). Wilhelmi died in a plane crash the following year (1978), but despite several attempts to resurrect the project, authorities refused to release the existing material; some of the crew members managed to save what they could, but to no avail. By 1986, the regime in Poland had collapsed, but it was too late—too much material had been lost, several actors had died, and cinematic sci-fi was by then firmly caught in the throes of Star Wars‘s aftermath. However, what was left of the film could indeed be presented in some Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1977/1988)

KEN RUSSELL’S VALENTINO (1977)

Of all the star-worshiping that went on during silent cinema, it is perhaps the obsession with Rudolph Valentino that is most mystifying today. When he died prematurely, at the age of 31, numerous fans were so distraught as to commit suicide. His funeral was besieged by thousands, and a legend was born when a mysterious lady in black began annually placing funeral wreaths on his tomb for decades to come. Valentino had such an impact on pop culture that everyone from to were influenced by him.

Yet today, there are relatively few Valentino film festivals or revivals, and when his films are seen (rarely), they will inevitably prove disappointments. Valentino never made a great film. In fact, most of them are dreadful. (In his defense, he didn’t make very many). Of course, someone will inevitably make the tiresome 21st century claim that this is true of most movies from the silent era, despite the fact that there are plenty of films from that period that have good writing, performances, direction and hold up even better than many films of the Fifties and later. We could attempt to produce examples of stellar acting in lesser films, however, this does not work with Valentino. Although his charisma scorches, his acting is extreme in its use of silent film cliches, mechanical and bizarrely exaggerated to the degree that it elicits amusement today as opposed to the near orgasmic reaction of his contemporaneous fans. Undeniably eroticized, his screen persona was also amoral; he was a rapist. Otherworldly, he doesn’t even seem human, which is perhaps why he is primarily known by name alone. It’s doubtful if many today would even recognize his image.

Rudloph Valentino
Rudloph Valentino as “The Sheik”

Sometimes, the reason for stardom is more for a colorful biography than an actual body of work (e.g. Tallulah Bankhead), but this isn’t necessarily the case with Valentino. His biographers contradict each other with bullet point details, which is to be expected since the star’s press kit was largely fiction. What we do know is that he was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1913 looking for employment. Some reports have him working as a male prostitute, but that is widely disputed as well. He bussed tables and briefly found work as a taxi driver, which is how he met actor Norman Kerry, who convinced Valentino to try a career in the new cinema business. Valentino became an “overnight” star with 1921’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (although he had been doing small parts as exotic heavies in film for seven years), became a superstar with The Sheik later that same year, and became Continue reading KEN RUSSELL’S VALENTINO (1977)

CAPSULE: PETEY WHEATSTRAW (1977)

Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law

DIRECTED BY: Cliff Roquemore

FEATURING: Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand, Ebony Wright, Steve Gallon, G. Tito Shaw, Ted Clemmons

PLOT: Comedians Leroy and Skillet borrow a large sum of money from the mob to put on a show. Unfortunately for the duo, rival comedian Petey Wheatstraw’s show is the very same week. When Petey refuses Leroy and Skillet’s request to change the date of his show they use more aggressive tactics. The young brother of one of Petey’s entourage is shot and killed by Leroy and Skillet’s goons, who then shoot all of the attendees at the boy’s funeral. Lucifer is on hand at the tragic event to make a deal with Petey. Petey and his friends will get to live and enact righteous revenge if Petey agrees to marry Lucifer’s ugly daughter and give him a grandson. Petey makes the deal, but he has no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. Will Petey be able to outsmart the Devil?

Petey_Wheatstraw

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Selling your soul to Satan plots are practically as old as film itself. This fact alone does not disqualify Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law as a contender for the List. But while Wheatstraw is a potpourri of genres—a comedy, crime, action, horror film that is completely ludicrous and full of wacky hi-jinx—there are only a couple of “what the hell?” moments. Generally speaking, it is funny and not particularly weird.

COMMENTS: Rudy Ray Moore was an American stand up comedian who recorded his first comedy album, “Below the Belt,” in 1959. In 1975, Moore used the proceeds from his comedy albums to finance his first film, Dolemite. Moore plays the title character Dolemite, a ladies’ man skilled in kung-fu, hell bent on defending the ghetto. Dolemite spawned the sequel The Human Tornado, my personal favorite Rudy Ray Moore film. Moore only made five films throughout the Seventies, and thanks to his presence they are all pretty entertaining. Moore is funny, foul-mouthed, charismatic and energetic. Moore is not an actor, he is a comedian, and he brings his comedic persona with him to his films. He is also one mighty fine dresser. If you can’t enjoy Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law for its humor, you should at very least appreciate Rudy Ray Moore’s sensational wardrobe! Moore dons about a dozen super Seventies ensembles over the course of the film.

Petey Wheatstraw opens with a flashback of his birth during a storm; exiting his mother’s womb as a seven-ish year old boy, he attacks both the doctor and his own father. Petey, like Dolemite, is also a ladies’ man, a master of kung-fu, and a defender of the ghetto. In an early scene Petey teaches three junkies a lesson while the neighbors gleefully cheer him on. The movie keeps a good pace with goofy antics at regular intervals, but most of the funniest bits happen after Petey makes the deal with the devil around mid-film. Once the plastic devil horns, the guys in tights, and Lucifer’s magic cane make their appearance, things get livelier. After Petey discovers the power of the magic cane he uses it without abandon. He grants one woman a wish to prevent her from stabbing her cheating husband to death:

Petey: Don’t kill him ma’am. I have one wish I will grant you. What might it be?

Angry wife: He’s a dog! He’s a damn dog! Just turn him into a little black puppy.

Petey: That wish will be granted.

You can look forward to a she-demon orgy, but don’t count on seeing more than a couple of bare breasts. There are some poorly executed fight scenes with a bunch of demons with bad makeup in tights and capes that were absolutely hilarious! Every fight scene in the film is quite ridiculous and thoroughly amusing. Moore has some funny lines and priceless expressions that alone make the film worth watching.

I always walk away from a Rudy Ray Moore movie with at least one awesome quote. Bar none, my favorite from Petey was “Romance without finance is a damn nuisance.” So true, Petey Wheatstraw, so true. I enjoyed the heck out of Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law; it is good old-fashioned entertainment that made me laugh regularly. I definitely recommend picking up the 2016 Vinegar Syndrome release which contains both the Blu-ray and DVD. This copy is worlds better than the Xenon Pictures (“The Dolemite Collection”) version I had previously owned on DVD (see comparison below).

Petey_Wheatstraw_dvd_vs_bluray_comparison
(DVD vs. Blu-ray comparison: click for larger version)

More images at Goregirl’s Dungeon!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though you get the usual low budget issues and awkward fight scenes here as the prior two Moore films, the approach somehow fits the story perfectly with the dime store demons and stylized lighting creating a weird cinematic experience unlike any other.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: STROSZEK (1977)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Eva Mattes, Clemens Scheitz

PLOT: When his elderly landlord suggests that he, recently-released prisoner Bruno, and their mutual friend Eva escape to America, the trio head to Railroad Flats, Wisconsin; there, they start living the American Dream, only to have it reposessed.

Still from Stroszek (1977)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The unlikely plot, combined with the unlikely locales (Berlin and the fictional “Railroad Flats”), further combined with unlikely leads (mostly non-actors) results in a strange story—but not-so-strange a movie. The tale being told is a weird one; the movie itself is a (commendably) straightforward telling of it.

COMMENTS: As road movies go, this one is quite the odd duck. This is, of course, to be expected from one of the great oddball directors of the ’70s and ’80s (the reliably offbeat Werner Herzog) who concocted this film specifically for one of the great eccentrics of the last century, the vagrant/street-performer/poet/musician/non-actor known as Bruno S. Like the lead, most of the characters are played by people who did not act for a living, and as such they give their story a layer of truthfulness.

In fact, much of the movie has a documentary vibe. Straight-forward mise-en-scène, realistic lighting, medium shots, and even occasional glances at the camera from Bruno all combine to provide a sensation one is watching, as it were, a “movie-movie” as it flows in and out of a “documentary movie”. Various avenues are explored by this non-documentary: alienation, family, emotional and physical survival, but most of all, the American Dream. The simple joys of this dream, however, quickly give way to the grinding vexations of bleak reality. Toward the end of the movie, Bruno makes a telling remark as he listens to an English conversation he doesn’t understand. He mutters, “I’m really pessimistic about all this.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As a man seemingly transplanted from another time (if not another world), Bruno S. copes with his surroundings as ably as his innocence allows. The audience first meets him when he’s being released from jail, imprisoned for unspecified “alcohol-related crimes.” He has only two friends: his landlord, Clemens Scheitz, who not only kept Bruno’s room as he left it but also watched after his Myna bird; and Eva, a much-abused prostitute who may or may not be Bruno’s lover. In Berlin, their lives are semi-tragic but comfortingly mundane. Once in America, Bruno doesn’t so much eventually “lose it” as much as he realizes as there isn’t really any place for him to quietly exist. As events unfold, his American experiences become increasingly strange, until everything unravels. His home is repossessed by the world’s friendliest banker, his old friend goes around the bend and gets arrested, and he himself ends up being hunted by the police. His escape through the most crudely conceived tourist attraction imaginable—which includes not only a “Fire Chief” rabbit but also two (2!) musical chickens—stands as one of Herzog’s stranger set-pieces.

Both location and society seem out to get our endearing protagonist. In the film’s first half, his environment conspires to force him to flee his home; in the film’s second half, it conspires to take away the only people he cares about. Somehow, Herzog makes great swaths of the movie either hilarious or just plain delightful to watch. While a happier trajectory for the film would have been enjoyable, Herzog’s nuanced cynicism makes the film, for all its eccentricity, feel very real.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the oddest films ever made.”–Roger Ebert, Great Movies series

213. DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS (1977)

“People have asked me if I realized how odd or strange the story was. Then and now, I never thought of it [that way]—as a slightly offbeat story, perhaps—but I’ve always thought of it as a normal story.”–George Barry, 2003 DVD introduction to Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

DIRECTED BY:  George Barry

FEATURING: Rosa Luxemburg, William Russ (as Rusty Russ), Dave Marsh, voice of Patrick Spence-Thomas

PLOT: A ghost trapped in a chamber behind a painting relates the story of his companion, a bed who eats all those who lie on it. The bed was brought to life by a demon’s tears and is tied to the spirit that birthed it. Several young people stumble upon the bed and are consumed by it, until one girl arrives who, with the ghost’s help, has the power to defeat it.

Still from Death Bed: the Bed That Eats (1977)

BACKGROUND:

  • George Barry began shooting Death Bed in 1972, but did not complete the film until 1977.
  • Death Bed was the only move credit for most of the cast and crew, including director Barry. One notable exception is William Russ (billed here as Rusty Russ), who went on to a long career as a character actor, with over 100 appearances in movies and TV shows.
  • Barry tried to sell the completed film but could not find a distributor willing to shoulder the expense of blowing the film up from 16 millimeter to 32 millimeter. He gave up his attempts to find a distributor in the early 1980s and opened a bookstore instead. Then, while surfing a horror fan forum one night in the early 2000s, he discovered people discussing his forgotten film. Barry learned that an unscrupulous English company had screened the film and released an unlicensed VHS tape, which was then bootlegged and circulated by collectors. Discovering there was now some interest in Death Bed as a cult item, Barry was able to secure an actual official premiere and a DVD release in 2004, more than 25 years after the film had been completed.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: While shots of the bed’s digestive system in action are certainly tempting, the take home image involves the man whose hands are reduced to Halloween props after he unwisely digs into the hungry mattress.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Man behind the painting; Pepto Bismal in a bed’s belly; fleshless phalanges

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A horror movie where the antagonist is a bed would be strange enough. Death Bed, however, is even stranger; a mix of exploitation tropes, fairy tale poetry, black comedy gags, and arthouse pretensions, with deadpan amateur actors sleepwalking their way through a script that takes as many weird turns as that dyspeptic dream you had when you feel asleep after eating too much fried chicken and drinking too much red wine.


Clips from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

COMMENTS: began filming Eraserhead in California in Continue reading 213. DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS (1977)

LIST CANDIDATE: MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1977)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jimmy Wang Yu

FEATURING: Jimmy Wang Yu, Kang Chin

PLOT: A blind master of the “Flying Guillotine” searches for the One-Armed Boxer, disrupting a martial arts tournament in the process.

Still from Master of the Flying Guillotine (1977)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Indian yogi warrior, whose arms extend to double length, tips this exuberantly goofy exhibition of martial mayhem into the “maybe” category. Kung Fu Hustle was Certified Weird for its postmodern comedy, while Ninja Champion made the List on a “so-bad-it’s-weird” platform, but if a” mainstream” martial arts film makes the List, this will be it.

COMMENTS: When you pop a kung fu movie into your DVD player, Master of the Flying Guillotine is what you are hoping you will see. Nonstop fighting with just enough plot to tell you who to root for; imaginative, athletic choreography that gets the adrenaline pumping; memorable characters; and perfectly-spaced WTF moments that snap you awake whenever your interest starts to wander. The kind of movie where a bizarre gizmo—the titular flying guillotine, a sort of decapitating cross between a frisbee and a beekeeper’s hat—steals the spotlight from the human characters. It’s pure entertainment, and a pure celebration of the athleticism of the performers, who dance in a deadly ballet with perfect timing. They don’t look real, but the fights are much more beautiful than the Hollywood action product, which generates spurious excitement with fast-cut editing.

Master is a series of bouts (many from the tournament which occupies a large portion of the film’s middle) between a wide variety of combatants, each distinguished by a gimmick or quirk worthy of a professional wrestler. So what better way to impart the flavor of the Flying Guillotine experience than to run down the fight card? After an opening prologue where the Master demonstrates the efficacy of his favored weapon against mannequin heads (along with showing off his incendiary grenades, his penchant for jumping through rooftops, and his ability to magnetize birds), our opening bout pits the fantastically arrogant Dancing Thai against four guards with shields and clubs. Next on the undercard is Dancing Thai vs. Eagle Claw Girl Fighter, followed by Master of the Flying Guillotine vs. One-Armed Hungry Homeless Guy (not very competitive). The tournament proper looks like this:

  • Staff Guy vs. Segmented Staff Guy
  • Belly Shirt Sword Fighter vs. “Wins-Without-a-Knife” (who actually has a knife, and uses it to win—“very smart,” observes the One-Armed Boxer from the sidelines)
  • Rope Hair vs. Mongolian Mustache (a draw)
  • Northern Daredevil vs. Iron Crotch
  • Eagle Claw Girl Fighter vs. Pantsless Monkey
  • Java vs. Flying Rope, fighting on poles over a of thicket of blades
  • Tornado of Knives vs. Extendable Arm Yogi
  • Tiger and Crane Fist vs. Thai Dancer
  • One-Armed Snake Fist (not to be confused with One-Armed Boxer or One-Armed Hungry Homeless Guy) vs. Praying Mantis
  • One-Armed Snake Fist vs. Master of the Flying Guillotine (unscheduled)
  • Master of the Flying Guillotine vs. Tournament Organizer (unscheduled)

After the tournament ends, things really kick into high gear, starting with One-Armed Boxer vs. Two Disciples (in a pink flashback); Dancing Thai vs. One-Armed Boxer Sidekick; One-Armed Boxer vs. Extendable Arm Yogi (and his pet owl); One-Armed Boxer vs. Dancing Thai (my favorite fight, in a burning house); One-Armed Boxer vs. Wins-Without-a-Knife; and of course, the grand finale, One-Armed Boxer vs. Master of the Flying Guillotine, battling in a booby-trapped coffin shop.

You’ll be exhausted by the end.

The 1977 release date listed here is actually the year the dubbed version was released in the United States (where it played screens at the same time as Star Wars, which would have made for the absolute coolest double feature possible for a twelve year old boy). The original release date is unknown, as this was an independent production and no one bothered to keep records at the Hong Kong box offices at the time, but 1975 seems like a good guess. The movie is an unsanctioned sequel to the Shaw Brothers’ 1975 hit Flying Guillotine, which also spawned two direct sequels and several other rip-offs. Confusingly, it’s also a sequel to Jimmy Wang Yu’s One Armed Boxer. Master also went under the title One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… snags the viewer’s attention by lacing its martial-arts high jinks with a compelling weirdness.”–Nick Rutigliano, The Village Voice (2002 re-release)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric Gabbard who dubbed it his “favorite weird Kung Fu pic.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Linda Blair, , Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn, James Earl Jones,

PLOT: Four years after Father Merrin died casting a demon out of young Regan, a priest investigates the affair and discovers the demon isn’t completely gone; further investigation takes him to Africa in search of the evil spirit’s roots.

Still from Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scenes like the one where James Earl Jones, dressed as an African prince, apparently turns into a leopard when he shouts at the devil made this goofy semi-Satanic sequel come closer than you might think to being considered for the List.

COMMENTS: You’ve probably heard that Exorcist II is a bad movie, and that’s certainly true. It’s important to note, however, that like most of ‘s bad movies, it may be laughable, but it’s never boring. Four decades out from its theatrical debut, the sense of outrage over the betrayal of William Friedkin’s horror classic has subsided, and more viewers are now willing to let The Heretic‘s hypnotic camp spell wash over them.

“Satan has become an embarrassment to our progressive views,” complains Richard Burton, speaking with the pseudo-Shakespearean diction he believes Catholic priests use (which includes pronouncing devil as “dev-ILL” and evil as “EEE-ville”).  Burton already knew a thing or two about embarrassment, and he discovers a couple of new tricks in this outing. The Heretic goes completely off the rails very quickly when Burton’s priest, investigating the exorcism-related death of Father Merrick four years ago, is inexplicably invited to sit in on teenage Regan’s private post-possession stress disorder therapy sessions with her skeptical secular therapist. He arrives just in time for her first therapy session with a dual-user hypnosis machine which allows her to relive the repressed horrors of possession. The device also allows them to speak to the demon directly, gives the therapist atrial fibulation (which Burton fixes with a little psychic open heart surgery after he dons the machine’s disco headband), and causes girl and cleric to form a permanent psychic link. “Your machine has proved scientifically that there’s an ancient demon inside of her!” declares Burton, with conviction.

The hypnosis machine, with its strobe-lights and a methodology which involves syncing “tones” via biofeedback, is a perfect encapsulation of the blend of the eerily effective and utterly ridiculous that characterizes The Heretic. And believe me, it gets more unhinged from there, as Burton goes to Africa searching for the demon Pazuzu and Boorman goes into one of his famous directing frenzies where he lays logic aside to focus on hallucinatory set pieces. You get multiple shots from the locust cam, including a great locust tracking shot where we follow the speeding insect as he zips across the savannah accompanied by the sound of a cracking whip.  You get scenes of tribespeople fighting off swarms of locusts on a golden-hued studio backlot. There’s a hidden city perched on top of a massive cliff, accessible only by scaling a narrow cleft between two mountains. And who could forget James Earl Jones dressed like an insect in his cave throne room, only when the priest puts a spike through his foot he turns out to be an entomologist? Meanwhile, back in New York City, demonic possession is a minor inconvenience for Regan, who is more concerned with her upcoming tap dance recital. It all has something to do with finding the “good locust” who will turn the swarm into “happy-go-lucky grasshoppers.”

As you can see, Exorcist II has a lot of issues, but being dull isn’t one of them.  Long tracking shots through a theater-bound Africa, set to Ennio Morricone’s typically great, chant-heavy score, provide an appealing dreamlike character to long stretches of the film that make you want to forgive (or even embrace) the lapses in logic. Add in a hammy, over-enunciating Burton giving his all to lines like “is there no hope once the wings have brushed you?” and you have a bad movie that keeps you watching. It’s no Zardoz, but, whether they be good or bad, Boorman does not make boring movies (or at least he didn’t in the 70s and 80s). The Heretic is far more entertaining than its bad reputation suggests and, although it may sound like heresy to Exorcist fans, given the choice between re-watching the terrifying original or taking another crack at this rollicking disaster, I would hesitate for a moment. The choice would depend on whether I’m in the mood for shivers, or shivery chuckles.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…while [Boorman’s] Zardoz is a legendarily misconceived act of bad moviemaking at its most epic, what’s even more terrifying is that it’s still better than The Heretic… It more than lives up to its reputation as the nadir of the Exorcist franchise, but it’s also, by far, the most fun of them all.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy (DVD)

163. 3 WOMEN (1977)

“I’m trying to reach toward a picture that’s totally emotional, not narrative or intellectual, where an audience walks out and they can’t say anything but what they feel.”–Robert Altman (quoted in David Sterritt’s Criterion Collection essay)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Robert Fortier

PLOT: A young girl named Pinky begins working at a spa in California, where she eventually becomes roommates with her idol, Millie, who is a few years older. Millie believes herself to be popular, inviting people over for dinner parties and out on dates, but in reality nearly everyone avoids her except for Pinky. Then, after a near-fatal accident, Pinky undergoes a radical personality change…

Still from 3 Women (1977)
BACKGROUND:

  • Robert Altman conceived the picture after a dream he had while his wife was hospitalized: he dreamed the title of the film, the location, that it involved personality theft, and that it would star Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek.
  • 3 Women was made without a traditional screenplay. Instead, together with writer Patricia Resnick, Altman devised a 50 page treatment. The movie was then shot in sequence, with Altman writing out the next day’s scenes the night before, and the actors improvising much of the dialogue. Duvall wrote all of the diary entries herself.
  • The murals were painted by an otherwise nearly unknown hippie artist working under the name “Bodhi Wind.”
  • Duvall’s performance won her a Best Actress nod at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • The movie was not available on home video in any form until 2004 due to the distributors’ failure to negotiate rights for Gerald Busby’s avant-garde musical score.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The paintings that decorate the swimming pool walls: strange creatures with scaly legs and baboon faces, engaged in bizarre, violent courting rituals. A male stands with his arms outstretched and his stout penis hanging proudly between his legs while females scatter, looking over their shoulders and baring their fangs at him. Shots of these two murals, which inside the movie’s reality are painted by Janice Rule’s character, occur over and over throughout the film, including over the opening and closing credits. Oddly enough, the shot most associated with 3 Women—the one that illustrates the DVD cover and accompanies most reviews—doesn’t even occur in the film. The photograph of Sissy Spacek entwined in Shelly Duval’s arms as they recline against a fresco depicting one simian lizard creature strangling another was a promotional photo. 3 Women is that kind of movie: the type that’s best represented by something lying outside of its own boundaries.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: 3 Women is based on an uneasy dream suffered by Robert Altman, and incredible performances by Sissy Spacek and (especially) Shelly Duvall turn it into a collaborative dream. Although most of the movie is naturalistic, with nothing happening that could not quite happen in our reality, there is nonetheless a dreadful sense of illusoriness, as if we’re seeing events through a gauze.


Original trailer for 3 Women

COMMENTS: Tucked away on the long stretch of nowhere between Persona (1966) and Lost Highway (1997) lies 3 Women, the 1970s iteration Continue reading 163. 3 WOMEN (1977)

CAPSULE: THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Carole Bouquet, Angela Molina

PLOT: A rich French businessman courts a beautiful young Spanish woman over the years, but although she sometimes professes to love him, she continually refuses to consummate the relationship.

Still from That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Obscure Object is one of Buñuel’s best, but not one of his weirdest. If you merged the two actresses who inexplicably share the role of Conchita into one, you could almost mistake this parody of obsessive bourgeois eroticism for a normal comedy—almost.

COMMENTS: The “gimmick” of two actresses playing the object of desire is the high-concept highlight of That Obscure Object of Desire, but make no mistake: the casting was not a desperation move to salvage some sort of novelty value out of a dull script. Buñuel’s final film is one of his most tightly controlled and plotted movies, the work of a 77-year old master intent on putting the final punctuation on a distinguished career. The story is simple: prosperous, respectable, middle-aged Mathieu meets 18-year old serving girl Conchita and attempts, and fails, to seduce her. She leaves his service, but as the years go on he continues to encounter her, whether by chance or by design, and gradually he works his way closer and closer to her heart—but although she declares her love for him, she never surrenders her virtue. Buñuel and his totally committed trio of actors push the dramatic scenario further than you would think possible: the erotic tension builds and builds until surely, you think, something has to break. Either Conchita will give in or Mathieu will tire of being teased and rid himself of her forever. And yet, after each frustrating encounter, the bourgeois businessman comes back for more, and Conchita is willing to continue the dance. There are moments when rape seems inevitable, but that solution would wreck the game, so they push right to the brink before pulling back and resetting.

It’s not all unbearable erotic tension: Obscure Object is, at heart, a droll and absurd comedy, full of sophisticated, off-kilter jokes; even if you don’t always get them, you feel smarter for chuckling at them. Some gags are obvious: there’s a variation on the old “waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!’ joke—this time, it’s in a martini. One night, Mathieu lures Conchita to his bedroom; Angelia Molina asks “can I change?” and goes into the bathroom to put on her nightgown; she emerges as Carole Bouquet. At other times the humor is more oblique and surreal, and we’re not sure what to make of it. Mathieu tells his story to traveling companions on a train; one is a dwarf, and a professor of psychology—but he only gives private lessons. A Spanish fortune teller carries a pig wrapped in a blanket like a baby. The movie is set in a Europe where terrorist bombings are a background fact of life; one of the revolutionary groups is named “the Revolutionary Army of Baby Jesus.”

This being a Buñuel film, there’s a constant subtle mockery of the unexamined values of the middle class. Mathieu casually tells the strangers in his train compartment how he essentially tries to purchase Conchita off her cash-strapped mother, and how he beats and humiliates the girl after he’s been sexually frustrated. Rather than being scandalized by the shameful confession, everyone takes his side, nods understandingly and comforts the respectable victim. Obscure Object is Buñuel’s attack on what he sees as the capitalist system of romance: men, the class with the capital, protect and provide for women, and in return they receive love and sex. This arrangement, based on inequality, can never satisfy either sex: men will remain emotionally frustrated because women only give in to them out of hardship, and the disenfranchised women use the only weapon at their disposal—their erotic power—to revenge themselves upon men. Just as the characters in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie never get to eat, Mathieu never gets to… you know.

As for why two women play Conchita, it’s one of those deliberate Surrealist accidents that suggest interpretations that remain obscure. Do Bouquet and Molina represent two sides of the same woman, a divided personality, female duplicity? I lean to the reading that there are two women because Mathieu, the bourgeois man, can’t understand the “object” of his own desire; he no more notices that his love changes before his very eyes than he sees that the society around him is crumbling into anarchy.

According to co-writer and longtime Buñuel collaborator , the idea to cast two women in the role of Conchita occurred in an early draft of the script, but was discarded. When production began on the movie Buñuel was unhappy with the woman chosen to play Conchita (Last Tango in Paris’ Maria Schneider) and came close to abandoning the project before resurrecting the idea of using dual actresses in the role.

The Criterion Collection lost the rights to Studio Canal’s Buñuel collection, and therefore the 2013 Blu-ray of That Obscure Object of Desire was released by Lions Gate (buy). It has different special features than the Criterion DVD, including interviews with both Bouquet and Molina.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Buñuel creates a vision of a world as logical as a theorem, as mysterious as a dream, and as funny as a vaudeville gag.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS (1977)

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats has been placed on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry. Comments have been closed on this post.

DIRECTED BY: George Barry

FEATURING: Demene Hall, Rusty Russ, Julie Ritter, Linda Bond, Patrick Spence-Thomas

PLOT: Across four meal-themed segments, visitors to an abandoned house are eaten by the titular bed. Meanwhile, a former victim imprisoned behind a painting provides running commentary on the bed’s checkered past and strange habits.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: A horror movie about a killer bed? That’s kind of weird. But when it’s filled with nonstop voiceover relaying dense bed-related mythology, actors who are less energetic than a cast of mannequins, and incongruous Foley effects like the repeated sound of teeth crunching into an apple, then Death Bed has a definite shot at making the List.

COMMENTS: If it were anywhere near as risibly schlocky and straightforward as its title, Death Bed would probably be indistinguishable from the mass of movies about killer houses, animals, or furniture. But George Barry, the film’s writer, director, and producer (who, incidentally, never worked on another movie), had a unique vision, albeit an incomprehensible one. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether Death Bed is supposed to be low-budget horror, a pretentious art film, or some misbegotten hybrid of the two. It ranges in quality from bad to totally unwatchable, but it never goes the expected route.

The movie is about a killer bed, yes, but that bed has a very chatty British companion tucked away behind a nearby wall. Described only as “the artist,” he’s the ghost of a tuberculosis patient once consumed by the bed, and he narrates large chunks of the film, whether launching vicious tirades at the bed or jumping into jokey flashbacks about the bed’s exploits that stop the flimsy plot cold in its tracks. The artist also attempts to explain the bed’s convoluted origins—which involve a demon trapped in a tree and a young woman whose corpse has never decomposed—but these stories invariably raise more questions than they answer, especially when they’re invoked in order to bring about the film’s bloody, explosive resolution.

Death Bed‘s present-day narrative is split into four parts; the first, “Breakfast,” is unrelated to Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS (1977)