Tag Archives: 1979

CAPSULE: APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX (1979/2001)

Must See(original 1979 cut)

Recommended(Redux cut)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Martin Sheen, , Robert Duvall, , Fredric Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Bill Graham, , (Redux only), Aurore Clement (Redux only)

PLOT: Loosely based on the Joseph Conrad novella “Hearts of Darkness,” the film centers on Willard (Sheen), who is sent up the rivers of Cambodia to terminate the mad Colonel Kurtz (Brando) and destroy his cult-like compound.

Still from Apocalypse Now (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Apocalypse truly is the Vietnam war on acid. At times it’s surreal, hallucinatory and mind-blowing, but that’s not always the same as weird. However, if this were a list of the 366 greatest films ever made, it would definitely make it. Heck, Apocalypse would probably make a list if this of the 66 greatest films ever made—although the longer 2001 Redux version is definitely inferior to the original 1979 film.

COMMENTS: Francis Ford Coppola’s original 153-minute version of Apocalypse Now opened in 1979 after a chaotic production and almost two years in the editing room. All that time, money and effort paid off, because, despite a draggy third act, Apocalypse Now is one of the maddest, greatest war movies ever made. Willard’s trip down the river (or the rabbit hole) is punctuated by one mind-boggling set-piece after another, including a helicopter assault on a Vietnamese village scored by Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, a USO show featuring Playboy bunnies that slowly devolves into a chaotic free-for-all, and an opening sequence where a drunken Willard trashes his hotel room while Jim Morrison’s eerie “The End” pours out in surround sound. It’s the Vietnam War filtered through madness, LSD, and loads of unforgettable music.

The Redux version of the immortal film adds 49 minutes of frankly unnecessary footage, resulting in a wildly overlong 202 minute film. The “new” sequences mostly consist of two never-before seen set-pieces. In the first, Willard encounters a French family living on a plantation. They’re in Cambodia, but it’s as if they were still back in France circa 1950. Willard even finds romance with one of the women, Roxanne (Clement). This sequence, while interesting in an academic sort of way, is less than compelling. In the second new subplot, Chef (Forrest) and the other men on Willard’s boat spend the night with several of the Playboy bunnies last seen during the memorably disastrous “Suzy Q” sequence. These added scenes do little but show us that Willard and his crew found female companionship on their trip up the river, and it’s easy to see why Coppola cut the footage in the first place. It’s just not that involving.

Luckily, the rest of Apocalypse is still there: every other brilliant sequence that has earned the film a reputation as a flawed masterpiece. Yes, once Brando turns up, the movie sort of slides downhill, but the last 30 minutes improve upon repeated viewings. Furthermore, the 2010 Blu-Ray restores the film to its original widescreen dimensions. All the previous DVD versions had cropped the picture to fit high-definition television screens (according to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s wishes), but no more. This Blu-Ray also includes the jaw-dropping 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness, which examines the film’s nearly disastrous 1976-7 production, which was beset by typhoons, a heart attack, and a budget that swelled to a then-staggering $31.5 million. Directed by Eleanor Coppola (wife of Francis), the doc is itself must-see viewing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Alternately a brilliant and bizarre film…An exhilarating action-adventure exercise for two-thirds of its 139 minutes, ‘Apocalypse’ abruptly shifts to surrealistic symbolism for its denouement… Experience is almost a psychedelic one–unfortunately, it’s someone else’s psyche, and without a copy of crib notes for the Conrad novel, today’s mass audience may be hard put to understand just what is going on, or intended… Dennis Hopper is effectively ‘weird’ as Brando’s official photographer.”–Dale Pollock, Variety ( 139-min. ‘work in progress’ version shown at the 1979 Cannes festival)

RUSS MEYER’S BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA VIXENS (1979)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979) is the last authentic Russ Meyer film (he returned only to produce 2001‘s rarely-seen Pandora Peaks, which is, as to be expected, an idiosyncratic interpretation of the documentary genre). Co-written by (under his “R. Hyde” pseudonym), Meyer’s swan song is film as one additional cup size enhancement. It has charmed moments of Meyerisms, including his trademark spry editing, but adds erratic eroticism. Meyer once claimed it was the favorite of his own works (although he said the same of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). This may be an echo of Paul Gauguin’s claim that the artistic process was more satisfying than the finished work. Coloring Meyer’s sense of nostalgia for the film was his admission that he constantly engaged in sex with star between takes. According to Meyer, the actress introduced him to multifarious taboos and was even more oversexed than he was.

As in Up! (1976), the plot is emaciated Surrealism. The relationship (so to speak) between Surrealism and pornography has been complex since the movement’s inception (works by Georges Bataille, Susan Sontag, and Theodor Adorno are among essential writings on the subject). Meyer’s brand of Surrealism is strictly visceral, which renders him closer to authentic Surrealism than to soft-core porn. For the Surrealists, porn’s lack of social acceptability amounted to an endorsement. However, its totalitarian simple-mindedness prevented a complete embrace, or mimicry. Rather, elements of pornography proved influential to the aesthetics and tenets of Surrealism.

Of course, Meyer did not associate himself with any –ism, and it’s doubtful that he gave much thought to categorizing his work. He simply stayed true to his sense of craftsmanship, making films that he would want to see. He voluntarily returned to the limits of independent budgets as opposed to compromising with Twentieth Century Fox, who any other indie filmmaker would have killed to work for. That anti-bourgeoisie, stubbornly rebellious streak invites a comparison to Surrealist bad boys such as Andre Breton, , or George Antheil. However, as much as Meyer was obsessed with breasts, he was equally preoccupied with cartoonish slapstick; another surrealist plane of identification. His films, especially his last two, are akin to a visualization of a Carl Stalling collage.

Still from Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-vixens (1979)The gossamer narrative revolves around Lavonia (Natividad) who is sexually unsatisfied with hubby Lamar (Ken Kerr). As the “Small Town USA Narrator” (Stuart Lancaster in a pickup truck) informs us, “Lamar, with a 37 IQ, is strictly a rear window man[1].” Lamar’s fetish gets him fired from his job (no perverts allowed here), and drives Lavonia into the sheets with her vibrator. She follows this by having affairs with Mr. Peterbuilt (Pat Wright), teen meat Rhett (Steve Tracy) and lingerie salesman Semper Fidelis (Michael Finn). Oddly, wifey’s bonding with the battery powered machine drives Lamar into a far greater frenzy than her extramarital rendezvous.

With a slinky dress and gaudy wig from Semper, Lavonia hits the strip clubs under the stage name of Lola. Borrowing a plot from countless opera librettos, the husband comes across his disguised wife and does not recognize her. Lavonia’s ruse to trick her husband into good old fashioned vaginal intercourse utterly fails, driving Lamar to seek gay counselor Asa Lavender (Robert Pearson) and female Benny Hinn type-Eufaula Roop (Anne Marie) for conversion therapy.

Meyer’s camera work and editing is at it most -like, fixating on inanimate objects, most of which are utilized as phallic and vaginal symbols (such as a record player). He also employs extreme close-ups of Natividad’s sex parts paralleled, per the norm, with vivacious sound effects.

While much of Meyer’s work intersects sex and violence, there is virtually none of the latter here and, with no real antagonist, Beneath deliriously celebrates the joy of sex. Meyer had once planned a film titled The Bra Of God, which for various reasons did not come to fruition. However, in that planned title and this film we locate the pulse of Meyer’s inseparable art and life. Existential questions are banished. Like the birds, bees, ants, and fish, the relevance of life pertains primarily to pleasure found in sexual union. We share that with the beasts and primitives. The sole difference is we do not, or should not, divorce love (and appreciation of beauty) from sex. For Meyer, pursuit of power, acquisition of dyed green paper, and the quest to find an invisible deity are pursuits for the unenlightened.

  1. One might speculate as well how much of this plotline was semi-autobiographical. Meyer claimed that Natividad introduced him to anal sex, which she was apparently preoccupied with []

CAPSULE: THE BROOD (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Art Hindle, , Samantha Eggar

PLOT: Horrible murders swirl around the family of a woman who is  under the care of a psychiatrist practicing “psychoplasmics,” an experimental therapy which elicits physical manifestations of psychic traumas.

Still from The Brood (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “deformed children” of The Brood might seem like a bizarre bunch to neophytes, but a glance at Cronenberg’s later works reveals they’re strictly a warm-up act where weirdness is concerned.

COMMENTS: The Brood includes a touch of the body horror that Cronenberg fans tune in for, though you have to wait until the end for the big reveal. Throughout most of the running time, this is more of a “regular” horror effort, with little monsters bashing in heads in bloody assualts (the broodlings favor wooden hammers as their weapon of choice, and although there are only a few attacks, they are very memorable and very traumatic). A psychological background gives the story texture that keeps it from sliding into slasher movie territory. Frank Carveth (the unremarkable Art Hindle) once had a happy family, but his mentally ill wife Nola (a remarkable Samantha Eggar) has been taken under the care of experimental psychiatrist Hal Raglan (the dependable Oliver Reed). On a visit to pick up his five-year old daughter from a visit with her mother at the “Somafree Institute,” Frank watches a public demonstration where Raglin, roleplaying a meek patient’s harsh daddy, bullies the man until he breaks out in sores of shame on his face (“go all the way through it to the end,” the therapist whispers as he eagerly anticipates the festering of the sobbing man’s impending wounds). When he takes the little girl back home, Frank discovers bruises and scratches on her back. Frank insists the girl’s visits be cut off, but an arrogant and uncooperative Raglan is not keen on changing the cloistered Nola’s therapeutic regime at such a crucial time, and insists the current custody arrangement must continue. Frank decides to conduct his own investigation into psychoplasmics.

The backstory that explains the level of intensity on display here, particularly in that final confrontation between Frank and Nola, is that Cronenberg was going through a divorce and custody battle of his own at the time he wrote up the scenario. The Brood is a step forward in Cronenberg’s oeuvre; it’s more polished than his previous efforts Rabid and Shivers, which were clearly ambitious exploitation movies. With its satirical shots at psychiatry coupled with a searing psychology of its own, The Brood takes a turn towards art-horror. It’s helped immensely by Eggar’s wild-eyed, all-in performance; she’s a nutcase, and an unintentional monster, but not an unsympathetic one. The Brood is an experimental therapy by David Cronenberg to elicit a cinematic manifestation of his own traumatic divorce, and its a successful one. It seems like an obvious influence on ‘s even stranger and more bitter breakup memoir, Possession, which it beat to the screen by a mere two years. The torture of divorce, from the husband’s perspective, was a big movie topic at the time—patrons going out to see The Brood might have rubbed shoulders with those lining up to see the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer.

In 2015 The Brood joined Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch on the Criterion Collection label. Along with the usual extras, the release includes Cronenberg’s second low budget experimental movie, 1970’s Crimes of the Future, as a bonus feature. Crimes is the story of a rogue dermatologist who accidentally wipes out all females on the planet. Crimes is probably far weirder than The Brood, but not nearly as accomplished.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In true Cronenberg fasion [sic], we are, instead, presented with something much, much weirder.”–Jerry, “Danny Isn’t Here Mrs. Torrance (DVD)

BEAUTIFUL FILMS: WERNER HERZOG’S NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

‘s Nosferatu (1922) rightly ranks on nearly every historian’s list of the greatest films to emerge from the silent era (as does his Sunrise). Murnau’s concept of the vampire manages to embrace its absurdities and simultaneously repel us. Probably as much “Varney The Vampire” as Dracula, Murnau’s demonic, Victorian count is more a diseased, toothsome, carnivorous rat than a crepuscular Valentino. Murnau, who served as his own cameraman, artistic director, designer, and editor, and did his own lighting, filtered this greatest of all vampire films through his perfectionist sensibilities (only ‘s 1932 Vampyr has a comparable, but contrasting beauty.

Of course, the vampire genre became increasingly ludicrous. Worse, Dracula and his cohorts became dull, repetitive, and insignificant. The Lord of the Undead became so tame that producers tapped Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian-tinged “Carmilla” (repeatedly) in an attempt to reinstate an edge, which suited the 1970s sexual revolution. Despite mixed results, it worked to a degree (We have yet to see buxom lesbo vampires selling breakfast cereal, but give it time).

Just when we thought the masculine bloodsuckers had given up the ghost to their more interesting female counterparts, , of all directors, gave new vitality to a very old story by doing something out of the ordinary with his 1979 homage to Murnau, Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979).

Herzog’s Nosferatu boasts a startling aesthetic with stained hues and bizarre, cool pacing. Petrified interiors strikingly contrast stony exteriors seething with grey life. Cinephiles wax endlessly about Stanley Kubrick’s obsessive use of sterile whites to parallel opaque reds. Herzog utilizes greys, browns, and whites much differently. Lack of color conveys something seething with life, but not life as typically defined. ’s whitened, fleshy count pierces the bluest skies and greenest forests.

One of Herzog’s motives in making the film was a chance for a second collaboration with Kinski (they first teamed up for 1972’s Agguire: The Wrath of God, while Woyzeck immediately followed Nosferatu in the very same year). Due to copyright restraints, Murnau was unable to use the names of Bram Stoker’s cast of characters. Fifty years later, Herzog did not have to contend with the author’s estate, and although he utilized the familiar names, Herzog took liberties with the story.

Still from Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)Kinski’s is a surprisingly sympathetic performance that still manages to convey grotesque mania. Kinski’s Dracula is as inimitable as Max Schreck’s in the 1922 original. Although both actors took the count-as-a-rodent approach, Kinski’s arouses a pronounced degree of empathy. Playing opposite Kinski’s bleached bat is the gossamer  as Lucy. Mina is jettisoned completely. Apparently, Herzog felt Lucy was a more compelling character (Sadie Frost, as a concupiscent Lucy, validated that point in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula, wholly dismissing ’s waxen Mina). Adjani is in every way Kinski’s equal. You can’t take your eyes off of this enlivened, spectral figure. Unlike Murnau’s Greta Schroder, Adjani is no dormant sacrificial lamb. It is she, not Harker (Bruno Ganz) or Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), who is the film’s protagonist.

Herzog reinstates the novel’s contrast of the sacramental with the Satanic (Schreck’s count is an anti-Semitic caricature preying on Schroder’s German virgin). Lucy actively tracks down Dracula’s heterodox sanctuary, eradicating it with the Eucharist. 

Paradoxes abound: White rats (thousands, millions of them) gift the vivacious breath of disease. The Transylvanian aboriginals (echoing the populace of Aguirre) contrast with urbane Londoners. Humor pierces a milieu of soulful solemnity when Dracula, in chalky voice, says: “I thought he’d never leave,” after his sole encounter with the raving Renfield (). The redemptive goal is offset, in the film’s climax, with cynicism.

As expected, Herzog is too authentic an artist to produce a mere fan film. Nosferatu The Vamypre is stamped with the artist’s personal aesthetics, giving at least some credence to the occasional claim that this homage actually surpasses Murnau’s original.

CAPSULE: ALL THAT JAZZ (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bob Fosse

FEATURING: Roy Scheider, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Erzsebet Foldi, ,

PLOT: A pill-popping, womanizing, workaholic choreographer’s hard living leads to a heart attack.

all_that_jazz
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from camp spectacles like Rocky Horror Picture Show, there aren’t many weird musicals. The musical is an inherently square art form. There are, however, frequently surreal dance sequences in musicals (see ), and All That Jazz finishes up with some of the weirdest; it’s not enough to put the movie on the List of the weirdest movies in history, but it’s worth a watch if you swing that way.

COMMENTS: Joe Gideon, the stand-in for director/choreographer Bob Fosse, begins every day with the same routine: a drop of Visine, a shot of Alka-Seltzer, a cigarette smoked in the shower, a Dexie, and finally he’s ready to look in the mirror and announce, “it’s showtime!” The director, who’s in the early stages of planning a major (and scandalously erotic) Broadway musical while simultaneously cutting a movie about a stand-up comic (based on Fosse’s own Lenny Bruce biopic), also finds time to sleep with as many aspiring dancers as possible, down a few Scotches at night, and candidly chat about his life with his only confidant, a hot gauzy angel (the radiant Jessica Lange).

With its confessional premise of a womanizing artist painting a roguish self-portrait with the aid of fantasy, All That Jazz cannot escape comparisons to the iconic artist autobiopic, 8 1/2. Compared to , Bob Fosse is all sheen and surface. Jazz suggests none of the depths of the Italian’s conflicted Catholicism or his weary existentialism. For Fosse, life is just work, sex, speed, repeat. The two films suggest the difference between an obsessive artist, and an obsessive craftsman. On the cool scale, Roy Scheider is no , so it’s difficult to buy the film’s premise that everyone is in his life is charmed into submission by this smug, glib, self-appointed genius, beyond his unquestioned ability to advance their careers. It’s no surprise that Fosse isn’t as interesting as Fellini (how many people who have ever lived are?), but still, as embodied by Scheider and his arrogant Van Dyke, Gideon’s naughty hedonism manages to keep our interest through a somewhat repetitive first two-thirds.

Although the early reels provide entertainment enough to carry us through, Jazz doesn’t really start high-kicking until the heart attack strikes and Gideon’s anesthesia-induced musical fantasies kick in. The finale builds weight from the context of the character building that’s gone before; when the choreographer’s preteen daughter—dressed provocatively in an evening gown with a cigarette holder and fur stole—vamps “you’ll miss me daddy, if you go away,” the effect is touching and ironic, rather than creepy. The fantasy numbers are produced by a chain-smoking Gideon doppelganger who appears beside the bedridden director: “you don’t have any lines here,” he mocks as the invalid tries to mumble through his gas mask to the loved ones passing before his mind’s eye. It arrives at a show-stopping, heart-stopping finale set to the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” (with altered lyrics). A smarmy Ben Vereen, acting like a telethon host, croons and hoofs his way alongside Schneider  in a disco-age Vegas netherworld complete with flashing colored lights, horrible automaton heads in the audience, and dancers dressed like Slim Goodbody. The number is stretched out for ten minutes, with a couple of false climaxes, but it never drags; it may not be the summation of a life’s work, but it is a masterpiece of its type. Emphasisizing seduction and drug abuse over tap dancing and top hats, All That Jazz is a musical that can appeal to people who hate musicals, which is a valuable service for many of us.

In 2014 the Criterion Collection pried the rights to All That Jazz away from 20th Century Fox, turning what was already a pretty good DVD release into a superlative DVD/Blu-ray package.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an uproarious display of brilliance, nerve, dance, maudlin confessions, inside jokes and, especially, ego. It’s a little bit as if Mr. Fosse had invited us to attend his funeral — the wildest show-business sendoff a fellow ever designed for himself — and then appeared at the door to sell tickets and count the house; after all, funerals are only wasted on the dead.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who noted, “It’s pretty weird at times, but I actually don’t know if that is a weirdness inherent to the genre of musicals, or if that film is truly one of a kind.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE VISITOR (1979)

DIRECTED BY: Giulio Paradisi

FEATURING: , Paige Conner, Joanne Nail, , Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford,

Still from The Visitor (1979)

PLOT: Years ago, a cosmic menace known as Sateen escaped his alien captors and wreaked havoc across the stars. The forces of good and their army of birds vanquished him, but not before he reached Earth and impregnated multiple human women. The children born from those couplings would become mutants, telekinetic beings with the power to rule the world encoded in their genes. Much later, the mysterious being known as the Visitor (John Huston) dreams of a towering figure in black trudging across otherworldly sands. The figure turns into a young girl, and through this vision the Visitor realizes that Sateen’s abilities have resurfaced on Earth within eight-year-old Katy Collins (Paige Conner).

Katy’s hapless mother Barbara (Joanne Nail) recognizes the evil growing inside her daughter as well, as does the cabal controlling Barbara’s boyfriend, Raymond (Lance Henriksen). Seduced by his employers’ promise to fund his pro basketball team, Raymond agrees to impregnate Barbara with a second child in order fulfill their plans for world domination. Will Raymond succeed and help bring the world to its knees, or will Barbara exercise her right to choose (not to be an incubator for mankind’s destruction)?

Also, will the Visitor ever intervene, or will he spend most of his time wandering aimlessly to theme music that is a bit too dramatic and funky for a man who takes forever to walk down a single flight of stairs? And why is Jesus blonde and surrounded by bald children? The answers will surely surprise you, because if nothing else The Visitor is a story that nobody could ever see coming.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One might read a summary of The Visitor’s plot about a possessed little girl and dismiss it as a rip-off of The Exorcist—which it is—but what’s really special about Giulio Paradisi’s film is that it also rips off Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Birds. In a story where the Satan’s origin as an interstellar felon merits only the briefest attention, director Giulio Paridisi combines a range of ideas from across the spectrums of sci-fi, horror, and religion with such inspired fervor that he could almost be accused of originality. Yes, this is a film that steals parts of very recognizable movies and puts them together with the grace of a child forcing LEGO bricks into a jigsaw puzzle, but the uneven hodgepodge born from The Visitor’s plagiarism is utterly unique in its weirdness.

COMMENTS: From an overqualified cast whose presence could’ve only resulted from blackmail to a plot that immediately requires you to accept that Jesus Christ lives in outer space, very little about The Visitor makes sense. As with many of the so-bad-they’re-weird films, though, that incoherency is the source of the film’s charm. To sit down and explain The Visitor, either by rationalizing its production choices or clarifying its plot scene by scene, would reduce it by turning it into something knowable and common rather than the masterpiece of the bizarre that it is.

The best way to describe The Visitor is to instead just recount a few of its many insane twists, all of which are delivered with the abruptness and enthusiasm of someone making it up as he goes along. This is a movie that casts celebrated director John Huston as a second-fiddle messiah known as the Visitor, whose efforts to stop the possessed Katy Collins soon detour into posing as her babysitter and losing to her in a game of Pong. The threat posed by the girl lies in her telekinesis and a murderous pet hawk whose presence and ability to open doors is never questioned, at least until a maid played by Academy Award-winning actress  kills the bird with her bare hands. However, even more dangerous than Katy is the prospect of her mother, Barbara, giving birth to a son. That second child promises to usher in the end of times, but luckily Barbara lives in post-Roe v. Wade America. After getting pregnant she averts the apocalypse with a timely abortion, leaving the Visitor and his conscripted army of pigeons to take care of Katy and save the day once and for all. Of course, one may wonder why the Visitor didn’t simply take care of Katy as soon as he arrived on Earth, but the answer is clear. That would mean denying us a pretty awesome movie.

After leaving the film’s premiere, Huston reportedly walked up to director Giulio Paradisi and said, “You know what, I had no idea we were making that kind of movie. Congratulations.” Therein lies the wonderful essence of The Visitor, an undertaking so strange that even the people making it could not understand it. It veers from one crazed idea to the next without a care in the world. The results are inscrutable, but within that inscrutability lies a kind of magic. Ultimately, it’s a movie that proves that, when you don’t need to justify yourself, anything is possible.

Drafthouse Films is re-releasing The Visitor to theaters through January 2014, with a new DVD release to follow.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…too messy and weird to have hit back in the day but too inventive and accomplished to have been rotting for so long.”–Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice (2013 re-release)

137. THE TIN DRUM [DIE BLECHTROMMEL] (1979)

“[Günter Grass] called our [first draft] script ‘Protestant and Cartesian.’ It was lacking the irrational dimension of time, the nodal points where everything becomes confused and collapses in an illogical and tragicomic way. He wants more hard realism on the one hand, and on the other, more courage in the unreal. Imagination as a part of unreality –Oskar’s reality… Another visit to Grass, almost a year after the first, this time with the finished script. It is now more ‘Catholic,’ and less rational…”–Volker Schlöndorff, in his Tin Drum production diary

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Volker Schlöndorff

FEATURING: David Bennent, Mario Adorf, Angela Winkler, Daniel Olbrychski, Katharina Thalbach

PLOT: At the age of three, Oskar, a boy who always carries his beloved tin drum and whose scream can shatter glass, decides that he does not want to grow up, and throws himself down the cellar stairs to stunt his growth. As Hitler rises to power, his mother becomes depressed and kills herself by eating raw fish; his uncle, who may be his real father, is killed by the Nazis. Still looking like a child, Oskar lives through Fascism and World War II and has love affairs, eventually joining the Nazis and entertaining the soldiers with his drum.

Still from The Tin Drum (1979)

BACKGROUND:

  • Die Blechtrommel [The Tin Drum] is based on Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass’ schizophrenic 1959 novel of the same name. The film adaptation only covers approximately the first half of the book.
  • Prolific screenwriter  was a frequent collaborator with Luis Buñuel; scripts for the Certifed Weird films Belle de Jour and The Milky Way count among his 138 writing credits. Carrière appears in the film (in the director’s cut) as Rasputin.
  • Actor David Bennent had a “growth disorder” and was actually twelve years old when the movie was filmed.
  • The Tin Drum is set in Danzig, which at the time of Oskar’s birth was a Free City located between Germany and Poland, although the population was mostly German.
  • The Tin Drum shared the 1979 Palme D’Or with Apocalypse Now. It also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
  • In the United States, New World Pictures—s company—distributed the picture. Some of New World’s other releases that year were Humanoids from the Deep and Shogun Assassin.
  • The movie ran into censorship problems due to brief sex scenes between David Bennent and Katharina Thalbach (then 24 years old, but portraying a 16-year-old). The oddest case occurred in Oklahoma in 1997, almost twenty years after the film’s release, when a judge ruled that the film violated state child pornography laws which banned even non-explicit depictions of sex between minors. Police seized videotapes from the homes of people who had rented the movie. The documentary Banned in Oklahoma, included on some editions of The Tin Drum as an extra, details the controversy. The film was later vindicated, and today Oklahomans no longer need fear being labeled as pedophiles for watching 1979’s Best Foreign Film winner.
  • In 2010 Volker Schlöndorff created a director’s cut of the film, restoring about 20 minutes of footage which had been removed to shorten the running time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Wild-eyed Oskar pounding away on his drum in an insane, trance-like fury is undoubtedly the film’s emblematic image, although the horse’s head filled with eels is probably the most shocking one.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Tin Drum is a comic nightmare about “little people’s” acquiescence to Fascism in the 1930s and 1940s; as Germany goes insane, children refuse to grow up, eels breed in horse’s heads, and Santa Claus turns into the Gas Man.


Original German trailer for The Tin Drum

COMMENTS: Many people believe that Oskar’s decision in The Tin Drum not to grow up past the age of three is a refusal to succumb to adult Continue reading 137. THE TIN DRUM [DIE BLECHTROMMEL] (1979)

CAPSULE: THE TEMPEST (1979)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Heathcote Williams, Toyah Willcox, Jack Birkett

PLOT: Prospero, a magician and the rightful Duke of Milan, conjures up a tempest to shipwreck

Still from The Tempest (1979)

his usurper on the remote island where his lives with his virgin daughter and the magical creatures he’s enslaved.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Shaking up Shakespeare with a storm of weirdness, Derek Jarman’s The Tempest is an interpretation of the Bard’s final play featuring bizarre costumes, ample nudity, and an out-of-place, out-of-time closing song and dance number. The main argument against it making the List, however, is that this isn’t the weirdest—or even the nudest—adaptation of “The Tempest.”

COMMENTS: “This is as strange a thing as ever I looked on,” says seaman Alonso when he first discovers Caliban. Although Derek Jarman’s wild interpretation of The Tempest may not be quite the strangest thing you’ve ever seen, if you went into it expecting to see a dry Masterpiece Theater-style rendition of Shakespeare’s most fanciful play, you’d likely be shocked. Jarman keeps Shakespeare’s text intact (although it’s truncated for running time), but slowly teases out the hallucinatory elements in the magical story. The movie is set almost entirely in a dusty, abandoned English manner illuminated by candlelight. The early reels court a Gothic horror feel, with the spirit Ariel’s first appearance presaged by poltergeists rattling chandeliers and dramatic flashes of lighting. The makeup and costuming, beginning with Toyah Willcox’ unruly braids cut to uneven lengths and decorated with hanging beads, starts strange and gets ever stranger as the film approaches its baroque climax. The frequent nudity, although always tasteful and rendered with a classical sense of composition, is continually surprising. It’s difficult to imagine in 2012 how shocking the male full-frontals must have seemed in 1979, but the flashback to the obese witch Sycorax breastfeeding her adult son Caliban still delivers a jolt today. More weirdness results from the late appearance of bizarrely costumed carnival dwarfs (some in drag) as fairy spirits of the magical isle, as the movie builds towards its extravagant wedding climax. In this notorious ceremony, a dozen sailors in starched white suits appear from nowhere to perform a style production number, and jazz singer Elisabeth Welch appears in a downpour of flower petals wearing a glittery showgirl headdress to croon the blues number “Stormy Weather.” Although the song title reflects the play title, this mournful tune about lost love is not the ditty most brides want to hear at their wedding reception. The performances in The Tempest are merely adequate. Pop singer Willcox makes for a endearingly sexy Miranda. Jack Birkett’s bald, raw-egg eating Caliban has been criticized as overly grotesque—indeed, at times he comes off like he’s playing Igor in a Frankenstein film—but compared to Heathcote Williams’ bland (and too young) Prospero, he’s a delight. This is not an actor-centered production, and none of the performers threaten to upstage the lush production design and Jarman’s florid imagination. The Tempest may not be as kinky and outlandish as Tromeo and Juliet, but if conventional Shakespeare doesn’t have enough kick for you, this bizarre variation might just be the answer to your Bard blues.

Many critics reflexively describe The Tempest as “homoerotic” because of Jarman’s openly gay lifestyle and past films, but the nudity here is non-sexual, there are as many females as males disrobed in the film, and there are no textual or subtextual homosexual relationships (unless you really stretch things looking for an unrequited Ariel-Prospero passion). This is, demonstrably, Shakespeare’s “strangest” play: the word “strange” appears in The Tempest at least nineteen times, more than in any of his other works.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…a most bizarre version of Shakespeare–one that’s not for all tastes…”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: FASCINATION (1979)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jean-Marie Lemaire, Franca Maï, , Fanny Magier

PLOT: A highwayman burns his fellow brigands and holes up in a chateau, where he meets two

Still from Fascination (1979)

seductive women who are expecting mysterious guests at midnight.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s one of Rollin’s most polished and conventional horror movies; the surrealistic dalliances are kept to a minimum, and the rough edges of his earlier lesbian vampire films (like the crazy Nude Vampire) have been smoothed out. That makes it a good choice for fans atmospheric horror of with lots of sex—who will find it a fairly odd period terror–but lacks true fascination for the weird film fan.

COMMENTS: Fascination starts out fascinatingly enough, with a woman opening a tome on witchcraft and caressing the pages sensually with her lace-sleeved hands, followed by a credits sequence with two women waltzing on a stone bridge. After this prologue comes an eye-widening first scene where two women—one dressed in bridal white and the other in funereal black—stand in a slaughterhouse and drink ox’s blood as a doctor helpfully informs them, “today, in April 1905, we find it’s the best way to cure anemia.” Unfortunately for lovers of the bizarre, however, the ride smooths out after that opening and we get a familiar-feeling story about a desperate man who seeks refuge in a house inhabited by fairy tale femme fatales. This is a well made film: as per usual with Rollin, the cinematography, sexual choreography, locations (featuring another memorable château, this time isolated on an island with a stone bridge being the only approach) and music (ranging from medieval inspired chants to waltzes to heavy horror cues) are all top notch. But lovers of the bizarre will find this love triangle in a misty universe of sex and death only mildly titillating; devotees of erotic Eurohorror will get far more satisfaction from the ample female flesh on display (the stage blood, on the other hand, is both thin and rare for this type of production). Fascination does show remnants of Rollin’s slightly illogical, dreamlike signature style, with impassioned romances compressed into hours and a clueless protagonist who remains irrationally cocky even as evidence mounts that things are not as they seem. Characters say things like “beware, death sometimes takes the form of seduction” and “the love of blood may be more than that of the body in which it flows” and “it’s all very melodramatic…” Brigitte Lahaie supplies Fascination‘s highlight when she transforms into a buxom grim reaper; armed with a scythe, she goes on a killing spree wrapped only in a thin black cloak that reveals her bosom when the slightest breeze blows. The fatalistic (if predictable) final scene, set in what seems to be some sort of bizarre, cavernous aviary, is also a keeper. For the most part, however, Fascination is a polished product, containing little that the mainstream horror fan would find alienatingly weird. Predictably, this leads some to proclaim it Rollin’s best film. But the absence of surreal gambles doesn’t make it his best; it merely prevents it from being his worst.

Although she’s not the featured star, curvaceous and sensual Brigitte Lahaie steals the show, ruling the screen whenever she’s on it. Lahaie began her career in hardcore porn, in the era when adult films had scripts and the players actually acted in between sex scenes. Rollin, who also directed adult films to pay the bills, gave her her first role in a horror film in 1978’s The Raisins of Death, then gave her a larger part in Fascination. Although France’s top adult actress at the time, Lahaie always seemed too beautiful, elegant and talented for porn, and she indeed retired from hardcore in 1980. She appeared mainly in horror and softcore films afterwards, but landed a bit part in the NC-17 arthouse hit Henry and June (1990) and a small but memorable role in the very weird Calvaire (2004). She currently hosts a French radio talk show about sexuality. Fascination may well mark the high point of her acting career.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The sex scenes are more intense and explicit than Rollin’s previous horror outings but remain suffused with a heady surrealism that makes the encounters play like animated works of art… this DVD is a sight for sore eyes and should serve as a nice aid for introducing new viewers to Rollin’s strange, wonderful cinematic world.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE FILMS OF SUZAN PITT (1979/1995/2006)

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Suzan Pitt

FEATURING: Jose Luis Rodriguez Avalos (“El Doctor”)

PLOT: A collection of three surreal animated shorts.  In “El Doctor”, a Mexican doctor visits odd patients while dreaming of a long dead love.  “Joy Street” contrasts a the life of a whimsical anthropomorphic ashtray with its suicidally depressed owner.  “Asparagus” is a totally abstract surrealist film featuring a faceless woman and obscene iterations of the titular vegetable.

Still from Asparagus (1979)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  It’s a question of classification, not of weirdness or quality.  Counting these three short films, made decades apart, as one “movie” for List purposes would clearly be cheating.  That means that we’re really only considering the compilation’s main event, “Asparagus,” for inclusion on the List, which raises the metaphysical question: how good/weird does a short have to be take away a spot from a deserving feature length presentation?  Some shorts will eventually make the List.  “The Heart of the World,” though a “must see” weird film, was eliminated from consideration for being too slim at just over three minutes long.  Pitt’s impressive work clocks in at 18 minutes—should that be enough to put it on equal footing with films that run four or five times as long?

COMMENTS:  Considering the shorts included in The Films of Suzan Pitt from most recent to oldest, and coincidentally from least favorite to most highly recommended:

“El Doctor” sports the crudest animation of the three shorts; deliberately, because the style means to evoke Mexican folk art.  We find the title character slumped at a bar, dreaming of riding into the sunset on horseback with a señorita, but soon the world-weary médico is called away to his strange and melancholy rounds.  These appointments—which take the form of miracles—don’t do too much for the main narrative; mainly, they supply Pitt with the opportunity to take mini-flights of fancy.  There’s not much to the story other than these surreal digressions.  One patient is pocked with holes from which flowers grow, giving Pitt the opportunity to film a field of flowers as if they were a rainforest (an image which pervades all Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE FILMS OF SUZAN PITT (1979/1995/2006)