Tag Archives: Artsploitation

264. THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971)

AKA Hot Number

“I said, anybody who makes dirty phone calls as a life’s project is a pretty weird person. So where am I going to get the kind of material that he would be speaking? He wouldn’t be speaking anything we know. He would be talking the kind of stuff that you see on men’s room walls. “–The Telephone Book lead animator Len Glasser on his inspiration for the final sequence

DIRECTED BY: Nelson Lyon

FEATURING: Sarah Kennedy, Norman Rose

PLOT: Oversexed Alice receives an obscene phone call and falls in love with the mellifluous caller, who reveals his name to be “John Smith” of Manhattan. She searches the telephone book to find him, encountering stag film producers, perverts and lesbian seductresses in her quest. When she finally tracks him down, they share the ultimate obscene phone call, whose orgasmic power is depicted symbolically as a crude, sexually explicit surrealist cartoon.

Still from The Telephone Book (1971)

BACKGROUND:

  • “superstars” Ultra Violet and Ondine appear in small roles in the film. An “intermission” scene showing Warhol himself quietly eating popcorn was cut, and the footage lost. (Still photos of the scene do exist).
  • Writer/director Nelson Lyon went on to write for “Saturday Night Live” in its earliest years, but his career ended after he was involved in an infamous speedball binge that ended with John Belushi’s fatal overdose.
  • The film was a complete flop on release and quickly disappeared from circulation, preserved in rare bootlegs and only resurfacing as a curiosity in the new millennium.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In the animated sequence visually expressing the ineffable ecstasy aroused by John Smith’s erotic patter, the bottom half of a gargantuan woman—with rivets in her thighs, suggesting she’s an automaton—squats on a skyscraper and pleasures herself, while a man whose entire head is a tongue watches her with drooling interest. Sights like that have a tendency to stick in the mind.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: “Superstar” pontificating over a nude; rotating pig-masked man; tongue-headed cartoon libertine

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The last twenty minutes. Up until then, The Telephone Book is a mildly absurd pre-hardcore sexploitation comedy with art-scene pretensions; a long confessional monologue from a pig-masked pervert followed by a surreally obscene, obscenely surreal animated climax launch it into a different stratosphere of weirdness.


Original trailer for The Telephone Book

COMMENTS: The Telephone Book is a sex comedy dirty enough for Continue reading 264. THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971)

252. POSSESSION (1981)

AKA The Night the Screaming Stops

Recommended

“…Viktor Shklovsky wrote about how the job of the artist was to come up with a device that made the familiar seem strange. The ‘strangeness’ sets our brain a challenge, and the process of dealing with it is engaging – not just on an intellectual level, but an emotional one too… In Possession, Żuławski made a marital breakdown ‘strange’ by showing ‘the horror’ – this was not Scenes from a Marriage – it was something else.”–Daniel Bird

“Nothing wants to bite anymore – they want to lick.”– Andrzej Zulawski, from the Possession commentary track.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Heinz Bennent, Margit Carstensen, Carl Duering, Shaun Lawton

PLOT: Mark, an agent for some unspecified agency, returns home to his wife, Anna, and son in Berlin only to find that Anna has taken a lover. She splits her time between her home and her lover; however, Mark still wants her, causing extensive conflict between them. He uncovers a previous affair with a man named Heinrich, but she also left him for another—and finding the identity of her current lover leads to mayhem and a rising body count.

Still from Possession (1981)

BACKGROUND:

  • Andrzej Zulawski conceived Possession in the wake of several events—the collapse of his marriage to actress Małgorzata Braunek after being allowed to return to Poland from exile after the international success of 1975’s The Most Important Thing Is To Love, and the subsequent production and shutdown of On The Silver Globe and his second exile from Poland.
  • Zulawski originally pitched the film to Paramount Studio head Charlie Bluhdorn, calling it “a movie about a woman who f**ks an octopus.” They passed.
  • The film played at Cannes and Isabelle Adjani won “Best Actress,” sharing the award for her roles in both Possession and Merchant/Ivory’s Quartet.
  • The final film was chopped up by distributors. The U.S. release was notorious for being a total misrepresentation of the movie: the distributor removed about 40 minutes, reshuffled scenes, and added optical effects to play up and sell it as a horror movie. The Australian version made similar cuts. It wasn’t until 2000 that the original version was available to be seen in the U.S.
  • Possession was briefly released in the UK, but on videotape it was later banned as a “video nasty,” a classification intended for extreme horror films with no artistic merit.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film with many memorable images, mainly close-ups of the characters in various stages of mania, the one that sticks is of Adjani’s Anna being serviced by something coiled around her… and writhing.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Pink socks; subway miscarriage; Anna’s lover

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It starts out as a domestic drama turned up to 11, which then goes up to 15. The intensity is compelling, especially when most other relationship films at the time went for quiet decorum. Possession throws all that right out the window. And then at the midway point, it drops the bottom out of expectations with the introduction of the Creature.


Possession international release trailer

COMMENTS: There seems to be no major disagreement about Possession joining a list of “weird” anything. The fur begins to fly in the Continue reading 252. POSSESSION (1981)

248. DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) (1967)

Se sei Vivo Spara; AKA Oro Hondo

“That [If You Live, Shoot!] should be part of the small group of films that become a part of film history, embedded in the viewer’s imagination, obviously pleases me greatly… But I have to quickly add that it is a cult phenomenon for a few young likable nutcases. Every generation has a few of those.”–Giulio Questi

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tomas Milian, Roberto Camardiel, Francisco Sanz, Piero Lulli, Ray Lovelock

PLOT: Two wandering Indians find a half-dead Stranger climbing out of a makeshift desert grave. They also find a bag of gold on his body, which they melt down and fashion into bullets for him. They then take him to the nearest town, which the Indians call “the Unhappy Place,” where the Stranger goes after the man who betrayed him, stole his share of the gold, and left him for dead.

Django Kill (If You Live, Shoot!) (1967) still

BACKGROUND:

  • Franco Arcalli served as editor and collaborated on the screenplay. Arcalli later became a big name in the Italian film industry, going on to collaborate with (on Zabriske Point), Bernardo Bertolucci (on The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris) while also collaborating on screenplays for Last Tango and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, among others. As his fame grew, he continued to work on Questi’s movies, as well.
  • Questi drew on his experiences as a paramilitary resistance fighter during WWII for the action sequences.
  • Italian audiences complained to censors about gruesome scenes where a man’s torso is torn apart to get at the golden bullets inside and another where a man is scalped. These scenes were immediately re-edited—in different countries, between twenty and thirty minutes of violence were cut out. Since they weren’t included in prints sent to the U.S., these scenes were never dubbed into English; therefore, when watching the restored version on Blu-ray, these scenes suddenly appear subtitled when the rest of movie is dubbed.
  • Originally titled If You Live, Shoot!, distributors later added Django Kill to the title (against Questi’s wishes) in a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of Franco Nero’s Django series. Thomas Millian does not play Django, and If You Live, Shoot! has nothing to do with the series.
  • Repo Man director is one of this film’s champions; he provided a 1997 introduction for a BBC series called “Forbidden Films,” where he he called it “the creepiest film I’d ever seen.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Based on sheer grisly shock value, it’s the scene where the villagers rip into Oaks’s still-breathing body trying to dig out the golden bullets inside it. Due to skillful editing, you don’t actually see as much blood and torn flesh as you imagine you do, but that’s part of what makes the scene so masterful—you and the filmmakers collaborate on building it in your mind’s eye.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Golden bullets; gay cowpokes of the Old West; alcoholic oracle parrot

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its ambiguously dead antihero who shoots golden bullets fights Mr. Sorrow and his gang of gay fascist cowboys, Django Kill‘s subversive, surreal subtext befuddled 1967 viewers expecting warmed-up Spaghetti Western leftovers. It still has the power to perturb the unsuspecting today. Go into it looking for weirdness, and you’ll be amply rewarded.


British DVD release trailer for Django Kill

COMMENTS: Halfway down the dusty road that leads from A Fistful Continue reading 248. DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) (1967)

CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti

PLOT: Four Italian fascists kidnap dozens of young boys and girls and imprison them in an isolated villa to sexually torture them in bizarre rituals of sadism.

Still from Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Salo: disturbing, intense, perverse, depressing, extreme. “Weird” is pretty far down the list. (I did not find any critics who used the word “weird” in discussing Salo). So many of our readers have nominated it for review that I am forced to confess that it may be found lurking somewhere in the outermost penumbra of the weird—but if you want to see a truly weird treatment of the same source material, look at how ended L’Age d’Or with a Surrealist reference to the same novel adapted in Salo.[1] Casting Jesus Christ as Duc de Blangis is less obscene but far more provocative than anything Pasolini could depict in his literal rendition of the book.

COMMENTS: “Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites… and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes… We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.”

Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom may seem stranger to someone who comes to the movie with no foreknowledge of the source material, the Marquis De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom,” than it does to someone who knows the backstory. De Sade, of course, is the 18th century writer whose name inspired the now commonplace words “sadism” and “sadist.” He was an aristocrat devoted to literature, philosophy, and pornography (not in that order), and he produced some genuinely accomplished works. His most powerful books, such as “Philosophy in the Bedroom” and “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue,” mix shocking depictions of sexual cruelty with virile intellectual monologues wherein the characters philosophically justify their depravity and smash moralist objections.

“The 120 Days of Sodom” was not one of those books. It was De Sade’s first major work, written while was imprisoned in the Bastille (for a string of crimes including the beating of a prostitute and consensual homosexual sodomy). “Sodom” is an obsessive catalog of perversions, with almost none of the philosophical speeches that would add meaning and value to De Sade’s later work,[2] arranged according to a mathematical progression: 30 days of orgies in each set of four escalating perversions, moving from “simple” passions (such as urine drinking) to “murderous” ones. The novel was probably intended for De Sade’s own sexual gratification. The result is the Continue reading CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

  1. Henri Xhonneux and also make far stranger references to the book in their twisted De Sade biopic, Marquis. []
  2. “The 120 Days of Sodom”  was unfinished and the ending only sketched, so it is conceivable De Sade would eventually have inserted philosophical reflections later. []

LIST CANDIDATE: THE NEON DEMON (2016)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee,

PLOT: A 16-year old girl travels to Los Angeles to become a model; her rare beauty makes her an immediate hit, but not everyone in town wishes her success.

Still from The Neon Demon (2016)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Since I’m incredibly jaded when it comes to cinematic strangeness, when I get the rare opportunity to watch a weird movie in a theater, I like to pay attention to the reactions of the other theatergoers to try to assess the film’s baseline level of audience alienation. At the well-attended late night screening where I saw The Neon Demon, at two separate points the young man sitting directly behind me let out a distressed “WTF are we watching?” My own viewing companion (a film fanatic with mainstream tastes) complained Demon was both “too arty” and “too trippy.” On the other hand, there were no confirmed walkouts—although one woman did step out briefly when a certain grossout scene commenced, only to return when it was over. The lack of mass departures was discouraging, but the audience’s stunned reactions were generally strong enough to convince me that Refn’s onto something genuinely weird here.

COMMENTS: Stylishly unreal and bluntly provocative, lit by neon and covered in glitter, The Neon Demon may be the most beautiful and least meaningful art film of 2016. It begins with radiant waif Jesse (Fanning) posing for necrophilia-themed glam shots, and progresses through an expressionist Illuminati pyramid catwalk triumph and gratuitous grossout scenes (which I won’t spoil, except to say that multiple taboos are tweaked, sometimes in the same scene) to a bloody climax. The film is washed in Natasha Braier’s unreal lighting schemes, a la Suspiria—or even more on point, a la a bigger-budgeted Beyond the Black Rainbow—and the characters are clothed in Erin Brenach’s bizarrely conceived metallic/pastel costumes, with the entirety choreographed to a chilly, abstract electronic score by Cliff Martinez. Sensually, Demon is a pulsating, glittering delight, although anyone looking for intellectual sustenance will find little nourishment here (the film’s unsubtle message is “L.A. feeds on the beautiful,” hardly a novel insight). The whole experience is like attending a rave held at Hollywood’s most fashionably nihilist discotheque.

The roles are underwritten—or, more charitably, archetypal. Fanning does well enough as the wunderkind of pulchritude, a luckless gal who knows she has one asset in life and is determined to use it. Jena Malone is more impressive as a make-up artist who takes it upon herself to play big sis to the industry comer, while Heathcote and Lee portray a pair of catty anorexic working models, on the wrong side of 21 and eaten up with envy at Jesse’s success. The marginal male characters are just as obvious—a couple of domineering, vaguely threatening fashion impresarios, and aspiring boyfriend and photographer Dean, who, upon learning Jesse is only 16, hesitates ever so slightly before leaning in for a good night kiss. Of the masculine predators, the standout is easily Keanu, playing against type as a low-rent sleazeball operating a motel catering to runaways. Given the character’s utter depravity, the role was brave and unexpected for a waning matinee idol. After 2006’s A Scanner Darkly and now this dark cameo, I will declare that Reeves’s penance for his masterpiece-wrecking Jonathan Harker is officially complete.

Fashion isn’t art, it’s design, so can—or should—a movie about the fashion scene be artful? Individual shots from The Neon Demon are pure genius—yet, there’s not much that ties the film together conceptually, other than its obvious cautions about the high-stakes world of professional superficiality. A fashion maven rightfully scoffs at the notion that Dean (who claims, without much visible evidence, that Jesse has unseen depths) would be interested in the model if she wasn’t singularly gorgeous. Just like it’s subjects, The Neon Demon is shallow and beautiful. And though beauty isn’t everything, it actually counts for a lot.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Pretentious and self-indulgent, it seems tailor-made to appeal to lovers of the obtuse and inscrutable until it takes a left-turn into schlocky, gore-drenched splatter imagery.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: IN THE BASEMENT (2014)

Im Keller

DIRECTED BY: Ulrich Seidl

FEATURING: A cast of “ordinary” Austrians

PLOT: A documentary about secret hobbies in which Austrians indulge their basements, including a man with a shrine to the Nazis, a woman who cradles creepy lifelike newborn dolls, and multiple S&M devotees.

Still from In the Basement (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As we have often pointed out, due to their very nature—which requires them to be rooted in reality—documentaries have a much harder row to hoe if they aspire to weirdness. In the Basement tries to strangen things up, formally speaking, with cut-and-paste editing and awkward minimalist tableaux; it still doesn’t make it all the way to “weird,” though.

COMMENTS: In one of the opening scenes of In the Basement, a man (whom we never see again) silently watches as his pet python stalks a helpless bunny rabbit crowded into the corner of a plexiglass cage. My immediate thought was, there’s no healthy reason for him to be watching this. In the Basement is built around the idea of watching what you shouldn’t. It takes us into the private demesnes of a tuba-playing Nazi sympathizer, a woman obsessed with creepily realistic baby dolls, and a hairy man who cleans his mistress’ toilet with his tongue, among others. To add to the alienating feel, the editing seems purposeless, bouncing back and forth between the film’s subjects at random. To generate further discomfort, establishing shots are held for much longer than is necessary. The director scatters snapshot moments where the subjects stand posed stock-still and stare at the camera without expression at several points throughout the film. Sometimes these are the main characters, and other times they are people who did not make it into the film proper, like the middle aged women who stand arranged around a washing machine as it runs through a noisy rinse cycle. The carefully posed amateurs staring affectlessly at the camera from gray rooms invoke the absurdist spirit of Roy Andersson.

Rarely are the subjects asked to speak about themselves or their hobbies, with the noteworthy exception of a masochistic woman who, standing nude except for the thick ropes ritually wrapped around her, confesses the personal history that brought her into the subculture. It’s In the Basement‘s lone moment of obvious insight and humanity.

While it engenders a morbid fascination, there are some serious downsides to Basement. For a while, the documentary earns extra thrills just from the fact that you don’t know what new kink is going to be introduced next. But eventually it runs out of surprises. There aren’t enough weirdos willing to go onscreen, so director Seidl ends up filling up space with redundant S&M devotees (who probably get an extra kick of humiliation from being exposed to the public). The amount of time devoted to these six, plus the wince-inducing detail involved in their explicitly detailed torture sessions, makes you wonder if maybe Seidl should have abandoned Basement‘s ostensible thesis and just made a movie about the S&M lifestyle instead. More upsetting, however, is the revelation that some of the scenes were, basically, faked. Although Seidl’s M.O. lately has been blurring the line between fact and fiction, narrative and documentary, that technique doesn’t seem fruitful in this context. Does Basement say something about the contemporary Austrian soul, or is it just a carefully curated compendium of grotesques? Although I believe Seidl intended to make an artistic statement about social and psychological repression, in practice the movie plays more to the latter interpretation. When did this kind of thing, they did not drape it in obscuring Art.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s in more conventional observation and confessions to camera that the film really delivers its strange, melancholic universe.”–Lee Marshall, Screen International (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE (1981)

Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes; Doctor Jekyll and His Women; The Bloodbath of Doctor Jekyll

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Marina Pierro, , Gérard Zalcberg

PLOT: Dr. Jekyll throws an engagement party in his mansion, and the guests soon find themselves dying to leave.

Still from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne (1981)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it has its deliciously decadent moments and is probably the strangest version of the Jekyll and Hyde story, it’s more of a second tier weird movie. It is recommended only for fans of Eurotrashy artsploitation features.

COMMENTS: Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne starts off slowly, with seemingly endless dinner conversation and a long (if fetishistic) dance by a teenage ballerina, so that you may feel you’ve been cheated and that maybe this isn’t the perverted Freudian freakshow the ad copy promised. Flash-forwards to snippets from the coming night’s brutal debaucheries keep hope alive. Fortunately, about a third of the way through Patrick Magee starts blindly firing his pistol, virgins are despoiled, a father is tied up while Hyde (and his oversize prosthetic member) violates his daughter before his very eyes, and Jekyll is writhing in a bathtub full of filthy, rusty water (no director outside the porn world requires as much writing of his actors as does Borowczyk). Soon enough, Jekyll’s maiden fiancee, Miss Osborne, catches onto the fact that her hubby is able to transform into the well-hung Hyde several times a night, and finds herself intrigued by the idea.

Jekyll/Osborne continues Borowczyk’s obsession with the notion that human beings are just a few flimsy bourgeois notions away from bloody rutting animals, although this movie does not exploit that idea as explicitly and audaciously as in his Certified Weird atrocity, The Beast. Despite the explicit nature of the film, the relocation of the action to a single night in a single house, and the crucial infusion of female sexual energy in the person of Jekyll’s fiancee, this adaptation does legitimately capture the sense of Victorian rot and the dualist tensions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story, while at the same time being a revolutionary erotic expansion of it. Fanny Osborne was the name of Stevenson’s real-life fiancee (and later wife), who, according to Stevenson, encouraged the author to burn the first draft of “Dr. Jekyll” for being too sensationalist and not allegorical enough. Borowczyk originally marketed the film as being an adaptation of that lost first draft which he claimed to have uncovered, but later admitted the story was made up.

With this film Udo Kier became, to my knowledge, the only actor to portray Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll.

In 2015 Arrow Video released a shockingly lavish DVD/Blu-ray combination version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne. This virtually unknown movie gets its own Criterion-style booklet of essays and a host of extras. The DVD architecture even resembles a Criterion edition, right down to the style of the short prose introductions before the special features. The most substantial extra features are Borowczyk’s slyly naughty 1979 short “Happy Toy” and the experimental tribute film “Himorogi.”There is also a commentary track fashioned from interview segments with various people who worked on the film, as well as over an hours worth of interviews and analysis with stars Kier and Pierro and others. Fans of the director will consider this a must-buy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“….a film of strange and outrageous beauty that seems to emanate from that place where our fears are also desires.”–Chris Preachment, Time Out (contemporaneous)

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)

194. THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE & HER LOVER (1989)

“Painters hate having to explain what their work is about. They always say, it’s whatever you want it to be — because I think that’s their intention, to connect with each person’s subconscious, and not to try and dictate. For all of his intellectualism, I think Peter Greenaway directs from his real inner gut, and he seems to have a very direct channel in that. The only other director I can think of who’s close is David Lynch.”–Helen Mirren

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Michael Gambon, Richard Bohringer, Alan Howard

PLOT: A brutish but successful criminal with expensive tastes has bought a French restaurant, where he holds court nightly drinking the finest wines and abusing staff and customers equally. A bookseller who dines there catches the eye of Albert’s mistreated Wife, and the two embark on an illicit affair. The Thief’s discovery of their affair sets off a chain of violent reprisals which ultimately draw in the establishment’s Cook.

Still from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
BACKGROUND:

  • The MPAA denied The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover an R-rating (under 17 not admitted without parent) because of its extreme content (including scat, violence, nudity, cannibalism, and some disgusting stuff, too). Rather than have the film released with an X rating (a designation associated with hardcore pornography in the public mind), Miramax released the film unrated in the U.S. This is frequently cited as one of the films that led to the creation of the adults-only NC-17 rating (under 17 not admitted, a rating which fared little better than X). Cook accepted a NC-17 rating for its DVD release.
  • The controversy did not hurt, and probably significantly boosted, Cook at the U.S. box office, where it grossed over $7 million, becoming the closest thing to a hit Greenaway has ever had.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We are going to skip over the shocking (and spoilerish) final image, and instead focus on the color transitions during the magnificent tracking shots: as Georgina walks from the sparkling white ladies’ room into the royal red of the restaurant’s main dining room, her dress changes color to match the decor.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although not as thoroughly weird as most of the rest of his oeuvre, Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is the director’s most beloved (?) movie, and in many ways his poplar masterpiece. While the surrealism here is as subtle as the scatology is explicit, there can be no doubt that Cook is an outrageous, brutish and lovely work of sumptuous unreality from an eccentric avant-gardist that demands a place of honor among the weirdest films ever made.


Original trailer for The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover

COMMENTS: He begins the movie by smearing dog feces on a quivering naked man who owes him money, then urinating on him. This is Continue reading 194. THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE & HER LOVER (1989)

188. EDEN AND AFTER (1970)

L’éden et après

“The curtain falls and the audience applauds a bit, a smattering of polite applause. Then the host of the festival appears, the curtain opens, and he introduces Catherine Jourdan. Thundering applause! I think, ‘Good. It’s going well.’ I walk onstage all dressed up in my tux… Howls of disapproval! I wait for them to quiet down and say, ‘Please note, I’m the director of this film. This young woman has been in many films, but you never noticed her before. If you liked her in this film, perhaps I had something to do with that.'”–Alain Robbe-Grillet, recalling the debut of Eden and After at the Berlin Film Festival

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Catherine Jourdan, Pierre Zimmer

PLOT: A group of college students take drugs and play games of chance (like Russian roulette) at a cafe called “Eden.” One day, a stranger appears and offers the students a taste of his “fear powder,” which Violette accepts. The man winds up dead, and a valuable cubist painting is missing from Violette’s room; the convoluted trail leads to Tunisia, and to sexual slavery.

Still from Eden and After (1970)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first color film. In an interview he explains that he was offered the opportunity to do 1968’s The Man Who Lies in color but turned it down, partially because it was set in a forest and he did not believe Eastman Color film stock conveyed the color green very well. When he visited Tunisia and found locations with almost no green anywhere in the landscape, he decided that this would be where he would shoot his first color film.
  • Catherine Jourdan was a last minute replacement for another actress who had to drop out when her hair fell out after a botched dye job.
  • In making Eden and After Robbe-Grillet was inspired by the twelve-tone serial music of his friend Pierre Boulez. Instead of a regular plot, he listed twelve recurring “themes” for the movie, which would play off each other in a non-linear way: the story would be “a-narrative” or “a-diagetic” in the same way serial music was “a-tonal.”
  • Robbe-Grillet recut Eden and After, shuffling scenes in a different order, incorporating some unused footage, and adding new narration to make an entirely different (though equally surreal) movie titled N. Took the Dice (N. a pris les dés…—an anagram of L’éden et après). Dice was based on principles of aleatory (randomized) music, and was only shown on French television.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Originally a novelist by trade, Robbe-Grillet was known more for narrative playfulness than for visual imagination. Eden and After‘s sensual beauty and sadomasochistic tableaux marked his progression as a visual artist. This is arguably the director’s most sensuous film, filled with startling images. Nude, leggy French actresses, often victimized, constitute one of the film’s key recurring motifs. The picture of mini-skirted Violette, fetishistically shod in black leather boots, encountering her double in the blank Tunisian desert is a titillating but printable candidate. Perhaps the most unforgettable composition, however, is a shocking view of three dead, bound women posed against Inquisition-style torture equipment, one impaled on a bed of spikes, with blood spattering the white walls. That bloody fantasy is indelible, but perhaps a bit too strong, so officially, we will pick the similar but  tamer scene that Redemption Video selected for its Blu-ray cover (with the nudity cropped out). Three women lie in cages in a white void. Two wear white nightgowns, one is nude; two cages sit on the ground and one is suspended in the air; two wear blindfolds, one covers her eyes with her arm. A lamp, two halves of a wrought iron gate, and a white patio chair furnish the scene. What it signifies is anyone’s guess.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fairly summarized as “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Justine” meets The Trip, Eden and After is what happens when a dyed-in-the-wool Surrealist (and unrepentant bondage fetishist) makes an acid movie for the collegiate set, composing the experimental script on principles analogous to the serial music of Pierre Boulez. Weird? A tad.


Clip from Eden and After

COMMENTS: You could construct a coherent story from Eden and Continue reading 188. EDEN AND AFTER (1970)