Tag Archives: Christianity

DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: THE FILMS OF DAINA KRUMINS

During one of my incognito Sacred Heart Catholic Church field trips with my Aunt Greta, visiting from the Arizona desert, I received a mild scolding—albeit not from immediate family, who would have flipped out had they known my father’s sister had smuggled me into one of those Catholic churches. Rather, it was from Greta herself, who corrected my venial sin: in being transfixed by the statues of the Infant of Prague (a toddler Jesus in drag), Our Lady of Sorrows (Mother Mary with seven knives jabbed into her chest), and Teresa of Avila (she of Lorenzo Bernini’s orgasmic ecstasy), I made the mistake of saying: “It’s cool that your church has such weird imagery, worships women, and you don’t have to worship Jesus.” Greta very quickly and sternly pointed out to me: “We do worship Jesus, and we don’t worship Mary or Teresa. We venerate them.” In hindsight, and putting aside that I was in my teens that was probably the first time I became vaguely conscious of a latent (although denied by some) connection between feminism and blue-collar Catholic Surrealism.

The films of Daina Krumins have these qualities, and more. As with most Krumins followers, I was introduced to her via The Divine Miracle (1972). I can’t recall where I first saw it, but it was in the late seventies, and Aunt Greta’s parish icons immediately called to mind Krumins’s film. Another weird image that I had cemented at the time, mixing my mythologies, was from a TV documentary about the suicide of George “Adventures of Superman” Reeves, in which the narrator described the late actor’s devoutly Catholic mother going to the crime scene and placing holy cards of saints on all the blood stains and bullet holes in the room (the narration was accompanied by eccentric flashing images of devotional postcards). The reason I reference the latter is that there’s something of a holy cards-on-bloodstains texture to Krumins’ work.

Krumins was born in 1947 in a Munich refugee camp. Her family immigrated to the U.S.A. Like her mother, Krumins suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Fortunately, her father, who was an accomplished photographer, and her uncle, a Latvian painter, encouraged her early creative eccentricities, which included collecting metal shavings, wax teeth, snakes in formaldehyde, jellyfish, and crabs. Ignoring her teachers’ advice to be more social and pursue a normal life, Krumins received her BFA at the NYU Film School, followed by an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and found employment as a rotoscoper with Lookout Mountain Films. Images from her art and film can be viewed on the filmmaker’s website).

Still from The Divine Miracle (1972)Krumins is a New Jersey resident and has been described as a “homegrown Surrealist.” That description suggests something coming from the earth, which is apt. Krumins refers to her film, photographs, woodwork, and sculpture as preoccupations with textures. To date, she has completed a total of four  films, Continue reading DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: THE FILMS OF DAINA KRUMINS

LIST CANDIDATE: THE HAWKS AND THE SPARROWS (1966)

Uccellacci e Uccellini

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Totò, Ninetto Davoli

PLOT: A wandering father and son meet a talking raven on the road.

Still from The Hawks and the Sparrows
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It is, indeed, quite weird, with Totò and his young companion passing from one absurd scenario to another as they walk down life’s metaphorically dusty path. The main problem with the movie, however, is that it seems very much a product of its time and place: which is to say, not merely the 1960s, but Italy in the mid-1960s, and not merely 1960s Italy but 1960s Italy as seen through the eyes of leftist intellectuals of that period. For all its supposedly timeless and mystical talk about class and religion, I’m not sure this movie has traveled well in its long journey to our era.

COMMENTS: Casting the famous clown Totò (the Italian equivalent of France’s or Hollywood’s ) as an amoral bourgeois tramp in a nonlinear Marxist/Surrealist adventure may have been a coup and a stroke of genius in 1966, but it’s a move that doesn’t register with a modern international audience—jokes lose their force when they have to be explained via a footnote. Similarly, it’s sort of funny when, in the middle of the movie, intertitles pretentiously inform us that the talking raven represents “a ‘left-wing intellectual'”; but then they confuse us by adding “…of the era preceding Palmiro Tagliatti’s death.” Who wants to have to pause the DVD to jump on Wikipedia and discover that Tagliatti was the head of the Italian Communist party from 1927-1964? (You can see his portrait in footage from his funeral that Pasolini splices in at random at the end of The Hawks and the Sparrows). Much of the flighty Hawks seems like an in-joke made for people who are long dead now, which is a bit of a shame, because Pasolini’s pair of clowns do encounter some universal themes on their journey from and to nowhere. The meat of the movie is a flashback to the time of St. Francis, who tasks Fra. Totò and apprentice with bringing the Gospel to the “arrogant” hawks and the “humble” sparrows. Against all odds, through months of prayer and chirping and hopping about, the monks appear to accomplish the feat, only to watch a bitter punchline undo all their good work. The movie feels complete at this point, but there are still 45 minutes to go, so Totò and son return to the modern world, where they get involved in various land disputes as both the exploiters and the exploited, and join up with a wandering carnival for a while before ending up by competing for the affections of a roadside slut. The movie’s messages are encased in the candy shell of Totò’s slapstick, with lots of mugging for the camera, absurd little dances, and sped-up chase scenes. Pasolini’s parable seems, at first, to prophesy that Marxist ideas of equality will eventually triumph and bring about the ancient Christian vision of the brotherhood of man that the Church has failed to achieve in centuries of work. But, given the the raven’s final hopeless failure to convert Totò and son, perhaps he isn’t so naïve about equality’s prospects in this bird-eat-bird world.

I must confess to having a personal disaffinity for the works of Pasolini; it’s hard to explain why. To me, he always seems like an intellectual who has turned to cinema, not a natural born filmmaker. One of his movies is even entitled Theorem, for God’s sake. The irrational came naturally to directors like or , but when Pasolini wants to fly beyond reason, I always see his wings straining. He’s still a huge figure in cinema, and something of his deserves to be on the List of the weirdest movies ever made, but what?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “A sort of Marxist Hellzapoppin, politicized vaudeville and skittery poesy, an open structure overflowing with gags and ideas…”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

CAPSULE: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Norman Jewison

FEATURING: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman

PLOT: The last days of Jesus Christ, including the Last Supper, his betrayal by Judas, and his crucifixion, sung to a propulsive rock score composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Still from Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though the very premise – a rock ‘n’ roll passion play – is inherently offbeat, and this particular version is laced with anachronisms and unusual characterizations, this is at heart a straightforward, earnest account of the story.

COMMENTS: When Superstar debuted on the Broadway stage in 1971, the very notion of a rock-n-roll passion play must have carried an unmistakable air of sacrilege. (Although another pop-oriented take on the story, “Godspell,” premiered off-Broadway the same year, and a film of that musical also came out in 1973.) But the show struck a chord with audiences; spawned from a concept album that had sold millions of copies, the musical ran for nearly two years on Broadway and spent eight years on the London stage, closing as the longest-running show in British history. A film version was probably inevitable; that the adaptaion would be placed in the hands of the director of In the Heat of the Night and The Thomas Crown Affair might not have been.

To Norman Jewison’s credit (the screenplay is credited to him and British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg), the movie faithfully retains the show’s determination to treat its characters as human beings, rather than the religious icons they have become. Lyricist Tim Rice sparked some controversy by suggesting that he and partner Andrew Lloyd Webber simply wanted to portray Jesus as a man, but they doggedly stuck to that vision, and the results are intriguing: Jesus is beleaguered and plagued by doubts. Judas is a buzzkill true believer, hectoring Jesus for being insufficiently pious and ultimately betraying the man he idolizes out of a sense of moral outrage. Pilate is the most reasonable man in Judea, Mary Magdalene is hopelessly confused, and the apostles are shiftless hippies. It’s probably not the version taught in Sunday school, but it lends the events a greater dramatic heft.

If Jesus Christ Superstar is controversial, it’s because it doesn’t traffic in the more mystical Continue reading CAPSULE: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1973)

THE RAPTURE (1991)

As part of our continuing effort to restore all the posts lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010, we’re reprinting this column from Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema, originally published on Oct. 14, 2010.

Once upon a time there was a breed known as independent filmmakers. Usually with shoestring budgets, the indies, taking no prisoners, discarded business plans, forgot to look at marketing strategies, and the image of a proposed target audience was as abstract and surreal to them as their films often were to audiences. The indies were decidedly reactionary to the Hollywood institution. Maya Deren once said “I make films for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.” It was the indies who were progressively harking back to the dawn of cinema, before the rules of filmmaking had been established and canonized.

Stanley Kubrick was the closest Hollywood would get to the indie spirit, but Kubrick, for all his aesthetic brilliance, was, essentially, an academic. Whatever Kubrick’s genre, be it sci-fi, porn, horror, war, swashbuckler, his approach stemmed from a safe classroom distance. Kubrick lacked the fevered intensity and aesthetic struggle of the indies, and subjects such as horror and sex were rendered as studies and, therefore, matters on somewhat safe critical ground for the mainstream.

Newly minted and authorized film critics, such as Roger Ebert, would lavish heaps of praise on Dr. Kubrick, but Ebert was clearly out of his ivory towered ball park when trying to grasp the likes of Larry Cohen‘s God Told Me To or Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which is unfortunate considering Ebert once scripted for Hollywood outsider Russ Meyer.

Still from The Rapture (1991)The 1990s was the last real decade of the independents. Even by then, they were becoming an extinct breed, and in their place were the new breed of timid indie-lites, who merely emulate the Hollywood recipe without having the budget for the high priced, bland ingredients.

In 1991 Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture did what an independent film is supposed to do: took critics by surprise. Some critics Continue reading THE RAPTURE (1991)

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004): MEL’S LETHAL JESUS AND THE MOST REPREHENSIBLE ANTI-CHRISTIAN FILM EVER MADE

This Thanksgiving, we here at 366 Weird Movies are thankful that we were able to recover content lost in the Great Crash of 2010, even if we do have to re-enter much of it by hand. We’re also thankful to have Alfred Eaker writing for us: love him or hate him, he provokes the audience and incites debate. We’ll mix those two things we’re grateful for with today’s posting: a recovered article (originally published on October 7) from Alfred, which provoked a typical love/hate reaction from the readers.

I tend to avoid writing about films I don’t like, partially because I realize that, regardless of my objective efforts, a certain amount of subjectivity is going to seep its way in. Too, often one may not be in total sync with the filmmaker’s vision.

With that said, I am breaking my standard rule here because Mel Gibson’s 2004 “Lethal Jesus” seems an even more vivid symbol today of what exactly is wrong with the direction “spirituality in film” has taken, what is wrong with certain popular contemporary views of what Christianity means, and what is wrong in the current state of film as an art form.

Oh, and I do get this film’s vision, all too well. Hell, I saw it first in a Jack T. Chick fundamentalist comic tract from the 1970′s which depicted the Passion with a suffering Christ who looked like Hamburger Helper as hooked nosed Jews screamed for his death. The same company produced numerous blatantly antisemitic tracts, including one in which a Rabbi was fried in the fires of hell by a faceless God, sitting on a large white throne. I saw it next in a protestant passion play that I was forced to sit through in which a muscle bound Jesus got involved in a barroom type brawl (in his descent to Hell) with demons who looked suspiciously like caricatured Jews, dressed in black with false noses. Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is a 21st century promotion for the medieval lynch mob.
Scene from The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The Passion of the Christ is not only blatantly anti-Semitic, it is also the most blatantly anti-Christian film ever made. Two-dimensional thinkers will point to films like Bunuel‘s Milky Way (1969), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Rapture (1991), Dogma (1999) or Religulous (2008), as anti-Christian. Yet, all of these edify the spiritual Christian movement. Continue reading THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004): MEL’S LETHAL JESUS AND THE MOST REPREHENSIBLE ANTI-CHRISTIAN FILM EVER MADE

44. GREASER’S PALACE (1972)

Recommended

SEAWEEDHEAD GREASER: Coo Coo.  I wish I could put my arms around each and every one of them, and let them know that everything is going to be okay.

COO COO: Why don’t you, Sea?

SEAWEEDHEAD GREASER: I’m not bizarre enough.

COO COO: Who is?

–dialogue from Greaser’s Palace

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alan Arbus, Albert Henderson, Michael Sullivan,

PLOT: Perpetually constipated Seaweedhead Greaser and his gang of hired guns run a small Western village in the middle of the desert. One day Jessy, a mild-mannered hispter in a zoot suit, parachutes into the nearby countryside. Jessy, who is traveling to Jerusalem to become an actor/singer, stops in town to walk on water, repeatedly resurrect Greaser’s son Lamy Homo after Greaser has him killed, and do a boogie-woogie song and dance number before winding up crucified.

Still from Greaser's Palace (1972)
BACKGROUND:

  • Director Robert Downey began his filmmaking career in the early 1960s with a series of low-budget, absurdist short films that gained him a devoted following. His 1969 advertising/race relations satire Putney Swope brought him the adoration of the hippie counterculture. Greaser’s Palace is his only big-budget production, made with $1,000,000 invested by an independently wealthy Broadway producer.
  • Downey’s son is the now-famous actor Robert Downey Jr.; the younger Downey appears, uncredited, as a child in this movie.
  • The credits to this film begin to scroll before the movie starts instead of afterward, and many of them are illegible.
  • The topless, mute Indian girl is none other than Toni Basil, who later went on to fame with her gratingly catchy 1982 pop single “Mickey.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Jessy, still in his striped suit and white gloves and shoes, crucified, with his pink and lavender hat perched atop the cross.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Set in a barren town in the old West, Greaser’s Palace is a series of bizarre sketches which run a gamut from arid comedy to hints of disturbing perversion. These absurd anecdotes hang off a storyline that loosely and enigmatically follows the outline of the New Testament. In a movie where the Holy Ghost appears as a cigar-smoking man wearing a bedsheet with eyeholes cut in it and a black stetson, whether the movie is weird or not is the last question you’re likely to be asking yourself.

Clip from Greaser’s Palace

COMMENTS: A man leaning on a crutch waits for the “messiah” to come and heal him. Continue reading 44. GREASER’S PALACE (1972)

26. THE MILKY WAY [LA VOIE LACTEE] (1969)

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”–Matthew 10:34-36

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Laurent Terzieff, Bernard Verley, Edith Scob, ,

PLOT:  Two tramps follow the ancient pilgrimage road leading from France to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of the apostle James are supposed to be interred.  Along the way they meet strange characters from various times who debate ancient Catholic heresies, a child with a stigmata, an angel of death, and a nun voluntarily undergoing a crucifixion.  Also scattered throughout the film are recreations of fictional and historical events, including dramatization of an Inquisition trial, a cameo by the Marquis de Sade, and scenes from the Gospels.

milky_way_coie_lactee

BACKGROUND:

  • In retrospect, director Luis Buñuel realized that The Milky Way formed the first part of a trilogy about “the search for truth” along with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Phantom of Liberty (1974). The subsequent two films use the same fragmented, non-linear narrative style pioneered in The Milky Way.
  • The film is exhaustively researched, with many of the episodes composed of direct quotes from the Bible or the writings of heretics.
  • Released while the general strike and student protests of May 1968 were still fresh in France’s mind and a spirit of liberal revolution was in the air, some leftists were not happy that one of their own had chosen this moment to make a non-political film about the history of heresy in the Catholic church.  According to anecdote, Buñuel’s novelist friend Julio Cortazar accused the director of having completed the film with financing from the Vatican.
  • Although the film is often blasphemous on it’s surface, it was well-received by the Catholic Church, who even intervened with the Italian censors to reverse their decision to ban the film.  This was an unexpected reaction, as the Vatican had declared Buñuel’s 1961 film Viridiana “blasphemous”.
  • With it’s large, almost epic cast, it’s inevitable that several French actors with significant contributions in the weird movie arena appeared in cameo roles, including Delpine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad) as a prostitute, Julien Guiomar (Léolo) as a priest, and Michel Piccoli (La Grande Bouffe, Dillinger is Dead) as the Marquis de Sade.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The execution of a pope by a gang of anarchists, a scene that leads to the film’s funniest and most unexpected punchline.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In The Milky Way two worldly pilgrims make their way through a

Original trailer for La Voie Lactée

strange, heresy-obsessed world in which every maître d’ is an expert theologian and Renaissance fops duel to the death over arcane philosophical doctrines, while any random stranger they meet may actually be God, an angel, or the fulfillment of a recent prophecy.

COMMENTS:  Of all the great directors, Luis Buñuel was the greatest prankster.  His son, Continue reading 26. THE MILKY WAY [LA VOIE LACTEE] (1969)