Tag Archives: Class struggle

261. THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)

El àngel exterminador

Must See

“People always want an explanation for everything. It is the consequence of centuries of bourgeois education. And for everything for which they cannot find an explanation, they resort in the last instance to God. But what is the use of that to them? Eventually they have to explain God.”–Luis Buñuel , “My Last Sigh”

“The best explanation of this film is that, from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation.”–Opening epigram to The Exterminating Angel

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Enrique Rambal, , , Lucy Gallardo, Augusto Benedico

PLOT: After an elaborate dinner, the many guests of Edmundo Nobile find themselves trapped inside a single room of the mansion; at first they stay under reasonable pretenses, but after sleeping over they become physically unable to pass the room’s threshold. As their high society ways break down from the proximity and lack of provisions, concerned police and citizens on the outside find it impossible to enter to help them. Things degenerate until they attempt a desperate gambit relying on a vision of one of the guests. Meanwhile, sheep and a bear wander around the house.

Still from The Exterminating Angel (1962)

BACKGROUND:

  • After briefly returning to his native Spain from his Mexican exile to direct Viridiana, Buñuel went back to Mexico to make The Exterminating Angel after the Vatican denounced the previous film and the Spanish banned it.
  •   Buñuel borrowed the title from a poet friend (José Bergamín) ostensibly for marketing purposes, remarking in his biography, “If I saw ‘The Exterminating Angel‘ on a marquee, I’d go see it on the spot.”
  • Despite its acclaim (both contemporaneous and otherwise), Buñuel often said he considered The Exterminating Angel a failure. Mostly, he regretted not being able to proceed along a more “cannibalistic” trajectory.
  • The dozens of repetitions found in the film greatly worried the cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa, when he saw the final cut. It took Buñuel to calm him down, assuring Figueroa that it was a creative choice.
  • Won a “FIPRESCI” award at Cannes on its release.
  • While Russia at the time banned any number of films for any number of reasons, ironically, this Marxist movie rubbed Soviet officials the wrong way because the theme—not being able to leave a party—was considered anti-government.
  • The Exterminating Angel is a staple of “top films ever made” lists, including The New York Times‘ Best 1000 Movies Ever Made and Steven Jay Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
  • Stephen Sondheim has a musical based on both The Exterminating Angel and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in the works. British composer Thomas Adès recently adapted the movie into an opera.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Throughout The Exterminating Angel, the household’s domesticated (pet) bear herds a small clutch of sheep. Wandering around the place with impunity, a shot where the demi-flock scoot up the grand stairway, with the bear taking up the rear, sticks in the mind. The guests’ doom is mirrored by the sheep’s mindless wandering toward the great prison room, ensuring their barbaric destruction.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dead man’s hand; symbolic tasty sheep; a sacrificial host

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A gaggle of bourgeois personages spend more and more time in close quarters with each other—they simply cannot leave the room. The strangeness of their prison is matched by the strangeness found outside: a society that at first doesn’t notice their absence, and then is unable to help them. Time skips like a scratched record, servants are uncannily eager to jump ship, a disembodied hand appears, and animal friends romp around a mansion, adding up to a fine Buñuelian omelet of social commentary and Surrealist comedy.

COMMENTS: Between his genre-establishing Un Chien Andalou up Continue reading 261. THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)

211. SOCIETY (1989)

“It was so weird… it was probably one of the weirdest movies ever made!”–Devin DeVasquez reflecting on Society

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Charles Lucia, Patrice Jennings, Ben Meyerson, Tim Bartell, Ben Slack, David Wiley, Connie Danese

PLOT: Despite being a star basketball player and candidate for president of Beverly Hills High, Billy feels like an outcast in his own high society family. He misses his sister’s coming out party due to a basketball game, but her creepy ex-boyfriend plays him a very disturbing recording from the event that causes him to investigate his own family secrets more closely. It seems that there is a secret society of upper-crust residents in Beverly Hills which even privileged Billy is not (yet) a part of; his investigations lead him to a secret party where the elites engage in a practice they call “shunting”…

Still from Society (1989)
BACKGROUND:

  • Brian Yuzna began his filmmaking career as a producer, teaming with director Stuart Gordon in 1985 to launch the hit Re-Animator series. Society was his first credit as director. To convince the producers to allow him to direct, Yuzna promised to make two movies, the other being the pre-sold sequel Bride of Re-Animator.
  • Makeup expert Screaming Mad George used paintings (specifically “The Great Masturbator” and “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans“) as inspiration for constructing the “shunting” scenes.
  • Although it saw some mild success overseas, the climax of Society had to be cut by four minutes in the U.S. to secure an R rating, and the film was not released to American screens until 1992, when it disappeared from theaters quickly.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Something—anything—from the last 20 minutes, a non-stop body-morphing orgy that would put off his lunch. If forced to whittle down the choice to a single image we’d have to go with “butthead,” a creation both juvenile and frightening.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Twisted sister; hair eating; “shunting” in general.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Brian Yuzna’s mixture of horror, satire, and teen sex comedy is clumsy and unsure at times, and bizarre in both theory and execution, but the drawn-out finale, a masterpiece of Dali-esque designs rendered in rubbery goo, puts it far over the top.


Original trailer for Society

COMMENTS: As satire and allegory, Society is obvious; but I believe Continue reading 211. SOCIETY (1989)

200. METROPOLIS (1927)

“I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier… Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities.”–H.G. Wells

“Those who understand cinema as an unassuming storytelling mechanism will be deeply disappointed in Metropolis. That which it recounts is trivial, overblown, pedantic and outdatedly romantic. But, if to the tale we prefer the ‘plasitco-photogenic’ background of the film, then Metropolis will fulfill our wildest dreams, will astonish us as the most astonishing book of images it is possible to compose.”–Luis Buñuel

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: The future city of Metropolis is starkly divided between two classes: the rulers who spend their days in pleasure gardens, and the workers who live underground and run the massive machines that supply the city with power. Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, the most powerful man in Metropolis, discovers the existence of the underground world when he becomes entranced by beautiful Maria, a woman who prophesies to the workers that a Mediator will come to unite the two classes. Joh is not happy with this development and he enlists the scientist Rotwang to kidnap Maria and create a robotic duplicate of her to discredit her with the workers; but the doctor, who harbors a personal grudge against Fredersen, sabotages the plan.

Still from Metropolis (1927)
BACKGROUND:

  • Metropolis cost 5 million reichmarks to produce (about $24 million in inflation-adjusted dollars). This would make it one of the most expensive movies of its era, and although its cost has often been exaggerated, it did almost send its studio into bankruptcy. The movie utilized thousands of extras: reports range between 25,000-37,000 people.
  • Adolph Hitler was a fan of Metropolis, despite having banned another of Fritz Lang’s films, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, for its anti-Nazi sentiments. Joseph Goebbels told Lang that he would be made an honorary Aryan despite his Jewish heritage (the director’s mother was a Jew who converted to Catholicism). Goebbels offered him a position as head of UFA, Germany’s national studio, which Lang declined.
  • Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, wrote the screenplay for Metropolis and followed up with a novelization of the story. She willingly joined the Nazi party in 1932. Lang and von Harbou divorced in 1933. Lang fled to France in 1934, and then went on to Hollywood in 1936.
  • In the early years of movies, the concept of film preservation had not yet been formed, and many movies were lost when the prints decayed or were deliberately destroyed. At 153 minutes, Lang’s original Metropolis cut was too long for many exhibitors of the time, and 30 minutes were deleted after the premier for international audiences. Portions of the original uncut prints of Metropolis did not survive, and it was long thought that a complete version of the film would never surface. In 2008, however, a nearly complete print containing an additional 25 minutes of footage was discovered in Buenos Aires. Although of poor quality, the segments were incorporated into existing prints of Metropolis and the film was re-released to theaters (and later on home video) as “the Complete Metropolis.” A few minutes of footage are still believed to be forever lost, however.
  • Ranked #35 on Sight & Sound’s poll of the greatest movies of all time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The robot encircled by electrified rings as it takes on the form of Maria is not only Metropolis‘ most memorable vision, it’s one of the most iconic images in all of cinema.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An allegory of steely skyscrapers and miserable sewers, Metropolis is a movie that reveals, and revels in, the unique power of silent film to create an experience that feels more like living through a myth than listening to a story. Divorced from dialogue, drained of color, it is the pure images that stick in our memory, like fragments of a dream. Metropolis is not the weirdest film on our List, but its influence is seen throughout fantastic cinema (the cityscapes of Brazil would not have the same shape without it, to name just one example). Metropolis is simply too big to ignore.


Trailer for the 2010 restoration of Metropolis

COMMENTS: There is hardly an ounce of reality in Metropolis, which Continue reading 200. METROPOLIS (1927)

189. THE RULING CLASS (1972)

The Ruling Class is a rather… unusual film.”–original trailer to The Ruling Class

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Peter Medak 

FEATURING: , William Mervyn, Carolyn Seymour, , Coral Brown, Alistair Sim, James Villiers

PLOT: The 13th Earl of Gurney dies, leaving Jack, a madman who believes he is God, as his direct heir to inherit his seat in the House of Lords. His relatives scheme to trick Jack into marriage so that he will produce an heir to carry the Gurney line, and then seek to have him declared incompetent and have him committed. Unexpectedly, however, his psychiatrist’s drastic treatment cures Jack, and now that he no longer believes himself to be God, his disposition is not nearly as gentle.

Still from The Ruling Class (1972)
BACKGROUND:

  • Peter Barnes adapted the script from his own play. (The play is till occasionally performed; at the time of this writing, was starring in a performance at Trafalgar Studios). Peter O’Toole bought the rights from Barnes, and director Medak convinced O’Toole to exercise his option after a night of hard drinking (naturally).
  • O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar for his performance here, losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
  • The original U.S.theatrical release omitted Carolyn Seymour’s striptease scene so that the film could be released with a PG rating.
  • The Ruling Class‘ VHS release was cut by 13 minutes so that it would fit on a single tape. Some TV broadcasts used the same shortened version.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Some would say it’s Peter O’Toole as J.C. taking a flying leap off his cross on his wedding day, an image the director liked so much he highlighted it in a freeze frame. We prefer the penultimate hallucination, where the House of Lords is seen as a gallery of cheering corpses and clapping skeletons draped in cobwebs.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Peter O’Toole’s literally insane performance (“bless the pygmy hippos!”), accompanied by frequent hallucinations and left-field musical numbers, turn this literate upper-crust satire from a pointed class parable into something eccentric enough to deserve the designation “weird.”


Original trailer for The Ruling Class

COMMENTS: Although only making it onto film in 1972, the Continue reading 189. THE RULING CLASS (1972)

CAPSULE: BRITANNIA HOSPITAL (1982)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Graham Crowden, Leonard Rossiter, Malcolm McDowell, Marsha Hunt

PLOT: The unions are picketing, mobs gather outside the hospital gates protesting the institution’s harboring of an African dictator, an investigative reporter is sneaking around posing as a window cleaner, and Professor Millar is continuing his secret experiments, all on the day Her Royal Highness is scheduled to grace Britannia Hospital with her presence.

Still from Britannia Hospital (1982)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scattershot, though in  a pleasant way, Britannia Hospital is the least (and the least surreal) of Lindsay Anderson and Malcolm McDowell’s “Mick Travis” trilogy. It does end with an unexpected wowza of weirdness, however.

COMMENTS:The very first scene of Britannia Hospital sets Lindsay Anderson’s black and bitter tone. Picketers flag down an ambulance outside the hospital. “No admissions except by union dispensation,” croaks the protestor in a Cockney accent. The strikers check the back and find an old man gasping for air; the paramedic reads a newspaper while they check his paperwork before passing him through. Unfortunately, the old man gets inside the hospital just as the nurses are going on break. “You can’t leave that there,” says one supervisor of the soon-to-be corpse lying on the stretcher, but what are they going to do? They’re off the clock.

There are not many likable characters in Britannia Hospital. The hospital administrators are more concerned with serving a proper English breakfast to the private patients in their luxury suites than in healing the sick. The unions grind the institution to a halt over any perceived slight. The doctors pursue private research into Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. The protestors are looking for any excuse for a riot. Perhaps the closest thing to a sympathetic character here is Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), an investigative reporter planning to expose corruption in the hospital. (“MickTravis” was the name of the central character in the first two McDowell/Anderson collaborations, but he plays only a minor role in the ensemble cast here). Guess whether Travis gets a happy ending.

With the minor exception of a pair of royal protocol experts—a dwarf and a cross dresser—the arrogant and obsessed Professor Millar (Graham Crowden) is the strangest (and most fun) character in Britannia Hospital. His campy dialogue and reverence for “science!” make it seem like he’s stopped by on his way to the set of a Hammer Frankenstein picture to deliver his lines. His dastardly machinations even provoke an outrageous gore sequence, which further makes it seem like his character is on loan from a completely different movie. As for his final (and totally out-of-character) speech—the blank faces of the assembly reflect our own experience. We don’t know what to make of this “new beginning” he prophesies, or how in the world it is supposed to fit into the social satire that had been the movie’s currency up until this point.

I call the movie a satire because it mocks human vice, but Anderson’s outlook in Britannia Hospital is too bleak and hopeless to properly be described as satire. Satire implies a moral or political point of view; satire takes sides. The vision here is misanthropic and hopeless. The privileged upper classes are an easy target (the hospital harbors a cannibal, after all, just because he pays for a private suite). But we wouldn’t root for the lower classes, either. The union bosses are corrupt, hypocritical, and easily bribed. The mobs of protestors are willing to tear the innocent limb from limb along with the wicked. If they storm the hospital and overthrow the authorities, we are certain that the proletariat’s leaders will be no more virtuous than the current administration. The scorched earth tactics of both sides are tearing apart the hospital. It’s a naked power struggle: money on one side, numbers on the other. There are no good guys.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…another surreal Lindsay Anderson piece that takes many wild forays and yet still manages to come together as a whole in the end. This is as good, as clever, and as pointed as any of his better known stuff.”–Richard Winters, Scopophila (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Leo,” who said it “seems a bit odd.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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)

78. ZARDOZ (1974)

“When I see the film now, I’m astonished at my hubris in making this extraordinary farrago.”–John Boorman in his 2001 director’s commentary for Zardoz

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: John Boorman

FEATURING: Sean Connery, , John Alderton, Sara Kestleman, Niall Buggy

PLOT: Zed is an Enforcer, a warrior and slaver who pillages the countryside and takes commands from Zardoz, a floating stone head, in a distant barbaric future.  One day Zed sneaks into the head and is carried away with it to Vortex 4, a land filled with technologically advanced people who never seem to age.  Zed is a curiosity to them and becomes both a slave and an object of scientific study, but his presence disrupts their society in profound ways.

Still from Zardoz (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Zardoz was John Boorman’s first film after being nominated for an Oscar for Deliverance.  Boorman had been trying to get an adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” off the ground, but the project fell through.
  • This was Sean Connery’s second role after completing his run as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 (although he would return to the role for a one off in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).
  • Burt Reynolds was originally slated to play Zed but fell ill.
  • According to Boorman the film’s budget was one million dollars, $200,000 of which went to Connery’s salary.
  • Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth also lensed 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many other films.
  • Boorman later co-wrote a novelization of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Try as he might to fill his film with unforgettable visions of giant floating stone heads vomiting firearms and of humanity’s entire cultural heritage projected onto the half-nude bodies of immortal hippies, the one image that adorns almost every review of Boorman’s Zardoz is a simple one: Sean Connery standing in the desert, pistol in hand, ponytail insouciantly thrown over one shoulder, dressed in thigh high leather boots and a red diaper with matching suspenders.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This sci-fi spectacle starts with serious ideas and weighty themes, but gets weighed down under an avalanche of self-indulgent dialogue, a confused script, low-budget psychedelics, and consistently bizarre directorial choices. Fill a talented young director’s head full of anticipation of adapting Tolkien, then pull that opportunity out from under him but instead give him Sean Connery and carte blanche to make whatever film he wants, and the result, apparently, is Zardoz. (Oh, and LSD might have had something to do with it, too).


Original trailer for Zardoz

COMMENTSZardoz is introduced by a floating head weaving through a void, slowly Continue reading 78. ZARDOZ (1974)