Tag Archives: Experimental

CAPSULE: SCARS OF YOUTH (2008)

DIRECTED BY: John R. Hand

FEATURING: Jeremy Hosbein, Amanda Edington

PLOT: A survivor of the apocalypse is conflicted about his mother, who is addicted to a

Still from Scars of Youth (2008)

black fluid that keeps her eternally young but causes disorientation and scarring.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scars of Youth is a beautifully lensed film, filled with dreamlike images and montages. Although not impenetrable, the tale comes across mysterious and weird, thanks to the oblique, overwhelmingly visual storytelling. Unfortunately, all this beauty pads a thin and unengaging storyline.

COMMENTSScars of Youth is easy to critique.  It’s visually and sonically entrancing, on its own terms and even more so when you consider the low budget and lack of any special effects.  On the other hand, the story is slow, yet hard to follow, and what we do discern of the tale doesn’t add up to very much.  The audio in some of the necessary background exposition is deliberately distorted in an attempt to create atmosphere that creates frustration instead.  The performances are substandard throughout; the amateur actors can’t convey complex emotions, and the third main character—a sort of adventurer who smuggles immortality fluid past the checkpoints of an unseen civilization to our hero—sports an unnatural laugh that is particularly off-putting.  Almost every scene is drawn out for far too long, with actors staring off into space with melancholy expressions or wandering around state parks, disconsolately staring at wire fences.  These elements of pure mood can’t take the place of dialogue or action.  There is full-frontal nudity to liven things up, but the mother-son incest subtext, intended to provoke, is laid on far too thickly, with sexual symbolism slathered on with so little subtlety that it becomes embarrassing.  On the plus side, the eerie ambient music is a highlight, and the photography is especially beautiful and far more professional than the narrative aspects of the film.  There are beautiful shots of rippling ponds, closeups of bustling ant colonies, sun-dappled forests, and a consistent, painterly eye for color and composition.  Blue filters are used on the interiors in the protagonist’s lonely room, which turn what would otherwise look like a garage with white sheets hung about for walls into something reasonably mystical.  The black and white dream and flashback scenes are crisp and lovely; one brilliantly conceived sequence is grainy and filled with afterimages, as well as some of the film’s loveliest symbolism.  These short, impressionistic moments are where Scars shines; they could fit comfortably as mood pieces inside a major production with more of a story to tell.  They just can’t carry an entire film.

Hand’s earlier film, Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, was a collage-like creation inspired by the visual styles of cheap and crazy 1970s drive-in horror movies. The look, sound and pace of Scars of Youth is, instead, a tribute to Tarkovsky‘s Stalker.  Hand captures the general feel of the Russian minimalist master, but whereas the murky grindhouse visuals of Nightmare made the lack of locations, story and acting talent almost appropriate, the ultra-clean, professionally shot look of Scars of Youth highlights these deficiencies.  Both films contain a few gorgeous images which, if they could be judged in isolation, would earn five star ratings; but, in both films we also get the feeling that we’re watching the work of a brilliant cinematographer and sensualist who has yet to find a meaningful story to tell.  If Hand’s storytelling abilities ever catch up to the level of his technical skills, he’ll become the Stanley Kubrick of homemade videos.

A signed “limited edition” of Scars of Youth can be ordered directly from JRH films for $15.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…another successful experimental tweaking of a familiar genre for Hand.”–Mike Everleth, BadLit.com

CAPSULE: FRANKENSTEINS BLOODY NIGHTMARE (2006)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: John R. Hand, Amy Olivastro

PLOT: A scientist—or perhaps his monster, it’s never quite clear—kills women to harvest their body parts so the doctor can resurrect his dead love.

Still from Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare (2006)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Missing apostrophe aside, there’s lots to admire about Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, though not as much to love. Director Hand shows a remarkable technical ability to create unique visual and auditory environments inspired by the 1970s trash movies of , , and , but with their cheap, desperate Super-8 stylistics exaggerated to surreal levels. The problem is that, for all its technical ingenuity, the movie has no story to tell, which will cause the average viewer to lose interest quickly.

COMMENTS: Frankensteins flesh may be recycled out of various parts snatched from grindhouse graveyards, but its heart was taken straight from the arthouse. One man show John R. Hand (writer/director/editor/composer/star) obviously watched a lot of 1970s horror cheapies growing up, and (like us) he was clearly more impressed by the mysterious artificial ambiances created by grainy film stock and heavy use of theremins, oscillators and other weird sci-fi audio effects than he was by the nudity and gore those drive-in auteurs depended on to sell tickets. Nightmare strips away the exploitation elements from these flicks (bloody it ain’t), adopting only the bare outline of a mad scientist story. It then seizes the distressed visuals and shaky audio that remains, and amplifies these leftovers to psychedelic levels. Hand himself is too boyish looking to convey the soul of a tortured scientist, and his acting is no better than the rest of the amateurs in the film. Given the intent is to mimic an exploitation film, this might not detract too much from the atmosphere, had there just been enough story and action to keep the viewer engaged. Dialogue is sometimes muffled and inaudible, making a difficult-to-follow story nearly impossible. It’s a bizarre experience to feel lost inside a the plot of a movie where almost nothing is happening onscreen.

Stylistically, on the other hand, there’s always something going on. The opening mixes grainy home-video style footage with bright, solarized footage depicting a pitchfork assault; strange whines, moans, blips, and electronic drones assault our ears, building to a dissonant crescendo. The film changes style every five minutes or so, as we tour Hand’s portfolio of foggy lenses, overexposed film, desaturated colors, psychedelic color filters, thermal imaging, a  psycho-sexual dream sequence, all accompanied by a disquieting soundtrack of distorted Moog organs and overdubbed tape effects. The penultimate scene in the film contains an absolutely beautiful effect where the autumn landscape, then an actress’ face, magically and organically melt into abstract blobs of orange and gold and purple (the director’s commentary reveals the cheap and ingenious method by which it was achieved: household bleach on still photographs).

Overall, Nightmare is a worthy experiment that’s successful in short stretches, but could have used a lot more story. A few bare boobs and a pint or two of gooey stage blood, the key elements this film’s inspirations never would have left out, would also have livened things up.

I can see why would give Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare an honorable mention on his top 10 weird movies list. Depending as it does on discount techniques for creating striking moods, this is a movie that can almost serve as a textbook to Hand’s fellow micro-budget filmmakers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a wild cocktail of nightmarish sensibilities; its death nerve twitches to a disquieting mish-mash of strange images and even stranger sounds… The story is bootleg but Hand’s head-trippy dissolving of consciousness is something fierce, inviting repeat viewings with a joint in hand.”–Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine (contemporaneous)

SHORT: RABBIT (2005)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Run Wrake

PLOT: A young girl finds a magical dancing idol when she cuts open a rabbit.

COMMENTS: Run Wrake’s Rabbit is a beautifully frightening, and award-winning, parable about greed that taps into the ancient, grim fairy tale tradition of placing children in harm’s way to illustrate a cautionary point. Rabbit, however, turns that motif on it’s head by making the children the villains. With it’s storybook graphics and text labels hovering over background objects as if it were an animated reading primer, Rabbit creates an eight-minute universe we’ve never seen before, one which is so unflinchingly original it can never be recreated. Like a talking fish out of Grimm’s fairy tales, the golden idol is one of those mysterious folklore creatures with it’s own weird rules and a slow-boiling intolerance for human folly that inevitably leads to tragedy for those unwise enough to abuse its patience. The irony of using innocent looking but thoroughly rapacious children in this sordid scenario isn’t done for shock value alone—although it is shocking, delightfully so—but rather speaks to our deepest suspicions about human nature: that we’re corrupt from birth, and must unlearn our instinctive childish badness.

Although it’s no Saw VI, Rabbit contains some quick and absurd violence and gore. If you find any depiction of darling little boys and girls with ponytails and ruddy cheeks slaughtering innocent woodland creatures for personal gain disturbing, no matter how tastefully done,then you’ll probably want to stay away from this one!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an animated version of a Dick & Jane primer that takes a scarily surreal turn.”–Noel Murray, Onion A.V. Club (compilation DVD)

VIDEO POETRY BY JOHN M BENNETT

John M Bennett’s musical, aquatic, high octane avant poetry is not for the faint of heart, disciples of the orthodox religion called “linear thinking”, or for the post-Matrix, attention span challenged audience. But, Bennett and his work have a passionately loyal following which influences a small, tight group.

Bennett’s humor comes from the slimy trail of a nobly defiant mindset.  I recall an email I got from Bennett a few years ago, informing me that beatnik surrealist poet Philip Lamantia had died.  When I inquired the nature of that great poet’s death, Bennett confessed he didn’t know, but added, “I hope it was a suicide. That’s the only way a surrealist should die.”

Some of Bennett’s video poetry can be found on his site, by clicking on the link below.

http://www.johnmbennett.net/Video_Poetry_JMBennett.html

Bennett’s LUNA BISONTE PRODS has released a collection on DVD called Ahhh Dog which contains Fifteen Short Pieces, Studio 1-9, Be Blankand John M Bennett in Paris. It can be ordered for $30 US postpaid directly from Bennett himself at:

John M. Bennett
137 Leland Ave.
Columbus, OH 43214 USA

Checks made out to Bennett (or cash).

A gem of a book comes with the dvd, photography by C. Mehrl Bennett.

Fifteen Short Pieces is a WIS project collaboration. Poetry and performance by Bennett. Video: Nicholas Carras.

The first short piece is Door Chain. The video depicts a crow eating, juxtaposed to Bennett’s voice, reading ” double greasy your please hump staining pork ice whistle foaming in your pants name the crack bob…”

Cheek Wreck and Learned Duck are delightfully mischievous. Cheek Wreck depicts a row of plastic water bottles with bright red caps as Bennett growls,”cheek the sawdust from yr tumba falling down the steps leak the slaw…”

A man in a white shirt walks around in a circular motion, grainy from above, “duck and hover plot to ashen us a natter fucked and muttered not a hash spattered on the wall neck…”

Studio 1-9 and Be Blank bring in a third collaborator in Allen Revich who adds voice, flute, harmonica and shuffling.

Revich plays flute in Studio 9 and has a priceless, befuddled look on his face as Bennett reads. In Studio 8, Revich reads while Bennett looks bored, yawns, and falls asleep.

Be Blank is archetypal Bennett at his hammiest. Bennett grunts and spews Be Blank, Be Blank, Be Blank, be blank , BE blanK, Beeeee Blaaaaaaaank, twisting his mouth, googly eyed, postulating, melodramatic, as Revich stoically looks down and shuffles in place. If you can get through Be Blank without a cigarette, you are stronger than I am.

Be Blank and Studio 1 – 9 on Bennett’s website. Not on the DVD, but also on the  website, are four bizarre (even by Bennett standards) short videos; The Blur, Transmission, the Refusal , and The Intrusion, along with Bennett’s visual poetry, text poetry, and sound poetry.

Take your Bennett dissonance like an adult, and stock up on the smokes.

SATURDAY SHORT: HALLOWEEN TRASH (2007)

What the heck is a Shaye St. John? From the evidence provided in this short, it’s a scary, androgynous mask wearing figure that likes to film itself verbally abusing passing trick-or-treaters, then remix the resulting footage to make it look like a low-grade acid trip.  Or maybe it’s a robot?  Maybe its My Space page would help?

Oh, and happy Halloween, you luscious piece of trash!

SATURDAY SHORT: SULTANA MEADOWS

“Sultana Meadows” is a fine example of the delightful, under appreciated shorts by Spike McKenzie.  The unsettling images throughout this video are quite reminiscent of David Lynch, and paint a very weird and wonderful picture.

Relationships tend to slowly draw away our good side, and expose the bad.  Mayhap you’ll have much in common with this journey into the bizarre.

For more of Spike visit his YouTube account. I strongly recommend his mock kids show, “Wonderbang Island”.

366 EXCLUSIVE: “9″

We are pleased to debut Alfred Eaker and Robbin Panet’s short film film “9” on the web.  This is the movie they made for the 2009 48 Hour Film Festival.  The rules of the contest festival are simple: every team has only 48 hours to complete the film, and each must incorporate three elements given by the festival : a character name, a line of dialogue, and a prop.  Look for a character named “Professor Sherman Kane,” a ball, and the line “I’m not talking to you.”

Rather than making a straightforward short that looked like everyone else, “9” takes an experimental approach, becoming a sepia-hued exploration of domestic abuse through the generations, in a Western setting.  The bizarre free-association poetry of John M. Bennet replaces traditional narration.  It runs approximately seven and a half minutes.

Alfred’s description of the making of the film can be read in his Reflections on the 48 Hour Film Festival and the “9” Diary.

9

[Our license to display “9” has expired.  We will inform you if this film is released, on DVD or otherwise, in the future.]

At the producers’ request, this film will not be released to YouTube or other video hosting sites, and will be available here for one month only.  UPDATE: Because this film was reviewed and linked from Rogue Cinema, we are leaving the film up for another week, until October 12, 2009.

SATURDAY SHORT: “CROOKED (ORCUS) ROT”

“Saturday Short” (suggestions on a better title are welcome) is a new feature where we’ll be featuring a new (to us), full-length, weird short every Saturday.  Shorts are selected by our new “shorts editor” Cameron Jorgensen.

This stop-motion animation by David Firth is just over a year old.  David found a lot of the props he uses in this animation in his own backyard.  Beware, most of his shorts are very creepy, and “Crooked (Orcus) Rot” is no exception.  A lot of his work can be defined as dark humor while this would better fit under experimental.  Musical score written by Marcus Fjellstrom.

For more of Firth’s work be sure to visit his site:  http://www.fat-pie.com/

Filmmakers: if you have a short you’d like to see featured in this space, please contact us using the contact form.

BORDERLINE WEIRD: BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)

Bad Boy Bubby has been upgraded and placed on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. Please read the Bad Boy Bubby Certified Weird Entry and direct any comments about the film to that page. Comments are closed on this review, which is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY:  Rolf de Heer

FEATURING: Nicholas Hope

PLOT: Raised by his mentally ill mother with no knowledge of the outside world in what is

Still from Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

essentially a fallout shelter, middle-aged Bubby is suddenly released into a modern Australian society he can hardly comprehend, but must learn to fit into somehow.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEBad Boy Bubby has a unique tone that’s hard to capture, but the first words I’d choose to characterize it are “relentlessly offbeat,” rather than “weird.”  Sadly, the existence of a Bubby—a child raised in captivity by a crazed parent—is not some weird invention, but is actually torn from today’s headlines.  Although the incidents depicted often strain the bounds of plausibility (only briefly breaking them in the later reels), for the most part de Heer chooses to tell his story using a straightforward, realistic narrative style that makes us believe bizarre Bubby is a real person in a real world.

COMMENTSBad Boy Bubby is a film that moves slowly from deep darkness into light.  It’s often shocking and depressing, particularly in that dingy first third, where Bubby’s unnatural relationship with his deranged mom in their claustrophobic basement hovel is made into a suffocating reality in which we are forced to share.  The saving grace is that the movie always treats Bubby with true affection.  Most of Bubby’s misbehavior, such as his tendency to shake a woman’s breast instead of her hand when he first meets her, comes out of childlike innocence.  But even when Bubby’s truly, purposefully being a “bad boy,” we understand what he’s suffered—even though he doesn’t fully—and we remain firmly on his side.  The script, which could have been ruthless to poor Bubby, rewards him (and the viewer) in the end, and the happy ending feels earned rather than tacked on.

Comic possibilities that were buried with Bubby in the dingy basement apartment emerge when Bubby escapes into the relative light of modern Australian society, but the movie never really threatens to become a comedy.  Bubby’s gift for mimicry raises all sorts of Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)