Tag Archives: Isabella Rossellini

201. BLUE VELVET (1986)

“It’s a strange world.”–Sandy Williams, Blue Velvet

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern,

PLOT: While home from college to visit his ailing father, who has suffered a stroke, Jeffrey Beaumont finds a severed human ear in a field. Though warned by his neighbor, Detective Williams, that the case is a police issue and he should not ask any questions, the curious Jeffrey decides to seek answers on his own, enlisting Williams’ daughter Sandy, a high school senior, in his investigation. The trail leads to a melancholy torch singer named Dorothy Vallens, and when Jeffrey hides in her closet after nearly being caught snooping in her apartment, he witnesses a horror he never imagined, which forever shatters his innocence.

Still from Blue Velvet (1986)
BACKGROUND:

  • Blue Velvet was David Lynch’s comeback film after the disastrous flop of 1984’s Dune.
  • Warner Brother’s commissioned a treatment of Lynch’s basic idea for the film, but in 1986 no major studio would touch the finished Blue Velvet script because of its themes of sexual violence. The film was produced and distributed by Dino De Laurentiis (who formed a distribution company just for this release). De Laurentiis was known for taking chances on risky or salacious movies, whether exploitation or art films. He gave Lynch final cut in exchange for a reduced salary (possibly hoping that Lynch would refuse his insulting offer and chose a more commercial project).
  • Blue Velvet is considered Lynch’s comeback film, but even more so Dennis Hopper’s. Hopper, who became a star when he wrote, directed and acted in the 1969 counterculture hit Easy Rider, developed a serious polydrug addiction problem throughout the 1970s. By the 1980s he had earned a reputation as unreliable and difficult to work with, and landed only minor roles after his memorable turn as a maniacal photographer in Apocalypse Now (1979). He entered rehab in 1983 and was sober for a year and a half before making Blue Velvet. Looking for a role to revive his career, Hopper told Lynch, “You have to give me the role of Frank Booth, because I am Frank Booth!”
  • Booth’s character was originally written by Lynch to breathe helium from his gas tank, but Hopper convinced the director that amyl nitrate would be a more appropriate inhalant for Frank. The actual drug the villain breathes is never specified in the film.
  • This was the first collaboration between Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti was hired to be Isabella Rossellini’s voice coach for her singing numbers, but Lynch liked his arrangements so much he hired him to produce the film’s soundtrack. Badalamenti would work on the score of all of Lynch’s future films until INLAND EMPIRE, and is perhaps best known for the “Twin Peaks” theme.
  • , who played a part in all of Lynch’s feature films until his death in 1996, has a small part here as one of Frank’s hoodlums.
  • Lynch was nominated for a Best Director Oscar, losing to for Platoon. Dennis Hopper’s performance was widely praised, but was too profane for Academy consideration; he was nominated for Supporting Actor for Hoosiers, where he played an assistant high school basketball coach struggling with alcoholism, instead.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: “Suave” Dean Stockwell performing a karaoke version of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” an illuminated microphone lighting his lightly-rouged face.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dream of the robins; candy-colored clown; dead man standing

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Nearly everyone describes Blue Velvet as “weird,” but most of the time, when pressed, it’s hard to pin down exactly why. Yes, there is sexual perversity, a campy and impossibly white-bread Lumberton, and one of the strangest lip-sync numbers ever, but if we were to actually sit down and graph Blue Velvet on a axis of Lynchian weirdness, we would find it closer to The Straight Story pole than it is to the incoherent extremes of INLAND EMPIRE. But despite the fact that Blue Velvet is among Lynch’s less-weird works, it’s one of his greatest. The clear and powerful presentation of key Lynch themes—the contrast between innocence and experience, and sexuality’s fateful role in marking that line—make it a crucial entry in this weirdest of director’s oeuvre. Blue Velvet‘s influence is so monumental that it would be a crime to leave it off the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.


Original trailer for Blue Velvet

 COMMENTS: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet exists in a heightened reality—and a heightened depravity—but essentially it is a Continue reading 201. BLUE VELVET (1986)

176. ENEMY (2013)

“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”–epigraph to Enemy

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mélanie Laurent, 

PLOT: Adam, a professor of history, catches sight of a movie extra playing a bellhop who appears to be his exact double, and becomes obsessed with tracking him down. When they eventually meet they discover that Anthony, the actor, is Adam’s exact physical match, but has a nearly opposite personality, slick and scheming where Adam is passive and meek. Anthony, who has a rocky relationship with pregnant wife due to her accusations of infidelity, is drawn to Adam’s girlfriend; and though the professor wants to withdraw from their association, the actor’s machinations intertwine the two men’s lives.

Still from Enemy (2013)BACKGROUND:

  • Enemy is based on the novel “O Homem Duplicado” (literally “The Duplicated Man,” although the English translation was titled “The Double“) by the Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago. The novel has a very different, though equally chilling, ending than the film.
  • Director Denis Villeneuve and star Jake Gyllenhaal made Enemy back-to-back with the higher-profile, reality-based thriller Prisoners (2013). Enemy was made first but released second.
  • Villeneuve said that the plan to do the adaptation with Gyllenhaal came after a night of drinking in which the actor told the director he wanted to do the movie but needed to “dream” about it first.
  • Villeneuve said he wanted to make Enemy because he wanted to do something “free” in light of his anxieties over working under the constraints he feared would be imposed by a Hollywood studio on the upcoming Prisoners.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Enemy is one of a few movies whose most unforgettable image can’t be mentioned without entering the territory where spoilers dwell. Fortunately, there are plenty of runner-ups to chose from. With arachnid imagery dominating the hallucinatory scenes, it’s easy to pick the picture of a giant, spindly-legged spider looming over the smoggy streets of Toronto as the film’s iconic image. The movie’s TIFF poster took that precise route.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As tightly controlled as a dictatorship and as enigmatic as a tarantula on a gold serving platter, the inscrutable Enemy evokes a panicky existential dread in the tradition of . The final scene will provoke debate for as long as people watch weird movies.


Original trailer for Enemy

COMMENTS: Enemy begins with the epigram “chaos is order yet undeciphered,” and I admit to having yet to decipher the twisty web of chaos the Continue reading 176. ENEMY (2013)

LIST CANDIDATE: ENEMY (2013)

Enemy has been officially promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies. This initial review is left here for archival purposes. Please read the official Certified Weird entry and post any comments there.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING, Mélanie Laurent, 

PLOT: A history professor becomes obsessed with tracking down a man who appears to be his exact double.

Still from Enemy (2013)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: We have an unofficial rule that we won’t add a movie to the List until it’s come out on DVD, so we can study its nuances closely. You shouldn’t wait that long, however. If you love cinematic weirdness, you owe it to yourself to get out to the theater and catch Enemy now.

COMMENTS: Enemy begins with the epigram “chaos is order yet undeciphered…,” and I admit to having yet to decipher the twisty web of chaos the movie spins. Beginning with a fractured montage depicting one of those impossibly elegant and depraved invitation-only live sex shows that only exist in the movies, Enemy emerges from its abstract opening to focus on Adam, a melancholy history professor currently lecturing on the methods dictatorships use to keep their citizens in the dark about how they are being controlled. Adam’s life consists of little more than work and joyless sex with his girlfriend until one day, almost on a whim, he watches a movie and catches a glimpse of an extra who looks exactly like him. While most of us would find such a discovery “neat” and invite our friends over to the screen confirm the resemblance, Adam’s reaction is different: immediate uncomprehending horror, followed by an obsessive need to track his double down. Even the way we are shown Adam’s discovery is unnatural; we watch as what appears to be a lighthearted costume drama playing out on his laptop screen, except that there is no sound, only the ominous strings of the film’s thick (and excellent) neoclassical score. Villeneuve’s direction pumps out a subtle, constant stream of anxiety: the characters’ overly alarmed reactions to everyday events, throwaway lines of dialogue suggesting layers of unexplored subtexts, the cold and lonely modern apartments both Adam and his doppelganger glide through like ghosts, the jaundiced pallor of the movie’s interiors. But it’s not all endless cinemaitc restraint, as some startling arachnid imagery and a shot of an upside-down woman with an insect head attest. Altering his bearing to portray either the sensitive Adam or the brash Anthony, Gyllenhaal gives the best performance alongside himself since Nic Cage in Adaptation. From a technical standpoint his acting is sure to impress even causality snobs who scoff at Enemy‘s obscure logic. I had an issue with the ending—not with its content, but with its abruptness—but the movie’s unexpected final shot will provide enough speculative tinder to fuel a small industry of interpreters for years. Villeneuve shows an ability to evoke a panicky existential dread that rivals and fellow Canadian , while Enemy‘s concern with the frailty of identity places it somewhere on the venerable Persona spectrum.

After helming the Certified Weird Maelstrom (a drama narrated by a fish) and the grotesque gluttony short Next Floor, Denis Villeneuve’s career seemed headed for a more conventional turn after he scored more populist successes with the drama Incendies (2010) and the thriller Prisoners (2013). We’re happy to see he retains his urge toward the strange. And while Isabella Rossellini’s imprimatur always adds weird credibility to any film she appears in, we’re almost as thrilled by Sarah Gadon’s presence. Her preference for roles in oddball movies continues to impress—if she keeps this string up, she could become the next generation’s Isabella.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gyllenhaal is impressive in a weirdly original thriller from Villeneuve that trips over its many legs at the finish.”–Jeff Baker, The Oregonian (contemporaneous)

147. KEYHOLE (2011)

“…a ghost sonata in which dream and waking life are seamlessly blended to isolate and expose universal feelings.”–description from the Keyhole press kit

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , , David Wontner, Brooke Palsson, Udo Kier

PLOT: A group of gangsters rendezvous at a large old house filled with ghosts, bringing a kidnapped man tied to a chair with them. They meet with their leader, Ulysses Pick, who arrives carrying an unconscious woman on his back. As the mobsters wait in the parlor, Ulysses travels through the house with the woman and the kidnapped man, trying to reach the upstairs chamber where his wife awaits him with her father and her lover.

Still from Keyhole (2011)

BACKGROUND:

  • Guy Maddin lists the Bowery Boys’ Spooks Run Wild, French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space,” and Homer’s “The Odyssey” (or, as he once joked at a screening, Ulysses’ Wikipedia page) as among the influences on Keyhole.
  • This is the director’s first film shot on digital video. Because Maddin’s style is to evoke the look and feel of old movies, the use of actual film stock has been important to him in the past to achieve an authentic period look.
  • Maddin wrote the part of Ulysses Pick with Jason Patric in mind.
  • According to the director Ulysses’ son Manners is named after David Manners, a “bland” (Maddin’s word) Canadian lead in 1930s horror films (Manners played John Harker in Dracula, among other roles).
  • Maddin wanted to use music by Bernard Hermann for the score but could not afford the rights to license the music. Jason Staczek wrote an original soundtrack for the film instead.
  • Keyhole was one of two movies selected as among the best weird movies of all time in 366 Weird Movies 4th Reader’s Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Unfortunately, the image you will not be able to get out of your mind is Louis Negin’s wrinkly nudity. Negin plays Calypso, the aged father of Ulysses’ wife Hyacinth, who is chained to his daughter’s bed—naked. His chain is long enough that he is able to walk around the house where, in invisible spirit form, he sometimes whips the assembled gangsters, including one memorable moment when he flogs a mugging mobster played by “Kids in the Hall” alum Kevin McDonald as the gunman is fornicating with the ghost of a maid while she scrubs the floor.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: All of Guy Maddin’s movies are dreams, but Keyhole isn’t just a dream, it’s a dream of a ghost. An amnesiac ghost, with deep psychological issues, who finds that extracting strands of his wife’s hair from a keyhole unlocks buried memories of family tragedies. Hazy double images, avant garde editing, and unexpected color intrusions supply the visual weirdness Maddinites have come to expect and treasure, and the bizarre collision of gangsters and ghosts does the rest.


Original trailer for Keyhole

COMMENTS: Memory is sacred to Guy Maddin; his movies are always about remembering. Sometimes the connection to memory is explicit. Continue reading 147. KEYHOLE (2011)

LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

Keyhole has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. This initial review is kept here for archival purposes. Please leave comments on Keyhole‘s official Certified Weird entry page.

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Jason Patric, , Louis Negin, Brooke Palsson, David Wontner, Udo Kier

PLOT: Gangster Ulysses journeys through his immense mansion searching for his wife who is

Still from Keyhole (2011)

hiding on the top floor; along the way he uncovers tragic family memories.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s got Loius Negin as a naked grandpa ghost tied to his daughter’s bed by a long chain who likes to run around his haunted house whipping mortal intruders, for one thing. There’s more than enough soft-focus weirdness here to justify a position on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made. The only problem is, icons like Guy Maddin make things difficult on themselves by raising their own bar so high. Keyhole would stun us if it were the work of a first or second time director, but we’ve watched Maddin creep about similarly maddening psychoscapes before—and seen him do it better.

COMMENTS: I think there are four possible reactions to Keyhole. The average moviegoer who has never seen a Guy Maddin movie before will despise it as incomprehensible trash. A tiny minority of newcomers will be astounded and think it’s the most visionary movie they’ve ever laid eyes upon. If you’re already initiated into Maddin’s esoteric world, there are two further possible responses: either an enthusiastic “Guy’s done it again!” or the more muted “Guy’s done this before.” I’m afraid I’m leaning towards the last camp. For this outing, Maddin sets his genre renovation sights on 1930s gangster movies, but we don’t stay in mob mode for long—the film quickly morphs into a unique, psychological haunted house piece. Crime boss Ulysses Pick has assembled his gang at his Gothic manor while he attends to a personal matter. The thugs wait on the first floor while Ulysses takes a blind girl and a kidnap victim through the house, peering through various keyholes and re-enacting a ritual with his (dead?) wife (they exchange a verbal formula, then he extracts a bit of hair from the keyhole and remembers an incident involving one of his four children, all of whom came to tragic ends). Meanwhile, various ghosts roam the home annoying the gangsters, and Udo Kier shows up as a doctor to pronounce some of the characters dead. Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: KEYHOLE (2011)

96. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)

“I’m actually trying for something a little bit different this time. I’ve always used, as a safety net, dreamlike delirium, confusion among the characters. On this I don’t really have a safety net. It feels good to remove the safety net…  I really need to tell a story the way my idols had to tell a story. Still, it will, perhaps, I hope, strike people as ‘different’ than most of the other pictures made today.”–Guy Maddin on The Saddest Music in the World

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Mark McKinney, , , Ross McMillan, David Fox

PLOT: During the Great Depression Lady Port-Huntley, a legless beer baroness from Winnipeg, organizes a contest to discover which nation produces the saddest music in the world, offering a $25,000 prize.  Musicians from across the globe descend upon the city, including three members of a Canadian family: a father (representing Canada) and two brothers (one a Broadway producer representing America, the other an expatriate cello virtuoso playing for the honor of Serbia).  It turns out that the family has a twisted history with each other, and with the contest organizer, involving amnesia, medical malpractice, broken hearts, betrayals, and beer.

Still from The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Saddest Music in the World was based on a screenplay by novelist (The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go), but was extensively rewritten by Guy Maddin and his writing partner George Toles (for one thing, the setting was moved from 1980s London to Canada in the Great Depression).
  • With a budget of 3.5 million Canadian dollars, this was the largest budget Maddin had ever worked with.  Unfortunately, the film made back less than $1 million at the box office.
  • Maddin sent Rossellini copies of the “legless” performances of in West of Zanzibar and The Penalty to watch in preparation for the role of Lady Port-Huntley.
  • The Saddest Music in the World was the second Maddin feature released in a busy and amazing 2003; Cowards Bend the Knee (also Certified Weird) debuted at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January, while the relatively more mainstream Music was first shown in August at the Venice Film Festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Isabella Rossellini’s bubbly new gams, which she proudly displays while dressed as Lady Liberty as dancing girls dressed as Eskimos lie on their backs kicking their heels in the air, all set to the heartbreaking strains of the melancholy ballad “California, Here We Come!”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Guy Maddin’s promiscuous mix of retro-film techniques, including iris lenses and a primitive two-strip Technicolor process, that drops us into an artificial, alternate movie world that never really existed.  These visuals illustrate a preposterous plot packed with the delightfully absurd coincidences that were the coin of early melodrama—everyone of importance in the movie has a dark, hidden history with everyone else—all interrupted by screwball one-liners and absurd Busby Berkeley-style production numbers.  It’s as if random selection of melodramas and musicals made between 1915 and 1935 had been carelessly stacked on top of each other, and over the years the degenerating nitrate gradually melted into a single filmstrip.


Original trailer for The Saddest Music in the World

COMMENTS: The Saddest Music in the World is the strangest, and funniest, movie about Continue reading 96. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003)

SHORT: GREEN PORNO – FLY (2008)

Recommended(episode & 1st season series)

DIRECTED BY: Isabella Rossellini & Jody Shapiro

FEATURING: Isabella Rossellini

PLOT: A fly bides its time explaining to us how it escapes being swatted by humans, lands upside down on the ceiling, and spits into its food to dissolve it, until it sees a female and rushes to mate.

Complete short film, Green Porno: Fly.  (Requires Adobe flash player).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The reproductive processes of insects are strange and sometimes gruesome, but Rossellini describes them in deadpan fashion with a sly and detached wit that accentuates their alien-ness even further.

COMMENTS:  The first “Green Porno” series of eight short films ran as bumpers on the Sundance Channel in 2008.  Each approximately two minute film describes the morphology and exotic mating habits of a different bug—spiders, flies, earthworms, snails, bees, praying mantises, dragonflies, and fireflies.  Rossellini wrote, performed and co-directed the entire series.  Fly is one of the better episodes, although they are all similar in quality.  Although the films ostensibly have a documentary bent, the elegant, often childishly simple sets, costumes and art direction reveal that the series is inspired as much (if not more) by the theater as the classroom.  Rossellini’s performances can be subtly hilarious: note the big smile she flashes while copulating, and the abruptly disconcerting way she ends this episode with the image of her severed head accompanied by her proud fatherly proclamation, “Our babies grow up in cadavers.  They are called—maggots!”   She also seems to recognize that seeing a former sex symbol turned grandmotherly matron of the arts gleefully humping a model fly is going to look a little weird, and takes to the task with relish.  Although the films are meticulously clinical and entomological, depictions of insect beheadings, penetrations and S&M rituals among snails can be unnerving.

The entire series can be viewed on The Sundance Channel website.  A second season, covering sea creatures like the barnacle, starfish and limpet is airing currently on the channel and can also be viewed at the website.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…defying all existing categories previously known to any species Rossellini has embarked on an affectionate, raw when not surreal, often tongue in cheek and intermittently lusty exploration of creature erotic appetites.”–Prairie Miller, Newsblaze