Tag Archives: Marxist

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)

LIST CANDIDATE: TEOREMA (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Pier Paolo Pasolini

FEATURING: , Laura Betti, Massimo Girotti, Silvana Mangano, Andrés José Cruz Soublette, Anne Wiazemsky

PLOT: A mysterious guest sleeps with every member of a wealthy household, and when he leaves they come to strange, mostly tragic ends.

Still from Teorema (1968)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Mainly on the strength and reputation of its director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, a seminal figure in the Italian avant-garde scene of the 1960s and 1970s, who nonetheless has only a small handful of films that might qualify for the list of the 366 best weird movies. Teorema, while not his best known movie, may be the the poet-cum-director’s most mysterious parable, and therefore demands consideration.

COMMENTS: Today, it’s hard to imagine the controversy that accompanied the relatively tame Teorema in 1966. The film was given an award by a left-leaning Catholic film board at the Venice Film Festival, then condemned by the Vatican for indecency. Despite containing no nudity or explicit sexual depictions, Teorema was brought up on obscenity charges in Italy. Some of Pasolini’s Communist brethren even criticized the film for its irreverent approach to Marxism and for its apparent religiosity. I imagine what really unnerved people at the time was the bisexuality of dreamy, blue-eyed Brit Terence Stamp, the movie’s mysterious visitor. A homosexual character would have been somewhat shocking in 1968, but a man who fornicates equally with men and women—and whose charms are irresistible to straight men—is far more threatening to sexual mores; it’s even more outrageous when it’s hinted that the pansexual visitor may be God. Teorema is schematic in structure: after a few introductory passages, including a long sequence done silent film-style, the plot settles down to a series of sexual encounters between the magnetic Stamp and the members of the household (mother, father, daughter, son, maid) where he stays as a guest, followed by an examination of their individual breakdowns after he leaves them bereft. Synopses invariably misreport that Stamp “seduces” the household, which is almost the opposite of Pasolini’s scheme here: each of the family members is attracted to the visitor on their own and seeks to seduce him. He initially rejects their advances, but quickly succumbs—he provides sex as an act of charity, or grace. When Stamp leaves, with as little explanation as was given for his arrival, the family falls apart. The pastimes they cling to to try to fill his absence—sex, respectability, money, art, even sanity—are revealed as empty and unsatisfactory. The housekeeper Elena, who retreats to her country village where she eats nettles and performs morose miracles, appears to escape the tragic fate of the others—although her end hardly seems more comforting than the father’s, who winds up naked and raving mad in the desert. What it all means is up for interpretation: despite delivering each plot point on time with mathematical regularity, Pasolini leaves out some essential step from his proof that would lead us to an irrefutable conclusion. I suspect the movie is mostly about the death of God and Pasolini’s notion that, with the decline of Christendom, the bourgeois class would implode from a lack of meaning in their lives. (If Pasolini is to be believed—and surely his tongue was tucked partially in his cheek when he gave this reductionist quote—the film’s message is that “a member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is always wrong).” The snail’s pace and minimum of dialogue make the movie a bit of a chore to watch, and for all his concern with sensuality, Pasolini is no more than average as a visual stylist. True to its name, Teorema (Italian for “theorem”) is a dry theoretical film that’s more interesting to discuss afterwards than it is fun to watch.

Astute 366 readers may note that Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q is basically an inverted (and perverted) version of Teorema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The sort of moviegoer who thinks all movies must make sense — obvious common sense, that is — should avoid ‘Teorema.’ Those who go anyway will be mystified, confused, perhaps indignant.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “lo-fi jr.,” who called it “the most psychotically Catholic flick I’ve ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

130. WEEKEND (1967)

“What a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people.”–Roland

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne

PLOT: Corrine and Roland are a married couple who are cheating on each other and who hope to inherit money from Corrine’s dying father. They set off on a weekend trip to travel to the father’s deathbed, but find the French countryside is a giant traffic jam filled with burning wrecks. As they struggle to reach their destination they meet fictional and historical characters, magical beings, and feral hippie terrorists.

Still from Weekend (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • According to writer/critic Gary Indiana, Godard based the structure of his story on Friedrich Engel’s “The Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State,” but reversed the historical progression so that the movie proceeds from civilization to savagery.
  • Mireille Darc, who had starred in the types of popular comedies and spy films Godard despised, petitioned the director for a part in one of his movies. He agreed to cast her in Weekend; when she asked him why, he answered, “because I don’t like you… and the character in my film must be unpleasant.”
  • The scene where Mireille Darc tells her lover about a threesome with another man is a parody of a similar scene from ‘s Persona (1966), and also a reference to George Bataille’s surrealist/erotic novella “The Story of the Eye.”
  • Godard often makes literary and historical references without announcing them. Some of the characters who appear in the film are Robespierre’s lieutenant Louise Antoine de Saint-Just, Tom Thumb, and Emily Brontë.
  • Weekend was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
  • When Weekend wrapped, Godard reportedly told his usual crew to look for work elsewhere, as he would be abandoning commercial film from that point forward. (This story is probably apocryphal, since Godard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard didn’t remember such a formal announcement; nonetheless, Godard did cease making commercial movies after Weekend, and Coutard and the other regular crew members didn’t work with the director again for many years).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The celebrated traffic jam, an eight-minute tracking shot scored to the sound of honking horns. The camera surveys a lineup of stalled vehicles, and our interest never flags as we pass people tossing balls from car to car or playing chess in the middle of the highway, autos upturned on the side of the road or smashed into trees, and trailers housing monkeys and llamas, until we reach the tragic source of the congestion. Roland and Corrine zoom past increasingly angry motorists in their convertible, sometimes racing ahead of the camera and sometimes falling behind it, and we slowly realize the strangest feature of the backup: there’s nothing blocking the opposite lane, and no reason the other drivers can’t simply zoom around the trouble.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Introduced as “a film adrift in the cosmos” and as “a film found in a scrap heap,” Weekend is, more than anything, a nasty and bitter assault on bourgeois French culture of 1967: a revolutionary rejection of consumerism, propriety, and even (or especially) of the need for plots that “make sense.” Today, Godard’s mix of Marxism, alienation, transgression, Surrealism and fourth-wall breaking seems “oh-so Sixties”; but the passionate hatred that fuels this ambitious attack on good taste and good sense endures, giving Weekend an anarchic vitality that survives its turbulent era.


Original French trailer for Weekend

COMMENTS: Weekend is both a satire and a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Certainly, Corrine and Roland, who care for nothing that can’t be bought (a Continue reading 130. WEEKEND (1967)

CAPSULE: MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929)

Chelovek s kino-apparatom; AKA Living Russia, or the Man With the Movie Camera

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Dziga Vertov

FEATURING: Mikhail Kaufman (cameraman)

PLOT: A plotless record of twenty four hours of life in the Soviet Union of 1929, exhibited

Still from Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

through series of experimental camera tricks.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Man with the Movie Camera is a visually inventive, historically important and formally deep movie that reveals more secrets with each viewing; but, the only quality in it that might be called “weird” are the surreal camera tricks it occasionally employs. It’s a movie that demands space on the shelf of anyone seriously interested in editing techniques or film theory, but as far as weirdness goes, it’s purely supplemental viewing.

COMMENTS: Reviews of Man with a Movie Camera often spend as much, if not more, time discussing the history and philosophy of the production and its influence on future films than they do describing what’s actually in the movie. That’s because the challenge the movie sets for itself—to create a “truly international absolute language of cinema based on its total separation from the language of theater and literature”—is more fascinating than the film’s subject matter (the daily lives of Soviet citizens in 1929). On a technical level, Movie Camera is a catalog of editing techniques and camera tricks, many of which were pioneered in this film but are commonplace or obsolete now. Be on the lookout for double exposures, tricks of perspective, slowing down or speeding up the camera speed, freeze-frames, reversed footage, split screens, and even crude stop-motion animation. One of the most interesting techniques is the amphetaminic editing of Movie Camera‘s climax, which moves almost too fast for the eye or mind to follow (a technique Guy Maddin would fall in love with and use to ultra-weird effect in the Constructivist/Surrealist hybrid The Heart of the World). Structurally, the film flows along as a series of counterpoints, alternating between two sets of scenes to create ironic contrasts (cross-cutting a funeral procession and the birth of a baby), metaphors (scenes of soot-covered workers Continue reading CAPSULE: MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929)