Tag Archives: New York City

LIST CANDIDATE: HEAVY TRAFFIC (1973)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Joseph Kaufmann, Beverly Hope Atkinson

PLOT: The life of an unemployed underground cartoonist who lives with his shrewish mother and mobbed-up dad and lusts after a saucy Nubian bartender, laid down in a mixture of animation and live action.

Still from Heavy Traffic (1973)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: There’s not much of a story, and what plot there is turns needlessly nasty, but as a series of visual experiments Heavy Traffic is a success. Underground animator Ralph Bakshi is an important and very odd innovator with a cult following, and at least one of his films probably should make the List—is this semi-autobiographical tale the chosen one?

COMMENTS: With its brutal violence, casual sex, and animated floppy bits, today we would call Heavy Traffic “edgy” and reward it with a post-midnight slot on the Cartoon Network. But in 1973, this seamy peep-show tour of 1970s Manhattan was scandalous, nearly obscene stuff (Variety‘s dismissive review called it “a blatant example of hardcore pornography.”) Ralph Bakshi’s underground comic on film is emphatically not hardcore pornography; the moral tone is a lot lower and more misogynistic than Deep Throat. Traffic is more like a Tijuana Bible animated by the team behind “Fat Albert” while they passed around doobies. The story begins in live action as a young man plays a pinball machine; we then see his reflections and fantasies about his real life portrayed in grotesque cartoon form. Dad is a low-level Italian gangster out to bust the waterfront unions; Mom is a Jewish housewife whose only pleasures in life are feeding her son and clunking her philandering husband on the head with a frying pan. Young Michael Corleone (yes, the protagonist is named Michael Corleone) attempts to escape the agitation of his home life by drawing, but the world outside his window is hardly any better than the bedlam in his apartment. The local gang of greasy toughs tries to get him to lose his virginity with the neighborhood slut, but he accidentally knocks her off the rooftop. “She had it comin’,” he quips, which inspires the goombahs who put him up to it into frenzy of violent hilarity that ends with them beating each other bloody with chains and knives. That’s okay, because Michael really has the hots for Carole, a foxy black bartender in a halter top and low-slung bell bottoms. When she loses her job halfway through the movie, a plot finally develops as Michael works up the courage to offer to let her share his bedroom, a plan his racist dad doesn’t much like. The interracial couple strikes out together to make it in the big city, but when Michael fails to sell his blasphemous comic about a post-apocalyptic world of garbage worshipers, they turn to tricks to make ends meet. Carole lures johns into a hotel room and a suddenly vicious Michael caves their heads in with a lead pipe. Michael starts as a good kid, but only out of timidness; in his own fantasies, he corrupts himself. The ending is downbeat and jaded, but there’s a hopeful live-action coda that also suggests that the real city is almost as weird as Michael’s imaginary metropolis. With its multi-ethnic, grossly caricatured cavalcade of pimps, hos, burnouts, gangsters, transvestites, and amputee bouncers, New York City circa 1973 is the most fully-rounded character in Heavy Traffic; but it’s the movie’s visual invention that’s the star. Colorful cartoons are layered on top of footage of the real city in all its grungy greyness, while the film stock is often tinted, solarized, or otherwise transformed. The drawings are Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon quality, but are inventively grotesque and sometimes even surreal (as when Jesus hops by on a cross to rat out Michael’s dad to a bullet ridden Godfather who’s just finished slurping a bowl of pasta peppered with tiny people). Devoted more to alienating bluenoses and earning its X rating by any means possible than to character development, Heavy Traffic may not be a deep and thoughtful movie, and it may not be the feel-good hit of 1973, but it is an utterly unique, nasty vision that is occasionally capable of astounding you with its excesses.

Bakshi had pitched the idea for Heavy Traffic to producer Steve Krantz, but the idea was considered  uncommercial. After Bakshi’s had a hit with the 1972 X-rated animated feature Fritz the Cat, Traffic got the green light. Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray earlier this year, although the release contained no special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bakshi’s style is completely over the top here, he’s running full steam ahead into material so surreal and so mind bendingly bizarre that you can’t help but get pulled in.”–Ian Jane, DVD Talk (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: COSMOPOLIS (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Kevin Durand,

PLOT: A young financial genius is intent on taking his limo across Manhattan to get a haircut from his father’s old barber, despite the fact that the streets are gridlocked due to a Presidential visit, “occupy Wall Street”-type protestors are rioting, and there is a credible threat against his life.

Still from Cosmopolis (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Robert Pattinson’s disintegrating ride across Manhattan in a mobile cocoon is certainly odd, but it’s a tame and talky adventure from the man who brought us Videodrome and Naked Lunch. Far from being one of the weirdest movies of all time, Cosmopolis isn’t even the weirdest limousine-themed feature of 2012.

COMMENTS: Cosmopolis can be as cold and clinical as the routine physical examination billionaire Eric Packer requires every day, and the results as odd as the importance the examining physician ascribes to his asymmetrical prostate. Absurdly wealthy, Packer isn’t in the 1% of net wealth, he’s in the 1% of the 1%, so rich he’s not interested in buying a Rothko painting; he wants to buy the Rothko Chapel and move it into his apartment. He’s so rich that guys in Robert Pattinson’s tax bracket can credibly protest that his wealth is obscene. Able to buy almost anything he wants, he’s become jaded and now craves novel and dangerous risks; when he discovers one of his many lovers owns a stun gun, he begs to be tazed (“show me something I don’t know”). This need for new sensations drives his character’s journey as he crawls through gridlocked Manhattan, from a civilized and abstract uptown to carnal and violent downtown. Packer may be searching for authenticity, casting aside the trappings of wealth and becoming more focused on the body, but he doesn’t become more sympathetic. He remains very much an alien specimen, with speech patterns that are bizarre to us. Cosmopolis‘ semi-absurdist dialogue is its distinctive strategy. Characters discuss ideas like the metaphorical use of rats as currency, the way “money has lost its narrative quality,” and the lack of originality of Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire. Packer holds that last discussion with an adviser with the title “Chief of Theory,” played by Samantha Morton, reading her lines like she’s delivering a lecture for a book-on-tape. It’s not just Morton who’s stilted; throughout the film the style of conversation is ridiculously unnatural, with participants incapable of following any philosophical avenues to the end before detouring onto a side street. And it is a very, very talky movie, with Packer essentially interviewing a series of lovers and employees one by one, mostly in the cool blue light of his limo’s electric interior. The exchanges are so clipped and mannered that when Paul Giamatti, a certifiable working-class madman, strides into the movie, his commonplace insanity is refreshing. Giamatti’s monologues are ever-so-slightly more deranged and rambling than the other players, but unlike Packer’s blasé platitudes, they are delivered from a place of passion and pain that the young billionaire envies. Cosmopolis is a talky, symbolic and obliquely philosophical movie, for sure, and it will turn most viewers off. But, in its confused way, it does reflect our current psychology of income-gap anger and financial-apocalypse anxiety.

Cronenberg adapted the script from Don Delillo’s 2003 novel of the same name, which is not generally considered to be one of the author’s better works. You can’t fault Robert Pattinson for trying to break away from his Edward Cullen persona. Accepting a role in a David Cronenberg art film seems a good start at distancing himself from his image as a sparkly pretty boy. Although Pattinson isn’t bad as Packer—his drained and anemic pallor physically fits the billionaire’s character—unfortunately for him, Cosmopolis did not turn out to be the prestige movie the actor had hoped for.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…I took a strange pleasure in submitting to this movie’s stilted but weirdly poetic rhythms. But I freely acknowledge that for others, enduring Cosmopolis may be less fun than a backseat prostate exam.”–Dana Stevens, Slate (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who advised “There is definitely some weirdness going on in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Mostly a dialogue-driven weirdness for sure, but still…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BLANK CITY (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Celine Danhier

FEATURING: Amos Poe, Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Lydia Lunch, Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, ,

PLOT: This documentary examines the “No Wave” and “Cinema of Transgression” film

Still from Blank City (2010)

movements and their connections to performance art and punk rock in New York City circa 1977-1985.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s purely a supplemental feature for your weird movie education, giving background information on a significant underground DIY film movement.

COMMENTS: “It felt like our lives were movies,” says Debbie Harry early on in Blank City. “It was very cinematic.” Perhaps this explains Celine Danhier’s choice, which earned her criticism in some quarters, to place the focus more on the filmmakers than the films in this documentary. Based on the No Wave film clips which illustrate the story, this was the correct angle to take on the material. Most of the “greatest hits” Super-8 highlights consist of grungy hipsters smoking cigarettes in grainy black and white, or walking around dirty East Village streets in washed-out, home-movie color. By contrast, the Bohemian lifestyle the filmmakers fondly recall—sharing $50 apartments in burnt out tenements with cockroaches, shooting on the street on the spur of the moment whenever they could assemble a crew, sneaking into locations to film without permission or permits, and heading off to CBGB’s after a hard day of scraping together footage to drink and dance the night away while a pre-fame Blondie or Television played on stage—is a lot more interesting. The No Wave scene flourished during New York City’s downbeat phase, when the burg was deep in debt, full of abandoned buildings, and riddled by crime and heroin abuse (basically, the New York of Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver). The city in the late Seventies was nasty and dangerous, but for nouveau-beatnik types it offered cheap rent, cheaper Super-8 film stock, and the company of like-minded free spirits. Although it grew out of the ashes of the previous New York avant-garde exemplified by and Jack (Flaming Creatures) Smith, movement godfather Amos Poe explains that this wave rebelled against the Continue reading CAPSULE: BLANK CITY (2010)

CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Kevin van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner

PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.

Still from Basket Case (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case.  A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development.  To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements.  That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.

COMMENTS:  One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic.  Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is.  You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession.  The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay.  Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers.  The scenes Henenlotter shot Continue reading CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

LIST CANDIDATE: GOD TOLD ME TO (1976)

AKA Demon; God Told Me to Kill

DIRECTED BY: Larry Cohen

FEATURING: Tony Lo Bianco, Richard Lynch, Andy Kaufman, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Mike Kellin

PLOT: A rash of murders are committed by people who all give “God told me to do it” as their only motive. A New York City police detective must find out why.

Still from God Told Me To (1975)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: A conventionally produced movie, God Told Me To has a bizarre story featuring some very strange characters, including an extraterrestrial man with a face that nobody can see clearly and a vagina in his ribcage.

COMMENTS: In this complex occult/sci-fi thriller, Tony Lo Bianco (The French Connection, The 7-Ups) plays police Lieutenant Nicholas, who unravels a mysterious spree of killings committed by fellow New Yorkers from all walks of life. Each claim that God compelled them to commit the crimes  Many kill themselves or die after immediately after making the the revelation, complicating Nicholas’ job.

The film opens with a sniper perched on a rooftop water tower. After he shoots random people in the street,  Nicholas climbs up to talk to him and the man jumps to his death.  Nicholas is contacted by a representative of a sinister cult who seems to understand what is behind the crimes. While the cop tries to track down the cult members, the investigation takes him on a twisted journey into the past, including, to his surprise, his own past as he strives to solve this dark and obfuscated mystery. Nothing is as it appears to be. As he soon discovers, Lt. Nicholas is also not who or what he seems to be either.

While he attempts to unravel the puzzle behind the killings, Nicholas investigates his own birth as well as other strange phenomenon from bygone years. The answer to the riddle is morbidly fascinating. God Told Me To is one of those unique, non-formulaic 1970’s films that just aren’t made anymore.

The enigmatic Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams) has one of his most interesting and bizarre roles ever in this exciting and odd film. The piece features an early, rare cinematic appearance by Andy Kaufman in a non comedic role.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This cult-fave Larry Cohen epic, features his trademark NYC locations, vividly drawn characters, realistically handled situations and dialogue, and one hell of a weird premise.”—VideoHound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: AFTER HOURS (1985)

The “Reader Recommendation” category includes films nominated by our readers as deserving of consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time.

by reader “Rajiv”

DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese

FEATURING: Griffin Dunne, Rosana Arquette, Catherine O’Hara

PLOT:  One night, Paul Hackett ( Griffin Dunne), New York computer word-processing

Still from After Hours (1985)

consultant, is trapped in SoHo because his last dollar has flown out of the cab window on his way to a late night date with a woman he’s just met.  His dream to score with a pretty woman ends up to be a waking nightmare when one mishap after another strands him in a hostile neighborhood in his quest to return home before morning.

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST:  From the plot description itself, we should aware that this is a weird film.  The execution is also very weird.  This is technically a black comedy, but it plays like a suspenseful thriller.  A lot of surprisingly unpredictable things happened to force Paul Haggis, who just wants go home that night, stay in SoH.

COMMENTS:  A strange, original, and totally underrated movie from Mr. Scorsese. This film is a little bit ‘Coen brothers-ish,’ full of fantasies and surprises.  This film proves Scorsese is a master filmmaker.  He can create a moments with any subject matter, and make the audience feel certain feelings.  Watch out especially for the ending of After Hours, it will make your feelings turn 180 degrees, it’s a shock!  After Hours really deserved more attention as one of Scorsese’s best works.