“Chance governs all things. Necessity, which is far from having the same purity, comes only later. If I have a soft spot for one of my movies, it would be for The Phantom of Liberty, because it tries to work out just this theme.”–Luis Buñuel
PLOT: The Phantom of Liberty has no straightforward plot, but moves between vignettes through various linking mechanisms. The opening, about Napoleon’s troops desecrating a church, turns out to be a story being read by a nanny; the child she is watching is given “dirty” photographs by a suspicious lurker, then her father has strange dreams which he relates to his doctor, whose nurse interrupts their conversation to ask for time off to visit her sick father, and so on… Subsequent stories involve the nurse spending a night at an inn with strange characters, a professor who lectures to a group of gendarmes, a “missing” girl, a sniper killing random pedestrians, and a police prefect who gets a call from beyond the grave.
The title was suggested by a line from the Communist Manifesto: “…a spectre [translated in French as fantôme] is haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism…” Substituting “liberty” for “Communism” is typical of Phantom‘s process of reversing our expectations to shock us out of our complacency.
The film was co-written with Buñuel‘s late-career collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière, the fifth of the six scripts they wrote together. They devised the scenario by telling each other their dreams each morning.
This was Buñuel‘s second-to-last film, in a career that lasted nearly fifty years. He was 74 at the time of release.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The famous toilet/dinner reversal scene, which, while not at all explicit, is one of the few moments that still has the power to shock modern viewers, simply on the strength of its revolutionary idea.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Jealous statue; emu in the night; commode party
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Angry statues, wandering emus, gambling monks, a celebrity sniper, and assorted perverts jostle up against each other in Luis Buñuel‘s penultimate filmed dream, perhaps the most purely Surrealist effort of his late career.
Short clip from The Phantom of Liberty (in French)
PLOT: The story is told out of sequence, but begins with Capt. Yossarian, an Air Force bombardier at a Mediterranean air base, being stabbed in the back by what appears to be a fellow soldier. This leads directly into the first of a recurring sequence of flashbacks where Yossarian tends to a young wounded airman in the belly of his bomber. Further flashbacks reveal a protagonist of questionable sanity in the company of equally insane flyboys, including a quartermaster who schemes with the Group commanders to create a black market syndicate that morphs into a fascist regime.
Joseph Heller published the absurdist comic novel “Catch-22” in 1961, based on his own experiences as a bombardier in World War II.
Orson Welles had attempted and failed to acquire the rights to the novel, a fact Mike Nichols was not aware of when he cast him as General Dreedle.
Catch-22 was Nichols’ followup to his smash hit The Graduate. He once again worked with screenwriter Buck Henry (who also played Colonel Korn here). The screenplay took two years to produce.
Filming (in Rome and Mexico) took more than six months to complete. Cinematographer David Watkins would only shoot the exterior scenes between two and three o’clock in the afternoon, so that the lighting would be exactly the same. This meant the cast and crew were sitting around for long periods of time with nothing to do, which led to resentment on the set.
Catch-22 is credited as the first American film to show a person sitting on a toilet, and the first modern Hollywood film to feature full-frontal nudity.
Second Unit director John Jordan plummeted to his death when he fell out of the camera plane while daring to film a flight scene without being strapped into a harness.
Although the film did not bomb at the box office, it was overshadowed by Robert Altman‘s similar (but lighter and more realistic) M*A*S*H*.
George Clooney is producing a new adaptation of the novel as a six-part miniseries scheduled to air on Hulu.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The gruesome death of Hungry Joe, who’s cut in half by an airplane propeller while standing on a platform in the beautiful blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Urine I.V.; offscreen portrait switching; friendly fire for hire
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Catch-22 was a novel of paradoxical, circular logic and inverted moral geometries. The certifiably insane Yossarian is saner than his schizoid comrades and commanders—but only because he is the only one who realizes he is crazy. The movie doesn’t soar to the heights of the book, but it creates its own weird all-star universe of moral decay and dystopian reasoning. There aren’t twenty-one other catches. One catch serves as a catchall. Catch-22. It’s the best there is.
“Elle est dans ma voix, la criarde!
C’est tout mon sang ce poison noir!
Je suis le sinistre miroir
Où la mégère se regarde.”
“It’s in my voice, the raucous jade!
It’s in my blood’s black venom too!
I am the looking-glass, wherethrough
Megera sees herself portrayed!”
–Baudelaire, “L’Héautontimorouménos,” Fleurs du Mal (English translation Roy Campbell)
DIRECTED BY: Toshio Matsumoto
FEATURING: Peter (Pîtâ), Yoshio Tsuchiya, Osamu Ogasawara, Toyosaburo Uchiyama
PLOT: Eddie is a rising star in a Japanese drag cabaret; he is having an affair with the bar’s owner, Gondo. The club’s “madame,” Leda, who is also sleeping with Gondo, grows jealous of Eddie and devises a revenge against him. This story is served up out-of-sequence, however, and often broken up by stand-alone vignettes and documentary-style interviews where the actors are questioned about their alternative lifestyles and their roles in the film.
This was director Toshio Matsumoto’s first feature film after producing nine shorts (mostly documentaries). Matsumoto would continue to work largely in the short format: among his thirty-four credited directorial works, only four are categorized as full-length features. He was also a critic and theorist whose collected writings span six volumes. He died in 2017.
The “gay boys” were played by non-professional actors from the Tokyo homosexual community. The star, Peter, developed an acting career afterwards, advancing far enough to land the role of the Fool in Akira Kurosawa‘s Ran.
The Japanese word meaning “roses” was also derisive slang for homosexuals.
The avant-garde short screened within the film is “Ecstasis,” which also stars Peter and Toyosaburo Uchiyama. Matsumoto released it separately.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Eddie’s face, not androgynous, but wholly feminine, though glamed-up with an array of tiaras, false eyelashes, and decorative star stickers. We particularly like the scene where Leda (dressed as a geisha) is admiring herself in the mirror (and silently incanting “Snow White”‘s “mirror, mirror, on the wall…”), as an image of Eddie strides up from behind, invading Leda’s looking-glass in his black evening gown.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Ladies at a urinal; drag queen shootout; too-literal Oedipus complex
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Helped along by an earnestly queer cast of amateurs, Funeral Parade of Roses is a masquerade drag burlesque, a tragic and absurd procession of countercultural confusion among “gay boys” in a tumultuous Japan. A psychedelic-era movie set in Tokyo’s underground homosexual community that takes its bearings from “Oedipus Rex” and name-checks Jonas Mekas and Jean Genet along the way—pausing for a liberal dose of slapstick—is bound to turn out weird.
Brief fan-edit of scenes from Funeral Parade of Roses
PLOT: A mysterious loner living in isolation in the mountains survives off the food and shelter of unused vacation homes; through flashbacks we see how his life unraveled after meeting a doomsday-prophesying computer engineer.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With its nonlinear style and a few nearly incomprehensible plot elements, this is definitely weird. But it also throws in a by-now familiar twist that makes it feel less special.
COMMENTS:For years, a man (Rami Malek) known only as “Buster” has been haunting the woods where a number of high-end vacation homes lie empty the majority of the year. He breaks into these homes and stays for a few days at a time, neatly tidying up after himself but often leaving some memento of his visit behind for the owners to find. The only interactions we see him engage in are periodic phone calls to radio DJ’s and phone sex workers, warning them of some impending doom called “the Inversion.” In an alternate vision of his life, he is lost at sea, waiting out his own death on a small rowboat, alternating between English and Spanish as he shouts at the sky. With the third version of Buster, we learn his history. He was once named “Jonah,” a hard-working young family man who had overcome drug addiction and homelessness and found salvation (and a wife) in the church. He works the night shift at a quiet airport hotel, and dreams of whisking his family away from the toil of working-class suburban life to their very own plot of land in the mountains, where they can live on their own terms. Jonah’s chance encounter with an unnamed drifter (DJ Qualls) who foretells the end of the world sets a chain of events in motion that leads to drastic changes in his lifestyle and worldview.
Buster’s Mal Heart is an exercise in nonlinear, enigmatic storytelling. Each scene is a flashback, a flash forward, or a flash-sideways, with seeming revelations about the protagonist often resulting in more questions, wrong turns, or dead ends. But writer/director Sarah Adina Smith (known for her stunning, secretive debut The Midnight Swim) throws viewers some bread crumbs, hinting at overarching themes. It seems that all of Jonah’s life as we know it is a constant push-pull between a “normal,” responsible, social existence and a completely free, independent one. He works in the hospitality industry, but due to his hours he spends most of his shifts alone, cleaning up the barren spaces of the hotel or sitting at the front desk staring blankly at the empty lobby. He loves his wife, Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil), and young daughter, but refuses to imagine a buttoned-up suburban life for them, instead saving all of his money to build them a cabin on a lake. He is an active member of an unspecific Christian church, but not actually invested in religion, likely remaining only because it is so Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: BUSTER’S MAL HEART (2017)→
PLOT: Reggie and Mikey try to thwart the Tall Man’s plans to dominate our world, slipping between different realities as things build toward an explosive showdown in a post-apocalyptic America.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While this is the second-least-straight-forward movie in the five-film franchise, Phantasm: Ravager isn’t quite worthy of a Certified slot (an honor that perhaps should be reserved solely for the original entry). Certainly there are time slips, an unreliable narrator, and the ever-nebulous Tall Man, but everything’s well grounded in context. Gargantuan Sentinel Spheres looming over a blasted metropolis do provide a pretty weird sight, though.
COMMENTS: The Tall Man waits for no man. In this, the (allegedly) final chapter of the long-running Phantasm franchise, his assault on mankind reaches a crescendo in a whirl-wind of Plymouth Barracuda stunts, reality jumps, and spheres both large and small. Passing the reigns on to David Hartman, Don Coscarelli readies himself for his post-Phantasm career. But Phantasm: Ravager is still very much Coscarelli’s baby, and he bears that responsibility with all due gravity. And just what kind of final chapter are the fans given? As one wag from Variety quipped, “It’s kinda-sorta like an Alain Resnais movie, only with zombie dwarfs.”
Hewing to precedent, Phantasm V picks up right where Phantasm IV left off, with the Reg-man (Reggie Bannister) emerging from the barren distance with his quad-shotgun over his shoulder. He’s just come back from the Tall Man’s world to find his ‘Cuda has been jacked. He is not a happy camper. Events proceed, spheres appear, and then something odd happens. With a gasp, we see Reggie again, being pushed in a wheelchair by long-time friend Mikey (A. Michael Baldwin). Our dear hero may not be a hero so much as a poor old man succumbing to dementia. Or…maybe not. Time and space keep shuffling, and as we hear Reggie’s story, a new adventure unfurls that shows a future grimmer, perhaps, than mental decay. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) has laid waste to large swaths of humanity and Mikey, after years of being pursued by the Tall Man, now finds himself leading the resistance.
It’s clear early on that Phantasm: Ravager is for the fans. I mean this as no criticism, but this movie has little to offer those just jumping on the Phantasm bandwagon. This series became a by-word for clever low-budget horror, and it does not disappoint in this installment. CGI abounds here, but enthusiasts will hopefully be forgiving: the vision for Ravager requires a much larger canvas than the original. The editing of the narrative keeps you on your toes, and much like the four preceding pictures, Ravager‘s claim of explaining all the mysteries is undermined by considerable ambiguity. As a director, David Hartman keeps things novel, with perhaps his greatest coup being that by the end, the audience is hoping that it’s not the story of an Alzheimer’s victim, but that the world as we know it has been done in by gargantuan laser-equipped flying balls.
Staggered over the years (’79, ’88, ’94, ’98, and 2016), the franchise has maintained a grip on a large group of horror fans. The movies’ linchpin—the Tall Man—stands as one of the great figures of horror film history. Angus Scrimm was pushing 90 when filming began, and while Phantasm: Ravager won’t go down in history as a great movie, there’s something gratifying about the fact that he got one more go-around in the role that made him famous. Ravager is an adequate capstone to a film series that, against all odds, made itself an institution. Certainly more “horror” than “weird,” the Phantasm phenomenon is well worth a look: a look that we will soon give with the review of the holy-mega-totally-comprehensive Phantasm Blu-ray box set.
PLOT: During a battle in Saragossa during the Napoleonic Wars, a soldier wanders into a house and discovers a large book which enthralls him (and his captor). In it, he reads the story of the Walloon captain Alfons Van Worden, who meets, and is seduced by, two princesses while sleeping at a haunted inn, only to wake up under a gallows between two hanged men. Van Worden’s further adventures include meeting a hermit, a cabalist, a gypsy leader, and other colorful characters, each of whom have tales to tell—often leading to stories inside of stories.
The Saragossa Manuscript is a mostly faithful, if necessarily abridged, adaptation of Jan Potocki’s massive 19th-century novel “The Manuscript Found in Saragossa” (occasionally translated as “The Saragossa Manuscript: A Collection of Weird Tales”). Potcoki was a fascinating character, worthy of his own novel. A Count, adventurer (he was the first Pole to fly in a hot air balloon) and polymath, he published The Manuscript Found in Saragossa in fragments during his life. Legends revolve around his spectacular 1815 suicide: he shot himself with a silver bullet he made himself, and which he had blessed by his castle chaplain beforehand.
Noted fans of the film include Luis Buñuel and David Lynch.
The restoration, which included the addition of about an hour’s worth of material cut from previous prints, was initially financed by The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, who died before it was completed in 2001. Filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese (who included it in his series “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema”) took up the cause after Garcia’s demise.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Near the film’s climax, Van Worden stares out through an gap in a castle wall and sees a vision of himself receding into the distance with the two princesses, headed towards a poster bed standing alone in the middle of a desert. The only other features in the landscape are a cow’s skull and a dead crow half buried in the sand. There’s a wonderful trick to the shot, indicative of the film’s obsession with misdirection and game playing.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Between hanged men; incestuous Islamic princesses; five levels of flashbacks
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Saragossa Manuscript winds through a Gothic journey replete with gallows, ghostly seductresses, duels, occult symbols, Inquisitors in bondage gear, and more, an epic tale told in the ever-receding stories-inside-of-stories style that Guy Maddin would later adopt (in a more fetishistic fashion) for The Forbidden Room. Wojciech Has’ 3-hour adaptation of Jan Potocki’s grandiose novel is storytelling in its purest form; it’s a world cinema classic that has been unfairly neglected, out-of-print in the USA for far too long. The film’s design unfolds slowly, wandering through a disorienting labyrinth of stories that eventually resolve, only to dissolve again in a mystical finale in the Spanish desert.
PLOT: In the present day, a scientist searches for a cure for his wife’s brain tumor; two other stories are interspersed, one about a conquistador’s search for the Fountain of Youth in the 1500s and another about a tree-tending bald guru in a space bubble floating towards a nebula.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: A spiritual allegory told in three different timelines, one of which is set almost entirely in a traveling golden space bubble, The Fountain is far out by Hollywood standards. The final ten or fifteen minutes, when Aronofsky goes all 2001-y, may push the film onto the List. I expect to see lots of readers stumping for this; it feels like a burgeoning cult movie, one whose momentum is still building.
COMMENTS: The Fountain has an extraordinarily tight script, with reflections of each of its three different stories showing up in the others. Rings, trees, and immortality are just a few of the recurring symbols. Some viewers—even a few critics who should be better equipped to parse unconventional narratives—found the story baffling. I didn’t think it was especially confusing (except, perhaps, for the very end), nor do I think that anyone who’s seen a weird movie or two will find The Fountain too challenging to follow. I won’t spoil the plot—uncoiling it is the movie’s greatest pleasure—but I’ll give a single hint if you get stuck. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all three stories are of equal weight; one of them clearly has what we might call a higher degree of reality than the other two.
As hinted, that script is tight up until the ending, where the movie stretches its weird credentials in a pan-religious finale that crashes a spaceship of Buddhist philosophy into a temple of Mayan mysticism to unlock a door to Judeo-Christian symbolism. The lotus position is assumed, conquistadors get stabbed, and trees bleed spermlike sap as a golden nebula explodes. Not bad for a trip sequence, but the visual fireworks play more like a substitute for a conclusion than as a culmination of the movie’s philosophical themes. Back on planet earth, I think a key element of allegory is missing. The movie’s message of acceptance does not seem profound enough to justify the preceding bombast, and it all leads to an abrupt, none-to-satisfying final scene.
Although the glory of the movie’s visuals can’t be denied—the fantasy scenes look like embossed gold foil is running through the projector—emotionally, The Fountain does not always achieve its aims. Weisz is too mannered and inhuman in her scenes as the Queen, and too much on the sidelines in her present day role. Her dying-of-a-tragic-disease-that-leaves-her-weak-but-still-pretty character never seems like a real, independent person; she’s just a motivation for Jackman’s obsession. We sense how amazing she is only by her effect on her husband, by the lengths to which she drives him to travel to the ends of the earth, the limits of medical knowledge, and the ends of the universe. For Jackman’s part, he certainly acts his heart out, gnashing his teeth and steeling his brow as he buckles down for another bout of uncompromising, denial-based medical research, but the performance is nothing transcendent. Emotionally, the film feels a little hollow, taking its theme of eternal love too much as a stock situation rather than something to be demonstrated onscreen. These complaints only take a little away from the beauty of the film’s construction; the movie was inches away from being a great one. I can see what The Fountain‘s partisans see in it, but I don’t feel what they feel.
Critics were about evenly divided between admiring the film for its audacity and calling it out for its pretensions. But if nothing else, Darren Aronofsky is one of the few directors working today who can actually convince a Hollywood studio to bankroll a weird movie.
(This movie was nominated for review by “Tim,” who [somewhat misleadingly, in my view] synopsized it as “about a guy [looking a lot like Kwai Chang Caine] who is floating through space in a bubble, with a tree, thinking back on his life as a Conquistador and pharmaceutical researcher.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
PLOT: A lumberjack inexplicably appears inside a doomed submarine. While searching for their captain one of the crew shares the wayward lumberjack’s story and several more strange tales. Before and after the main narrative (such as it is), a man lectures on how to take a bath.
While researching Hollywood’s lost films, Guy Maddin learned that approximately 80% of silent films made have been lost; many are preserved in title only. Maddin became obsessed with the idea that there were all these films he would never be able to see. This obsession turned into an ongoing four year long project producing re-imagined versions of these forgotten treasures. It began as an installation where Maddin and Johnson shot a movie a day in public. Some of what was shot became The Forbidden Room; the rest will become an interactive project that the NFB (National Film Board) will host called “Seances.”
The title The Forbidden Room is itself taken from a lost Lon Chaney film from 1914.
Co-director Evan Johnson was a former student of Maddin’s who was originally hired simply to do research, but his contributions to the project became so significant that Maddin felt he deserved a co-director credit.
The opening and closing segments are based on the title of a lost film called “How to Take a Bath,” made by none other than Maniac‘s Dwain Esper.
The Forbidden Room won 366 Weird Movies’ readers poll for Weirdest Movie and Weirdest Scene of 2015.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: An indelible image in The Forbidden Room? The entire film is a collage of indelible images. Candidates include lumberjack suddenly appearing in a submarine, a sauntering lobotomized Udo Kier ogling ladies’ derrieres, insurance-defrauding female skeletons in poisonous leotards.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Forbidden Room is a collection of strange stories about bizarre characters weaved through a central plot involving a lumberjack attempting to rescue a kidnapped woman. The catalyst for this storytelling begins when the lumberjack suddenly appears on a submarine. Add a healthy dose of surreal, humorous imagery and some creative editing and shake well for a truly one-of-a-kind cocktail of weirdness.
PLOT: It opens (and ends) with a hygiene lecture about the importance of baths, and in between flows back and forth between tales about men trapped in a submarine, an apprentice lumberjack seeking to free a woman captured by bandits, a bone surgeon who falls in love with a motorcycle crash victim, and many more.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: We have an unofficial rule that no movie is placed on the List until after it is released on home video. But for that restriction…
COMMENTS: Wrapped in a robe (and draped in washed-out Super-8 color), Marv (Guy Maddin stalwart Louis Negin) confidently explains how to take a bath for bathing novices (“carefully insert your big toe into the waters. This will tell you if it’s too hot or too cold.”) The camera tracks down the bathtub drain until it finds a submarine, stuck at the bottom of the sea, with only 48 hours of air remaining and a captain who has left orders not to be disturbed. The sailors scarf down flapjacks, because the air packets trapped inside the pastries provide them with extra oxygen. Suddenly, a woodsman walks through a hatch, with no memory of how he got there. He explains, in flashback, that he is an apprentice lumberjack (a “saplingjack”) from Holstein-Schleswig on a quest to rescue the beauteous Margot from a group of bandits called the Red Wolves. After earning the brigands’ trust through a series of trials including finger-snapping and offal-piling, the saplingjack earns their trust provisionally and is allowed to sleep in their cave. There, Margot, now the leader of the Red Wolves, dreams that she is an amnesiac who wanders into a Casablanca-style cafe…
And that’s just in the first twenty minutes of this two hour feature which continually segues, Phantom of Liberty style, from one retro-absurdist vignette to another. Sometimes the next story is a re-enactment of a newspaper headline glimpsed by a character in the previous tale, sometimes it is a dream of mustache hairs. Along the way we get “The Final Derriere,” the lament of a man “plagued by bottoms,” sung by a scrambled-faced crooner; a bone surgeon erotically assaulted by curvy women dressed as skeletons, and “forced to wear a leotard!”; and a man who bids on a bust of the two-faced god Janus against his own double. This epic phantasmagoria is mostly presented in glorious two-strip Technicolor, but the film stocks vary and jump around (some segments are black and white). Periodically, a recurring morphing effect causes the entire screen to waver dramatically. Although this is a sound film, sometimes the movie turns silent and dialogue is conveyed by Maddin’s famously melodramatic intertitles; the characters soon forget they are in a silent film and start to speak again. Intriguingly, the stories backtrack, and then lurch forward in new directions, and by the end the entire Chinese puzzle box telescopes in reverse, backtracking through the labyrinth of stories and ending up where it began, with a wrinkled swinger in a bathrobe extolling the virtues of a good scrubbing.
The Forbidden Room is a tour-de-force summation of Maddin’s evolution-through-regression style. Disunity and fragmentation are the themes here (the opening epigraph from John reads “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost”). The lack of a strong central theme may be a slight weakness here that holds Room back from being one of Maddin’s top-rank masterpieces (compare the single-minded autobiographical obsessiveness of My Winnipeg or the Freudian incest hysteria of Careful). Yet, the film overwhelms us with shameless excessiveness, hidden treasures, visual marvels, and Maddin’s subconscious wit. It is the master’s most unabashedly surreal picture in some time (which says quite a lot), occupying a place in his oeuvre similar to INLAND EMPIRE‘s position in David Lynch‘s canon (although hopefully it will not be Maddin’s final word on the subject).
Just as the seminal Maddin feature Cowards Bend the Knee arose out of a “peephole” art installation, The Forbidden Room arose out of the “Seances” project (which in turn arose, ghostlike, from the ashes of an abandoned short film project called “Hauntings”). The premise of “Seances” is that Maddin reimagines lost films from the silent and early talkie era, which are today known only by their titles. The opening sequence of The Forbidden Room, for example, appears to be based on a lost hygiene film called “How to Take a Bath.”
One of The Forbidden Room‘s deepest mysteries is the identity of co-director Evan Johnson. Who is he? The movie has Maddin’s sensibilities written all over it, and if no co-director were named none would have been suspected. What did Johnson contribute? Why was Maddin so impressed with him to make him a protégé? And furthermore, who is the presumably-related Galen Johnson, who gets credits for music, a co-credit (with Evan) for visual effects, and titles? (The actual answer is prosaic: Evan Johnson was a former film student hired as a research assistant, whose contributions to the project became so significant that Maddin felt he deserved a co-director credit. Still, we like to think of Evan’s sudden elevation from Rug Doctor bottling plant worker to near-equal partner of the most celebrated avant-garde filmmaker of the day as the kind of plot twist that could only occur in Guy Maddin’s universe).
“PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”–Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
FEATURING: Steven Soderbergh, Betsy Brantley, David Jensen
PLOT: Fletcher Munson, a corporate functionary, is tapped to write a speech for T. Azimuth Schwitters, the founder of a pseudo-religious self-help movement called Eventualism. One day, still struggling to come up with a draft, he notices his exact physical double in a parking lot—a dentist who, it turns out, just happens to be having an affair with Munson’s wife. Meanwhile, we occasionally peek at the life of nonsense-speaking exterminator and Lothario Elmo Oxygen, whose connection to Munson’s storyline will not become entirely clear until the final act.
Steven Soderberg served as writer, director, and lead actor. This was his first appearance on film and to date is his only leading role.
Soderberg made Schizopolis for about $250,000, shooting in Louisiana with his old LSU film school buddies, in between shooting the big-budget Hollywood movies The Underneath (1995) and Out of Sight (1998).
Soderberg did not have a shooting script but wrote new parts each day, and incorporated improvisations from the cast.
Actress Betsy Brantley, who plays Steven Sorderberg’s wife in the film, was Soderberg’s real-life ex-wife.
Soderberg’s opening narration was added after Schizopolis‘ negative reception at Cannes.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Shot with handheld video cameras in a bland suburbia, often in a vérité style, Schizopolis is very much a work of words and ideas, not images. Therefore, the most representative image is actually a picture of a word: a sign reading “idea missing.” The meta-joke is that Schizopolis is aware it is built out of ideas, and is confident enough to joke about its own dependence on concepts.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Pantsless titles; nose army; dentist doppelgänger
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Schizopolis translates as “divided city” or, informally but more appropriately in this case, “city of schizos.” When the film opens with the director standing on an empty stage, backed by carnival music with periodic changes of focal length as if you were watching the intro through an optometrical device, warning that the upcoming movie may confuse you and you should prepare yourself to see it multiple times, you should be fairly warned that your mind is about to be toyed with, and toyed hard.