Tag Archives: Punk

CAPSULE: SLC PUNK (1998)

DIRECTED BY: James Merendino

FEATURING: Matthew Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian, Annabeth Gish

PLOT: Young rebels grow up in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA—a location not very conductive to rebellion.

Still from SLC Punk (1998)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: One-and-a-half acid trip sequences do not a weird film make, especially when they’re just played for a quick laugh. SLC Punk is in fact a pretty wholesome teenage rumination which happens to be set against the background of the 1980s; in this modern day, it plays like Disney trying to make its own Trainspotting.

COMMENTS: Punk, especially ’80s punk, is a genre defined largely by arguments about its own definition, and SLC Punk spends a lot of time on the debate itself. At the end of the day, we have to give up trying to pin down the genre nobody can agree on and just move on, waving our hands at “that thing over there,” whatever you call it. Punk is Tao; to define it is to grip the air. And we all know the Billie Joe Armstrong quote, thanks.

With that out of the way, you will search far and wide for a comparably mature and realistic snapshot of punk rock culture, the Reaganomics ’80s, or Salt Lake City, for that matter. Stevo (Matthew Lillard) carries us through from start to finish, telling us of his life and coming of age. Along the way, we get some philosophizing about what it means to be a non-conformist, and how to harmonize your nonconformity with the world around you. Stevo’s cast of friends are characters in a punk-culture parable: some come to good ends, some to bad, and some just cruise along.

Not only does Stevo narrate, but he erases the fourth wall and takes us on live guided tours around his life, introducing us to his friends at a party as if we, the audience, were attending. Further segments become mini-documentaries, tackling the rivalry between punk and other cultures, the dichotomy of “posers” within the culture, U.S. vs. U.K. punks, what it’s like to score drugs or even decent alcohol in Utah, and other video-blog topics. We meet Stevo’s chum “Heroin” Bob (Michael A. Goorjian), his dad (Christopher McDonald) who doesn’t quite see eye to eye with his son but manages to have an amicable relationship anyway, his girlfriend Trish (Annabeth Gish), and his drug connection and part-time psycho Mark (Til Schweiger). There’s no real plot to be found here, just a series of interrelated vignettes in the day-to-day lives of these characters.

SLC Punk is a much-cherished cult classic which looks amazing for its six-figure budget. Its soundtrack is one of the greatest punk albums you will ever own; this is the music punks actually listened to in the ‘80s, as opposed to the music we think they listened to. While the movie puts the dyed mohawks and party hi-jinks up front, at its core it’s a thoughtful documentary masquerading as a fictional dramedy, one that wears its heart on its sleeve. It even winds up on a positive note, miraculously pulling through the nihilism to come to some upbeat conclusions, even though not everybody pulls through. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be left with a story that transcends a punk culture exposé and resonates with any youth scene in any state during any decade. All of us, goths, mods, emos, slackers, hippies, yuppies, and hipsters, are all our own brand of punk… and in the end, we are all posers to somebody.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an absurdist coming-of-age comedy… likable for its outlandishness, less so when it shows a self-important streak. For all of Merendino’s jump-cutting affectations and other flashes of attitude, it’s finally as mainstream as its hero turns out to be.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TANK GIRL (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Rachel Talalay

FEATURING: Lori Petty, , , Ice-T,

PLOT: Set in the apocalyptic future, an outlandish young punk battles the mega-corporation that controls the world’s water, with a little help, of course, from mutant kangaroos.

Still from Tank Girl (1995)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The peculiar visual palette and oddball characters in Tank Girl don’t stand out from the omnipresent colorful punk aesthetics of its time. Its tonal inconsistency and mildly bizarre violence (along with a manic Lori Petty) can serve as a sort of goofy surreal serenade, but it never ventures far enough from its comic book origins to really sizzle.

COMMENTS: The 1990’s was an interesting, vibrant period for punk culture.  The 1981 Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization introduced us to heaps of buzz-cut youngsters sporting thrashed denim and safety pins, their mumbled words scattered due to their adrenaline pumped, amphetamine-fried brains.  Nearly a decade later, after punk had (to some degree) conceded to generic glam/hair metal, Spheeris released part three of Decline, but the kids looked different this time around. Gone were the black and white clothes, the shaved heads. These kids had rainbow spiked hair held up with egg whites, as they snorted neon Slurpees up their noses while their zit-infested faces smothered the camera. In the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death, kids on the fringes of the punk scene were embracing pop sensibilities and dying their hair like Billy Joe from Green Day while they bought Offspring shirts and purple hair dye from Hot Topic. It was an ideal time for a project like the counterculture comic book adaptation Tank Girl to get greenlit. Tank Girl, which shares an aesthetic with other excessively lively and colorful 90’s movies like Batman Forever and Double Dragon, emerged as a mainstream amalgamation of a larger cultural shift that would continue with the punkish neon of movies like The Phantom and SLC Punk. Channeling inspiration from punk rock culture and feminism, Tank Girl soars with excessive frivolity.

Staying close to true punk form, Tank Girl also contains crass humor and some reasonably nihilistic violence.  Like the militant, borderline-psychotic urban youth that got their kicks from cheap speed and beating up poseurs, the titular character (Lori Petty) seems to get off on pain, whether inflicted on herself or others. She chuckles mirthfully after strapping some grenades to a goon’s vest—a combat move that brings to mind a certain Caped Crusader’s mischief in another punk-indebted 90’s film—and responds to a grave threat from Kesslee (villain Malcolm McDowell) with the line “I like pain”. Indeed, Tank Girl snottily defies convention by wearing its B-movie badge with honor.  All the performances seem to sync with the frisky ambiance, the one exception being the nascent Watts as the square Jet Girl, who in a perfect world may have fared better swapping her role Continue reading CAPSULE: TANK GIRL (1995)

CAPSULE: ABNORMAL: THE SINEMA OF NICK ZEDD (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Nick Zedd

FEATURING: Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, Annie Sprinkle, Kembra Pfahler,

PLOT: A collection of shocking, often pornographic underground films from “Cinema of Transgression” founder Nick Zedd.

War Is Menstrual Envy from Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although occasionally interesting, none of the shorts here are memorable enough to require inclusion on a list of the best weird movies ever made.

COMMENTS: In 1985’s “Cinema of Transgression Manifesto,” Nick Zedd demanded that “boring films never be made again.” Even taking into account the context of this broadside (which was explicitly aimed at structuralist filmmakers like who dominated the film school curricula of the time), this was an incredibly arrogant claim that was doomed to come back and bite him when audiences noticed that—surprise!—the films made by Nick Zedd and the Cinema of Transgression were frequently boring. “Any film that doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at,” continues the Manifesto, and despite the dubious nature of that claim, Zedd’s films usually do succeed on that front (although occasionally, they only shock due to how boring they are—“Lydia Lunch,” I’m looking your way).

At any rate, note that the statement “any film that doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at” doesn’t imply the converse: that any film that does shock automatically is worth looking at. Like most experimental filmmakers, Zedd’s work is a mixed bag, with a few successes shining out from amidst a sea of crud. The now out-of-print “Abnormal” disc collects most of his important short films made between 1980 to 2001, along with an excerpt from the (brilliantly titled) feature length movie War Is Menstrual Envy and some interviews and behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the rundown of the films, approximately in reverse-chronological order (as they are presented on the disc):

  • “Tom Thumb in the Land of the Giants” (1999): This show-on-video short is presented as a trailer. It’s not clear whether this is a pitch for a longer movie that never got made, or whether this was the concept all along. Zedd’s son Kajtek is pursued by a “phantom” through a graveyard in broad daylight; it ends with a shot of a one-armed man and the boy escaping (though the magic of trick photography) into a giant vagina! At only 4 minutes long there is still some dead space, but it is about the optimum length for a Zedd film.
  • “Ecstasy in Entropy” (1999): A (mostly) silent black-and-white film set in a strip club/bordello. Retired-porn-star-cum-performance-artist Annie Sprinkle appears. There’s fellatio and fake ejaculation, and at one point the strippers laud the virtues of anarcho-socialism in voiceover. It briefly switches to color for the last few minutes for a catfight. Not as interesting as it sounds.
  • “Why Do You Exist?” (1998): A woman smears spray-cheese and whipped cream on her ample bosom, then we see a parade of video portraits of performance artists and grimy underground personalities mugging for the camera. Once you get past the boobies it’s fairly dull, unless you’re one of the out-of-work actors profiled here.
  • War is Menstrual Envy (1992): This 14-minute clip is the meatiest and most nightmarish segment of the collection. A topless woman painted blue and dressed like a nun (Kembra Pfahler) unwraps a disfigured burn victim, then dresses him like a sheik; another woman (Annie Sprinkle) enters, undresses him again, and licks his scarred chest. Then opening credits run over footage of eye surgery. The grotesque beauty on display here is Zedd’s finest work, but 14 minutes was enough; another hour of this stuff would be nauseating Continue reading CAPSULE: ABNORMAL: THE SINEMA OF NICK ZEDD (2001)

149. REPO MAN (1984)

“Exec-produced by an ex-Monkee (Michael Nesmith) and directed by a onetime Oxford law student, ‘Repo Man’ was destined for weirdness.”–“Entertainment Weekly” in their 2003 list naming Repo Man one of the top 10 cult films of all time

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Cox

FEATURING: Emilio Estevez, , Sy Richardson, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Zander Schloss, Fox Harris

PLOT: A scientist drives a Chevy Malibu through the desert with a mysterious cargo in his trunk that vaporizes people who try to look at it. Meanwhile, in southern California, young punk Otto, desperate for money, takes a job repossessing unpaid vehicles as a “repo man.” The two plotlines collide when the repo men discover a $20,000 bounty on the car, and the race is on between Otto and his pals, government agents, and rival repo men to repossess the vehicle, along with whatever resides in its trunk.

Still from Repo Man (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • Thinking it might make for an interesting story, writer/director Alex Cox rode with a repo man before conceiving this script.
  • Former Monkee Michael Nesmith was executive producer of the film.
  • Both Harry Dean Stanton and Alex Cox have both reported that they squabbled with each other through the film; in one incident, Stanton insisted on using a real baseball bat rather than a prop and almost struck a fellow actor. Some fans have speculated that some of Stanton’s scenes were rewritten and given to Sy Richardson due to this tension.
  • In the originally planned ending, Los Angeles was vaporized in a mushroom cloud; executives at Universal Pictures vetoed the idea. Another proposed ending had Otto becoming a revolutionary in Latin America.
  • Initially, Repo Man was shown in theaters for only a week, but when its punk soundtrack sold tens of thousands of copies the studio reconsidered and decided to give it a slightly expanded release. Still, far more fans came to the film via home video than caught it on the big screen.
  • The version of the film shown on television included several scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical release. (This “TV cut” is included as an extra on the Criterion Collection release).
  • Cox wrote a script for a sequel to Repo Man that was never produced; in 2008 it was adapted into a graphic novel titled “Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday.”
  • Over Universal’s objections (they owned sequel rights), in 2009 Cox made a poorly-received, low budget green-screen “spiritual sequel” to Repo Man called Repo Chick.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Repo Man is a film that’s better known for its dialogue than its imagery, but we’ll go with the vision of someone vaporizing when he opens the Chevy Malibu trunk, leaving behind a smoldering pair of boots (this scene happens more than once in the film). It’s one of Repo Man‘s few forays into cheesy special effects, but like every other seemingly inconsistent stylistic element of the movie, it feels right for this material, fitting into this consistently erratic and bizarre nightmare version of L.A.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Repo Man‘s weirdness is subtle, but unmistakable to the connoisseur. Consider the question: what genre is this movie? Is it sci-fi, social satire, a punk testament, or just a smart B-movie goof? And what to make of the movie’s interest in UFOs, conspiracies and fringe theories, the “lattice of coincidence” and Miller’s observation that “you know the way everybody’s into weirdness right now…. Bermuda triangles, UFOs, how the Mayans invented television?” If weirdness can be defined as that which reminds you of no other, than Repo Man is genuinely weird—and genuinely great.


Original trailer for Repo Man

COMMENTS: It may be hard for young folks to believe, but there was a time when Emilio Estevez was more than just Charlie Sheen’s mortified Continue reading 149. REPO MAN (1984)

107. HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001)

“I fear that in the speech which I am about to make, instead of others laughing with me, which is to the manner born of our muse and would be all the better, I shall only be laughed at by them… the original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word ‘Androgynous’ is only preserved as a term of reproach.”–Aristophanes in Plato’s “Symposium”

Must See

DIRECTED BY: John Cameron Mitchell

FEATURING: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Andrea Martin

PLOT: We first meet Hedwig as she and her band the Angry Inch are performing at a seafood buffet in Kansas City. In flashback, and in music videos, we learn that she was born a boy named Hans in East Berlin, and underwent a (botched) sex change operation so she could marry an American G.I. and leave for the West. Now, she and her band are shadowing the cross-country tour of Tommy Gnosis, Hedwig’s ex-boyfriend turned arena rock star, whom she accuses of having stolen her songs.

Still from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • John Cameron Mitchell, then a professional stage actor, debuted the character of Hedwig in 1994 at a drag show at a punk nightclub in New York City. With the help of songwriter Stephen Trask, he built an off-Broadway play—originally staged in the ballroom of a fleabag hotel in Manhattan’s meat packing district—around the androgynous chanteuse.
  • In the early drafts of the play Tommy was the main character and Hedwig a supporting player.
  • Mitchell’s father was U.S. Army Major General John Mitchell, and the younger Mitchell spent much of his childhood in Berlin where his father was stationed during the later part of the Cold War.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Is it Hedwig’s androgynous Aryan visage, half-hidden under a pound of glittery makeup and a sculpted blond wig big enough to double the diameter of her head? Or is it the animated retelling of Aristophanes fable in “The Origin of Love,” with a squiggly line drawing of Zeus cutting the legs off whales? Fortunately, thanks to split-screen technology, we don’t have to choose; we can get Hedwig’s glacial glam mug on the left and a severed half-moon face yearning to swallow her up on the right together in one still.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Well, it does feature a rock star who’s the victim of a botched sex


Original trailer for Hedwig and the Angry Inch

change searching for love and vengeance and telling her life story through song while playing on a tour of discount seafood restaurants with her band of Eastern European refugee musicians, which is a plot you don’t see everyday. If that’s not enough to satisfy your weird desires, however, stick with it until the end, when it drifts into a dreamlike series of music videos that see characters swapping sexes and changing into other characters.

COMMENTS: He may not be widely acknowledged as the West’s weirdest philosopher, but Continue reading 107. HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001)

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)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: LIQUID SKY (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Slava Tsukerman

FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady

PLOT: Tiny aliens land their flying saucer on the roof of a New York City penthouse and

Still from Liquid Sky (1982)

begin sucking the brains out of sex-addicted New Wave beatniks.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Tsukerman’s filming style is free-form and unconventional.  Liquid Sky‘s visual footprint is every bit as avant-garde as its story about drug addicted extraterrestrials is bizarre.

COMMENTS:  Aliens come to Earth in search of a heroin rush.  It seems the little green, er, ah, terrestrially challenged ones don’t have the requisite opposing thumbs needed for handling a set of works, so they enjoy their smack the next best way: by telekinetically extracting the gray-matter of heroin addicts whose brains are flooded with opiates.  Wonderful though it may be, heroin turns out to be only a gateway drug for the saucer-jockeys.  While some human poppy-heads may find death to be the ultimate narcotic, the aliens soon discover that the endorphin rush in a juicy human brain during orgasm is the ultimate high, and they reset their priorities accordingly.

Now the gnarly little starmen seek out fornicators and harvest their orgasms for the best buzz.  Still guided by the scent of smack, the space-meisters dock their star-buggy on the roof of a penthouse shared by a drug dealer and her lesbian fashion model lover.  Their apartment contains a large amount of heroin, but better yet, is the locus of a lot of degenerate sex.

When the two gal pals aren’t waxing philosophic during their performance art exhibitions and dance routines at a local New Wave club, they are attracting a steady stream of addicted customers, androgynous jet trash, and depraved sex fiends back to their pad.  The astral hop heads make the most of the situation and suck hapless guests dry when they sexually relieve themselves.  Of course this kills each guest, but no matter.  A few dead bodies are an almost normalizing factor at these two girls’ crazy, drug-addled, day-glo, non-stop New Wave penthouse party.

A Berlin scientist who has been studying the aliens makes the scene and tries to rescue the girls before the little neuron nibblers absorb their whacked-out noggins as well.  The situation becomes a bit sticky when he discovers that the fashion model has plans of her own for the moonmen junkies.

Liquid Sky is a terribly dated, low budget film that is imaginatively colorful and oh so avant-garde.  While it looks pretty campy now, 1980’s hipsters affirm that at the time of its release, Liquid Sky was considered to be the coolest thing by New Wave standards since “smart drinks” and those wraparound mirrored “spectrums” Devo used to wear.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see… The film redefines weirdness and randomness as it jumps back and forth between seemingly unimportant scenes in clubs where our characters, like deer stuck in headlights, dance away and fight off the advances of others.”–Ed Gonzalez, Apollo Movie Guide (DVD)

CAPSULE: LOREN CASS (2006)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Chris Fuller

FEATURING: Kayla Tabish, Travis Maynard, Chris Fuller (as Lewis Brogan), Jacob Reynolds

PLOT:  Bad poetry interrupts episodes in the lives of three teens or twenty-somethings at about the time of the 1997 St. Petersburg, Florida race riots.

Still from Loren Cass (2006)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s only fitfully weird, but consistently dull and pretentious. Life on this planet is full of hardships and disappointments; no one should voluntarily compound their woes by watching Loren Cass.

COMMENTS:  A voice says “after the 1997…”   A solo trumpet launches a doomed search for a melody.  A boy wakes up on the floor of a mechanic’s garage.  Another boy, with a shaved head, piercings and tattoos, presumably a skinhead, wakes up on a couch and goes outside to lie in the middle of the street.  A cute blonde girl wakes up next to a black male.  The boy from the garage picks up the skinhead.  The girl takes her own car.  The three drive to school.  The parking lot is full but the hallways inside are empty.  We get a nice look at the urinals.  Someone loads a gun.  We see the urinals from a different angle.  An older man takes a shot of whiskey.  The two boys are next to last to leave the parking lot.  At a stoplight a black guy jumps out of a van and punches the punk kid with through an open window.  They have a fight.  The screen goes blank and a street poet tells us St. Petersburg is “a dirty dirty town by a dirty dirty sea.”  What’s going on here?  The cute blonde works at a diner where no one ever orders anything.  She has car trouble and takes it to the young mechanic.  He fixes it and they go to dinner together.  She shovels gray cubes of meat into her mouth.  He doesn’t eat.  They barely talk but look at each other a lot.  They are in love.  What’s going on here?  Other things happen.  They aren’t interesting, either.  Some kids drink beer and say the F-word a lot until the Man comes and hassles them.  The skinhead’s hobby is to ride the bus at night.  We look at his face.  He looks alienated. Snippets of bad beatnik poetry and drunken ramblings play on the soundtrack.  There is a punk concert.  The skinhead falls asleep on the bus and dreams he’s a victim of spontaneous human combustion.  Years ago an embattled politician committed suicide at a press conference.  The footage is in the public domain so anyone can insert it into their movie at random.  The mechanic and the cute girl have sex.  The skinhead scratches “Loren Cass” onto his arm with a hypodermic needle he finds in a dumpster.  He swallows a handful of pills in a desperate attempt to get out of the movie.  He vomits them up.  The movie won’t let him out that easily.  He wakes up the next morning and looks into the camera.  He looks disaffected.  The trumpet player still hasn’t found a melody.  The credits roll.  What just went on here?  The Variety critic stayed awake and alert long enough to write that he had just seen “a starkly radical film debut of uncommon power and artistic principle.”  Seriously, what is going on here?

The events are set around the times of the St. Petersburg race riots, which we know because we see newsreel footage of the aftermath and hear audio clips of a rabble-rousing black preacher.  The movie supplies no context to suggest whether these incidents take place before, after, or during the riots.  But the subtext makes the film political and important.  Use of the tragically real footage of Pennsylvania Treasurer Budd Dwyer blowing his brains out on camera either says something insightful about fiscal corruption in the Keystone state in the 1980s, or is completely indefensible.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…ingeniously experimental in form… The tone — spaced-out, adrift, grubby yet ecstatic — is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s experimental youth movies and Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo,’ while the formal precision brings to mind Robert Bresson’s clipped, oblique allegories.”–Nathan Lee, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: EX DRUMMER (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Koen Mortier

FEATURING: Dries Van Hegen, Norman Baert, Gunter Lamoot, Sam Louwyck

PLOT: A writer agrees to become the drummer for a band formed by trio of handicapped lowlifes to win a Belgian battle of the bands; he ends up manipulating them into destruction.Still from Ex Drummer (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  With it’s inverted skinhead and brief tour of a ravaged vagina, Ex Drummer is definitely weird; the problem is, it’s so unpleasant, pretentious, tedious and nihilistic that the oppressive atmosphere makes the viewer desperate to escape the movie.

COMMENTS: There are many possible interpretations of Ex Drummer—for one, the script at times implies it is a vague meditation on “personal sadness”—but the most honest explanation of what the film is comes from writer Dries’ confession when he agrees to join “The Feminists” as their celebrity drummer: “I want to step outside my happy world. Descend into the depths of stupidity, ugliness, obtuseness, unfaithfulness… Latch onto the life of losers, but without belonging to that world and in the knowledge that I can always return to my own world.” In other words, it’s moral tourism among the disadvantaged: the underclasses do the craziest things, like constantly rape each other and neglect their children until the tykes chomp down on excrement from hunger. Who wouldn’t want to enter such a world for ninety minutes, aside from most film-goers? Besides the drummer, the blackguard band’s principals are an abusive deaf guitarist, a gay rhythm guitarist with a stiff arm from an accident incurred when he was caught masturbating as a teen, and a misogynist skinhead singer with a lisp. Upper-class, educated Dries’ turns out to be the worst scoundrel of all, callously manipulating and scripting these mooncalves into cruel ends for his own amusement. True, the film can be very weird (gravity works backwards in the skinhead’s flat, where toothpaste and blood flow towards the roof), but the weirdness sits uneasily: the director seems to view unreality as just another form of ugliness to be savored. As a black comedy, more comedy and less black would have been greatly appreciated. First time feature director Mortier has a few interesting ideas and shots, such as an extended early sequence where the film unspools in reverse as the band bicycles backwards from Dries’ flat into their own backstories. But the pity is that the main memories we take home from Ex Drummer aren’t these few moments of inspiration; rather, there’s an impression that most of the movie was full of endlessly padded scenes of the band squabbling among itself or fighting other bands or organizers, hurling epithets and fists whenever anyone perceives the slightest slight to their egos. Since there are no characters anywhere in the film to root for, we have no reason to care who wins the battle of the bands. After that contest’s decided, there’s really nothing left for the movie to accomplish, but it presses on for another distasteful fifteen minutes, because having nothing to say or do has never stopped it before. Ex Drummer‘s attempts to forge nihilistic poetry from the lives of pariahs has gained it critical comparisons to Trainspotting; these are off, because Danny Boyle’s movie was about real people, and never indulged in such undisguised contempt for its characters. A more apt comparison is that Ex Drummer is a Belgian Gummo, with Eurotrash substituting for poor white trash, and even more shameless and self-aware gawking at the freaky antics of the disadvantaged.

On the plus side, the aggressive punk/metal soundtrack (with a few mellower indie rock numbers strategically inserted for a much needed change of pace) is actually pretty good, and likely the real reason for the film’s cult following. If you’re a fan of this type of music you’ll probably be much more forgiving of this movie, which could at times be described as an extended, uncensored, and rather pretentious music video.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…bizarre, horribly violent and frequently brilliant black comedy from Belgium: a melange of Irrevérsible, Clockwork Orange, Man Bites Dog and This Is Spinal Tap.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Denny.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

12. TROMEO AND JULIET (1996)

“Body piercing.  Kinky sex.  Dismemberment.  The things that made Shakespeare great.” –Tagline for Tromeo and Juliet

DIRECTED BY:  Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: , Jane Jensen, Lemmy, Debbie Rochon

PLOT:  Alcoholic Monty Que and unscrupulous Cappy Capulet have a long running feud dating back to their days as partners in a low-budget sleaze movie studio, and they have passed on their personal vendettas to the next generation.  Monty’s son, Tromeo, falls in love with Cappy’s daughter, Juliet.  The two young lovers must overcome the bloody gangland antics of their friends and family, Juliet’s upcoming arranged marriage to a self-mutilating meat-packing heir, and Cappy’s tendency to beat Juliet and lock her in a plexiglass box, among other crossed stars.

tromeojuliet

BACKGROUND:

  • Original drafts of the script had the parts played by costumed characters from other Troma studio releases: The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman, and so on.
  • Much of Shakespeare’s original dialogue was included in the rough cut, but most was removed after negative audience reaction.
  • Rock n’ roll cult figure Lemmy (of the band Motörhead) played the role of the narrator for free, and also donated the song “Sacrifice” to the soundtrack.  Several less famous bands also donated songs for free or for a nominal price.
  • Shakespearean actor William Beckwith played the role of Cappy Capulet under the pseudonym “Maximillian Shaun” because he was a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild and Tromeo and Juliet was a non-union film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Many of the more memorable images in Tromeo and Juliet are too obscene to be depicted in stills.  The best sequence is when Juliet’s belly unexpectedly and rapidly distends and splits open to give birth to…  a surprise.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Redoing a classic Shakespearean tragedy as a low-budget, offensive farce is a promisingly weird, if obviously gimmicky, premise. Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma team were inspired by the concept, however, and put more creativity into the project than they did in their usual formula schlock fare. The typical Troma anarchy and bad taste reign again here, but the producers add a healthy dollop of bargain-basement surrealism (Juliet’s disturbing sex dreams) and some on-the-cheap arthouse effects (the lovemaking scene in a plexiglass box against a starry backdrop). The result is a movie that’s completely unpredictable, despite a plot known to every high schooler. Tromeo is revolting one moment, and oddly sweet and beautiful the next, an incongruity that only adds to the weird atmosphere.

Short promotional clip for Tromeo & Juliet

COMMENTS: Troma is a low-budget film producer/distributor formed in 1974 to promote Continue reading 12. TROMEO AND JULIET (1996)