Tag Archives: Puppetry

297. MEET THE FEEBLES (1989)

Braindead and Meet the Feebles…were wisely overlooked by the Academy…”– Peter Jackson, accepting his Best Picture Oscar for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004 

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Mark Hadlow, Donna Akersten, Peter Vere-Jones, Stuart Devenie, Bryan Sergent

PLOT: A group of puppets, “the Feebles,” prepare for their first live TV broadcast. Unfortunately fragile egos, double-dealings, accidental killings, pornographic sidelines, rohypnol-aided assault, and drug and sex addictions plague their rehearsals. This ain’t no kid’s film.

Still from Meet the Feebles (1989)

BACKGROUND:

  • Jackson’s second film after 1987’s surprise low-budget hit Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles was originally conceived as a TV series until Japanese investors convinced Jackson to transform it into a feature. It was then hastily re-written and shot in twelve weeks.
  • The dialogue was recorded before filming began.
  • The film went over budget and over-schedule, forcing Jackson and crew to submit what they had so far to satisfy the New Zealand Film Commission, and then film a remaining scene (the Vietnam flashback) by breaking into the Studio at night. This sequence was then submitted as a separate film to the NZFC entitled “The Frogs of War.”
  • Won Best Contribution to Design for Cameron Chittock, for the puppets at the 1990 New Zealand Film Awards.
  • Bryan Pike’s Staff Pick for the Certified Weird list.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The big finale where Heidi massacres fellow cast members with a machine gun.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Chicken/elephant baby; heroin-injecting flashback frog; “Sodomy” massacre

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: There are no human beings in front of the camera whatsoever (with the exception of Abi, a human-esque contortionist puppet), only a lusty rabble of puppet misfits all clamoring for television stardom. Somewhere between “Avenue Q” and “The Muppets” lies this unseemly purgatory of puppet scheming, murder and mayhem.


Meet the Feebles opening theme song

COMMENTS: Like Dead Alive (1992), Meet the Feebles is another Continue reading 297. MEET THE FEEBLES (1989)

SATURDAY SHORT: LITTLE FANG (2014)

Animal Collective’s frontman Avey Tare has formed a side project (as each of the band members tend to do) and released this single to promote their album “Enter the Slasher House” which is scheduled to be released early next month. Just a quick watch, and you’ll see why we thought it appropriate for a weird movie site.

366 UNDERGROUND: BAD CHICKEN (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Carter Mays

FEATURING: Isabelle Gardo, Michael Palaniuk, voice of David Schweizer

PLOT: A chicken convinces a beautiful woman to participate in a fake reality TV show, hoping to seduce her.

Still from Bad Chicken (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got a sociopathic chicken, which is something you don’t see everyday, but it doesn’t have enough weird huevos to crack the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.

COMMENTS: Bad Chicken sets me to wondering about the dilemma of low-budget filmmaking. What can you do to set yourself apart from big-budget pictures? Bad Chicken is well-shot, well-lit, well-edited, with a good score (by Schweitzer, who also voices the main chicken) and an accomplished credits sequence; technically, it’s television show-quality affair (thankfully, it doesn’t stoop to mimicking the handheld production values of the reality shows it mocks). I could imagine some steroid-fed variation on this idea playing in theaters, with 3-D CGI chickens and a second-tier comedian like Kevin James voicing the bird. A comedy about cute puppets engaging in politically incorrect bad behavior would have been an underground outrage in 1989, but in the 2010s, after Seth McFarlane’s Ted, it’s straight cineplex stuff. With bad taste mainstreamed in the post “South Park” world, there’s less and less the underground can give us that Hollywood isn’t be willing to supply, only with bigger names and higher production values. Bad Chicken has a decent enough gimmick and it makes for a watchable enough comedy, but it doesn’t push the outrageousness meter to the lengths it would have to go to get noticed. Sure, there’s a (non-explicit) montage of Charlie Chicken picking up hookers for hotel room trysts, and a scene of two chickens dueling with dildos, but there’s nothing here you couldn’t see done better on a cutting edge TV-14 sketch comedy show. The situation is absurd, but the big punchlines never arrive (there are no poultry-based puns, which seems like a gamble in a chicken comedy). On the plus side, starlet Isabelle Gardo (not pictured) ruffles some feathers with her satirical turn as a shallow, celebrity-obsessed bimbo; she appears to have a minor orgasm from reading an email announcing that she has been selected as a reality show contestant. Her performance, however, is mainly impressive in the sense that it makes you hope to see her in something a little bigger. This is the dilemma low-budget independent films find themselves in: it’s not enough to be just as good as regular entertainment. They have to be better, weirder, or at least make your blood boil when you watch them. They have to have zero restraint, they can’t leave any bad taste on the table. Bad Chicken isn’t a bad watch—it’s a painless way to kill ninety minutes—but it works better as an advertisement for its makers’ potential to move up the production ladder than it does as on its own as a wicked cult item.

Bad Chicken was picked up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures, which specializes in video-on-demand distribution. The film can be screened digitally through Amazon, Itunes, etc., and can be rented on a number of American cable networks. DVDs can be purchased directly from the makers at the official site.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…part media satire and part hallucinogenic weirdo comedy.”–Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image (contemporaneous)

145. MARQUIS (1989)

Recommended

“This is one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. I found it to be discomforting and just weird… This movie gives me the chills. However, I would watch it again just because it is so fascinatingly WEIRD.”–IMDB reviewer ethylester (June 2002)

DIRECTED BY: Henri Xhonneux

FEATURING: Voices of François Marthouret and Valérie Kling

PLOT: The dog-faced Marquis de Sade is imprisoned  in the Bastille for blasphemy, where he entertains himself by writing pornographic novels and holding long conversations with his talking penis. Among the other prisoners is Justine, a pregnant cow who claims she was raped and is carrying the King’s child. The prison’s Confessor plots to hide the bastard heir by claiming De Sade is the father; meanwhile, outside the Bastille walls revolutionaries would like to free the political prisoners for their own purposes.

Still from Marquis (1988)

BACKGROUND:

  • The historical Marquis de Sade was imprisoned at the Bastille, where he wrote the novel “The 120 Days of Sodom,” from 1784-1789. The Bastille was just one stop in a series of trips to prisons and insane asylums that dogged the aristocrat his entire life.
  • The two main female characters in Marquis, Justine and Juliette, are named after the title characters of two of de Sade’s most famous novels. Perverted scenes from the Marquis’ actual stories are recreated with the movie, using Claymation.
  • Little is known about director/co-writer Henri Xhonneux, who besides this film has only a few even more obscure credits to his name.
  • Artist/writer , of Fantastic Planet fame, was the better known co-scripter of Marquis. Topor also served as art director for the movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Surely it must be one of the many tender moments when the Marquis holds a heart-to-heart talk with his own member (named Colin), although there are so many of these dialogues that we will need to narrow down our search further. We’ll select the moment when Colin, lacerated from having pleasured himself inside a crack in the stone prison wall, stares weakly at the Marquis while wearing a little bloody bandage wrapped around his head like a nightcap, begging the writer to tell him a story so he can recover enough  strength to fornicate with a cow.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Every character in the movie is based on a different animal and wears a animatronic masks that looks like it came out of a pile of designs  rejected for Dark Crystal as “too creepy.” In between Machiavellian political machinations, these beasts have kinky sex with each other. The Marquis de Sade, a handsome canine, holds long conversations with his cute but prodigious member Colin, who has not only a mind but a face and voice of his own. As pornographic costume biopics recast as depraved satirical fables go, Marquis registers fairly high on the weirdometer.

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Short clip from Marquis

COMMENTS: Although you could consider it a porno puppet shock show or a misanthropic fable concerning man’s animal nature, perhaps the best Continue reading 145. MARQUIS (1989)

SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Kroft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.

This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.

The pilots assembled here make for a grand psychedelic starter kit, but some are surprisingly subdued; the series would reach higher planes of inspired lunacy later. No matter. Sid and Marty Krofft stuck to their idiosyncratic formula, which was characterized by prepubescent heroes and heroines, puppet comedy relief, knee-tapping kitsch songs and (badly) canned laughs from the laugh track. It is extremely doubtful that the Krofft Brothers were insightful or perceptive enough to realize just how surreal their macrocosm was. Yes, for me, Sid and Marty Krofft are big bold, dopey examples of . It is no accident that the 1970s animated programs of Sid and Marty Krofft proved to be among the all-important aesthetic diving boards for many later and contemporary surrealists artists, such as Paul Ruebens, , and many more.

Still from H.R. PufnstufThe Krofft Brothers’ first three series shared much in common, and only a single season was filmed for each (although reruns kept them in syndication for an additional year or more). H.R. Pufnstuff is the first and most famous. The pilot premiered in 1969 and began as a series heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz (1939) with a dash of “The Magic Flute.” The Oz theme of a child being transported to an otherworldly dimension would serve as the primary ingredient in the Krofft recipe.

Jimmy (Jack Wild) and his magic flute, Freddy, are shipwrecked on Living Island. Little do they Continue reading SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

CAPSULE: STRINGS (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Anders Rønnow Klarlund

FEATURING: Voices of James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, , Julian Glover

PLOT: Hal, Crown Prince of a kingdom of marionettes, disguises himself as a commoner to try to uncover his father’s murderer.

Still from Strings (2004)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Strings is essentially a stock prince-grows-to-be-a-man-and-saves-the-kingdom high fantasy tale, but with a twist: everyone in the film is not only a marionette, they know they’re a marionette. The gimmick is used meaningfully, but given the standard-issue narrative, it’s not enough to movie this film from the “offbeat curiosity” into the “weird” column.

COMMENTS: Strings‘ basic plot, which involves an undercover prince, a kingdom in peril, intrigue and betrayal, prophecies, virtuous misunderstood rebels, appeals to the “power of love,” and a big battle at the end, is at the same time a bit confusing (with lots of characters, factions and subplots to keep track of) and overly familiar. That hardly matters, however, because the movie’s real pleasures come from admiring the meticulously constructed puppets as they dance across the boldly-lit diorama sets, and even more from the film’s creation of a complete marionette culture and mythology. The hand carved puppets have an Old World, doll-like charm, and although their faces are all frozen in neutral expressions, they exhibit an unexpected range of expressiveness just by raising or lowering their eyelids or tilting their heads that make them only slightly uncanny. The filmmakers make no attempt to hide the marionettes’ strings—even going so far as to title the movie after the darn things—and this is the most interesting and curious aspect of the  production. A dozen or more strings rise up from each character’s body, disappearing into the heavens above. A breathtaking aerial view illustrates why airplane flight would be impossible in this alternate reality, as we see thousands of strings rising above the moonlit clouds stretching up to infinity, each set connected to an invisible creature walking about the world below. The film explores every aspect of their strung-up existence; even the city gates and prison cells operate according to weird marionette logic. I won’t spoil every single thread, but it was fascinating to see the mystical “birth of a marionette” scene, as the mother brings the carved wooden block of a baby to life by painfully summoning strings to descend from the heavens, then attaching them to the lifeless wooden doll. It’s tough to figure out who this movie is aimed at—it’s too dark and weird for the kiddie matinee crowd, and not quite dark and weird enough for us—but that very singularity of vision and lack of a clear marketing angle gives it cult credibility. In the end, despite the fact that we don’t make much of a connection with the archetypal heroes, despise the stock villains, or feel much investment in the restoration of the kingdom, Strings still manages to be a visually beautiful and imagination-stimulating movie. And it finishes with an unexpectedly touching ceremony that takes the marionettes’ central metaphor, alien as it is, and uses it to tug a little on our heartstrings as well as theirs.

Strings contains a couple of nods to Shakespeare: the main character who seeks to avenge his slain father, the king, while being opposed by a deceitful uncle, bears a passing resemblance to “Hamlet.” Even more obviously, the protagonist who grows from a foolish boy to a competent king is named Prince Hal, just like the star of the “Henry IV” and “Henry V” plays.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Essence of movie’s weirdness lies in its initial conceit… not quite strange enough to appeal to hardcore arthouse auds who savor the work of Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay and the like, but neither is it cutesy enough to cross over to the mainstream.”–Leslie Felperin, Variety (contemporaneous)

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