Tag Archives: Roland Topor

BEAUTIFUL FILMS: WERNER HERZOG’S NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

‘s Nosferatu (1922) rightly ranks on nearly every historian’s list of the greatest films to emerge from the silent era (as does his Sunrise). Murnau’s concept of the vampire manages to embrace its absurdities and simultaneously repel us. Probably as much “Varney The Vampire” as Dracula, Murnau’s demonic, Victorian count is more a diseased, toothsome, carnivorous rat than a crepuscular Valentino. Murnau, who served as his own cameraman, artistic director, designer, and editor, and did his own lighting, filtered this greatest of all vampire films through his perfectionist sensibilities (only ‘s 1932 Vampyr has a comparable, but contrasting beauty.

Of course, the vampire genre became increasingly ludicrous. Worse, Dracula and his cohorts became dull, repetitive, and insignificant. The Lord of the Undead became so tame that producers tapped Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian-tinged “Carmilla” (repeatedly) in an attempt to reinstate an edge, which suited the 1970s sexual revolution. Despite mixed results, it worked to a degree (We have yet to see buxom lesbo vampires selling breakfast cereal, but give it time).

Just when we thought the masculine bloodsuckers had given up the ghost to their more interesting female counterparts, , of all directors, gave new vitality to a very old story by doing something out of the ordinary with his 1979 homage to Murnau, Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979).

Herzog’s Nosferatu boasts a startling aesthetic with stained hues and bizarre, cool pacing. Petrified interiors strikingly contrast stony exteriors seething with grey life. Cinephiles wax endlessly about Stanley Kubrick’s obsessive use of sterile whites to parallel opaque reds. Herzog utilizes greys, browns, and whites much differently. Lack of color conveys something seething with life, but not life as typically defined. ’s whitened, fleshy count pierces the bluest skies and greenest forests.

One of Herzog’s motives in making the film was a chance for a second collaboration with Kinski (they first teamed up for 1972’s Agguire: The Wrath of God, while Woyzeck immediately followed Nosferatu in the very same year). Due to copyright restraints, Murnau was unable to use the names of Bram Stoker’s cast of characters. Fifty years later, Herzog did not have to contend with the author’s estate, and although he utilized the familiar names, Herzog took liberties with the story.

Still from Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)Kinski’s is a surprisingly sympathetic performance that still manages to convey grotesque mania. Kinski’s Dracula is as inimitable as Max Schreck’s in the 1922 original. Although both actors took the count-as-a-rodent approach, Kinski’s arouses a pronounced degree of empathy. Playing opposite Kinski’s bleached bat is the gossamer  as Lucy. Mina is jettisoned completely. Apparently, Herzog felt Lucy was a more compelling character (Sadie Frost, as a concupiscent Lucy, validated that point in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula, wholly dismissing ’s waxen Mina). Adjani is in every way Kinski’s equal. You can’t take your eyes off of this enlivened, spectral figure. Unlike Murnau’s Greta Schroder, Adjani is no dormant sacrificial lamb. It is she, not Harker (Bruno Ganz) or Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), who is the film’s protagonist.

Herzog reinstates the novel’s contrast of the sacramental with the Satanic (Schreck’s count is an anti-Semitic caricature preying on Schroder’s German virgin). Lucy actively tracks down Dracula’s heterodox sanctuary, eradicating it with the Eucharist. 

Paradoxes abound: White rats (thousands, millions of them) gift the vivacious breath of disease. The Transylvanian aboriginals (echoing the populace of Aguirre) contrast with urbane Londoners. Humor pierces a milieu of soulful solemnity when Dracula, in chalky voice, says: “I thought he’d never leave,” after his sole encounter with the raving Renfield (). The redemptive goal is offset, in the film’s climax, with cynicism.

As expected, Herzog is too authentic an artist to produce a mere fan film. Nosferatu The Vamypre is stamped with the artist’s personal aesthetics, giving at least some credence to the occasional claim that this homage actually surpasses Murnau’s original.

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)

120. FANTASTIC PLANET [LA PLANETE SAUVAGE] (1973)

“Cinema is showing more and more. It’s a paranoid, dictatorial cinema. And it’s saying less and less. We need a schizophrenic cinema.”–René Laloux

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: René Laloux

FEATURING: Eric Baugin, Jennifer Drake, Jean Valmont (voices)

PLOT: On a fantastic planet full of strange creatures, a race of mystical giant blue aliens (named “Traags”) treat humans (called “Oms”) as either pets, or as pests to be exterminated. An orphan Om dubbed Ter is adopted by a young Traag, but eventually escapes captivity, taking along an encyclopedic headband that holds all the aliens’ knowledge of their world. He meets up with a band of wild Oms scratching out a living in the surreal landscape and, using the alien technology, fashions a plan for humanity to escape its captivity.

Still from Fantastic Planet (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fantastic Planet was a French/Czechoslovakian co-production, and is often assumed to be an allegory for the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. The similarity between the enslavement of the Czechs and the Oms is coincidental, however. Fantastic Planet was based on a science fiction novel written by Stefan Wul in 1957. Laloux only used Czech animators because there was no real animation industry in France at the time and the Czechs worked cheaply; he began production in 1968, before the Soviet invasion. The newly installed Czech puppet regime canceled the production, but eventually relented, and work resumed in 1971.
  • The Czech animation team reportedly tried to depose Laloux and install one of their own animators as director. The coup failed, and friendly relations were restored.
  • “Oms,” the term the aliens use to refer to humans, is a corruption of the French word “hommes” (“men”). The original French novel was titled Oms en série (“Oms in series”), which is also an electrical pun (“Ohms in series”).
  • Writer/painter Roland Topor was the production designer for the film and the man responsible for much of the movie’s surreal look. Topor drew up the designs and the original cutouts used in the production, but left the project before animation began. Topor was a bit of a weird movie polymath; besides working on Fantastic Planet, he wrote the novel on which  Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) was based, and appeared as Renfield in ‘s Nosferatu the Vampire (1979). Topor was also one of the three co-founders of the French theatrical “Panic movement,” together with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
  • Fantastic Planet won the Special Jury Prize (the second most prestigious award) at Cannes in 1973.
  • The movie was distributed in the United States by Roger Corman‘s New World Pictures, known mainly for their drive-in exploitation movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The twisted topography of Fantastic Planet features flying sawtooth-beaked anteaters, bat-winged flora straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s worst nightmares, and glittering crystals which spontaneously grow and shatter with a whistle. Selecting a single souvenir snapshot from among these startling vistas would be an impossible task. Fortunately, Fantastic Planet‘s artists animate not only landscapes, but mindscapes as well, illustrating the giant blue Traag’s spiritual expeditions by showing their heads floating away in giant soap-bubbles and other trippy tropes. From among these, we’ll choose the moment when four Traags’ close their eyes and blank out while their bodies do impressions of lava lamps, morphing and flowing like heated wax, as the film’s indelible image (though we’d be unable to quarrel with anyone who chose to canonize almost any other moment of the film).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Terry Gilliam-meets-Salvador Dalí-in-space animation combined

American trailer for Fantastic Planet

with the acidic prog-rock soundtrack encourages (or even precipitates) altered states of viewing, but Fantastic Planet is more than just an astral trip. It’s a solid sci-fi parable set in a fully realized, incredibly detailed, and truly alien world that provokes more and more astonishment with each succeeding scene.

COMMENTS: Made between 1968 and 1973, at the height of the Acid Era, Fantastic Planet Continue reading 120. FANTASTIC PLANET [LA PLANETE SAUVAGE] (1973)