CAPSULE: THE ADVENTURES OF PICASSO [PICASSOS ÄVENTYR] (1978)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Tage Danielsson

FEATURING: Gösta Ekman, Hans Alfredson, Margaretha Krook, Lena Olin, Bernard Cribbins, Wilfrid Brambell

PLOT: The life of the legendary Spanish painter, told with a  questionable level of veracity.

Still from The Adventures of Picasso (1978)

COMMENTS: In a few weeks, a motion picture will make its streaming debut purporting to tell the remarkable story of pop music’s crown prince of parody, . Weird promises to cover every step of the master accordionist’s life and, whenever possible, to subvert the proceedings with lies and misdirections. It’s a fitting approach for someone who has built a career out of taking familiar sounds and destroying them from within.

What it won’t be is unprecedented. The grand womb-to-tomb biopic has been assailed before. Its conventions have been savagely parodied. We’ve seen lives thoroughly misappropriated with falsehoods and flights of invention. (And that’s to say nothing of legitimate productions that shred the truth to achieve better storytelling.) It turns out that a leading exemplar of the ridiculous film biography hit screens years earlier, the product of a Swedish comedy duo who wondered what it would be like to make an authoritative biography when you have virtually no knowledge of the subject.

Like a book report by a student who did absolutely none of the reading, this take on the life of Picasso is drenched in flopsweat. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, the pieces of the Picasso legend are already falling into place: young Pablo has established his bonafides at art school (successfully painting a nude after seeing the model for a split second), relocated to Madrid, adopted his trademark striped shirt and white trousers, and invented cubism. Having burned what few facts they have available, the filmmakers pivot to wildly making stuff up. Did you know that Picasso was gifted with a vial of magical ink by a woman he saved from a pair of foul brigands? Maybe you recall his illustrious contemporaries, who evidently include Ernest Hemingway, Erik Satie, two Toulouse-Lautrecs, Puccini (and his real life Mimi), Vincent van Gogh, and even Rembrandt. And who can forget the real story of how a petty artistic quibble between Churchill and Hitler presaged World War II. (No wonder Picasso would seek refuge in America, despite the notorious Art Prohibition of the Roaring Twenties.) The Adventures of Picasso is the movie equivalent of converting text into Japanese in Google Translate and then back.

One of the film’s most inventive techniques is the choice to dispense with dialogue altogether. Actors speak in grunts and gibberish or spout cursory and irrelevant phrases in pidgin versions of various languages. (A persistent chanteuse sings lyrics that are actually a recipe for a Finnish fish pastry.) Even the headline of the traditional newspaper carrying the word of the outbreak of World War I reads simply “BOOM KRASCH BANG!” Only the narration is necessary to carry the story forward, and you get a different version depending upon your native tongue. (English-speakers like myself are treated to comic actor Bernard Cribbins, in his role as Gertrude Stein.) The filmmakers have thus given themselves an out: don’t understand what’s going on? No worries; you’re not supposed to.

While writers Danielsson and Alfredson will do anything for a joke, they show surprising empathy for the Picasso they’ve created. There’s an extended skit where the onscreen Picasso is forced to do whatever the narrator dictates, and that typifies the notion that Picasso ultimately had no agency, a victim of his own success. His father is a relentless huckster; when his dicey hair tonic instantly produces Picasso’s famous baldness, the old man immediately sells the locks to capitalize on his son’s fame. Throughout the rest of his “career,” dear old dad will be there, making friends with history’s greatest monsters and looking for the quickest way to make a buck. At the end, the great artist is nothing more than an exhibit himself; his home is a theme park and his doves of peace are trinkets to be sold. In this telling, Picasso doesn’t so much die as drop out, leaving our materialistic world behind.

The Adventures of Picasso certainly takes an unusual approach to biography; if you come hoping to learn anything about the creative mind behind “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon” or “Guernica,” you will surely be disappointed. And even the deeper truth that may be lurking within seems suspect; the real Picasso was far from an innocent and was in full control of his brand. But there’s something almost noble about the notion that if you can’t get it right, then by all means get it completely and utterly wrong. Or, as another great biographical subject once observed, “It doesn’t matter if it’s boiled or fried. Just eat it.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

The Adventures of Picasso‘ is billed as ‘a lunatic comedy,’ and while it does achieve that feeling on a couple of rare occasions, for the most part it’s like a bad dream… The film’s strategy is to make everything as feverishly absurd as it can be…. But too much of it has the ring of desperation. It’s all too frantic for words.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Ettin, who called it a “[S]wedish surreal comedy” that ” [I]’m sure you will like.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)        

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 9/20/2022

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

FILM FESTIVALS(Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, Brooklyn, NY, 10/13-20):

Situated firmly in the Halloween corridor, Brooklyn Horror is an up and coming film festival going into its 8th year of operation, now back live following a two-year Covid pause. The weirder offerings on its slate are all ones we’ve noted from other festivals: All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, the hallucinatory Italian horror-drama Flowing, and ‘s conspiracy minded Something in the Dirt, queer horror Swallowed, and the anthology V/H/S/99 (with a Flying Lotus contribution). Brooklyn is also offering revivals of Calvaire (as part of a focus on the “New French Extremity” movement), a series, and, most notably to our readers, the canonically weird body horror satire Society (1989).

Brooklyn Horror Film Festival home page.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Petrov’s Flu (2021): Petrov catches the flu and hallucinates his way through contemporary Russia in a movie that’s a literal fever dream. Haven’t seen any early reviewers toss around the “w” word yet, but some have described it as “baffling” and “mindblowing.” Opening in New York City this week, future plans unknown at this time. Petrov’s Flu official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT (post-production):

Kung Fury 2 (est. 2022): A feature-length “sequel” to the absurdist 80s action short film parody described as having “no real connection” to the original “other than the lead character.” and will appear (it sounds like the former will have a substantial role; the latter will portray the President). Kung Fury 2 official Facebook page.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Dreamchild (1985): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. This dark take on the “real life” story of the relationship between and “Alice in Wonderland” inspiration Alice Lidell, with puppetry, arrives on Blu-ray for the first time ever. Buy Dreamchild.

CANONICALLY WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

This section will no longer be updated regularly. Instead, we direct you to our new “Repertory Cinemas Near You” page. We will continue to mention exceptional events in this space from time to time, however. Like the notice bleow:

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE:

We’re still looking for RSVPs and suggestions for an October 1 Weird Watch Party. Current suggestions are Matteo Garrone‘s dark (and authentic) version of Pinocchio or the Aubrey Plaza mindbending drama Black Bear (both on Amazon Prime). A single vote could decide the screener, or a new suggestion could muddy the waters even further. Add your thoughts here.

In reviews next week, Shane Wilson will undertake The Adventures of Picasso (1978),  watches the new-release The Razing, and covers the expressionistic 1967 Russian Civil War epic The Red and the White. Onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: APPLES (2020)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Apples is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Christos Nikou

FEATURING: Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovassili

PLOT:  After falling victim to a syndrome that causes sudden memory loss, Aris enters an odd recovery program designed to create new memories for a new identity.

Still from Apples (2020)

COMMENTS: When a man snarls traffic by abandoning his vehicle in the road and sitting on the curb, then denies it was his car, a fellow passenger takes it in stride and calls an ambulance. In Apples, an incurable plague of sudden-onset amnesia is so common that people don’t get angry about the inconveniences it causes. When Aris forgets his name and where he’s going on a public bus, he is routinely sent to a hospital wing dedicated to amnesiacs. After no friends or family come to claim him, he is enrolled in an experimental new program designed to give amnesiacs a new beginning. The regimen involves the subject recreating a series of representative experiences—riding a bicycle, crashing a car, having a one-night stand—and taking Polaroids of themselves at the scene, which they place in a special memory album. With no other obvious options, Aris dutifully enters the program and sets about following the doctors’ instructions for creating a life. A few tantalizing memories of his old existence occasionally break through the fog: a dog’s name, a street address. But all we can be reasonably certain of from his previous life is that he loved apples.

Apples will necessarily be seen as a late entry in the Greek Weird Wave—launched by with the deadpan absurdity of 2009’s Dogtoothand I doubt debuting director Christos Nikou would disavow the influence. Apples is Lanthomisian in rhythm and style, but pared-down to its essential moods. The acting is restrained but subtle, as opposed to the in-your-face, disconnected-from-reality non-acting that inhabits much of the Weird Wave. Servetalis’ nondescript, bearded face forms the perfect blank canvas on which we can project our own anxieties and melancholy. The sense of humor is absurd—Aris on a child’s bike, a doctor suggesting patients’ make therapeutic Molotov cocktails—but never approaches the surreal heights of something like The Lobster. The world here is only slightly askew, with the unexplained amnesia plague and the low-tech setting (Polaroids and cassette tapes instead of cell phones) serving as the only clues we’re not in present day reality. The spare cinematic compositions are designed to reinforce a sense of isolation, even in urban settings, but they are classically framed. (A cemetery scene with bone-white tombstones set against a gray sky and Aris standing in a slumped silhouette is one of the sweeter shots of the year.) It all seems designed to be more audience friendly than usual for the genre, but that choice doesn’t feel like a calculated compromise; rather, Nikou locates a natural space between standard arthouse drama and experimental film where he’s comfortable exploring penetrating ideas.

Note that there are two parts to the program Aris enters: constructing false memories, and creating a new identity for himself. Apples‘ plot focuses our attention on the bizarre methodology of the first part, but thematically, it’s more interested the second part of the formula. Apples becomes an existential fable raising open-ended questions: is Aris’ amnesia a result of traumatic event? Is it, in some sense, a choice? How essential is memory to our identity—if I forget everything, am I still me? Does the hospital’s structured regimen help or hinder Aris to live authentically? Apples invites you to puzzle out these questions on your own. The ending is, ironically, memorable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It all sounds bizarre on paper. But Apples, the first feature from the director and co-writer Christos Nikou, unfolds with an understated deadpan wit that makes even its weirder touches seem plausible, even logical. At times it reminded me of some of the brilliant absurdist satires, like Dogtooth and Attenberg, that have put Greek cinema on the map over the past two decades.”–Justin Chang, NPR (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: KUNG FURY (2015)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Sandberg

FEATURING: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, Leopold Nilsson

PLOT: After his captain is murdered via telephone, policeman Kung Fury must travel back in time to kill the assassin, Kung Führer (AKA Adolf Hitler).

Still from Kung Fury (2015)

COMMENTS: Kung Fury is one of the most ridiculous things I have seen. It is also one of the funniest. Even more impressively, it is that rarest of silly comedy films: one that has the wherewithal and willpower not to overstay its welcome. Apart from its other (considerable) qualities, I’d tip my had to Sandberg for shutting up shop and spinning the closing credits well before he wore through the already well-worn tropes that are the bread and bullets of the genre. From the opening skateboard car-flip to the smugly defiant Hitler soaring amidst the high-rises of 1985 downtown Miami on his mechanized Nazi eagle, it never felt forced, fatigued, or unfunny.

Even before (or… after?) Hitler’s appearance in downtown Miami, the city’s not a pretty sight. Street toughs hassle cops with impunity, flipping their squad cars like skeet discs for target practice. Arcade machines flash a nasty “Fuck You!” to the unhappy gamers who kick it after their sky unicorn is shot down on-screen. And transformer death machines spring to life, smashing up passing motorists and menacing passing canines. These hassles are all in a day’s work for… Kung Fury: a super cop who does not play by the book. The chip on his shoulder is as real as his sardonic gruffness is fake: years back, he lost his partner and mentor at the hands of a Kung fu master; before young Fury could pull the trigger on the assailant, he was “…hit by lightning and bitten by a cobra.” The rest is history.

And there is quite a lot of history: ancient Vikings astride their dinosaur mounts, the mighty god Thor (who utters his immortal words, “Stop! Hammer Time”), and, of course, the requisite hundreds of Nazi goons ready to fall under the righteous bullet spray sof Hackerman, Triceracop, Barbarianna and Katana. Oh, and a second welcome appearance from Thor and his epic pecs. Added to all this inspired lunacy is Jorma Taccone’s performance as a martial arts fascist; the actor perfectly captures the bizarre speechifying articulations of the erstwhile Führer.

Kung Fury is first and foremost a lampoon of ’80s crime/martial arts television and film. The creative team is spot on with everything—gaudy New Wave score, “futuristic” Tron-style animations, and even a seamlessly included advertisement for a newfangled mobile telephone. It’s as resourceful as it is silly. Leaning heavily on the retrowave vibe, occasional “tracking” issues conveniently crop up to disturb the image just when the most expensive effects sequences might take place. The fight choreography is masterful, too; during the Nazi fight, it switches to a long uninterrupted side-scroller video game ballet. Absurd surrealism pops up as well, as when Fury’s boss is shot through a telephone. (A similar stunt from a classic ’70s film comes to mind.) Sandberg is informed, witty, and has an eye for action timing. Kung Fury is, admittedly, no “Must See”, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend it enough.

At the time of this writing, the producers have made Kung Fury available for free (see below).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an insane and ultra bizarre film…”–Martin Hafer, Influx Magazine

CAPSULE: THE COCA-COLA KID (1985)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Dušan Makavejev

FEATURING: Eric Roberts, Greta Scacchi, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, Rebecca Smart

PLOT: A Coca-Cola executive travels to Australia to find out why the signature product has failed to penetrate one remote outpost in the country; Along the way, he crosses swords with an unexpectedly fierce competitor, adapts to down-under culture shock, and tries to cope with his distractingly quirky secretary.

Still from The Coca-Cola Kid (1985)

COMMENTS: Eric Roberts was young once. I mean, so were we all, but the lies we tell ourselves about the aging process are revealed more starkly in the cinema. So here he is: young, blond, rosy-cheeked, oozing alright-alright charm and boasting a Georgia accent you can spread on toast. So even though his mononymous character Becker is an ex-Marine who is called upon to be the face of all-consuming American capitalism, exploiting local culture and obliterating competitiveness for the benefit of a rapacious corporation, the thought that kept coming back to me was, “My goodness, who knew Eric Roberts was pretty?”

The gorgeousness of Eric Roberts is undoubtedly a strategy. If Satan is, as some contend, actually a ravishing beauty who lures the weak and unsuspecting, then the Coca-Cola Company is clearly cast here in the role of Satan, parlaying their sweet acidity, bold red branding scheme, and co-option of Santa Claus into world dominance. So it’s tempting at the outset to expect an Outback-themed take on Local Hero, in which our protagonist is confronted by an idyllic way of life that is literally foreign to his make-a-buck existence.

But The Coca-Cola Kid really isn’t into Becker, or even Coke, as avatars of our consumer culture. Far from embodying the worst traits of the faceless money monster, Becker is confused and aimless. He goes through the motions of using the latest marketing techniques to bring down his competitors, but his heart really isn’t in it. He barely seems to be into anything: he doesn’t particularly enjoy his own product any further than its saleable qualities, his approach to the alien landscape in which he has landed is purely functional, and his proto-manic pixie secretary Terri only manages to irritate him until she finally lures him into bed. (Even Becker’s sexuality is uncommitted; he seems equally baffled by Terri’s entreaties and by a series of aggressive same-sex come-ons at a party.) Aside from Terri’s grammar-school-aged daughter, the only person Becker seems to understand at all is his opponent.

Cue Becker’s foe: T. George McDowell, the biggest fish in a very small pond and a man with an oversized sense of his ability to compete with an industry juggernaut. He has steadfastly resisted Coke’s incursion into the region in favor of his own line of sodas, and it emerges that the whole enterprise is borne out of an “if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em” brand of revenge for the loss of his wife, a Mississippi-born Coke ad model whom he married and lost over his obsessions. (“She never understood the ice,” he reminisces.) Far from being a wide-eyed innocent from the sticks, McDowell fancies himself a global tycoon and Coke’s equal. It leads to an inevitable showdown between a man who thinks he has all the power and a man who knows he does.

The result is ultimately tragic. McDowell is utterly out of his league. There’s no competing with a behemoth, and the contrast is best dramatized in their marketing strategies. A trio of homely cheerleaders can’t hold a candle to pop of half-a-dozen Coke-bearing Santas, and McDowell’s homespun musical ditty is blown out of the room by the absolute banger of a jingle that Tim Finn has concocted.

But all the while, there’s this strange effort to graft a love story onto the film, and while everyone is slowly being crushed by capitalism’s iron boot, it’s in the romance where Dušan Makavejev seems to be trying the hardest to be Dušan Makavejev. The mix of rapacious capitalism and cheeky eroticism feels a little like he was trying to make a more audience-friendly version of his own Sweet Movie. (A genuinely well-crafted sex scene on a feather bed is a first cousin to the earlier film’s romp in sugar.) But he doesn’t seem any more focused than his characters. It’s a mark of how clueless Becker is that the stunningly sexy Greta Scacchi has to work so hard to get his attention, but it’s also curious how haphazard and clumsy Terri’s advances are. She holds a deep (and plotty) secret, but its revelation ultimately doesn’t have much impact on the choices characters must make. It’s just sort of there.

The Coca-Cola Kid has a very Australian soul, exuding a powerful “don’t worry, mate” vibe. Perhaps that’s the weirdest thing about it: in the face of themes like conquering capitalism, cultural homogeneity, and the overwhelming nature of love, the approach it settles on is, “Relax and go with it.” Maybe it’s a sensible approach, but it robs the film of immediacy and power. It just doesn’t feel like the real thing.

Fun City Editions released The Coca-Cola Kid to Blu-ray for the first time in June 2022.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Clearly made as a more commercial effort and with a recognizable ‘name actor’ in the lead role, it lacks a lot of the weirdness that made some of his earlier work as compelling as it is, yet still remains a really entertaining and clever picture that’s worth checking out. Makavejev’s tendencies to point out the absurd and to work strange, offbeat humor into his work still shines through…” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!