WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/17/2019

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.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Perfect (2018): A troubled young man is sent to a clinic where he is given various implants to remove his imperfections. Co-produced by Flying Lotus (who also scored the film) and , and clearly made under the influence of a heavy dose of . .Perfect official site.

The Wandering Soap Opera [La Telenovella Errante]: A surreal and satirical spoof of Chilean soap operas. ‘s widow,  Valeria Sarmiento, completed this project, which her late husband left unfinished in 1990. The Wandering Soap Opera official site.

FILM FESTIVALS – Cannes Film Festival (Cannes, France, May 14-25):

Cannes is an odd duck. Not known as a “weird-friendly” festival—movies like ‘s Crash and Antichrist have been famously hooted at by Cannes crowds who were having none of that—it aims to flatter the mainstream arthouse crowd with middle-of-the-road dramas (and, rarely, dramadies, so long as they are not too funny to be taken seriously). Cannes programmers revel in the dry, the conventional, and the pompous; Cannes’ juries’ tastes resemble those of Academy Awards voters, but with an even higher premium placed on boringness. Many years, an unusual film will sneak it’s way onto the card and Cannes debut may even end up Certified Weird: it’s happened for three films in the past seven years, including, most recently, 2012’s Holy Motors. This year looks particularly bleak, however; maybe they should invite Netflix to screen films there to liven things up? Movies at Cannes may either be screened “in competition” for the big prize, the Palm D’or; screen out-of-competition; or be entered in the “Un Certain Regard” section (a sort of also-ran competition for films that are either from first time directors, or are considered too daring or different to have a shot at the Palme d’Or). Recently, many filmmakers have been debuting their films in the parallel festival called Directors’ Fortnight, which runs contemporaneous to Cannes proper but does not hand out awards for individual films; it offers a more exciting slate this year.

Here’s what we would be keeping tabs on if we were in Cannes next week:

  • The Dead Don’t Die – A zombie comedy by starring , Adam Driver,  , , , Selena Gomez, and more; probably not weird but special, and the cast alone makes it worth checking out. In competition, opening night.
  • Deerskin [Le Daim] – The seventh feature from ; no plot synopsis was provided. Director’s Fortnight.
  • First Love [Hatsokui] – ‘s latest, about a noxer and a call girl who get on the wrong side of some drug dealers. Miike han’t made a truly weird (or great) movie in years, but his name always sparks hope. Director’s Fortnight.
  • Jeanne continues the Joan of Arc story from his previous Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc; this sequel features the same actress (now 10, playing the warrior-saint at 19) but dropping the musical numbers for a more serious presentation. Un Certain Regard.
  • The Lighthouse directs and in a black and white period horror set in a lighthouse. Director’s Fortnight.
  • Red 11 – A college student signs up for a medical experiment and “things get surreal.” From genre legend . Director’s Fortnight.

Cannes Film Festival official site.

Director’s Fortnight home page.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Saint Bernard (2013): An orchestra conductor named Bernard (natch) goes insane and sees surreal visions. One of only two sole writing/directing efforts by special effects guru Gabe Bartalos, who worked on everything from Leprechaun to multiple to Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” movies, with special appearances by Andy Kaufman henchman Bob Zmuda to Warwick Davis. All of this, and unreleased for six years? Severin rectifies the oversight on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. Buy Saint Bernard.

TELEVISION (HULU, DEBUTS 5/17):

“Catch-22”: A six-episode miniseries adaptation of Joseph Heller’s groundbreaking comic novel on the absurdity of war. We already declared Mike Nichols’ cinema version one of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. You’d have to be insane to remake it; did. The total series runs for a little over 4 hours, allowing more of the novel to make it onscreen. Watch “Catch-22” on Hulu.

BOOKS:

“Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dalí, the Marx Brothers, The Strangest Movie Never Made” (2019): A graphic novel recreation of a propsed collaboration between and the , recreated from about 4 pages of notes Dalí scribbled for the non-stater project. Comedian joined author Josh Frank in fleshing out the “screenplay,” and Manuela Pertega illustrated. Buy “Giraffes on Horseback Salad”.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Not that this matters much to the end reader, but next week editor-in-chief G. Smalley will be on vacation (not in Cannes, sadly). Although everything should continue as normal, limited access to wi-fi could cause some delays in content being posted. As far as what that content will be: Shane Wilson will give you the scoop on the free-to-watch micobudget thriler (?) She Found Now, while Giles Edwards retains his humanity while watching Rhinoceros, the 1974 film adaptation (with Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel) of Eugene Ionesco’s famous absurdist play about… people turning into rhinos.

One final note: the print version of the 2019 Yearbook is nearly ready to go, just needing one more proof review before finalization. Were that Smalley guy not on vacation, the thing would be available for purchase next week for sure… we’ll try to get it out as soon as it’s ready, but you may have to wait one additional week to place an order.

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DECASIA (2002)

Also see Alfred Eaker’s take on Decasia

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Uncredited documentary subjects

PLOT: Scored to a disturbing minimalist composition, a parade of early 20th century images on decayed and damaged film stock march across the screen, forming hypnotic abstract landscapes.

Still from Decasia (2002)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: We avoided the hypnotic experimental documentary subgenre on our first pass through the List of the Weirdest Movies ever made, because this peculiar corner of art films normally wed an unusual (weird) form to commonplace (not-weird) subject matter. When it comes to honoring movies as Apocrypha, however, it’s harder to argue that formally groundbreaking movies like Koyaanisqatsi—and this one—can be excluded from being considered among the strangest things the mind of man has come up with.

COMMENTS: A boxer punches an amoeba. A man in a fez prays at a mummy’s tomb, in negative image. A lone airplane flies through the sky, almost perfectly centered in a wavering iris puncturing the darkness. Nuns and schoolchildren strobe in and out of existence. The screen is filled with nothing more than a billowing cloud. Abstract patterns whir by, almost looking as if they were drawn by hand—a butterfly here, a flower petal there—and fade away to reveal a shy geisha.

Experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison scoured over what must have been thousands of hours of partially decayed stock footage to select the most wondrous and poetic images time accidentally created. A complete taxonomy of film damage is on display here. Images sometimes decay from the center outward, sometimes from the edges inward. Frequently, the film is warped so that abstract cracked lines obscure the underlying picture, but often the effects are more surprising. Individual stills might look like gibberish, but because each frame of film holds a slightly different piece of information about the whole, when the series is run through a projector, ghostly figures emerge. The visuals often resemble ‘s splatter-paint-on-the-celluloid experiments, except that the effects here have been created entirely by the natural degradation of cellulose.

Decasia‘s reliance on a minimalist classical music score obviously recalls ‘s time-lapse documentaries. But whereas Philip Glass’ work on the “Qatsi trilogy” of films was smooth and dreamy, Michael Gordon’s composition is dissonant and confrontational. Low strings create a ceaseless rhythm, while violins fall through microtonal scales in a long, slow decay. Horns enter the mix like distant alarms. Gordon specified that certain instruments in the Basel Sinfonetta be deliberately out of tune. In keeping with the theme of recycling, he used discarded car brake drums he found in a junkyard as an instrument, along with detuned pianos. His intent, he said, was to “make the orchestra sound like it was covered in cobwebs, with instruments that had been sitting for a hundred years, creaky and warped and deteriorated” The uncomfortable but still beautiful sounds divert our thoughts to the darker implications of the pictures dancing and disintegrating before our eyes. The music and the images exist in such a perfect, unconscious  symbiosis that it’s meaningless to wonder which came first.

Decasia is an authentically Surrealist documentary. The startling images have all been generated via a random process, with the interpretation up to the individual viewer. Everyone in these film clips is long dead, and soon the damaged images themselves will fade away to nothing. And yet, the experience is marvelous, not depressing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The unexpected thing is that its dying, in this shower of black-and-white psychedelia, is quite beautiful.”–Anita Gates, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: HAGAZUSSA (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Lukas Feigelfeld

FEATURING: Aleksandra Cwen, Claudia Martini, Tanja Petrovsky, Celina Peter, Haymon Maria Buttinger

PLOT: An orphaned goatherd exacts revenge on her village before succumbing to her own dark fate.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The sensation left by this brooding contemplation on mystic solitude and the effects of cruelty renders it a far cry from typical supernatural horror. It is a stunning example of the genre of Eldritch Dread. For the briefest of moments I was on the fence about this movie’s viability as an Apocrypha candidate, but after some thought I can attest it is well within the scope of such an honor—though I’m relieved this came to our attention after the Canon had closed and the possibility of hundreds more films opened up.

COMMENTS: If the prospect of watching long, meditative shots and hearing only some few dozen lines of dialogue over the course of one-hundred minutes discourages you, perhaps you should stop reading right now. Lukas Feigelfeld’s debut Hagazussa begins on a lonely alp, runs its course on a lonely alp, and finishes abruptly on a lonely alp. Like the slow muffling of snowfall, the patient viewer will find the film’s subtle accumulations result in something profoundly rewarding.

From our opening glimpse, we can imagine the entire childhood of young Albrun (Celina Peter), living alone with her mother in a high-mountain cabin tending to a herd of goats. The few locals all fear Albrun’s mother (Claudia Martini), a fear that even Albrun develops when her mother is stricken physically, then mentally, by a grotesque disease. Grown up and now completely alone, the adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) keeps no company other than her own infant daughter, acquired by means unknown. She is surprised when a local peasant defends her against the taunts of some idle lads, and seems on the cusp of reaching out to the rest of humanity, when her naivety is betrayed.

Very rarely do I approve of films relying on “atmosphere” to carry them, but Hagazussa has the advantage of drawing its quiet intensity from a handful of sources. The unearthly quavering drone of MMMD (a cryptic duet whose music has been described as “Chamber Doom”) grabs your ear right from the start. The score is appropriately minimalistic, limited in tone as well as deployment, which heightens the effect of its eerie nature wonderfully. The harsh beauty of the mountain setting complements its sparseness. Scenes are typically covered in snow, or rain, or lake water, with long shots cutting between the extreme closeups of the characters.

Which brings me to Aleksandra Cwen. With such little dialogue and exposition, we rely on her to convey the sense, if not the exact nature, of what is going on, and her face and eyes do a marvelous job. This triangle of haunting sound, haunting backdrop, and such a haunting face carries the viewer through a fragile, minimalist narrative amazingly well.

Be advised, anyone who plans on streaming this through Amazon: there is no subtitle option, only closed captioning. In other words, you can either have no subtitles, or all the subtitles, with every musical, sound, and even non-sound1)Never before have I seen a notice spring up (and spring up so often) in closed captioning stating, “No Audio”; but then, Hagazussa has a lot more silence in it than most movies. cue brought to your attention alongside the dialogue. Despite having watched it with continual captions, Hagazussa still managed to enchant me with its measured disquietude.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If last year’s standout psychedelic genre piece ‘Mandy’ was lysergic cinema par excellence, this equally trippy (if otherwise very different) quasi-horror revenge tale offers a nightmare soaked in psilocybin, its every element queasily organic.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (festival screening)

References   [ + ]

1. Never before have I seen a notice spring up (and spring up so often) in closed captioning stating, “No Audio”; but then, Hagazussa has a lot more silence in it than most movies.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/10/2019

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.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Gutboy: A Badtime Story (2015): An (almost) all-marionette feature about a flayed puppet who fights the Man that proudly advertises itself as “the weirdest movie in the world.” Finally on Blu-ray after being exclusive to Troma’s streaming service for years. Buy Gutboy: A Badtime Story.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970): A pre-007 Roger Moore stars as a man who senses he has a doppelganger running around after a near-death experience in a car crash. A somewhat obscure mindbender, now out on DVD or Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Buy The Man Who Haunted Himself.

Rhinoceros (1974): An adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s quintessential absurdist play about a town where everyone is slowly turning into rhinoceroses (rhinoceri?) We had no idea that a film version of this existed—starring The Producers‘ Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder! Via Kino Classics, DVD and Blu-ray only. Buy Rhinoceros.

Sex Madness Revealed (2018): The (fictional) “Film Dick” podcaster (Patton Oswalt) interviews (fictional) experts about the (real) sexploitation film Sex Madness (1939) as it plays, and discovers (fictional) shocking secrets about the production. From the producer of Room 237, this appears to be another satire about people who read too much significance into cult movies. Released straight to DVD and Blu-ray. Buy Sex Madness Revealed.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Next week, Giles Edwards gives you his impressions of the brand-new eldritch German art-house horror Hagazussa. Meanwhile, G. Smalley finally got around to viewing ‘s decayed-footage fantasia Decasia (Alfred Eaker’s original review is here), and will bring you his (redundant?) opinions on that one. We’re also aware that, once again, we’re way overdue on the print version of the annual Yearbook, but we wanted you to know that it’s all done but the final proofing—you should see an announcement soon! 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: THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Lewis John Carlino

FEATURING: Jonathan Kahn, Sarah Miles, , Earl Rhodes

PLOT: A young boy growing up in a seaside English town with his widowed mother is involved in a cultlike group of juvenile delinquents, but idolizes a passing sailor who woos his mom… for a while.

Still from The Sailor Who Eell from Grace with the Sea (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is one of the all-time great titles, but definitely not one of the all-time weirdest movies. What little weirdness it has is more of a function of its unfashionable (some might say “clumsy”) use of symbolic narrative than anything else.

COMMENTS: Lewis John Carlino (screenwriter of Seconds) adapted The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea from a novel by oddball nationalist Japanese writer . Some critics argue that, in changing the location from Japan to Wales, the movie fails to achieve greatness because it can’t translate Mishima’s specifically Japanese cultural concerns to screen.

I disagree. I think The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea fails to achieve greatness on its own merits. Specifically, the movie is poorly paced, losing rather than gaining steam as it goes on, and the acting is flat and uninspired. Sarah Miles does best as the young widow hiding her simmering sexuality under the cover of prim country Victorianism (although her mournful masturbation scene in front of her dead husband’s portrait is risible). Kris Kristofferson is mainly there as a manly prop for the sex scenes, a duty he performs well enough. The main acting issue is one that brings down many coming-of-age films: the reliance on young, untrained actors in crucial roles. Star Jonathan Kahn, whose only other credits were literary parts in BBC juvenile television adaptations, is just serviceable: he has the look of a conflicted adolescent, but he can’t channel the surging hormonal rage needed here. Earl Rhodes, as “Chief,” is more of an obstacle to success. He gives theatrical speeches that sound like a schoolboy’s self-serving impressions of Nietzsche (“morality is nothing more than a set of rules adults have invented to protect themselves.”) He always sounds like he’s reading from a script and never develops the sinister charisma necessary for us to buy him as a mini-Manson; and if we can’t believe he seduces his schoolboy chums into bizarre acts of anti-adult rebellion (like a ritual involving a poor kitty), the delicate credibility of the plot falls apart.

Hints of perversity and sex can’t overcome the movie’s over-solemnity (the tone they were going for was “haunting,” but it’s a near miss). Sailor‘s lack of spark is a shame, because the film raises a multitude of interesting topics: youthful rebellion, missing father figures, Oedipal desire, the foundations of morality, the lure of romanticism, the tension between pure ideology and real life. While there is a certain fateful irony in the conclusion (optimistically promoted as “startling” in the tagline), it’s deliberately telegraphed so that there is no suspense. A few indicia of derangement–dissonant baroque music played on prepared piano during the boy’s memory of seeing his nude mother, a stuttering montage as the boys prepare their final act–give the movie the slightest touch of formal strangeness.

There is one major support for the interpretation that the film is a failure of translation. Mishima likely intended the novel as an allegory for Japan’s postwar situation, and viewed the boys as the upcoming generation of heroes and patriots who would overthrow Western domination of “pure” Japanese culture. In Carlino’s hands, these brats are misguided monsters, Lords of the Flies refugees, who make the parents into tragic victims of their misguided fanaticism. Obviously, that’s a seismic thematic shift—but again, I don’t think that’s the reason the movie fails to hit its mark. With more vital direction, they could have pulled the reversal off.

At the moment The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is free to watch on Tubi.tv (no way to know if that will still be true by the time you read this, naturally).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…has an intriguing effect by virtue of its very strangeness, with its uneasy combination of a sex-starved widow and twisted kids making for, at the very least, a memorable experience, if not entirely for the right reasons.”–Graem Clark, The Spinning Image

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

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