Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema will not appear this week. In it’s place is Alfred’s list of his top 10 weird films in the genre he calls “naive surrealism.”
For 366 Weird Movies, the following is a list of “all the way under the radar” Weird Movies.
These are the films that would fall under the category of being either “Naturally Weird” or “Naive Surrealism.” For instance, no film of David Lynch’s makes the list, mainly because Lynch is too self consciously aware and too clever to be called natural or naive. Nothing against Lynch’s films, which are some of the most delightfully weird films ever made (well the earlier ones, at least). The same could be said for the undeniably great Luis Buñuel, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Jan Svankmajer, and Guy Maddin, to name a few. In the same vein, overtly “Experimental Films” (ie: Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Daina Krummins) are excluded, regardless of the temptation.
* Also excluded is Donnie Darko which is good, but annoyingly overrated and oh so “trendy weird on the sleeve.” The same goes for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” which is not good at all and was 1980’s “trendy weird” (besides, that band really lost it’s genuine, honest to goodness weirdness with the departure of Syd Barrett).
- Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Cinema’s most celebrated outsider artist; Ed Wood. Wood defines the meaning of “natural auteur.” One always recognizes an Ed Wood film, even when accidentally stumbling upon it. Wood stamped his honest, eccentric personality onto everything he touched and this is what separates him from the rest of the Z grade amateurs of his time. Indeed, Wood is far preferable to both his peers and the mere “assignment” directors. Anything from Wood’s oeuvre could fit, but it is Glen or Glenda, rather than Plan 9 from Outer Space, that is Wood’s most zany, personal unintentional masterpiece.
- Tod Browning‘s The Unknown & Freaks. Browning, could hardly be called naive, but his attraction to the outcast and misfit was sincere as he had spent many years making his living in the carnival circuit. Browning knew and spoke the freak language, which is what made his bonding collaboration with Lon Chaney possibly the most unique Director/Actor collaboration in film history. Both The Unknown and Freaks were among Browning’s most personal films (a third would be 1927’s The Show with John Gilbert), but The Unknown (his greatest achievement) slightly trumps Freaks with a genuinely startling plot development that is absurd, dramatic and without drawing attention to itself. The accomplished acting of Chaney certainly helped Browning pull this off (and, no question, Chaney’s acting ranks with Chaplin and Coogan as the greatest of the silent era). Lesser artists would have done this with bells and horns, but with Chaney and Browning, it goes way under the skin. Browning certainly knew Freaks was going to generate reactions, but was undoubtedly taken back and unprepared for the level of intense negativity unleashed, which destroyed his career. Tragedy aside, the ensuing drama perfectly capped his legend.
- Charlie Bower’s Egged On. Not enough is known of Charlie Bowers to determine whether or not his surrealistic, independent shorts were intentionally surreal or knowingly experimental. It is known Bowers was (and remains) the perennial outsider, unfortunately inept in areas of self-promotion, marketing and perseverance. His best films were the ones that mixed live action with animation and included his character, even if that character lacked the charismatic personality of Keaton, Chaplin, etc. His later, strictly animated films that did not include the live action mix and character lack the overall unique whimsical quality of the earlier shorts (although some of that eccentric whimsy is present). A Wild Roomer, He Done His Best, Now You Tell One, and It’s a Bird are some of the most idiosyncratic shorts of any era (and evoke a spirit similar to the much later Dr. Seuss). Andre Breton understandably adored him. Egged On has to be seen to be believed and involves a basket of eggs which hatch, giving birth to a litter of miniature Model T Fords! It is almost heartbreaking that only 15 of his films survive, but one has to be forever grateful that those 15 were finally discovered and restored.
- Jack Hill’s Spider Baby. Spider Baby has earned it’s cult status. Nothing else Hill did (which is very little) has quite this flavor. It’s not a surrealist film, as some have claimed, but it is an enjoyably demented one of a kind. Lon Chaney, Jr. actually gives a good performance (reportedly he laid off the liquor as he liked the script) and the rest of the cast match him. This low budget film seems very much like a happy accident. It sat collecting dust for four years, was horribly distributed under numerous titles, but eventually found it’s cult audience, which is a lucky thing.
- John Parker’s Dementia: Daughter of Horror. Speaking of mini budget obscurities: nothing is really known of director Parker, if he did any other films, if this a pseudonym, etc. For several years this was believed to be a non-existent film, then a copy turned up. Good thing, this gem of a film (which has no dialogue) is a bridge between z grade horror and arthouse; outsider art meets surrealism head on. It first made the circuits as Dementia and later under the different title Daughter of Horror. Both versions exist now (Daughter has narration by Ed McMahon).
- Harry Langdon’s Three’s a Crowd and The Chaser. These aren’t necessarily outrageously “weird” films, but they think and act weird. Samuel Beckett was a fan of the films and its star, but film historians have given these as evidence of Langdon’s ego & downfall. More recent film critics have tended to side with Beckett. Both are correct. The films are fragmented and are as eccentric as Langdon’s on-screen personality. The boxing dream sequence in Three is incredibly odd and fits the rest of the film. It is not a comedy, and those who approach it as such are likely to be disappointed. Langdon’s was always a minimalist personality and here it is taken to an even further plateau, which admittedly is probably going to prove even more trying for current audiences than it was for the audiences of the day. In The Chaser, Langdon pushes his character down more expansive, subtly darker paths. Ego aside, Langdon wanted to make personal, artistic films like Chaplin had done. Many of his choices are eccentric and innovative, but he willingly took those risks. Unlike Chaplin, these risks did not pay off career-wise, of course. However, Langdon left two highly individual works that, hopefully, he was able to look back on as personal triumphs. Regardless, the rest of us can.
- John Waters Desperate Living and Female Trouble. Even among white trash auteur John Water’s remarkable output, these two films stand out. Waters and his creative team prove you can produce artistically original sets with a bit of paint and few dollars in their fictional town of “Mortville” in Desperate Living. The film is minus usual star Divine but it does have the incomparable Edith Massey and she literally steals ever scene she’s in. Female Trouble evokes the best in bad girl drive-in movies and it’s a beautiful homage (beautiful may be seem a strange way to describe anything of Waters, but it does fit). Primitive, grotesque, delightfully obscene, outrageous, innovative, unorthodox… the list could go on and on!
- John Coney’s Space is the Place with Sun Ra. Zoot suits, free jazz musician Sun Ra in Egyptian regalia, black power, science fiction, space pimps, afros, plea for equality, 70’s mumbo jumbo mysticism and Ra’s inimitable personality coursing through every second of this freaky, fun film.
- Luis Feuillade’s Fantomas, Les Vampires and Judex. Feuillade was almost a divine presence to the surrealists. After all, he was the best kind of surrealist; an accidental one. The word “art” did not cross his lips, he never left the suburbs and still made the most fantastically exotic and outrageous films of his times. For those not yet converted, do not let the description of silent serials turn you off. These are treats in weirdfest and make for several fun, bizarre filled evenings.
- Dave Fleischer’s Betty Boop, M.D. & Minnie the Moocher. Racy, demented, fun and Cab Calloway! What more could you ask? ” Boop-Oop-A-Doop!”