All posts by Amy Vaughn

THE SEVEN FACES OF JANE (2022)

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The Seven faces of Jane is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Julian Acosta, Xan Cassavetes, Gia Coppola, Ryan Heffington, Boma Iluma, , Ken Jeong, Alex Takacs

FEATURING: Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, , Emanuela Postacchini, Chido Nwokocha

PLOT: Jane experiences love, loss, joy, and bewilderment on a road trip mapped by eight different directors.

Scene from The Seven Faces of Jane (2022)

COMMENTS: To stimulate creativity, the early Surrealists created a game where one artist would build on a previous artist’s work without seeing it. They called the game “exquisite corpse” after a sentence born of this process, a sentence which is also the first thing the viewer sees in The Seven Faces of Jane: “Le cadaver equis boira le vin nouveau.” “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”

Jane is an exquisite corpse, a surrealist experiment. There are overtly surreal moments, such as the garishly eccentric diner patrons laughing at Jane (Gillian Jacobs) fighting her doppelganger. But the very design—8 directors contributing to the same story blind to what the other directors are doing—leads to Jane being the same but different in each segment, highlighting the nature of character as the collaborative product of writer, director, actor, and so on. With eight different directors, there are actually eight different Janes. (Seven segments plus bookends = eight.)

Jane drops her daughter off at camp and finds herself on a bizarre and unplanned road trip. The southern California backdrop ties the film together visually. Each director showcases it differently, but from the beach to the desert to mountain trails, from Mexican street vendors to early 20th century bungalow neighborhoods, So Cal is the mainstay in this ever-fluctuating movie.

Each segment explores someone Jane could be, or could have been. Most tell stories of love and loss and identity in straightforward or dreamy ways. But the last one, “The Audition,” directed by Alex Takács (AKA “Young Replicant”), takes the story right off the rails in the best kind of way. Set in a mausoleum and a sedan on the back of a car hauler, “The Audition” uses the absurd and the surreal to prod its character’s consciousness.

Jacobs, who is a steady force throughout, continues to deliver as someone on the brink of coming undone. Seemingly no longer able to sustain all the different versions of herself, she fights, gives up, regresses, and disappears, only to become who she needs to be when it’s time to pick her daughter up from camp.

Jane has some shortcomings. The quality of the segments is uneven, and because of the brevity of each piece, there’s no time to build sympathy for any character besides Jane. It is also a disconcerting juxtaposition to have such an ordinary subject for such an experimental movie. The Seven Faces of Jane has been called a “failed experiment.” And by the standards of a mainstream movie, maybe it is. But as an experiment, at least for the Surrealists (and this is a surrealist experiment), if the exquisite corpse stimulates creativity in the artists, it’s a success.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The problem is that most of the segments are too tied to a bland realism and narrative cliche to create the collective sense of unease and/or delightful disorientation that the surrealists prize.”–Noah Berlatsky, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

 

CAPSULE: HALLUCINATION GENERATION (1966)

AKA Hallucination

DIRECTED BY: Edward Mann

FEATURING: George Montgomery, Danny Steinmann, Tom Baker, Renate Kasché

PLOT: A young man becomes embroiled with beatniks, drugs, and…  murder!

Still from Hallucination Generation (1966)

COMMENTS: Hallucination Generation is a cautionary tale about the dangers of vacationing in Ibiza, doing free drugs, and falling in love. This is not your typical ‘60s scare-tactic film, though. For one thing, it’s full of beatniks, not hippies. For another, the first (and only) freak-out doesn’t start until the halfway mark, meaning writer/director Edward Mann is either bad at exploitation or he’s trying to make a real movie here.

Danny Steinmann, who would later helm the likes of Savage Streets (1984) and Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985), plays our lead, William Williams. Bill Williams goes to Ibiza on vacation and falls in with a group of layabouts who follow Timothy Leary-esque guru Eric (George Montgomery). It’s all bikini babes and smoking pot out of two-foot-long pipes, until Bill falls in love, immediately gets married, and is cut off by his wealthy family. After determining that his terrible poetry isn’t going to support him and his new wife, instead of getting a job, Bill flees back to Eric’s, solo.

As the drug-pushing guru, George Montgomery may be the best part of this movie (besides the psychedelic special effects). He was well known for his chiseled good looks and his work in dozens of Westerns, even guest starring on “Bonanza” the same year Hallucination Generation came out. Sinking his teeth into something different, Montgomery goes for it here. The “enlightened” Eric is mean to his son and cheats on his wife, spouts ridiculous wisdom, and he hatches a plan for Bill to steal from a timid old man in Barcelona.

Finally, some LSD! Eric uses it to brainwash Bill into agreeing with his plan. (Drugs are bad, kids!) In this early attempt to represent an acid trip on film, photographer Paul Radkai and editor Fima Noveck are constrained only by the technology at hand: quick cuts, loose focus, a gun turning into an animated bat, color swirls, painted faces, fractals, rats, more animation, naked women, masks, more swirling colors.

Two versions of Hallucination Generation are included on Blu-ray: one is black and white, the other is tinted pink (although distributor Diabolik calls it “sepia”). The pink one has the trip effects in color.

As far as cautionary tales go, Bill’s dialogue while dosed doesn’t seem well-crafted to warn people away from the drug: “Don’t want to go too far in, I would get to like myself.” “Why question? It’s enough just to be.” Of course, he’s also yelling, “It’s bad!” between statements of self-transformation, which is pretty convincing.

Still from Hallucination Generation (1966)

There’s a botched robbery, a murder, a weird pick-up, and the climax has fantastic funky architecture and giant sculpture. But really, the whole second half of the movie feels tacked on and too long. There are fun details, like, where did the dog on the bed come from? Or where will Bill’s wife’s accent be from in this scene?

Hallucination Generation has pacing problems, acting problems, and equipment problems (e.g., unintentional shaky cam). But it’s also a time capsule, a pre-hippie bad-beard-beatnik psychedelic freak-out-in-Ibiza time capsule. And for a certain kind of viewer, it is right up their dark, prostitute-filled, Barcelonan alley.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is the type of boring flick that could give illegal psychedelic drugs a bad name! Fun for the tolerant Acid Flick completist though.”–Steven Puchalski, “Shock Cinema”

CAPSULE: THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968)

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DIRECTED BY: Jack Cardiff

FEATURING: , Alain Delon, Roger Mutton, Marius Goring

PLOT: The newly married Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) absconds from her marriage bed and rides her motorcycle to meet her lover.

Still from Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

COMMENTS: Rated X and released in 1968, The Girl on a Motorcycle wants to be a lot of things: erotic, trippy, rebellious, and philosophical, as well as a sex kitten vehicle for pop star Marianne Faithfull. But most of all, it wants to be a motorcycle movie about free love. Complicating matters, it’s also about S&M.

Girl was adapted, shot, and directed by Jack Cardiff, the foremost British cinematographer of the day. Cardiff used inventive (at the time) methods to shoot said girl on said motorcycle: rear projection, bike strapped to a flatbed, and, for mid-to-long shots, using professional motorcyclist Bill Ivy as a stand in. None of these are very convincing though, which is unfortunate since great swaths of the movie focus on Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) on her bike while we hear her thoughts in voiceover.

The content of the voiceover doesn’t help the movie’s cause much either. Most of it is Rebecca pining ecstatically for her lover. Other parts seem like outright pandering to the youth, e.g., “Rebellion is the only thing that keeps you alive.”

This voiceover track plays while newlywed Rebecca rides through the French countryside clad only in a leather catsuit (hence the name of the American release, Naked Under Leather). Her motorcycle was a wedding gift from her lover, Daniel (Alain Delon). During this extended ride—which in reality would only take a couple of hours—she has plenty of time to ruminate about how square her husband is, how superior free love is, how marriage will soon be a thing of the past, and how great a lover Daniel is. Oh, and how much she loves her motorcycle. (Loves like Titane loves that Cadillac Coupe DeVille.)

Ostensibly, the ride is to take her to Daniel, a pretentious philosophy professor who treats her poorly and at times violently. But a lot happens along the way, including a psychedelic dream sequence, a psychedelic road trip montage, and a few psychedelic sex scenes.

During one stop along the road to writhe in grass, Rebecca is passed and leered at by a military convoy, which leads her to rant about how joining the military proves you hate your own freedom and likely have never had sex and probably can’t. This is a weird and jarring separation from the theme of the movie and sticks out as another attempt to pander to the youth of the day.

Other scenes also stand out as odd. In the very beginning there is a dream sequence in which Rebecca and Daniel are psychedelically going at it but are abruptly interrupted by clown faces. The husband plays cello in the center ring of a circus while Rebecca stands balanced on a moving motorcycle and Daniel, the ringleader, whips pieces of her one-piece leather suit off of her.

Another odd scene shows Rebecca contemplating a gray, straight-lined gas station. She’s complaining about it as a symbol of a society with no freedom (we get it already!) when an attendant in a bright orange jumpsuit comes out. At the sight of him, she freaks out—mouth open, trembling—and drives away.

Let’s not forget the post-coital motocross highlight reel.

Sadomasochism is never overtly mentioned, but Rebecca is choked and whipped and flogged with roses. Late in the movie, she realizes what she has with Daniel is not free love. She is attached to him and loves the control he exerts over her.

After sitting in a German café weighing her husband—a kind man who loves her but is boring—against Daniel—a cold man who doesn’t love her but is exciting—she chooses Daniel again. Riding off in an ecstatic state (facilitated by the vibrations of her motorcycle), the inevitable happens—inevitable in any ‘60s film about free love and motorcycles: a fiery crash. Less predictable is the helicopter pullback from the crash, at least a year before Easy Rider.

What makes this film truly unique is its audacity in continuously showing Faithfull over-emoting on a bike she isn’t riding. Nevertheless, as a vehicle to turn her into a sex symbol, it worked. Full-frontal nudity will do that.

Girl isn’t a good movie, but for viewers who appreciate kitschy ‘60s exploitation, it’s not a bad way to spend 91 minutes.

In 2023, Kino upgraded their Girl on a Motorcycle DVD to Blu-ray for the first time. It ports over Cardiff’s original commentary track from the DVD and adds an alternate commentary from film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who analyzes the film through a feminist lens.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A countercultural curio of almost painterly beauty…”–Joseph Jon Lanthier and Budd Wilkins, Slant (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: MEMENTO MORI (1999)

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DIRECTED BY: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong

FEATURING: Kim Gyu-ri, Park Ye-jin, Lee Young-jin, Gong Hyo-jin, Baek Jong-hak

PLOT: When Min-ah finds a diary written by two of her classmates, she is pulled into their story of romance, rejection, and retribution.

Still from Memento Mori (1999)

COMMENTS: From the first frame of the Korean horror/romance Memento Mori, we are immersed in girls’ school culture: imagine Lord of the Flies in a Michaels arts and crafts store. The entire film is embedded in this world on the brink between childhood and adulthood, equal parts bedazzled pink hearts and vicious social game play.

Within this microcosm, there are best friend duos and trios. Best friends are affectionate and vulnerable with each other, and these connections mean everything. For one pair—Hyo-shin and Shi-eun—this relationship goes further, and they become a romantic couple.

Even today, South Koreais not LGBTQ-tolerant. In 1999, having a lesbian relationship in a movie—especially a movie aimed at young people—led to government censorship. And made Memento Mori an instant cult classic.

Hyo-shin and Shi-eun create an ornate diary together, evidently something taken from real-life girl school culture. It is highly decorated, has hidden pockets, and possibly has the ability to cause hallucinations, or at the very least flashbacks. But mostly, the diary is full of confessions of their love for one another.

Min-ah, another student, finds the diary, and from that moment on, it will not let her leave it behind. She becomes possessed with it, if not by it, and the diary becomes the central storytelling device.

All does not go smoothly in Hyo-shin and Shi-eun’s relationship, not least because of their rejection by their peers, and Hyo-shin takes the breakup hard. She also might be pregnant by one of the teachers. Unable to bear one iniquity or the other, or both, she kills herself. Hyo-shin then comes back to haunt the school. Her supernatural view of her classmates is portrayed through a washed-out and yellowed film technique might have called “Ghost-O-Vision.”

Ghost Hyo-shin kills a couple people who were mean to her. Terror ensues. Mayhem follows. The cinematography and editing go a little nuts toward the end, and there are a few delightfully surreal moments. But all of this excitement is squashed into the last third of the movie.

Memento Mori has plenty of qualities besides government censorship that explain why it’s a Korean cult classic. It goes to great lengths to accurately portray a realistic courtship between teenage girls, and it doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that happen in adolescence (e.g., bullying and being groomed by a trusted adult). It also shows a teenage girl’s unhinged vengeance.

This is a fair-to-middling girls’ school horror movie with a few neat film tricks, a story told out of sequence, and a couple hallucinatory scenes. Beyond that, it is an early (especially in Korean cinema) and sensitive portrayal of a queer adolescent relationship, and for that it is important.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“On a horror/cult movie level, it combines the hallucinatory horro[r]s of Repulsion with Lynch-ian flourishes that reside in a Pandora’s Box where the past and the present are as one.”–Steve Langton, The Spinning Image (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Micah, who said he was “oddly fond of [this] very very flawed movie” that is ” similar to Donnie Darko in feel and content…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

GUEST REVIEW: MAN FACING SOUTHEAST (1986)

Guest review by Amy Vaughn

Hombre mirando al sudeste

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DIRECTED BY: Eliseo Subiela

FEATURING: Lorenzo Quinteros, Hugo Soto, Inés Vernengo

PLOT: A man appears in a mental hospital claiming to be an alien.

Still from Man Facing Southeast (1986)

COMMENTS: Man Facing Southeast is a meditation on the human condition. Like Mindwalk or  Waking Life, it’s best to know what you’re getting into, and that there will be monologuing and pithy one-liners like, “I am your hallucination.”

It is plenty deep, and it was appreciated when it came out in 1986, garnering much praise and many awards in its home country of Argentina. For good reason: it’s well made on a slim budget ($600,000 USD), the acting is tight, the script leaves you with take-home ideas, and at the time the story hadn’t been done to death.

But now, everything seems predictable, from the worn facades of the sanitarium, to the jaded psychiatrist, to the mysterious (possibly alien) patient who may or may not save the doctor from himself. Even the patient/alien becoming ever more Christlike, gaining an entourage of sedated mental patients, and using psychokinesis to help a hungry mother feed her children—it’s all kind of ho-hum.

Rantés, the mental patient/alien played expertly by Hugo Soto, tells the psychiatrist that, because he is an alien hologram, he is unable to feel human emotions. He says he was sent/projected to Earth to determine what is wrong with humans, why we are so awful to one another.

Throughout the film, the psychiatrist vacillates about believing Rantés. He labels him delusional but does not put him on anti-psychotics. He broods about him and goes home to play the saxophone. A lot. There is a lot of saxophone in this movie.

An hour in, another possible alien enters the story. Her name is Beatriz Dick (apparently named in honor to Philip K.). She is meekly mannered and conservatively dressed. Rantés tells the psychiatrist she is a rogue alien, seduced by “sunsets and certain odors” to want to stay on Earth. The psychiatrist, predictably, falls in love with her. There are two odd things about Beatriz: she often exchanges her shoes for shoes that are exactly the same, which she carries with her in a shopping bag; and her saliva is blue, which we see once.

That’s it. That’s all the movie gives us to determine whether or not they are aliens: Rantés has psychokinetic powers and Beatriz has blue saliva.

The weirdest thing about this movie is that Rantés cannot feel, yet helps people anyway. As things progress—mostly as he is exposed to music—Rantés begins to smile and dance and experience joy, which becomes his undoing.

As much as Man Facing Southeast downplays its science fiction aspects, it spoon-feeds us its philosophy. But that’s what these movies do. Meant to be a timeless study of humankind’s inhumanity to itself and what it means to be human, decades of intervening movies on similar themes (both sci-fi and phi) have overshadowed it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…it shows huge promise — its mystery, its patient pace and its eerie resonance sometimes transcend its didactics.”–Rita Kempley, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

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