FRINGE CINEMA: “GOD IS AN UNDERACHIEVER”: EVOKING GUERNICA

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is an irregularly published column covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.  The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

DJ Monkey is an L.A. band, headed by Joey Alkes and Mick McMains, on the Squid Music label.  The band’s first album from 2004 was “Another Evolution” which produced the web hit music video/short film “U-Boat” and garnered a plethora of excellent reviews.

With DJ Monkey’s second album, “3rd World War,” Joey Alkes turned to Dennis Schraub to create a music video/short film for the band’s song “God is an Underachiever.”  Schraub and Alkes created two edits of the short film and choosing between them would be as unwelcome a task as choosing between Coltrane’s two edits of “Ascension”.  The comparison is apt.  “God is an Underachiever” is as difficult, moving and inspiring in it’s right as the much written about late Coltrane.
Schraub and Alkes refer to the film as being inspired by “Guernica”.  The second edit of the film was the one officially released, as the first was deemed too disturbing.  It is this second edit that is available on the Squid Music website and youtube.

God Is an Underachiever (second edit).  WARNING: Contains strong images of man’s inhumanity to man.

“Warning: This video was specifically made to create controversy! Not controversy for controversy sake, nor for promotional shock value, but as a plea for all of us to take responsibility, as representatives of our maker, for the mess we’ve all made of this planet! GOD IS AN UNDERACHIEVER is meant to spark dialogue and not point a finger!! Pay close attention to the line in the 1st chorus that says, “but I am still a believer.”–Squid Music

With the short film, “God is an Underachiever” appropriately becomes a 21st century multi-media collage work, as the film is as vital and as potent as the song itself.

Excerpts from the lyrics and a warning accompanying the video are poignant clues to the nature of the film.

“God is an underachiever, I guess he has to be.  God is an underachiever, but I’m still a believer.” 

“Seems like we no longer can hear very well… the mutation of the spirit.  Joan of Arc was burned at the stake… and some people thought Darwin a fool… God took him to a better place where the water had a better taste… when I die, it should be a special day….”

In his third symphony, “Kaddish” (written as an angry response to the murder of friend Continue reading FRINGE CINEMA: “GOD IS AN UNDERACHIEVER”: EVOKING GUERNICA

CAPSULE: ELEVATOR MOVIE (2004)

NOTE: Elevator Movie has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Commenting is closed on this review, which is left here for archival purposes. Please visit Elevator Movie‘s Certified Weird entry to comment on this film.

DIRECTED BY:  Zeb Haradon

FEATURING:  Zeb Haradon, Robin Ballard

PLOT:  A socially maladjusted college student and a reformed slut turned Jesus freak are elevator_movie

trapped in an elevator together–impossibly, for weeks on end.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Quite possibly, Elevator Movie will make the overall list of 366 movies; I reserve the right to revisit it in the future.  By mixing Sartre’s “No Exit” with an ultra-minimalist riff on Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, garnished with large dollops of sexual perversity, writer/director/star Zeb Haradon has created one of the weirder underground movies of recent years.  Unfortunately, in a demanding two character piece that requires top-notch, nuanced dramatic performances to succeed, Haradon’s acting talent isn’t up to the level of his imagination and screenwriting ability.  The resulting film looks like an “A-” film school final project: it tantalizingly promises more than it’s capable of delivering. 

COMMENTS:  Zeb Haradon is definitely a writer to keep an eye on.  The script of Elevator Movie, though not perfect (it misses a few precious opportunities to ratchet the tension and drama up to stratospheric levels), is far and away the movie’s greatest asset.  Haradon takes a very threadbare set of motifs (most notably, infantile Freudian sexuality) and pushes them as far as he can.  This two-character, one setting drama could have been intolerably boring for the first few reels as it builds to its crashingly surreal climax, but Haradon manages to keep us interested by slowly revealing new facets of the characters and keeping up a reasonable tension as Jim and Lana struggle to reconcile their need for intimacy with their complete incompatibility and diametrically opposed agendas.  This could have been a masterpiece, had the actors been able to carry off the monumental task the script sets up for them.  Robin Ballard is passable in the easier role of Lana, but Haradon is almost unforgivably subdued as Jim.  Jim is passive, so some of the wimpiness of the characterization is intentional, but when he needs to project a menacing, seething passion subdued under a calm exterior, he can’t pull it off.  Therefore, at times the inherent dramatic conflict tails off into a bland “OK, OK”, just as Jim’s voice does when Lana once again rejects his advances. 

The images in Elevator Movie, largely scatological and sexual but also involving some brief animal cruelty, are not for the meek.  That said, some of these shocking images, and the surprising but perfect ending, can resonate a horrid fascination for a long time afterwards.  That’s what makes Elevator Movie come so achingly near to being a great weird movie.  Even with qualifications, it’s definitely worth a look for the Eraserhead set.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As a champion of ‘Eraserhead’, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’, ‘Naked Lunch’, and ‘Back Against the Wall’, all fine films that downright bask in their toxicity to the homogenized masses, I found Haradon’s film to be unique and fascinating and a most worthy addition to the midnight movie circuit. Just don’t ask me to spend any longer in Haradon’s mind than I have to in any one sitting. It’s very likely I’d never make it out!”–Daniel Wible, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ANNIE HALL (1977)

Must See

DIRECTED BY:  Woody Allen

FEATURING: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

PLOT:  Neurotic NYC comedian Alvy (Allen) falls in love with would-be cabaret singer

Annie Hall still

Annie Hall (Keaton), but his inability to relax and enjoy life ultimately dooms their relationship.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTAnnie Hall isn’t weird, at all.  Some people, however, believe it’s weird, and have even tagged the film as “Surrealism” on IMDB.  I doubt Luis Buñuel would agree.  What people misperceive as weird in Annie Hall are the numerous “breaking the fourth wall” stylistic techniques: speaking directly to the camera, having the adult Alvy visit his own flashbacks and comment on the action, including subtitles explaining what Alvy and Annie are really thinking as they flirt at their first meeting, and including an animated non sequitur explaining that Alvy most identified with the Wicked Queen in Disney’s Snow White.  These techniques, however, are employed in the service of the most conventional plot Allen had conceived up to that time: a true-to-life, impeccably characterized tale of the rise and fall of a romance.  The directorial tools he uses to tell his tale may be unconventional and self-conscious, but they sure ain’t weird.

COMMENTS: Notwithstanding the fact that it’s clearly lodged in the comedy genre, Annie Hall was Woody Allen’s first “serious” movie.  As a dual character study of hapless Alvy and flighty but lively Annie, it shows more depth and ambition than Allen’s previous wacky comedies that had no higher aspirations than too make audiences laugh (and to depict Allen as someone so smart that the audience feels flattered to get his references to Kierkegaard or whomever).  Annie Hall is shamelessly autobiographical (Allen and Keaton really were ex-lovers), and doesn’t try to hide it.  Fortunately, the film’s laden with memorable gags that will stick with you the rest of your life: Alvy’s schoolmates describing their adult interests (one is a methadone addict); Christopher Walken’s brilliant, brief turn as Annie’s unhinged brother; Jeff Goldblum’s even briefer single sentence bit as a trendy Hollywood meathead; and Allen’s classic one-liner regarding masturbation.  Most of the jokes tend towards the witty instead of the sidesplitting, eliciting an appreciative chuckle rather than a hearty belly laugh, but the witticisms come so fast and furious that they keep the audience on edge to see what Allen will come up with next.  They also effectively hide the underlying pain of the tale: Alvy is masochistically self-sabotaging and will never be happy in a relationship, and Annie is too full of life to let Alvy drag her down.  All in all, it’s not quite as relentlessly funny as the comedies that preceded it—BananasSleeper and Love and Death—but Allen’s crafty direction shows a mastery of this particular material that’s hard not to admire.  Allen let the critical praise heaped on him for this serious effort go to his head, turned to directing dramas at the peak of his comic success, and would be only sporadically funny again—a tragic loss for the world of comedy.

The original screenplay was titled “Anhedonia”, a psychological condition describing the inability to experience pleasure.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie gave a fresh confidence to Woody and a generation of solipsistic stand-up comics and it created a new genre, what we might call ‘the relationship picture’, that dispensed with formal narrative… the actual production was a chaotic affair and the picture only came into focus when its editor Ralph Rosenblum reduced the first cut of 140 minutes to a tight 95 in which the real and the surreal co-exist.”–Phillip French, The Observer(DVD)

CAPSULE: WATCHMEN (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Zach Snyder

FEATURING:, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffery Dean Morgan

PLOT: As the film opens in an alternate past in 1985, Richard Nixon has been re-elected to a fifth presidential term as the Cold War rages on, costumed superheroes are integrated into the national security defense framework, the nuclear Doomsday Clock has ticked forward to five minutes to midnight, and ex-Watchman “the Comedian” has just been thrown through the window of his Manhattan high rise.

watchmen

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not weird enough.  Watchmen is about as weird as big-budget major studio releases will ever be allowed to get, which weirdness explains why Watchmen was released as a Spring rather than a Summer blockbuster.  All the oddness, however, resides in the scenario.  Once the rules of this alternate universe are laid out—superheroes are real, they have tawdry affairs and abuse their power in bursts of sociopathic violence—Watchmen goes about its business with strict action-movie realism.

COMMENTS: The brilliant montage over the opening credits is a distillation of “all-too-human” vignettes in which we see four decades of masked avengers interact on a fictionalized American history stage, to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin’.” A costumed moth-man is dragged off to an insane asylum, and a glowing blue man in a three piece suit shakes hands with a grateful JFK, and Andy Warhol paints pop portraits of caped crusaders. The opening captures what is good about Watchmen: the setting is so original that the film relocates you into its own peculiar universe, which is what escapist entertainment is supposed to do.  And this one has just enough of a veneer of philosophical and political depth (“who watches the Watchmen?”) to give adults an intellectual justification to sit back and enjoy a comic book on film.  The flawed superheroes are briefly sketched, but their slightly twisted archetypes capture our interest.  The noirish Rorschach has an inflexible vigilante code of justice and ever-shifting inkblot mask; atomic superman Dr. Manhattan deploys his colossal blue CGI penis as unashamedly as he does his godlike power to create special effects, all the while suffering existential detachment as his contemplation of quantum realities alienates him from human ones. The script weights the amount of time devoted to each of the intertwining stories and backstories well, supplying a rich context without becoming confusing.  The film’s nihilism ultimately appears as little more than a tonal choice, much like a decision to film in black and white instead of Technicolor. The setting is absorbing enough to make most overlook the films more than occasional gaffes, from the excessively visceral, bone-cracking and blood-spurting violence meant to deglamorize the heroes to a laughably glamorous moonlight lovemaking scene in a hovering owlcraft.

From the standpoint of someone who hasn’t read the beloved comic book graphic novel from which the movie was adapted, it’s amusing to observe Internet kvetching over the movie’s supposedly superhuman power to drain the source work of it’s magic.  Even reviews by professional critics often devolve into column-length comparisons of the literate merits of the original to the relatively pedestrian film version.   But, coming to the film not expecting it to have the intellectual depth and characterization of a novel, I found the movie Watchmen to be an excellent advertisement for the source material.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘Watchmen’ is… going to be the ultimate tough sell: there will be those who view the film as a bewildering mishmash of underexplored themes, thinly sketched characters and noisy, excessive violence… And yet, there’s something admirable about the entire enterprise: its ungainly size, its unrelenting weirdness, its willful, challenging intensity.”–Tom Huddleston, Time Out London (contemporaneous)

GUEST REVIEW: COMING SOON (2008)

coming_soon
It takes an exceptional film to garner almost unanimous praise.  Now imagine a mockumentary that promotes bestiality receiving 100 percent critical accolades across the board!  Impossible? One would think so in lieu of the overwhelming amount of creatively conservative film criticism flooding the Internet.  Now factor in the amateur hack critics who equate the medium of film with video games and comic books, review them side by side, and judge a film’s intrinsic value solely by entertainment level alone and insist film is absolutely nothing more.  Well then such a mockumentary would have about as much chance as the well worn, so-called snowball in hell.  But, startlingly, Devilhead Film’s production of Sir Tijn Po’s Coming Soon has done just that.

What is amusing and vehemently predictable is the raging net debate over whether or not the film is documentary or mockumentary.  The answer to that is woefully obvious, especially by the film’s end.

Some have likened Sir Tijn Po to David Lynch.  That’s even more predictable and couldn’t be more off base, but then the same thing is frequently said of Guy Maddin as well and both filmmakers are far more interesting than the David Lynch of today.

A lot of phrases like “thought-provoking”, “redefining the boundaries of tolerance”, and “philosophically layered” have been bandied about in the promotion of this film.  E.F.A (Equality For All) is a supposed organization which promotes the acceptance of human/animal love (zoophilia rights) and has given it’s stamp of approval for the film.  The E.F.A website claims that throughout the ages mankind has trod upon the animal Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: COMING SOON (2008)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/10/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

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

Slim pickings again this week… it’s feast or famine in the weird world.

NEW ON DVD:

No Country for Old Men (3-Disc Collector’s Edition + Digital Copy) (2007):  This 2007 Academy Award winner for Best Picture doesn’t seem too weird, but the Coen Brothers (Barton Fink) are always of interest.  This Collector’s Edition includes a digital copy for downloading onto your computer’s hard drive or Ipod.  Buy from Amazon

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984):  This sequel to Kubrick’s classically weird 2001: A Space Odyssey is a straightforward sci-fi tale that values over-explanation instead of cosmic mystery, but it has its defenders and it’s something that fans of the original will be interested in checking out. Buy from Amazon.

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.

FRINGE CINEMA: JAKOB BILINSKI, BECOMING A MASTER OF HIS MEDIUM

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is an irregularly published column covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.  The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

Producer/Director/Writer Jakob Bilinski and his Cinephreak Pictures have released three of Bilinski’s films to date, including the recently completed Shade of Grey (2009) (being taken to film festivals now).

Bilinski is a director’s director who has an obvious love for and mastery of the medium.  On the surface, Mime (2005), Foxxy Madonna vs. the Black Death (2007) and the previously mentioned Shade would seem to have little in common, but watching the three works consecutively is a rewarding experience in the best of independent cinema, in ways mainstream Hollywood Cinema simply can’t be and, frankly, is too clueless to be.

Bilinski tackles different genres in each of the three films, but all are replete with the director’s personal touches, shared, underlining, flowing themes, and the beauty of an artistic and fiercely independent struggle that can only be achieved without a tinsel town, silver platter budget handed via a blank check.

A lot of independent filmmakers fall too easily into the trap of flexing worn on the sleeve, extrovert aesthetics, which scream “resume for a Hollywood deal,” in favor of originality.  Adhering to the tried and true formula trumps personality as much in indie fare as it does in the mainstream, but not so with Bilinski.  While his enthusiasm for the craft is apparent from the outset, he never allows a desire for display of that craft to blur individuality.

mimeMime is the first film Bilinski released and it’s a broad comedy which stems from the Theater of the Absurd.  It starts like an arch typical indie slasher film.  Couples are making out in a park at night and the grainy camera work here is a quirky homage to every cheesy B grade horror opening we’ve been subjected to.  The protagonist Mime Binky (Joe Grace) stalks his victim (Bryan McKinley) and mercilessly commits a horrendous

Continue reading FRINGE CINEMA: JAKOB BILINSKI, BECOMING A MASTER OF HIS MEDIUM

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