BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH (2002)

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance, Catherine Coulson

PLOT: A series of six short films spanning director David Lynch’s career from the

Still from The Short Films of David Lynch

1960s through the 1990s.  We track Lynch from his early years as a highly experimental student to a macabre master of the darkly surreal with these films that show a man who needed to grow and challenge himself as a creative force.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: As collections of short films go, this is one of the most mercurial and hard-to-peg I’ve ever seen.  There’s really no denying the odd nature of Lynch’s efforts.  The first film alone, a minute-long animated loop of six hideous plaster sculptures throwing up,  stands as a timeless testament to Lynch’s nightmarish creative vision.  And the gut-wrenching scope of his silent feature, entitled “The Grandmother”, is a window into the mind of a radically different artist than the one Lynch has become.  But, honestly, the quality and sheer atmosphere present in most of Lynch’s features feels absent here, and there’s not enough memorable material to consider this a momentous release.

COMMENTS:  Much like a renowned painter or an extremely colorful luchador, a filmmaker’s work becomes more lionized as his fame grows, even his mistakes.  David Lynch is a very famous filmmaker, so it’s only appropriate that this assortment of short subjects should come out to cement his status as an iconic artist and a true visionary in the world of the nightmarish and the utterly bizarre.  But those die-hard fans of the man who seek a diamond in the rough here, a Pollack behind the frame of this small cache of movies, will likely find themselves disappointed, or at the very least conflicted.

If short films represent the transformation of a filmmaker as as he/she goes from one project to another, this gathering of shorts spanning Lynch’s career is a shadowy, rocky road.  Half of these films don’t desire to be much more than insubstantial experiments, hokey dumping grounds for ideas that are really just there to try something out.  They merely exist in a tangible form for the consumer because of the marketable name of Lynch, not because they actually have some sort of deliciously demented merit and are worth seeing for any length of time.  And while the three that are good are indeed very good, it’s easy to put this one on the borderline with the vibes I get from the other three.

Let’s break it down by feature, shall we?

“Six Figures getting Sick (Six Times)” – A minute long film loop featuring a set of six Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH (2002)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, we’re going to partially plug the gaping hole in our David Lynch coverage with two new reviews: Eric gives us his take on The Short Films of David Lynch, while 366 tackles Lynch’s latest, Inland Empire. Through in coverage of the little experimental film with the big name, Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition, and Alfred‘s take on 2009’s “event” movie Avatar, and you have yourself a week!

For the weirdest search term used to locate the site last week, we’ll go with “beethoven seventh vampire black,” simply because it suggests to us that Beethoven had six previous vampires, all of whom were white.

Here’s the updated reader-nominated review queue: Visitor Q (substituted for the currently unavailable in the US Survive Style 5+); The Short Films of David Lynch (next week); Santa Sangre; Inland Empire (next week); Monday (assuming I can find an English language version); The Abominable Dr. Phibes; Barton Fink; What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams); Meatball Machine; Xtro; Basket Case; Suicide Club; O Lucky Man!; Trash Humpers (when/if released); Gozu; Tales of Ordinary Madness; The Wayward Cloud; Kwaidan; Six-String Samurai; Andy Warhol’s Trash; Altered States; Memento; Nightmare Before Christmas/Vincent/Frankenweenie; The Science of Sleep; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (jumping in line to come out next week!); Gothic; The Attic Expeditions; After Last Season; Getting Any?; Performance; Being John Malkovich; The Apple; Southland Tales; Arizona Dream; Spider (2002); Songs From The Second Floor; Singapore Sling; Alice [Neco z Alenky]; Necromania (1971, Ed Wood); Hour of the Wolf; MirrorMask; Possession; Suspiria; Mary and Max; Wild Zero; 4; Nothing (2003); The Peanut Butter Solution; Ninja Scroll; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; Danger: Diabolik; Faust; Sublime; Battle Royale; Pink Floyd: The Wall;Escanaba In Da Moonlight; Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter; Zardoz; The Films of Suzan Pitt; Toto the Hero [Toto le Héros]; Paprika; The Holy Mountain; Brazil; The Casserole Masters; Dark Crystal; Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets; The Nines; and 964 Pinocchio.

WEIRD LOVE

Hearts and flowers may not be the top things on the surrealist mind, but if you’re looking for some alternative Valentine’s Day gifts or rentals for that special weird someone, the following suggestions offer up at least a little bit of romantic sentiment:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): With Charlie Kaufamn scripting don’t expect a happy ending, but there is a surprisingly sincere romanticism in Jim Carrey’s desperate quest to save his memories of ex-lover Kate Winslett from the memory-erasure procedure he impulsively decided to undertake.

I'm a Cyborg But That's OKI’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006):  A love story set in a mental asylum.  Moving from vengeance to love, Chan-Wook Park shows an unexpected soft side in this hallucinogenic tale of love between a kleptomaniac and a woman who believes she is a robot.

Absurdistan (2008):  A young couple’s blooming passion is threatened when the women of their tiny village go on a sex strike against the lazy men.  The amorous young beau must find a way to restore the parched hamlet’s water supply if he wants any chance of getting some.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006):  Love blooms in the unlikeliest places: here, among dead souls in an afterlife reserved for suicides.

Annie Hall (1977): Not the weirdest, or the happiest, choice, but Woody Allen’s most popular movie is archly funny and breaks the fourth wall to an often absurd effect.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/12/2010

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.

SCREENINGS (NEW YORK CITY):

To Die for Tano [Tano da Morire] (1997): The tagline tells you everything you need to know: it’s an Italian “Mafia ‘Gangsta Rap’ Musical.”  Unlikely as it seems, the clip below indicates that description’s accurate.  The story is reportedly based on true events in that occurred in Palermo. It’s playing Cinema Village in NYC this week before being independently released on DVD in March.  To Die for Tano official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Bronson (2008): Story about a violent British bank robber who is locked up in solitary confinement for 30 years; in prison, he transforms himself into the mythical persona “Charles Bronson.” Loosely based on the true story of one of Britain’s most violent criminals, more than one critic has compared it to A Clockwork Orange (if for no other reason, then for its mixture of ultraviolence and classical music). We’ve been eagerly awaiting this Region 1 DVD release. Buy Bronson .

A Serious Man (2009):  Read our capsule review.   This retelling of the Book of Job as a postmodern absurdist comedy starring a putzy suburban Jewish professor was one of the weirder movies of 2009, though we hesitated to put it on the List until we’d seen it on video.  Now, it looks like the time may have come to make a decision.  Buy A Serious Man

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Bronson (2008): See review in DVD above. Buy Bronson [Blu-ray].

A Serious Man (2009): See review in DVD above. Buy A Serious Man [Blu-ray].

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.

GUEST REVIEW: THE SWIMMER (1968)

The Swimmer has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Comments on this post have been closed. Please read the official Certified Weird entry for The Swimmer and post any future comments about the film there.

When Burt Lancaster began his career as an actor, it appeared this was going to be a career in the mold of Errol Flynn or Randolph Scott. In films like The Flame and the ArrowJim Thorpe-All American, The Crimson Pirate, Vera Cruz, Ten Tall Men, From Here to Eternity, The Kentuckian, Trapeze, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and Run Silent, Run Deep, Lancaster seemed to personify and embody the American ideal hero.

However, behind those swell guy teeth and that brandished chest was a shrewd actor, who, as he seasoned, made increasingly interesting choices.  In the second half of his career, Lancaster often played off that earlier, heroic persona with admirable risk taking.  If  Elmer Gantry and Seven Days in May might be aptly described as loudly presenting the dirty underbelly of Americana, then The Swimmer intimately one-ups them.

In 1968 director Frank Perry with writer/wife Eleanor Perry adapted John Cheever’s acclaimed allegorical New Yorker short story, The Swimmer, and brilliantly cast the iconic Burt Lancaster as the pathetic hero.  The Perrys had previously teamed for the equally disturbing David and Lisa (1962) and made quite a splash on the art film circuit.  Surprisingly, that film even garnered a couple of Academy Award nominations, which enabled the team to make The Swimmer.

Still from The Swimmer (1968)The Swimmer begins on an absurdly bright, sunny day.  Ned (Lancaster), the epitome of a tanned, virile, soulless suburbia, decides he is going to enthusiastically embark on a strange, epic, connect-the-dot journey by “swimming” home through the neighborhood swimming pools. He takes along a nubile girl (Janet Langard), but at each pool he encounters facets of his failed life and the crack in his facade slowly begins to expand until the inevitable, tragic conclusion.  The physical reality of The Swimmer (a day in Ned’s life) is mere allegory and the allegorical symbolism of Ned’s entire life which is, in fact, the physical realm into which we are drawn.

Lancaster, the sex symbol, is perfection as he superficially pats his neighbors on the back, encounters a discarded mistress, is confronted by his numerous lies, his betrayals, his failure as a husband, father, friend and neighbor.  By the time he reaches his own home, his paradigm has altered from cartoon sunshine and forced, surface smiles to despairing rain.  When he reaches his porch, he is vulnerable to all the elements which mercilessly come down upon him in all forms, including nature itself.  Ned has ultimately realized his hollow state.

Impressively, The Swimmer has a dreamlike, short story, episodic pacing, not at all what is expected in the medium of film, and this adds to its uniqueness.  The Swimmer, fragile indeed in its quite odd structure, is a case where casting really counted.  It would not have worked without its star.  Unfortunately, The Swimmer is out of print and even when it was briefly available, Columbia disrespectfully released it an a cheapo presentation.  (NOTE 2/12/10: Astute reader MCD tipped us off to the fact that The Swimmer is available for download from Amazon for $9.99). Still, it’s a rarity in being a film that actually lives up to and surpasses its reputation.

The Perrys went onto make Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife before divorcing.  Separately, the two never equaled the artistic level they achieved together.  Lancaster continued to carefully cultivate his screen persona in films like 1900, Moses the Lawgiver, Atlantic City, Local Hero, Rocket Gibraltar and Field of Dreams.

LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD MAN (1995)

NOTE: Dead Man 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 Dead Man‘s Certified Weird entry to comment on this film.

DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch

FEATURING: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Robert Mitchum, Crispin Glover, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Mili Avatal, Gabriel Byrne

PLOT:  Mild-mannered accountant Bill Blake heads west, becomes a wanted man after he

Still from Dead Man (1995)

shoots a man in self defense, and, wounded, flees to the wilderness where he’s befriended by an Indian named Nobody who believes he is the poet William Blake.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEDead Man is a lyrical and hypnotic film, and one that comes about as achingly close to making the List on the first pass as is possible.  The quality of the movie is no obstacle to its making the List, but the weirdness, while there, is subtle and must be teased out by the viewer.  There is a mystical and dreamlike tinge to Blake’s journey into death, but the strangeness is almost entirely tonal; Jarmusch’s artiness aside, it’s possible to view the movie as a rather straightforward, if quirky, indie Western.

COMMENTSDead Man begins on a locomotive as a naif accountant is traveling from Cleveland to a the western town of Machine to begin a new life.  We see him on the train playing solitaire or reading a booklet on beekeeping.  He looks up to survey at his fellow passengers, who meet his glance with indifference.  The train’s whistle blows as the scene fades to black, accompanied by twanging chords from Neil Young’s guitar (sounding like abstract, electrified snippets stolen from a Morricone score).  The scene repeats and fades back in again and again, each time with the traveler glancing around the compartment to find his companions slowly changing: their dress becomes more rustic, their hair longer and more unkempt; female passengers become less frequent, firearms more common; the indifference in their eyes turns into quiet hostility.

Dead Man tells the story of an innocent who becomes a refugee after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s a standard story, but the way Jarmusch tells can be strange indeed.  This opening scene sets the rhythm for the movie: it proceeds in a series of slow pulses punctuated by fadeouts and anguished bursts from Young’s guitar, and it slowly shifts locale from the civilized to the wild.  The continual fading out and Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD MAN (1995)

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