WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/15/2013

Our weekly 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 – (Lawrence, KS, Saturday, Feb. 16):

Destination: Planet Negro! (2013): Set in the 1930s, this strange alternate history satire describes what happens when George Washington Carver (!) builds a rocket ship and a robot who speaks like a character from “Amos and Andy,” and Negroes set out to colonize Mars. This is the film’s debut screening. If you scan the credits carefully you will discover the name of 366 Weird Movies contributor Robert Hubbard (L. Rob) as script supervisor, so if there are any continuity errors, you’ll know they’re intentional. Destination: Planet Negro at Liberty Hall.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

The Last Days of Coney Island (in development): Underground cult animator Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Coonskin) hasn’t made a feature film in twenty years, but he has released some shorts in that time span. He’s now working on a short set in Coney Island in the tumultuous 1960s, featuring an alcoholic cop and the lover he sent up the river, mixing Bashki’s grotesque animation in his 70s style with psychedelic live action footage. It’s subtitled “Part I,” so presumably it’s part of an intended series. Fans have already pledged $68,000 and he’s trying to raise about $100K more (!) for the seven minute short, with two weeks to go. The Last Days of Coney Island at Kickstarter.

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NEW ON DVD:

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (2012): 12 animators adapt and illustrate late Monty Python alumnus Graham Chapman’s 1980 fictionalized autobiography. A must for Pythonites. Buy A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.

Silent Hill: Revelation (2012): Read our capsule review. Whereas the Certified Weird original was confusing but original, this belated sequel is confusing and clichéd, worth watching only for the monster designs. Buy Silent Hill: Revelation.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Silent Hill: Revelation (2012): See description in DVD above. This item is a DVD/Blu-ray/Digital/Ultraviolet combo pack. Buy Silent Hill: Revelation.

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.

LOST AND FOUND: THE HARRY LANGDON COLLECTION

This article was originally published in a slightly different form at Raging Bull Movie Reviews.

 said he “only felt threatened by .” Samuel Becket wanted Langdon to act in his experimental film, but had to use Buster Keaton after Langdon’s early death. James Agee, Kevin Brownlow, Walter Kerr, Robert Youngson, Harold Lloyd and Mack Sennett were among those who sang high praises for Langdon’s art.

Langdon’s characterization expressed the most pronounced silence of the era’s clowns. This is why, despite his fans’ claims (seen on the documentary included on “Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection”), sound proved completely disastrous for him. Langdon’s persona was only suited to the abstract plane that silent cinema offered.

It is easy to see why he appealed so readily to the Surrealists. His persona is dreamlike, subconscious, otherworldly. Langdon’s man-child seems an elfin id. Silence and make-up were existential turpentine for Langdon, removing him, layer-by-layer, from the world as we know it.

Of course, for many, turpentine is unbearable, and Langdon haters will pull out their hair, waiting for him to do something. Even his blink was lethargic. , Langdon’s one-time director and permanent detractor once bitched, “It takes him an hour to get started.” Langdon was the master of anti-reaction and he did more with less than anyone, Keaton included. That’s the magic of the Langdon persona. With the barest minimum, he was able to etch a c

haracterization so vivid, it is second only to Chaplin in identifiability. Langdon’s unique personality accelerated his stardom.

The cause of Langdon’s equally quick fall, after a mere three years, is debated. Certainly, that same personality, combined with his admirable risk-taking, ego, and poor business skills, was partially responsible. But, after he left Sennett for the fascistic First National, both studios released a plethora of his films; the result was an onslaught of Langdon product in 1927, and his considerable fan base went into massive overdose.

Still from All Night Long (1924)
“All Night Long” (1924)

This stands in direct contrast to Capra’s self-serving claim that he alone fashioned Langdon’s screen persona. Capra further claimed that the actor had no true understanding of his own persona and when Langdon ventured into edgier territory, over Capra’s populist-minded objections, the star simply imploded. With sound inevitably around the corner, combined with Langdon’s advanced age in comparison to younger rivals, his desire for rapid experimentation is understandable. The risks he took produced an artistic triumph, but a commercial disaster.

Steve Martin tried something similar with a brief series of films that pushed his own boundaries. When the payoff proved commercially lackluster, Martin predictably receded back into the safety of the mainstream. Langdon received no chance for reprieve with First National.

He alone was blamed for the disappointing box office results of Three’s a Crowd (1927) and The Chaser (1928). His third self-directed feature for the studio, Heart Trouble (1928), was never released and reportedly was destroyed. By most accounts, it would have proven to be his commercial rebound effort. Lamentably, the film seems to be forever lost.

Harry Langdon was and remains an idiosyncratic, enigmatic, minimalist “anti-clown.” For many a novice, he appears a sort of inexplicably surreal Continue reading LOST AND FOUND: THE HARRY LANGDON COLLECTION

136. VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

Valerie a Týden Divu

“…one of those haunting, dream-like films that once seen is difficult to forget.”–Tanya Krzywinska

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jaroslava Schallerova, Petr Kopriva, Helena Anyzova, Jiri Prymek, 

PLOT: Young Valerie lives in a farmhouse on the edge of a small town with her Granny. She flirts with “Eagle,” a boy about her age who is either a neighbor or her brother, and they both fear a pale-faced bogeyman they call “the Weasel.” On the day she becomes a woman (symbolized by blood drops appearing on a daisy), Valerie’s life suddenly becomes a strange dream involving family betrayals, lusty priests, constantly shifting identities, and a vampire infestation.

Still from Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

BACKGROUND:

  • Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Vítězslav Nezval, which was written in 1935 but not published until 1945. Nezval was a co-founder of the Czech Surrealist group (one of the first Surrealist groups organized outside of France).
  • This is considered one of the last works in what was known as the , although that term more commonly refers to Czech movies made or released just before or during the Prague spring of 1968. In contrast to most of the New Wave canon, Valerie was released after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the installation of a hardline government who redoubled censorship efforts. Despite the fact that it’s a Surrealist work, equally offensive to the official aesthetic of Socialist Realism as a banned New Wave movie like 1967’s Daisies, Valerie appears to have evoked little objection from the censors. This may be because the film’s heavily anticlerical tone meshed with the Communist Party’s official stance on the Church.
  • A Philadelphia “freak folk” supergroup dubbed “The Valerie Project” wrote an alternate soundtrack to the film, and toured across the U.S. from 2006-2008 performing the score while the film screened as a silent movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Drops of blood on white daisy petals.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is often, and accurately, described as a Freudian version of Alice in Wonderland, with the confusion of new hormones surging through the young heroine’s body coloring her encounters with a dark and fearful tinge: Valerie faces vampires and rapist priests instead of Alice’s White Rabbits and Cheshire Cats. The plot makes no literal sense, because characters keep changing into different characters, the way they might in a dream; but overall Valerie’s welter of wonders hangs together as a mosaic of a girl’s anxieties about impending adulthood and the enticing but scary world of sex.

Clip from Peter Hames Criterion Collection commentary Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

COMMENTS: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders opens with images of pretty young Valerie drinking from a waterspout, petting a dove, sniffing Continue reading 136. VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

CAPSULE: WEIRDSVILLE (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Allan Moyle

FEATURING: , Wes Bentley, Greg Bryk, Maggie Castle, Taryn Manning, Jordan Prentice

PLOT: Two junkies, who are planning a heist to pay off a mobster, clash with Satanists when they interrupt a ritual while burying an overdosed friend.

Still from Weirdsville (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite sucking up to us by putting “weird” right there in the title, Weirdsville isn’t strange enough to belong on a list of the weirdest movies of all time. There are a few very mild drug trip sequences, but the rest of the film never rises above the level of aggressively quirky.

COMMENTS: A stoned caper comedy starring two (relatively) lovable polydrug abusers, Weirdsville wants to be the second coming of The Big Lebowski. And while it’s great for a screenwriter to set his sights high, Weirdsville ultimately tries too hard, forcing the quirk; it’s still a fun ride, but it overplays its bid for classic status. Speedman (playing Dexter, the “quiet, introspective one”) and Bentley (as Royce, “the ideas man”—i.e. the village idiot) share a believable buddy chemistry, based on in-jokes and stories they’ve been repeating to each other in the endless lazy, hazy days since high school. No matter how much Royce annoys the more cerebral Dexter, he’s devoted to his drug-dazed pal, despite the fact that Royce’s blunders keep complicating the plot and frustrating his own plans to kick junk. (Despite being prominently billed, Taryn Manning’s part-time hooker Mattie is little more than a third wheel and a plot point).

The movie builds well for the first two acts. The twin storylines of drug debt owed to vicious mobster Omar and an accidental overdose that leads to an encounter with preppy Satanists entwine to create a desperate situation for our two unlikely heroes. This in turn leads to an ill-advised burglary, complicated when its interrupted by a teenage housesitter and by the constant pursuit of the duo by angry drug dealers and Satanists. So far, so good; Weirdsville is building a crazy tension, relieving it with bouts of goofy hipster dialogue and indie rock interludes, then ramping it up again.

But Weirdsville steps over the line from pleasantly quirky to desperate to be different with the introduction of a new character, a dwarf security guard. The judicious use of dwarfs is one of the most difficult calls for a director to make. On the one hand there’s a long and distinguished tradition of using dwarfs in comedy, dating all the way back to the days of medieval jesters. But putting a “little person” in an unexpected role—like a security guard—is by now almost a cliché, and the gambit risks looking gimmicky and exploitative. Here, the dwarf is not only a mall cop, but also a medieval re-enactor with a gang of chainmailed cronies who are all also of sub-average stature; for me, when these guys show up swinging mini-morningstars, the movie, which had been toying with greatness, jumps the quirky shark. It’s still fun right up to the end, but any shot at greatness has been botched. The most memorable bits go to the well-heeled, straight-edge Satanists, who end up whining “Lucifer is supposed to be helping us, not plaguing us with midgets and junkies!” That line pretty much sums up the movie; if Satanists plagued by midgets and junkies sounds like your kind of scene, you’ll probably enjoy Weirdsville.

Director Allan Moyle is best known for Pump Up the Volume (1990), a cult hit among 90s teens starring Christian Slater as a high school pirate radio operator.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Some of it is funny-weird, but too much is pointlessly weird.”–Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Billy,” who argued that this “movie has zombies, drugs and midgets in it. Can’t get much weirder than that.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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