CAPSULE: LUST IN THE DUST (1985)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Lainie Kazan, Geoffrey Lewis,

PLOT: Gunfighters and dancehall girls converge on the dusty town of Chili Verde in search of buried treasure.

Still from Lust in the Dust (1985)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not really weird; it’s only the presence of cult icon Divine, matched up with eccentric director Bartel, that makes the movie a curiosity.

COMMENTS: There are a lot of people who love Lust in the Dust, and a lot of people who hate it, and frankly, I can’t completely understand either camp. This light Western spoof looks good considering its low budget, features decent performances by an oddball cast, and breezes by at a brisk 84 minutes. The comedy is often labored, but everyone seems to be working hard to entertain you: the flick earns the same sort of goodwill you’d give a guy at a party who delivers an involved joke that he’s obviously worked hard at memorizing, even though the punchline isn’t that funny. It is easier to understand the position of those who hate it than those who champion it: their reaction probably comes more from disappointment than anything. The idea of Paul Bartel, fresh off the “bad taste” cult hit Eating Raoul, directing Divine in a Western with Lust in the title suggests a raunchy and outrageous movie that never materializes. This movie never rises above the level of “naughty,” and its comic sensibilities are more silly than transgressive. On the other hand, it does have a combination of quirk and competence that keeps it watchable, and one scene that’s nearly a knockout—when Lainie Kazan sings “Let Me Take You South of My Border” using a fresh corpse as a choreography aid. Kazan, as a conniving madame with a bustline and a sneer that both look made for Russ Meyer movies, steals the camp spotlight away from Divine, who is too tame in her role as a wandering lady with a penchant for accidentally crushing men with her thighs. Tab Hunter’s steely-eyed Man With No Name clone (the studly “Abel Wood”—groan) is forgettable, though not as forgettable as Cesar Romero’s kindly Mexican friar. Geoffrey Lewis, on the other hand (he’s one of those “I’m sure I know him—but from where?” actors) impresses as a ruthless but well-educated scripture quoting bandit leading a ridiculously multi-ethnic gang of desperadoes. All in all, Lust is OK, a predictable spoof with some chuckles—a résumé which makes it hard to understand why some people adore it. I suppose the Lust-lovers must all be Divine fans, although this performance (which would have been forgotten if a woman had been cast) is almost conventional by the outré crossdresser’s standards. You do get to see Divine’s rump, however, which I hope was not a clinching factor for anyone.

The title “Lust in the Dust” comes from an unflattering nickname given to David O. Selznick’s steamy 1946 oater Duel in the Sun, which this movie partly parodies.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Bartel] seems convinced that simply combining Divine, Kazan and Hunter in the same room will create a fissionable comic mass. Before he shut the door, he should have also thrown in a screenplay.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Keith Stone. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Orton

FEATURING: David Soul, David Bedella, Leon Craig

PLOT: Jerry Springer hosts a typical episode of his show, in which the usual horrible people desperate for one moment of fame bare their sordid lives to the world. In the ensuing mayhem, Jerry is shot. He finds himself in Hell, where Satan makes him host a special edition of his show featuring Biblical characters—who are strangely similar to the guests in the first part—with the aim of being reconciled with Jesus and gaining admission to Heaven. So long as Jesus apologizes…

Still from Jerry Springer: The Opera (2005)

WHY IT’S WEIRD: It’s an opera about Jerry Springer! Tirades of incredibly foul abuse are sung with the utmost operatic seriousness. The KKK tap-dance. And then we find ourselves in Hell, where the holiest cultural icons in Christendom bicker like redneck trailer trash. “Les Mis” this ain’t!

COMMENTS: Technically, this isn’t a movie, it’s a stage musical. However, the version specially filmed by the BBC is available on DVD, so for our purposes, it’s a movie. And oh boy, is it weird! Most people can’t imagine David Soul in any context other than a certain long-past cop show. Well, if you’re one of them, his performance here may surprise you. As the only non-singing character, he makes a very convincing Jerry Springer, whether he’s ignoring the demands of his conscience (in the shape of an “Inner Valkyrie”), recounting the true story of the real Springer’s liaison with a prostitute, or spouting empty platitudes in a desperate attempt to solve all the world’s problems—-and more importantly, to avoid the torments of Hell, which, as the Devil constantly reminds him, include anal rape with barbed wire.

Another stand-out performance comes from David Bedella. Like everyone apart from David Soul, he isn’t really a movie actor, although parents of young children may know his voice from his performances as Victor and the Duke of Boxford in the US version of the “Thomas the Tank Engine” franchise. Which doesn’t mean you should let the kiddies watch this! There’s a staggering amount of very strong language indeed. David Bedella as the over-ambitious warm-up comic is responsible for quite a lot of it, especially in the second half, in which he really comes into his own as the Devil. In fact, he’s displaced Peter Cook in Bedazzled as my favorite movie Satan.

But it wasn’t profanity that caused a record-breaking 55,000 complaints received by the BBC, 47,000 of them before the show had even aired… or the protesters picketing the live production… or the unsuccessful lawsuits. It was the blasphemy. Technically (and as it turned out, legally) the show isn’t blasphemous. The second half obviously takes place in the head of the seriously wounded and delirious Jerry, which is why the celestial beings look and behave exactly like the people he’s just interviewed. And indeed why, in an interlude in Limbo, his guilty conscience causes him to imagine the accusing presence of guests who have died horribly as a result of appearing on the show we’ve just seen, although there hasn’t been time for this to happen yet.

Alas, religious maniacs have no imagination! It’s Leon Craig’s performance that caused most of the trouble. In Act I he’s hilarious as a man who gleefully reveals to his horrified fiancée that his secret sexual fetish involves dressing as a baby and pooping his pants. In Act II, he reappears as Jesus Christ (by the way, he’s a stout black man who in no way resembles the traditional Jesus), and portrays him as a well-meaning but naïve fellow who is ultimately very selfish. He also admits to being “a bit gay,” the line that caused at least half the fuss. Leon Craig sings very well and has a gift for comedy, but he doesn’t seem to have appeared in anything else since; perhaps being the focus of so much hatred scared him out of the profession.

In fact, this musical subverts religion more subtly by saying that none of us are all good or all bad, and by exploiting these desperate, damaged people, Jerry Springer is neither better nor worse than they are for letting him do it, or indeed we are for watching his show. And all concerned have a tremendous amount of foul-mouthed fun reaching this not terribly profound conclusion. Ironically, the one person genuinely entitled to be offended, Jerry Springer himself, actually liked it! Well, anyway, he said he did. But he can afford to be generous, given that, as the lyrics tell us, he’s:

“Bigger than David Letterman, bigger than Bob Hope;
And give or take a few million, bigger than the f***ing Pope!”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a foul-mouthed crowd-pleaser…”–Total Film

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/1/2013

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.

WEIRD MOVIE GOSSIP:

Escape from Tomorrow (2013): The synopsis of this debut film—a middle-aged man chasing jailbait chicks through a dystopian Disneyland—put this movie on our Sundance watch list. It’s raising eyebrows with critics for its surrealist originality, and possibly with lawyers as well due to the fact that it was shot guerrilla-style in the Sappiest Place on Earth without permission or permits. Unfounded rumors suggest Disney may seek to suppress the film, although the bad press they’d get from persecuting this little indie effort would far outweigh any damage they’d suffer from its portrayal of the theme park as the Great American Nightmare. We at 366 will certainly mock the Mouse mercilessly should the corporate suits choose to be so petty—that should be enough to deter them.  CNN Entertainment has an account of the brewing controversy.

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NEW ON DVD:

“Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection”: Considering the hefty price tag and random selection of titles (not all of which are even from Warner Brothers), this compendium of movies from 1927-2005 seems like a hard-sell for a marketing department, but would make for an instant classic film library for the buyer. Certified Weird movies Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and A Clockwork Orange headline alongside 22 Best Picture winners and some interesting titles like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Natural Born Killers (!). Buy “Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection”.

White Zombie: Read our capsule review. Kino’s remastered edition of the  horror classic includes two versions of the film–a “raw” version and a “digitally enhanced” version—plus commentary by film historian Frank Thompson and a Lugosi interview. Buy White Zombie.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

“Best of Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection”: For whatever reason, only half the titles from the DVD collection made it onto the Blu-ray version. Wonka, Clockwork Orange and 2001 all made the cut. Buy “Best of Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection” [Blu-ray].

The Late Mathias Pascal [Feu Mathias Pascal, AKA The Living Dead Man] (1926): A man forges a new life for himself after he is accidentally declared dead; this seldom-seen silent French film reportedly full of dream sequences, camera tricks and expressionist angles. From vintage restorationists Flicker Alley. Buy The Late Mathias Pascal [Blu-ray].

That Obscure Object of DesireLuis Buñuel‘s final film concerns a man’s obsession for a woman (portrayed by two different actresses); the film’s two Academy Award nominations deeply shamed the Surrealist provocateur and possibly caused him to lose the will to go on working. The Criterion Collection DVD is now out of print but Lions Gate brings a good number of extras to this Blu-ray version. Buy That Obscure Object of Desire [Blu-ray].

White Zombie: See description in DVD above. Buy White Zombie [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.

THE BOOK OF DALLAS (2012)

The Book of Dallas, Season One is a 10 episode web series from KoldCast TV. The series comes from the production team of Joe Atkinson, , and Marx H. Pyle. Atkinson wrote the series in response to a crisis in faith. The directing is divided between the three producers.

Dallas McKay (Benjamin Crockett) is a young Catholic atheist (is there any other kind?). Dallas gets into a theological debate at a bar (something akin to theology on tap). His lack of belief offends the self-proclaimed Christians (surprise), then fate takes the upper hand when speeding vehicle meets Dallas on the street.

Still from The Book of Dallas Season1 (2012)Heaven is a coffee shop where Dallas meets a highly emotive St. Peter (David Ross) and a quirky God (Kristine Renee Farley). Yes, God is a girl who likes to eat lots of waffles. I knew it all along. With a mouthful of syrup, God asks Dallas to write a new bible, one which will not inspire people to judge and kill one another. After writing it, Dallas is to go on a book tour and sell it. Real simple.

Now back on Earth, Dallas needs some cash to get started. God gives him the winning lottery numbers. Dallas and his roommate Hank (Clay Evans) are on a mission from God. After finally finding a publisher, Dallas’ book, “The Word,” creates publicity and controversy. The evangelicals predictably hate Dallas, but he does attract a follower named Benjamin (Kevin Roach), who fills in for Dallas after a fundamentalist nut job sends Dallas back to heaven for a spell. Benjamin creates The Church of Unitism. Yes, a new religion.

The Book of Dallas starts off as an overly familiar revisionist look at the state of religion, the likes of which we have seen before (Dogma, Religioulous, et al). The best humor in the series is provided by actors David Ross and Kristine Renee Farley. Aside from these, the comedy is too subdued for this topic. More problematic are the plot solutions, which are too simplistic (a convenient lottery win, miraculous surviving of near-death experiences).

Something more complex would have been more rewarding. The fact that the protagonist survives his ordeals, virtually unscathed, nullifies any real questioning of his supernatural encounters (for Dallas and the audience—the only nonbelievers are the certifiable Christians of the film, which, come to think of it, is probably all too apt).

The biggest issue I take with the series is in “The Word” itself. What does “The Book of Dallas” actually say? We are never really privy to that information. Therefore, Dallas’ actual message is so vague that it fails to connect with us emotionally, intellectually, or theologically. Likewise, the fundamentalist outrage towards the book never quite registers beyond surface. The angry religious mob is merely taken for granted.

The Book of Dallas starts to live up to its complex potential by the 10th episode. Of course, every successful revolutionary movement faces the possibility of becoming  an institution. The Unitist movement veers dangerously close to that fatal error. Upon seeing this, the fire within Dallas is sparked. For the first time, close to the season finale, we sense the prophetic nature swelling within Dallas, along with narrative possibilities for richer, provocative exploration.

Atkinson’s sincerity and effort is to be applauded, despite the occasional “too safe” missteps. The series feels like an opening spark, which may reap rewarding challenges in the second season (and, hopefully, that second season will come to fruition).

Bilinski, a director previously covered here, directs the first, fifth and seventh episodes. The first episode has a texture and pacing similar to elements of his previous Shade of Grey (2009).


. “The Book of Dallas” trailer.

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