Tag Archives: 1982

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT (1982)

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DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser

PLOT: At the finale of the 17th-century, the wife of a boorish aristocrat contracts with a draughtsman to contrive a series of drawings; unexpected pictographic clues appearing in the artist’s renderings suggest a deadly conspiracy.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Greenaway tackles his first feature-length narrative with such structure, symmetry, and formalism that it might conceivably collapse into its own pretentious confinement. However, regular spikes of ornate bawdiness and cryptic banter, alongside Nyman’s jaunty film score, render the whole affair so baroquely flippant that the inclusion of a living garden statue is merely the ultimate, strange garnish on this eccentric appetizer to Greenaway’s impending career.

COMMENTS: “It has been fancifully imputed that Mr. Neville saw you as a deceived husband.” If that withering—and scandalous—insult vexes you, I strongly recommend against attempting to endure Peter Greenaway’s high-falutin’ whodunnit. On the other hand, if you wish to pry, peep, poke, and peek at the behind-closed-doors (and at times, on-the-lawn-somewhat-obscured-by-a-parasol) doings of the sickeningly wealthy and witty, the droll and devastating—veritably, the very cream of late-17th-century excess—Greenaway’s soufflé of mannerisms, ostentation, lines, lists, longitudes, and lasciviousness baked into this country-house mystery will not only fit the bill, but fit it perfectly with a stretch of laced linen that will leave you petrified to touch it with your coarse peasant hands.

Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), whose observations Mr. Noyes infers from prior insinuations and sketch-work, is a draughtsman by trade, and a haughty rake by inclination. On the eve of Mr. Herbert’s departure, Neville attends a soirée hosted by Mrs. Herbert, who wishes, she claims, to furnish her husband with a set of exterior drawings of their estate as a gift upon his return, in hopes of salvaging, at least, some civility in their marriage. Initially disinclined, Neville agrees only after much pursuit by Mrs. Herbert (and her daughter, Mrs. Talmann), and the inking of a curious contract which delineates recompense both financial and sexual. Mr. Herbert leaves for business, and Mr. Neville ensconces himself as he begins his work—and play.

I beg your indulgence for what is, even for me, an excess in flowery language; but such is the overwhelming effect of this strange matrix of conflicting impulses and shifting conspiracies. Greenaway kicks the door down for this one (doubtless because its vertical line displeased him) and comes swinging in full force with his painterly mise-en-scène and artful dialogue thronging the screen and speakers. Frames within frames, within frames; candlesticks joining and isolating conversers, sometimes positioned as an extension of a phallus-above-the-table (Neville’s, naturally); ordered chaos—there is nothing, it appears, left to ill-rendered whim nor faith in dreamscapes.

The “conflicting impulses” mentioned play out primarily between the pristine structure of the film (pacing, staging, scoring, framing, &c.) and the often-hilarious, invariably biting dialogue, which itself is masked with powder-splotched cosmetics and finery that could pass for a migraine. And Greenaway looooves sex on shameless display. As if imitating the outward prudish mien of its characters, The Draughtsman’s Contract conveys all manner of carnality, some of it extreme, while only ever exposing a single breast on screen. Anthony Higgins—witness to this breast, among other parts and places—is perfectly cast as the cocksure draughtsman, believing he is outwitting the conspiratorial axis of Mrs. Herbert and her daughter. Though doomed from the start, he careens toward his fate on a cloud of magniloquent artistry, wit, and lasciviousness.

As far as I could determine, the extras on Kino Lorber’s 40th anniversary, 4K release of The Draughtsman’s Contract were lifted straight from the preceding UK-only disc. Though they are scant, the included introduction from Peter Greenaway is a delightful and informative ten-minute essential, outlining the director’s intentions and providing a brief history of the film. The even briefer interview with Michael Nyman succinctly and charmingly relates how these two lovers of lists began their collaboration. Last, and by no means least, the video and sound are perfection in itself—and as Greenaway would observe, it is the deft combination of those elements that filmmaking is all about.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Agatha Christie this ain’t, but it is weirdly wonderful… the film shows a unique talent getting to grips with narrative cinema to create something which is as engaging and alluring as it is baffling and perplexing.”–Mark Kermode, BFI

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: LITAN (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Pierre Mocky

FEATURING: Marie-José Nat, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Nino Ferrer, Marysa Mocky, Roger Lumont

PLOT: While staying in the small town of Litan, where the annual festival of the dead is underway, Nora has prophetic dreams about her boyfriend Jock’s death.

Still from Litan (1982)

COMMENTS: Nora’s dreams are bad. Coffins float down streams. Bodies fall from great heights. And worst of all, she sees her beloved Jock covered in blood, seemingly murdered. It doesn’t make for a restful night. Well, it’s not going to get any better. Upon waking, we see that Nora’s barely dreaming at all. An annual festival has taken over the town of Litan, with strange people in strange costumes behaving in strange ways. If you believe that the things that happen to you during your day will affect your dreams at night, it’s clear that she’s one of the most literal sleepers around.

For you see, Litan is one of those towns where everyone is weird. You know the kind, like The Wicker Man or Midsommar or The Third Day. Residents saunter about with featureless masks, or with uncovered faces that are equally blank. Doctors perform inexplicable experiments that involve flashing lights and beeping machines. Men in pig masks loot and murder without fear, bodies dissolve and turn into glowing blue worms, and a marching band made up to look like mannequins in red tailcoats conducts impromptu concerts. You know, one of those towns. It’s painfully obvious that There’s Something Funny Going On, and that Nora and Jock need to Get Out Of There. 

It’s to Litan’s credit as a weird movie and to its debit as a watchable movie that this tension, this sense that trouble is only steps away, is present from the very start and never lets up. It doesn’t get more tense, mind you. It just maintains that worrisome threat from start to finish. That gets the heart rate elevated, but the relentlessness of it gets dull after a while. 

Where director/star Jean-Pierre Mocky succeeds is creating an ominous atmosphere through startling imagery. Every exterior is next to a rushing river or amongst sharp, craggly mountains (the film was shot in the commune of Annonay in southeastern France), while every interior seems to be set in a room carved out of a cave. Bold blasts of color break the monotony of the gray settings, particularly the bright crimson blood and the electric blue spermatozoa that seem to be the result of falling into the water. Strongest of all is the very creepy vibe he gets from his zombified actors, whose stillness is so effective that they immediately grab your attention when they snap out of it. A scene where a returning patient terrifies his family is an effective set-piece.

But while Litan is unquestionably weird, it’s also a mess. There are barely any characters to speak of; Nora does little but scream and fret, while Jock is a little too ignorant at first and a little too studly as the story progresses. Everyone else seems designed to be inexplicable, such as Jock’s colleague Bohr, who goes from assaulting Nora to worrying about his own son to becoming a victim in the space of 15 minutes. Meanwhile, there’s a possible candidate for a villain whose connection to the plot is vague until the closing minutes, culminating in a comically anemic fight scene. And there’s a very off-putting musical score (from star Nino Ferrer) that shifts wildly from atmospheric synthesizer noodlings to action tracks that sound like a strange melange of Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only score and the Swingle Singers, with some Shostakovich woven in for seasoning.

There’s no doubt that Litan is odd, but it isn’t actually compelling. With anxiety but no suspense, with momentum but no destination, Litan is just a series of surprising things that happen. Dreams are weird, but not every dream is worth sharing. 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One-of-a-kind bizarre French sci-fi. It’s like some scenes from a variety of thriller, crime and sci-fi movies were stripped of their back-stories and plots, jumbled together, and then transported to this weird town of Litan that looks like something out of The Prisoner.” – Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: L’ANGE (1982)

AKA The Angel

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DIRECTED BY: Patrick Bokanowski

FEATURING: Jacques Faure, Martine Couture, Jean-Marie Bon, Rita Renoir

PLOT: A swordsman parries and thrusts with a suspended doll; a servant brings a tray of food to a handless man; a group of librarians catalog books, and then rescue a woman from a box; figures attempt to ascend a vast, steep staircase to the heavens; and a number of other actions are captured in shadow and sepia and are repeated multiple times to demonstrate variance and nuance.

Still from L'Ange (1982)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Baseball fans calculate a statistic called similarity scores to compare players, often used to determine if a given player would sit comfortably alongside other legends. The greatest players, like Willie Mays or Babe Ruth, aren’t truly similar to anyone, but the ones who come within sniffing distance are all Hall of Famers. So it goes with L’Ange. There isn’t really anything like it, but it sits comfortably on the shelf alongside such subversive classics as Meshes of the Afternoon and Dog Star Man. Every image has been created specifically for the film, but it has heavy echoes of the found-footage assembly of Decasia or the random documentary of Koyaanisqatsi. Michel Chion, writing for Cahiers du cinema at the time of L’Ange’s debut at Cannes, described the film as “A 2001 produced under the same conditions as Eraserhead.” Whatever L’Ange may be, it keeps good company with some of the most legendarily strange movies ever made.

COMMENTS: In the video to one of my all-time favorite songs, They Might Be Giants’ transcendent “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” director Adam Bernstein plays with the theme of light to reflect the tunes narrator, a nightlight. In one particularly memorable image, John Linnell (the accordion-playing half of the duo) is captured in a light that repeatedly fades out only to spring back to life. After a moment, it becomes clear that Linnell himself is responsible for the light show; a dimmer switch on the arm of his chair allows him to control the illumination, and he is mischievously turning the lights out on his own performance.

I assume that this moment popped into my head while watching Patrick Bokanowski’s challenging feature because of the frequent interplay of light and dark. But I also contend that a similar spirit of mischief is woven throughout this movie. As harsh sepia-toned beams burst through the center of the screen only to be replaced with sequences that mimic the stage but repeat at random angles and speeds, you quickly begin to suspect that Bokanowski is playing with his audience, like a cat with a mouse.

Having made an impression with his first two short films, La Femme qui se poudre and Déjeuner du matin, he clearly decided that a feature Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: L’ANGE (1982)

CAPSULE: TIME MASTERS [LES MAÎTRES DU TEMPS] (1982)

AKA The Masters of Time

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DIRECTED BY: René Laloux

FEATURING: Voices of , Michel Elias, Frédéric Legros, Yves-Marie Maurin, Monique Thierry

PLOT: A boy is marooned on an alien world, and a space mercenary encounters many obstacles in his rescue attempt.

Still from Time Masters (1982)

COMMENTS: Like the younger brother of an overachiever, Time Masters has to live up to a mighty pedigree. Director Rene Laloux is already enshrined in these halls for Fantastic Planet, another Stefan Wul adaptation renowned for its trippy visuals and detailed alien worlds. Add in that Laloux’s collaborator this time around is the famed artist Jean Giraud—better known as Moebius—and it’s only natural to assume that the result will hit similarly mind-blowing heights. Alas, the comparison does the newer film no favors. Hamstrung by a plot stretched too thin and production levels of sharply varying quality, Time Masters plays like the Filmation version of its predecessor.

The film’s production seems to be part of the problem. Originally conceived for television, satisfaction with early work convinced Laloux to expand it into a feature film. Unfortunately, the budget did not expand in proportion, and a large percentage of the movie was outsourced to animators in Hungary. (So many co-producers were brought in that it can legitimately be called a Franco-West German-Swiss-British-Hungarian production.) It’s not hard to figure out which parts of the film were animated where; the adventures of Piel on the surface of the untamed world of Perdide are charming and delicate, with the boy interacting with fascinating creatures both friendly and vicious. Meanwhile, the crew on its way to rescue him is flat and inert, completely incapable of demonstrating any emotion, let alone matching the tenor of the vocal performances. Time Masters becomes a tale of two films.

The story isn’t helping matters, as it betrays the effort that goes into delaying the central goal. Having received a subspace message that a small child is all alone on a dangerous planet and in need of rescue, the response of the would-be heroes is to take their sweet time. Stopping to pick up a sage advisor, they go for an extended swim. An attempted mutiny by a deposed royal leads to a suspense-free prison break. The threat of interference by space cops is met with the breathless excitement of a board meeting. (That’s not a metaphor. They all go into an auditorium and talk it out.) You can almost feel the screenwriters making the “stall for time” gesture.

Time Masters is not without its charms. In fact, the cuter the creature, the more interesting they seem to be. Piel and his planetary menagerie are sweet and occasionally even adorable, although they are far outdone by a pair of faceless gremlins named Yula and Jad who offer a running commentary on the foolishness of those around them. They are the Threepio and Artoo of the piece, but they bring more punch than most of the humans do at their most emotive.

Time Masters is commendable as something original, featuring some dramatic visuals and culminating in an ending that is certainly bold, even if it doesn’t really pay off the story in any meaningful way. But there just isn’t a whole lot that happens, and what does happen isn’t compelling enough to be more than a passing fancy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Not that the ending betrays what has gone before, as it is suitably trippy and lightly mind-bending in its way, it’s just that until that point there’s a feeling that the film is tiptoeing around anything that might seem to heavy – basically, it looks like a kids’ film… It weaves a spell if you’re indulgent enough of its whims, which include that headscratcher of a finale.”–Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

(This movie was nominated for review by Nickholas P Michell. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DÜNYAYİ KURTARAN ADAM [THE MAN WHO SAVES THE WORLD] (1982)

aka Turkish Star Wars

DIRECTED BY: Çetin Inanç

FEATURING: Cüneyt Arkin, Aytekin Akkaya, Füsun Uçar

PLOT: The Wizard is bent on destroying the Earth, but a pair of Turkish space pilots, Murat and Ali, evade destruction, crash-landing on a planet where the locals eke out their existence under the Wizard’s oppressive thumb. By strengthening his body and taking control of a mighty sword, Murat confronts The Wizard and his grotesque minions.

Still from Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (AKA The Man Who Saved the World, Turkish Star Wars)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Somehow managing to combine crowd-pleasing action with an awe-inspiring level of filmmaking incompetence, this infamous Turkish “blockbuster” is impossible to believe even as you’re watching it. The sheer magnitude of the amateurish techniques and narrative shortcuts results in less of a film and more of a fever dream – which is a surefire way to get our attention.

COMMENTS: Let’s start with the theft, as that is the full and complete reason for Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam‘s notoriety in the Western world. Director Inanç and star Arkin plotted their new film to take advantage of the public’s interest in sci-fi fantasy epics, with Star Wars leading the way. Steal from the best, they say, and Inanç took that phrase as literally as possible, illicitly dubbing an anamorphic print of the box office juggernaut and peppering his new movie with random and strangely squeezed clips from the pilfered print. The result is riotously inept: scenes are offered in no particular order; clips are frequently repeated; the original film’s good and evil seem to have flipped sides. Perhaps most amusingly, space pilots are filmed with the Star Wars footage rear-projected to simulate space flight… only the footage retains its original cuts. For anyone who knows the ubiquitous blockbuster, it’s hilariously naïve, like an art thief trying to cart away the Venus de Milo in the middle of a midday crowd.

But the snarky moniker is genuinely unfair, because (a) the purloined clips constitute a very small portion of the film, mostly during the scene-setting opening, and (b) there’s so much other stealing going on. Star Wars is joined by clips from old fantasy epics, stock footage of space launches, and even another studio’s logo card. And then there’s the soundtrack, a veritable calico quilt of lifted cues. The sharp-eared will pick up the bass line from Queen’s Flash Gordon score, a hyperactive take on the Battlestar Galactica theme, and fanfares from a James Bond movie, while it takes no listening skills at all to notice the liberal use of John Williams’ “Raiders March,” which the film appropriates as Murat’s spring-into-action theme, meaning we get to hear those noble trumpets literally dozens of times.

But pinching footage from another film alone does not a weird movie make, and Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam proves that it can vie for the title on its own. The story, what little can be teased out, is that a villainous warlord has an insatiable vendetta against the Earth, and is determined to destroy it. Or already has. (Possibly owing to translation issues and definitely because of regular re-use of the exploding planet scenes, the Wizard seems to destroy the Earth a lot in this Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DÜNYAYİ KURTARAN ADAM [THE MAN WHO SAVES THE WORLD] (1982)