Tag Archives: 1992

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE TUNE (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

FEATURING: Voices of Daniel Neiden, , Marty Nelson, Emily Bindiger, Chris Hoffman

PLOT: A tunesmith on a tight deadline races to make a meeting with an impatient music producer, but gets lost in the wacky town of Flooby Nooby en route.

Still from The Tune (1992)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: In Flooby Nooby you can enjoy love-struck food pairings, consult with a macrocephalic metamorphing wise man (named “Gus”), check into a heartsick hotel staffed by a bell-boy-cum-suicide-assistant, ride with a cabbie suffering the “No Nose Blues,” and learn a jig or two from eternally dancing surfers. Is that enough?

COMMENTS: From nothing, comes the great hand of the Creator. It rises through the beigeful void and crashes toward us, blackening the screen. And then,

.

.

.

*THUNK*. We are grounded by a discordant slam of notes, and who do you think we see? Whose mighty hand have we witnessed? Why, it’s none other than Del, a love-smitten schlub trying to noodle out the final line of his number-one hit tune. So begins the eccentric, caricaturist charm of The Tune, as Bill Plympton bangs out an oddball voyage for his oh-so-mild-mannered protagonist.

What little narrative there is in The Tune exists to permit Plympton to dig deeply into his bag of tricks. After Del travels the crazy nested loops of highway on his way to his boss, the few nods to mundane reality are cast aside in favor of eccentric characters, daffy tunes, and the awe-inspiring power of an animator’s pencil.

Del’s surreal encounters never let up upon arrival in the unlikely town of Flooby Nooby, where he is greeted by the mayor with a zingy song expounding the virtues of this small town (accompanied by some horrible whistling, no less). Del meets a wary dog—doesn’t trust out of town folk, you see, with their heartless ways—who eventually morphs into a crooning Elvis canine belting out a stomping rock number about his improbably tall hairdo. Perspective comes and goes as trees shrink along a path, or as Del climbs a set of stairs and encounters a gentleman traveling downwards, walking along the steps’ rise. Heads (so many heads) morph to the point of breaking, but seamlessly pop back into form. “Gus” the Wise One suffers more than most—trains travel in and around it, burgers fly forth from his mouth, a fish is drawn from a forehead drawer, and so on—when his idiotic truisms go a step too far: “Just as a slice into a loaf of bread makes two pieces, you must multiply your wisdom.”

The ramble toward the climax is appropriately relaxed, and at one point Del inquires to the camera, “Why am I watching this?” The context is an extended (and gloriously masturbatory) sequence between two randos who obliterate each other’s faces through increasingly elaborate methods. Plympton more than hints at the pointlessness, but the pointlessness is the point. This is a cheery cartoon, stuffed to the gills with cheery airs, and its unceasing frivolousness underscores the sophistication of the craft. It’s a film where the line “Mr Mayor! How could you eat that adorable—and talented—hamburger?” is a sensible question. It’s got surf rock pathos and soulful noselessness. It has a Fat, Falling Pig hotel death suite and a Bad Joke Tango. The Tune is a Kantian ding an sich, hatching from nothingness and forging a wiggly world of absurdist tomfoolery.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Plympton’s first feature is a surreal surety, chock full of brilliant gags, decent tunes, and lots of unobtrusive heart: it’s 78 minutes of unrelenting fun.”–Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: THE DARK SIDE OF THE HEART [EL LADO OSCURO DEL CORAZÓN] (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Eliseo Subiela

FEATURING: Darío Grandinetti, Sandra Ballesteros, Nacha Guevara, André Mélançon, Jean Pierre Reguerraz

PLOT: Poet Oliverio meanders through life, verbally jousting with the angel of death while searching for the perfect woman, whom he may have found in a practical-minded prostitute.

Still from "The Dark Side of the Heart" (1992)

COMMENTS: Oliverio has a standard pickup line, one he busts out for women at the bar and women he’s already lured into the sack alike: he can take or leave any woman, regardless of their physical attributes, but the only one who really interests him is the one who can fly. He’s quite serious about it, and we even see the fate of those who come up short in that regard: a plummet into the abyss via a trapdoor built into his bed.

Suffice to say, this live-action Tinder line isn’t paying off the way he’d like, although it’s hard to pity Oli for his disappointing romantic escapades. He would seem to be living the dream version of a poet’s life, generating product at the drop of a hat and able to turn his words into income whenever the need arises. He wanders the streets reciting poems to commuters stuck in traffic, who readily hand over their cash. He pays for thick steaks at a street café with romantic odes, which the cook promptly uses to win a wife. And of course, he can lure any woman into his sheets, even though they all disappoint him in the end. How on earth is the poor bastard going to get out of this pickle?

Of course, Oli’s profession is carefully chosen, because this poet’s tale is being told poetically. We shouldn’t question how he manages to survive from day to day, because this is the story of his crisis of the soul. The fact that his late mother speaks to him in the form of a cow, or that he trades barbs with Death herself (who is trying to find him a steady job in the classifieds), is only literal in the metaphorical sense. It’s not fantasy or even magical realism. This is a poet’s view of the world, where feelings are made manifest because they’re just that strong.

It’s a credit to Subiela’s direction and Grandinetti’s deft performance that this doesn’t come across as highly obnoxious. Oli is arrogant, to be sure, but he’s a perfectionist whose dedication to poetic ideals results in a high standard for happiness. He can throw away his art on commissions for which he has no passion, but his commitment to himself is absolute. This makes him the perfect foil for Ana, the sex worker from Montevideo for whom he falls. With pain in her past and responsibilities in her present, she draws a very clear line between love and sex. The movie’s focus on Oli shortchanges her point of view somewhat, but their chemistry is so strong that we feel her influence on him even when she’s not onscreen. It’s a peculiar sort of charm where the boy treats other women better as a result of not getting the girl (played out in a genuinely enchanting scene where he romances a blind woman and makes the extraordinary decision not to give her the Wile E. Coyote treatment at the end).   

El Lado Oscuro del Corazón demands a certain tolerance because of the way its fantastical notions are presented in such a grounded manner, and it sometimes thinks that the main character himself is more interesting than his idealistic pursuits. When it gets the mix right, though, it earns its magic, which is probably why it’s the rare surrealistic meditation on love to merit a sequel. Not everyone loves poetry, but when you hear the right poem, you’re likely to want another.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Moving effortlessly between the familiar and the surreal, this wildly imaginative, erotic, irreverently funny film seems to have the flexibility for almost everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.”–Hal Hinson, Washington Post (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dreamer, who explains that the film “is weird because of its particular way of being poetic and to some extent poetic because it is weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FLAMING EARS (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl, Dietmar Schipek

FEATURING: Susana Helmayr, Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl

PLOT: Spy makes comics, but her printing press is torched by Volley, a night-club performance artist/pyromaniac who has a pet girlfriend alien named Nun; the year is 2700.

Still from Flaming Ears (1992)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: With a plot as disjointed and intriguing as its stop-motion special effects, Flaming Ears rounds out the low-budget, lo-fi, lo-and-behold dystopian eccentriptych that began with ‘s Jubilee (1978)  and continued with ‘s Liquid Sky (1982).

COMMENTS: The future belongs to the lesbians, and judging from what directors Puerrer, Scheirl, and Schipek have imagined in Flaming Ears, I wish them the best of luck. The year 2700—“the year of toads”—is dismal, dangerous, and wet. Cubo-futuristic flirtations gel with sado-punk aesthetics at the local club; flames and orgasmic grinding flicker together; and love, which does still linger in this society, gloms to the body like a horrible, cherished memory. With no money at their disposal, the directors are free to explore intimacy at odd angles, craft violence with ketchup and cardboard, and cruise through Salzburg’s ramshackle roads at night and in miniature.

The plot trail opens wide and ambiguous, as the lives of Spy, Volley, and Nun intersect in unlikely ways. When Spy’s nib explodes by her face, ink splatters and an old frenemy saunters in. Smooth, suited, and smoking, Magdalena informs Spy that the printers was burnt to the ground. By whom? Well, none other than Volley, who is introduced by a clip-clip crash into Hell, but not before she grinds one out on a handsome side-table coated in lighter fluid. Fluid falls from the ever-dark skies on to the ever-slimy streets, and also onto the ever-red-PVC-clad alien. She wanders the nights when it rains, and she wanders to an erotic art-house dance club. Out front she finds the ailing Spy, who was bounced away by the machine-gun toting bouncer. Then, things get a little less clear.

Flaming Ears is pure punk-house, so don’t worry about the plotline. While I presume that budgetary considerations forced the filmmakers into Super-8 film, its inherent graininess, baked-in contrast, and just-a-bit-off color distortion would make it my first choice for this film. Everything in 2700 sounds “more” (yet another appropriate side-effect: post-production sound), and most of that “more” sounds wet. Drips, drizzles, sprays, spurts, and squishes are all up in your ear. But this is not just an underground soaking sin-fest, it’s an educated one. Last Year at Marienbad and (I would just about swear…) Tetsuo: The Iron Man get a nod in nearly the same breath. And while the post-punk scene in early ’90s Austria may have involved a whole lot of cubo-futurism on its own, Puerrer, Scheirl, and Schipek were wise to harness its jagged incongruity.

This whole exercise is simultaneously a chin-scratcher and an eye-opener, alternating gleaming cheapness with sellotape wonderment—typically in the same scene, or even shot. It doesn’t hurt that all the leads (who make up most of the creative and production team, unsurprisingly) have decent acting chops. They’re probably helped by the fact they’re performing long-crafted personas, but I’d be unsurprised if you told me that A. Hans Scheirl was actually an alien, Ursula Puerrer was a sex-crazed pyro, and that Susana Helmayr was somehow trapped between life and death. So, scrap any expectations, embrace pretensions, and slide skate-feet-first into Flaming Ears Hell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A strange, surreal film that may as well have “destined for cult status” emblazoned across every frame, Flaming Ears is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.”–Lee Jutton, Film Inquiry (re-release screening)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: ORLANDO (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Sally Potter

FEATURING: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Charlotte Valandrey, John Wood, Lothaire Bluteau, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville

PLOT: A young English nobleman looks for his place while exploring the vicissitudes of life over the course of several centuries, delving into love, politics, war, and poetry; eventually, he becomes a woman.

Still from Orlando (1992)

COMMENTS: Tilda Swinton is the Mona Lisa. Not “looks like.” I say she’s the genuine article, galvanized by the muse Melpomene and reveling in the mask of placidity that she uses to conceal any deep feeling she might harbor. With her narrow, skeptical eyes and lips that betray only the barest hint of her bemusement with the world, Swinton is truly the living embodiment of that icon of mystery. What a magnificent piece of luck, then, to secure her services in the leading role of a person who views the trappings of gender and power with a maximum level of detachment and disinterest. An actor perennially dismissive of the limitations of gender, she navigates between sexes with hardly a hesitation. Orlando proves to be an excellent launchpad not only for her talents but also for the way she likes to deploy them.  

We first meet Orlando in 1600 as an aimless boy who comes into the orbit of the Virgin Queen herself (played, in a piece of thematic foreshadowing, by the English raconteur Quentin Crisp). The Queen is eager to welcome this bare-faced boy into her orbit, but under one condition: “Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old.” A modest request to be sure, but he will spend the next four centuries honoring the Queen’s command, steadfastly bypassing death or even aging  in favor of a lengthy exploration of love, sex, and self.

If you didn’t know Orlando was adapted from a Virginia Woolf novel published 95 years ago, it might easily be branded as a fantasia of feminism or a revisionist history of transgenderism. As it stands, the film (like its source material) proves to be surprisingly prescient. The film is littered with historical examples of gender fluidity, from the songs performed by castrati to the stunning costumes of Sandy Powell, in which Restoration-era men are adorned with enough frills and artifice to make the patrons of the Met Ball look Amish, while women are sometimes indistinguishable from furniture that has been mothballed for the season. Orlando seeks to demonstrate that if you think androgyny and gender blurring are modern phenomena, well, crack open a history book.

Part of the film’s delight is that it is intensely interested in the strange, but the word is never applied to the things we find most unusual in it. “How strange,” the new-found Lady Orlando notes as she castigates the leading poets of the day for their indulgence in casual misogyny even as they extol the virtues of their feminine muses. “How strange,” she repeats as she apologizes for her failure to acquire the name of the fascinating man who arouses love in her for the first time. But the fact of her femaleness in spite of her previous masculinity? Not weird at all. The fact of the gender shift (which is portrayed less as a binary switch and more as a clarification) is the one thing Orlando seems entirely certain about. The moment where Orlando first lays eyes on her new form is immensely powerful, not for the shock of the change or for any eroticism attached to the nude, but rather for the gentle and pleasant surprise she finds in discovering that her sense of self is fully intact, completely divorced from language or attitude or anatomy.

While watching Orlando, there’s an inclination to feel that not very much is happening, and Swinton’s nonplussed vibe can feel at odds with the engagement you might expect as a viewer. But she’s a sly one, that Orlando, and her tale has a vivid afterlife in the brain as you consider the whole of their experiences and realize that nothing has lingered in quite the way you expect. You feel pity for the deluded Archduke Harry rather than anger at his effrontery. You find unexpected grace in the romantic overtures of Billy Zane. And most of all, you discover that the seemingly empty gaze of Tilda Swinton is in fact triumphant, because she knows so much that you never will. And to demonstrate it, all she needs is the hint of a smile.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Sally Potter’s marvelous 1992 film of this undeniably strange, altogether wonderful book now makes its way back to theaters after a digital restoration, and in a bleak cinematic landscape, this oddball film feels especially vital.” – Chris Wisniewski, Reverse Shot (2010 re-release)

(This movie was nominated for review by wuzzyfuzzums, who describes it thusly: ” Based on an equally weird novel by Virginia Woolf, our hero/heroine is an immortal aristocrat who transforms half-way through the movie from a man into a woman, for no particular reason.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: WINTERBEAST (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Christopher Thies

FEATURING: Tim R. Morgan, Mike Magri, Bob Harlow, Charles Majka

PLOT: On top of a mountain near the remote Wild Goose Lodge, ancient Indian stop-motion demons are stirring.

Still from Winterbeast (1991)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: There are numerous bizarre touches scattered throughout Winterbeast, but there is one scene that earns this scrappy little amateur film an outside shot at our list: an unexpectedly ian masquerade at about the two-thirds mark of the movie, scored to a scratchy phonograph recording of the children’s song “What Can the Matter Be?”

COMMENTS: Begun in 1986 and released (to VHS) in 1992, Winterbeast is a few minutes of fairly competent stop-motion animation padded with about 75 minutes of totally incompetent live-action story. The action features mostly cardboard characters, with the exception of a hard-drinking, girlie-magazine loving NYC reprobate park ranger, and a plaid-jacketed businessman who sounds like Larry “Bud” Melman and does for New England wilderness lodges what Jaws‘ mayor did for public beaches. It’s nowhere near a good movie, but it has a small cult following for a reason: it’s peppered with weirdness.

Some of the weird bits are just the sloppy mistakes you usually find in bare budget films. There is, for example, a moment when a man breaks out a glass pane in a door window, presumably so he can reach inside and undo the lock. But when he strikes it, the door immediately swings open, because it wasn’t locked at all. So why didn’t he just use the door handle in the first place? (Maybe because the door in question doesn’t even have a handle.) With segments filmed over a period of years, there are constant editing boo-boos: shots from the same scene are often poorly matched, using different film stock and sound equipment (and sometimes costuming). Lead Tim R. Morgan’s mustache appears to change length and even color randomly throughout the movie.

These mistakes are likely the result of little care being put into anything except the monster sequences. But other flakes of weirdness are almost inexplicable: when Charlie opens his case of Indian artifacts, there’s one item that’s very out of place (I won’t spoil the surprise, you’ll know it when you see it). There are just plain goofy moments, such as when a character unconsciously copies a pose of a cigar-store Indian statue. (It’s worth shoehorning in here that Winterbeast‘s understanding of Native American ethnography appears to be based on research done at 1980s off-reservation souvenir shops.) And then there’s the previously-referenced musical number, complete with a plastic Halloween pumpkin prop, which is a genuine mini-masterpiece of microbudget surrealism.

Oh, and did we mention the rampaging stop-motion monsters? There’s a tentacled dream demon, an animated tree, a bug-eyed Bigfoot, a dinosaur, a giant chicken, and more. For the most part, they look pretty good—except when the giant models are shown picking up their quickly-made hunk-of-clay human victims, and either decapitating them or—in the case of one hapless, topless victim—smashing them against the side of a building. The creatures are only seen briefly, but the filmmakers obviously believed they could carry the picture, and they just needed to build enough movie around them to showcase these effects.

Remember how much fun 1970s homemade Harryhausen tribute Equinox was? Now imagine if it was done by a crew with half the talent at animation, and a tenth of the talent at every other aspect of filmmaking. Still fun, but in a different way. Realizing that he had created the perfect film, Christopher Thies never wrote or directed another movie after this.

Winterbeast is available as part of Vinegar Syndrome’s “Home Grown Horrors” box set (for the time being, exclusively available here), where it joins fellow apocrypha candidate Beyond Dream’s Door (1989) and the slasher Fatal Exam (1988) in a triple-feature of some of the best cheapo horror movies of the video store boom. It’s loaded with every possible extra feature you could imagine.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the movie may be uneven in terms of the quality of its cinematography but it is so consistently bizarre and filled with enough seriously WTF moments that you can’t help but love it.”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (“Homegrown Horrors” box set)