Tag Archives: 1996

FOR EVER MOZART (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Vicky Messica, Madeleine Assas

PLOT: Although there are many digressions, the two main plotlines involve a group of actors traveling to Sarajevo to put on a play and a movie director trying to make a film called Fatal Bolero.

Still from For Ever Mozart (1996)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It feels like assigned homework for Professor Godard’s graduate-level “Advanced Semiotics in Cinema” course.

COMMENTS: A woman, the granddaughter of Albert Camus, wants to stage a play in war-torn Sarajevo (for reasons that are never made completely clear). Her uncle (I believe) is casting a movie called The Fatal Bolero, and she convinces him to fund their expedition. They set off for Sarajevo (in Camus’ car), but the director ditches them along the way. The three actors are captured by soldiers, who plan to commit war atrocities on them while running around slapstick-style dodging shells lobbed from unknown destinations. We then return to France to follow the director, who is struggling to make his movie on a tight budget. The crew discovers two bodies in a burnt-out building—either sleeping derelicts, or corpses—and puts a red dress on the female, who later awakens and plays the lead role. The ending is a cute self-referential bit where audiences lined up to see Bolero ask if there will be nudity; when they’re told the answer is no, they threaten to leave to go see an American film, and the desperate producers spontaneously change the movie. It takes some work for the viewer to figure out those basic outlines. That plot, per se, is not of much concern to Godard; what he is interested in, as his directorial stand-in directly proclaims, is the “a saturation of glorious signs bathing in the light of absent explanation.” By design, the characters aren’t well-defined or established (it’s not even clear what their names are, and there are a lot of “who’s that guy again?” moments). There are gaps in the action, non-sequiturs, and scenes that begin suddenly without orienting the viewer. Everyone in the movie talks like an off-duty philosophy professor waxing poetic after two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. “There is no death. There’s only me, who is going to die,” muses a young actress while staring out of a train window. Later, sitting around a campfire, her sister responds, “the sensation I have of existence is not yet a ‘me.'” Godard glancingly addresses a multitude of issues, from the existential to the cinematic/theoretical, and sometimes his almost absentminded reflections are brilliant: his thesis that cinema has a greater mystery and dignity than literature because film incorporates actors and props that have a separate existence outside the imagination of the author, uttered by the movie’s director while the camera focuses on the face of an actress huddling against a cold beach wind, is fascinating to consider. But the absence of humanity exhibited by the nearly anonymous characters makes the movie too cold to be involving, and the lack of rigor in its intellectual musings means many of its tossed-off insights come off as hot air. It’s vintage late Godard: brainy, but boring, too thoughtful to be totally dismissed, but too flighty to be embraced.

Spoken phonetically, the title For Ever Mozart sounds like “faut rêver Mozart” (“dream, Mozart”) in French.

The previous New Yorker DVD of For Ever Mozart contained no extra features; the 2014 Cohen Media Group release includes a commentary by film critic James Quandt and an interview with Godard.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…full of deep musings, potent symbols and academic references from every corner of Western culture, but they’re thrown up on the screen in a manner that will confuse and infuriate anyone expecting a conventional narrative or readily identifiable characters. If what you’re expecting is an austere, lyrical essay that takes many tangents and requires serious deciphering, ‘For Ever Mozart’ is a film to be savored.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: RUBBER’S LOVER (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Norimizu Ameya, Yôta Kawase, Mika Kunihiro, Sosuke Saito

PLOT: In the midst of bizarre and intricate top secret drug research, four mad scientists run

low on test subjects and use one another as guinea pigs. Their equipment malfunctions as the team succumbs to the drug’s psychotic effects. The entire experiment spirals horribly out of control, turning the final test subject into a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster—with a unique twist.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The bizarre story, unconventional filming, and shocking imagery in Rubber’s Lover make it a weird viewing experience, even by the standards of the Japanese cyberpunk genre.

COMMENTS: Kinetic editing and dark, shocking images define this unusual, experimental Japanese horror film. In a modern update to the Frankenstein plot, a team of rogue scientists conduct experimental drug, sensory, and mind control research on abducted human subjects in a secret government torture lab. The results are promising, but they can’t seem to get the dose right; the subjects keep dying. (Who might have predicted that?) Worse, they are running out of hard-to-obtain “patients” and time is running out to conclude experimentation. Their horrifying lab is full of eerie black iron devices and electronics, all maddeningly grotesque in appearance.

Threatened with impending shut-down and loss of grants if they don’t achieve viable results soon, the crazy quartet decides to give their last living human guinea pig a mega dose of their weird drug cocktail. His brain explodes, dosing an assistant by spraying blood on him. Now the assistant is instantly addicted, semi-psychotic, and useless for being anything but, you guessed it, the next test subject.

The researchers fight over which of their two drugs they should test on him, as both have developed competing formulas. One decides to test his drug on his partner, turning the hapless associate into a mad sex offender who then marathon-rapes a female executive sent to shut down their lab. To prevent her leaving and making a bad report (why would she want to do that?) Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: RUBBER’S LOVER (1996)

LIST CANDIDATE: SCHIZOPOLIS (1996)

Schizopolis has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Comments on this post are closed. Please visit Schizopolis official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh

FEATURING: Steven Soderbergh, Betsy Brantley, David Jensen, Mike Malone

PLOT: A series of absurdist sketches and nonsense dialogues linked together by a thin plot

Still from Shcizopolis (1996)

about an office worker struggling with an assignment to write a major speech for a cultlike motivational speaker obviously based on L. Ron Hubbard.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Hilarious witticism characterizing film’s oddness. Cautious disclaimer suggesting uneven satire undermines enjoyability, but granting nobility of purpose and peculiar appeal. Self-aggrandizing non sequitur.

COMMENTS: After Schizopolis bombed at Cannes, writer/director/star Steven Soderbergh appended a prologue where he stood on a stage and introduced the film. “In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing, please bear in mind that this is your fault, not ours,” he advised. “You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything.” We are then thrown into the story of Fletcher Munson, a chronic office masturbator suffering from writer’s block as he attempts to pen a speech for “Eventualism” founder T. Azimuth Switters. A third of the way through the movie he meets (and sort of becomes) his exact double, an amorous dentist named Korchek who happens to be having an affair with Munson’s wife, but Korchek (or is it Munson inhabiting Korchek’s body?) falls in love with Munson’s wife’s doppelgänger, Attractive Woman #2. Then, in the movies final act we see the same scenes replayed from the perspective of Mrs. Munson. Interspersed with all of this are bits involving a pantsless old man running away from a pair of orderlies, news reports suggesting Rhode Island has been sold to a consortium of investors who want to turn it into a shopping mall, and a shot of a sign posted on a tree reading “idea missing.” Oh, and there’s also an exterminator who speaks gibberish and seduces local housewives. What’s there to possibly be confused about? Sorerbergh, who started his career with Sex, Lies and Videotape, the movie that launched the indie filmmaking revolution, made Schziopolis as a palette-cleanser after his big budget flop Underneath left a bad taste in his mouth (a fan cleverly described this as Soderbergh’s “second first film“). Working with his friends on a budget of only $250,000, it’s a loose, breezy, seemingly Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SCHIZOPOLIS (1996)

CAPSULE: THE BRIDE OF FRANK (1996)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Steve Ballot

FEATURING: Frank Meyer

PLOT: Frank, a mentally challenged old man with a speech impediment, kills various people he

Still from he Bride of Frank (1996)

meets as he searches for true love from a woman with large breasts.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As an authentic piece of goombah outsider art, The Bride of Frank is actually weird, but it’s also bad. And I mean real bad, not “entertaining” bad.

COMMENTS: The movie begins with a toothless old man tricking a five year-old girl into getting into his big rig, trying to get her to kiss him, then crushing her head under the wheel of his truck after she calls him a “dirty bum.” If that scenario sounds like can’t miss comedy gold to you, then you’re The Bride of Frank‘s target audience. All others will want to observe that “beware” rating. That opening scene of child molestation played for laughs does have the virtue of driving away most of the audience before the film can even get started; anyone who continues on past that point can’t pretend to be surprised by the senseless killing, simulated defecation, and sexual perversion that follows. Tonally, the opening, which makes us want to destroy Frank with fire, is a huge problem because it’s out of character with the way the rest of the movie wants to portray him—as a hideous-looking but childlike outcast, a la Frankenstein’s monster, who only kills bad people after they insult and reject him. To wit: Frank decapitates a nerd and relieves himself inside the corpse after being insulted at his birthday party, rips the face off a transvestite who tricks him into a sexual encounter, tears the eye out of a 300 pound exotic dancer and violates her corpse because she’s a tease, and so on. Yawn. Are we jaded yet? More conventional comic relief comes from the poetically obscene homoerotic/homophobic repartee between two of Frank’s coworkers, which is slightly amusing, but nothing you haven’t heard before if you’ve ever worked with Jersey teamsters on a loading dock. Frank, the weatherbeaten, dim, ex-homeless killer whose speech impediment is so thick he’s often subtitled, is played by real-life ex-homeless man Frank Meyer. Frank is like regular Edith Massey, except he’s not in on the joke. He’s not acting, he’s simply Continue reading CAPSULE: THE BRIDE OF FRANK (1996)

LIST CANDIDATE: SAINT CLARA [CLARA HAKEDOSHA] (1996)

DIRECTED BY: , Ori Sivan

FEATURING: Lucy Dubinchik, Halil Elohev, Johnny Peterson, Yigal Naor, Israel Damidov, Joe El Dror

PLOT: An Israeli girl uses her psychic powers to help classmates cheat on tests, but she will

Still from Saint Clara [Clara Hakedosha] (1996)

lose them if she falls in love.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTClara Hakedosha mixes quirkiness, magical realism, coming-of-age drama and light absurdity together in exotic and unfamiliar proportions, like a postmodern twist on some ancient Israeli narrative recipe.  After watching it twice and thinking about it for weeks, I’m still not sure I know what the point is, and can’t decide whether I enjoyed it or not.  Maybe that’s the sign of a truly weird movie?

COMMENTS: Lucy Dubinchik plays 13-year old Clara, “a weird Russian girl with purple eyes,” with a blank face that makes it hard to figure out what she’s thinking or feeling.  Given that her character is defined by her mysterious psychic powers, it’s appropriate that she’s inscrutable; but it’s still a relief when a recognizable emotion like fear or contentment briefly flits across her face.  Though it often does an excellent job of evoking that period of early adolescence on the eve of your first kiss, the filmmakers’ motives in Saint Clara can be as inscrutable as those of a 13-year old girl—you may find yourself watching the action and wondering what the filmmakers intended you to feel.  For example, there’s a scene where a baseball bat-wielding child gangster (chauffeured by his 16-year old sister) and his female sidekick (in an aviator’s helmet) demand the passing Clara climb in their convertible: “Get in, fairy.  We’ll take you for a ride in heaven.”  Sitting in the backseat, the kids ride through a neon-drenched city with completely expressionless faces as organ-driven cruising music chugs on in a minor key. Is Clara a captive, or just a kid out on a joyride with schoolmates?  Is her host trying to intimidate her, or make her fall in love with him?  Saint Clara contain odd, alienating moments that strangen what might otherwise be a simple, quirky love story between a boy and his psychic fantasy girl.  There’s the reporter on television with the puffy black hat who’s always warning of impending nuclear or ecological disasters while carrying a lapdog or sporting a yellow raincoat; the constant talk of rebellion, as if the kids are a bunch of Marxist revolutionaries from the 1960s; the peculiar anecdotes their teachers tell about meeting Bobby Fischer and Edith Piaf; Uncle Elvis, a former psychic who lost his powers just as Clara will one day, who walks his pet goat through town like a dog; and there’s the huge bird that crashes through the classroom window one day, somehow turning the sky blood red in the process.  Adolescence here is a brief, bored slice of time perched perpetually on the brink of an apocalypse—although when the disaster finally arrives, it turns out to be a letdown.  For these kids, the onset erotic love entails the loss of childhood magic and vitality. The story is as much, if not more, about Clara’s would-be beau as it is about her; his infatuation with this “weird Russian girl” may cost him his position in the punk pecking order.  Barry Sakharov’s instrumental rock soundtrack, with its main theme with guitars screeching like birds of prey in the distance, adds to the film’s odd ambiance. Saint Clara seems to beg for an allegorical explanation, and there are allusions to political events that may make more sense to an Israeli than to an outsider; but perhaps its only purpose is to capture the iherent surrealism of puberty. If so, it hits the mark squarely.

Co-director Ori Sivan disappeared from the cinema stage but found a home in television, adapting his hit Israeli series “Be Tipul” as “In Treatment” for HBO, starring Gabriel Byrne as a psychotherapist who is in therapy himself.  The other co-director, Ari Folman, went on to score a big arthouse hit with the fairly weird Waltz With Bashir (2008), an animated examination of the Israeli national conscience, and is currently in post-production on the animated sci-fi adaptation The Congress (see this post).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a surreal, riotous affair… an exhilarating and wildly passionate film debut.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

88. THE PILLOW BOOK (1996)

“I am certain that there are two things in life which are dependable: the delights of the flesh, and the delights of literature.  I have had the good fortune to enjoy them both equally.”–Sei Shōnagon, “The Pillow Book,” Section 172.

DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida

PLOT: Every birthday, Nagiko’s father draws calligraphic figures on her face while ritualistically reciting the story of creation. Nagiko grows into a beautiful young fashion model obsessed with the intersection of calligraphy and sex, seeking lovers who will use her naked body as a canvas on which to write. She meets and falls in love with a bisexual British translator who convinces her to write on others’ bodies, and together they conspire for revenge against the publisher who wronged her father.

Still from The Pillow Book (1996)

BACKGROUND:

  • The “Pillow Book” from which the movie takes its title is “The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon,” the diaristic collection of anecdotes, observations, poetry and lists by a lady-in-waiting to Empress Sadako of Japan in the Heian era (the book was composed around 1000 AD).  Shōnagon’s work, though probably never intended for others’ eyes, became one of the classics of Japanese literature and a tremendous source of historical data about the Japanese imperial court.  Greenaway was inspired by “The Pillow Book,” but the film is not an adaptation of Shōnagon.  In an interview he explains: “I took some of [the book’s] sensitivities, primarily where Sei Shōnagon said, ‘Wouldn’t the world be desperately impoverished if we didn’t have literature and we didn’t acknowledge our own physicality?’ And the movie’s just about that.”
  • Occasionally, the spoken Japanese dialogue is not translated into subtitles. This is deliberate.
  • Venerable cinematographer Sacha Vierny had shot Greenaway’s previous six feature films and had previously worked with Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad), Buñuel (Belle de Jour) and Raoul Ruiz (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, Three Crowns of the Sailor), among other notable (and weird) directors.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are a bewildering number of nominees to choose from, especially since Greenaway frequently places two or three images on the screen at once, picture-in-picture style.  The overwhelming repeated image is that of writing inked on nude bodies, however, and so the shot of glowing letters cast on Vivian Wu’s darkened, reclining body as she writes in her diary in bed best captures The Pillow Book‘s visual fetish.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Pillow Book is a movie about a fetishistic, eccentric, obsessed


Trailer for The Pillow Book

character, brought to us by an auteur with firsthand knowledge of those qualities.  Greenaway splashes the screen with visual extravagances, with pictures framed inside of other pictures, and images layered on top of one another, melding one into the next.  Full of obscure musings about the nature of art and sex, The Pillow Book tells a story of lust and revenge, but subjugates the text to the image, the narrative to the cinematic.  The result is visually hypnotic, frequently frustrating, and all Greenaway.

COMMENTS: A man and woman make love.  The entwining limbs are spectral, as their Continue reading 88. THE PILLOW BOOK (1996)