Tag Archives: 1997

366 UNDERGROUND: FAITH OF OUR FATHERS (1997)

DIRECTED BY: Hamilton Sterling

FEATURING: Jeff Hawk, George Gerlernter, James Geralden, Cassandra Joy, Noel Webb, Clement Blake

PLOT: A satiric parable wherein naive innocent chimney-sweeper Charles is schooled in the ways of the world and business by a cynical benefactor, Nick, who encourages him to bring back the tradition of ‘climbing boys’ when a rich client expresses a wish for ‘the old days’. Charles complies with the exploitation of a child, but at a cost to himself and those around him.

IS IT WEIRD?:  Not really. Pretentious, certainly; but there’s nothing new brought to the table in terms of weirdness.

COMMENTS:  At first glance, Faith of Our Fathers appears to be very timely and prescient, considering that the film was completed in 1996, went out on the festival circuit where it did get some very good critical notice but no release until 2013, when it could be seen as an “I-told-you-so” roadmap to the current economic/political/cultural climate (much like how Richard Brooks’ reviled Wrong is Right from 1982 turned out to be a not-that-exaggerated look at what the Millennium-Ought decade held in store for everyone). It’s really hard to fault the filmmakers’ intentions, as there is a concerted effort on everyone’s part to make this a meaningful project.

Faith of Our FathersUnfortunately, for me those intentions fall short in the experience of watching this play out. I suspect those who would enjoy watching this film would also be rabid fans of hardcore symbolic European art-house films, which are usually very slowly paced, populated with metaphors instead of characters and with degrees of inscrutability. My failure to connect here is probably a failing of this viewer. It’s a film that I really wanted to like, especially since items like composition, nuanced acting and craftsmanship are usually in short supply in the majority of work that gets the “Underground” label. But honestly, I just couldn’t enjoy it, despite the impressive craft on display (the cinematography, score, and a performance by Gerlernter as fallen priest/satanic provocateur Nicholas Nickelby).

It also doesn’t help when you have this as your logline:

” …this surreal and politically prescient film deconstructs the language of religious and economic America, finding artistic alternatives within the ethos of art.”

If this sentence gets you pumped to see what might follow, instead of rolling your eyes from the stench of pretension, then you’ll enjoy the journey. Much as I wanted to, I couldn’t get past it—so fair warning.

Faith of Our Fathers was self-released by writer/director Hamilton Sterling on DVD and Blu-ray, and the presentation is of very high-quality. One thing missing is a director’s commentary, which I think really would’ve helped—not that Sterling would’ve needed to spoonfeed us every single symbol in the film, but some context certainly would’ve been appreciated, especially explanations for the jumping back and forth between color and black and white, and sequences such as the one where one of the main characters has a dialogue with Napoleon Bonaparte in the park.

Helikon Sound – Hamilton Sterling’s site. Sterling has worked as a sound tech on films like Magnolia, The Tree of Life, Gangs of New York, and The Dark Knight, amongst others.

Faith of Our Fathers Facebook page

CAPSULE: FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL (1997)

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: Dave Hoover, Rodney Brooks, Ray Mendez, George Mendonça

PLOT: A documentary profiling an unlikely quartet of individuals: a lion tamer, a topiary master, a naked mole-rat expert, and a robot designer.

Still from Fast, Cheap and out of Control (1997)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Four mildly eccentric characters don’t qiute add up to one weird movie.

COMMENTS: You have to assume that the genesis of Fast, Cheap and Out of Control was something like the following: Errol Morris had leads on four personalities he could profile for his next documentary, but none of the potential subjects were quite quirky enough to carry an entire feature; he decided to go ahead and interview each separately and edit the footage together to highlight the connections that spontaneously arise between the men’s varied obsessions. Although clearly guided by Morris’ hand, the shape of the documentary seems to arise naturally as the four men discuss their individual passions for animal training, gardening, mole rats and automatons. Sometimes, scenes illustrating one man’s field of expertise will play while another interviewee narrates; while the mole-rat expert talks about nature’s indifference, we see a staged battle between a captive cats. Morris melts the experts’ individual interests into each other to form an intellectual batter. The robot designer reveals that when he set about to create a machine that would scramble over terrain, it turned into a relatively stable robot that quite accidentally looked like an insect. In the meantime, the mole-rat expert is fascinated by the idea that these rare mammals, who live their entire lives underground, have developed a sociobiological structure that resembles the termite. Evolution is an ever-present theme, as is craftsmanship—the animal trainer must create his art by paying careful attention to his deadly raw materials (lions and tigers), the topiary master must work with the shape of the bush to bring out the animal inside it. A large part of the movie therefore becomes about the process of creation, the interplay between the constraints imposed by the raw materials of the natural world and the shapes men impose on them, whether the product is a circus act, a mole-rat display case, a leafy giraffe, or (by implication) a documentary film. That strand is only one of many in the tapestry of Fast, Cheap and Out of Control; this is a non-obvious movie that flows along in a stream-of-consciousness way, and doesn’t tell you what to think about it. It’s a difficult experience to explain, but the melange works. The main thing that sets Morris apart from his lesser documentarian brethren is that he thinks cinematically, rather than focusing on imparting the maximum amount of information. The cinematography here (courtesy of long time Oliver Stone collaborator Robert Richardson) is vivid and varied: inventive angles, crisp colors, slo-mo segments and Super 8 film stocks supply multiple textures. Scenes from old B-movies (a serial-type adventure featuring lion tamer turned action idol Clyde Beatty) illustrate the action, along with many circus tableaux. The futurist carnival music comes courtesy of silent-movie score specialists the Alloy Orchestra.  Altogether it’s a rich concoction, one that’s much more “movielike” than standard “talking head” docs. If there’s one complaint here it’s that the topiarist is less interesting than the other three subjects. His line of work arouses fewer serious inquiries, and what speculations do come about form less of a connection with the other three. Much of his story focuses on his relationship with his deceased patron; this could conceivably have made for an interesting documentary on its own, but alongside the more abstract considerations suggested by the other panelists, it’s off to the side. Still, although it isn’t exactly weird, Morris’ unique, experimental documentary is thought provoking—and although it’s organic and seems unplanned, it’s not nearly as out-of-control as its title implies.

This film was the first feature film where Morris used his simple but ingenious invention called the “Interrotron”: a camera setup (similar to a teleprompter) that displays an image of the interviewer on a two-way lens, so that the interviewee appears to be making eye contact with the viewer when he talks.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…studiously eccentric… nothing about [the subjects] is all that strange — or fascinating.”–Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Buzzkill” who called it “fascinating stuff.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

Recommended

“In my mind, it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious — something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoonfed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema, and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working.”–David Lynch

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Robert Loggia

PLOT: Fred is a free jazz saxophonist who finds that mysterious videotapes are being dropped off on his doorstep. After an encounter with a mysterious pale man at a party, he blacks out finds himself accused of the murder of his wife. In prison Fred begins having headaches, and then one day he disappears and a completely different man—a young mechanic—is discovered in his death row cell.

Still from Lost Highway (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • The screenplay to Lost Highway was co-written by Barry Gifford, who also wrote the novel “Wild at Heart” that Lynch adapted into a film in 1990.
  • Lost Highway received two “thumbs down” ratings from Siskel & Ebert’s “At the Movies” syndicated movie review program. Lynch insisted the movie poster be rewritten to highlight the critics’ dual pans, describing the bad ratings as “two good reasons to go and see Lost Highway.”
  • The film cost about 15 million dollars to make but grossed less than 4 million at the U.S. box office.
  • Lost Highway boasts a number of cameo roles, including rockers Henry Rollins as a guard and Marilyn Manson as a porn actor,  mainstay  in a voiceover, and Richard Prior as one of Pete’s co-workers.
  • This film marks the last onscreen appearance of , who appeared in all of Lynch’s films until his death in 1996.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Robert Blake’s “Mystery Man,” an eyebrow-free, perpetually grinning pasty-faced ghoul who likes to crash L.A. cocktail parties and whose idea of small talk is to call himself on his cell phone to deliver obscure metaphysical portents of doom.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine you’re on a desert highway. It’s long past midnight and you can ‘t see anything but the onrushing yellow traffic lines a few feet in front of the car’s headlights.  is crooning “funny how secrets travel” from the stereo. David Lynch is at the wheel, he’s jittery from drinking too much coffee, and neither you nor he has no idea where you’re going. Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a wild ride.


Original trailer for Lost Highway

COMMENTS: Made five years after the divisive mixed blessing that was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway marks the beginning of the Continue reading 133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

CAPSULE: TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES (1997)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alexandra Pic, Isabelle Teboul, Bernard Charnacé

PLOT: Two eternally reborn vampire girls who are blind during the day but see at night pose as

Still from Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

orphans and are adopted by an eye doctor who believes he can cure them.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Two Orphan Vampires is a very odd, low key movie, but it won’t be confused for Jean Rollin’s best.

COMMENTS: After having some mild success with his unusual, surreal erotic vampire movies in the early 1970s, Jean Rollin fell out of fashion later in the decade and increasingly turned to grinding out hardcore porn films to pay the bills, directing his beloved horrors only sporadically. Although it’s not his final fright film, Two Orphan Vampires feels like a swan song, an old man returning to the themes that haunted him in his youth. Adapted from his own graphic novel, the director’s usual obsessions are all back, undiluted after almost 30 years: Sapphic heroines, world weary vampires struggling with existential burdens of near-immortality, indifference to pacing. The film was obviously made on the cheap, adorned with a poor music score that’s 1/2 funk, 1/2 80s synth-pop and shot on low quality film stock that gives it a direct-to-video look. The cheapness is not helped by the fact that almost half the movie is tinted ultramarine, which is Rollin’s realization of the vampires’ night vision but also unfortunately brings to mind the low-budget trick of using a blue filter in order to shoot day for night. The concept of vampires being blind during the day is novel—more, it’s practically inexplicable, one of many strangely conceived features of this movie that could only have come from this particular director and his skewed view of the Gothic. Orphan Vampires is also unusually talky, even for Rollin, with the girls expressing angst, filling us in on their backstory, and remembering (perhaps imagining) their various reincarnations in lengthy dialogues. Still, the core scenario of these two eternal child-women wandering through the human world as if in a dream is appealing. In their travels they stumble upon other immortal monsters—werewolves, ghouls—all women, all wanderers like themselves. Never has the correspondence between blood and sexual fluids been as pronounced as in this film: lines like “it’s good to be sticky from the lifeblood of this woman,” “I adore you—smear me with some blood” and “you think we could drink each other?” reinforce the connection none too subtly. Other oddities include an strangely staged stalking and slaying taking place in a circus tent conveniently set up in the middle of a Paris street, the vampire girls taking time out to experiment with alcohol and cigarettes like typical teenagers, and the orphans’ continual insistence that they are actually Aztec gods. Two Orphan Vampires is slow, cheap, badly dubbed, and the vampire-vision blue filters get old, true, but there is an almost endearing strangeness and obsessiveness to the movie’s eccentric conceptions. Unfortunately, it goes on too long and wears out its welcome even for those who are attuned to this director’s plodding style, making it yet another of Rollin’s noble failures.

A couple of actresses from the past show up in Two Orphan Vampires, reinforcing the notion of this film as a Rollin retrospective piece. Natalie Perrey from Lips of Blood appears as a nun, and porn actress/topless Grim Reaper is an orphan vampire victim. An even more obscure cameo comes in the Midnight Lady’s choice of bedside reading: Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill’s “Immoral Tales,” an influential survey of seventies Eurohorror that included an appreciative chapter on Rollin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though the two orphans are beautiful to look at and their condition tragic, there’s nothing else to hold onto as a viewer. I’m sure some viewers hold on and glean something from this bizarre film, but it never quite gets as weird as [Rollin’s] best work.”–Gordon Sullivan, DVD Verdict

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BUTCHER BOY (1995)

DIRECTED BYNeil Jordan

FEATURING: Eamonn Owens, Sean McGinley, Peter Gowen, Alan Boyle, Andrew Fullerton, Fiona Shaw, Aisling O’Sullivan, Stephen Rea, Sinéad O’Connor

PLOT: Against the backdrop of Cold War absurdity, a rebellious 1950’s Irish youth descends into a psychotic maelstrom upon the deaths of his dysfunctional parents and abandonment by his best friend.

Still from The Butcher Boy (1997)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Based on the prize winning stream of consciousness novel by Pat McCabe, the movie flows like a grim fantasy regurgitated by a mescaline-intoxicated James Joyce. The combination of genres and mild-mannered, cavalier narrative of perversity and violence make The Butcher Boy a weird and wonderful, if unsettling viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  High production values and slick editing distinguish this utterly bizarre story about a cheerfully deluded boy’s descent into madness, mayhem and murder. The lighthearted presentation of repellent material makes for a heavy cinematic encounter that timid viewers will find unpleasant and unsettling.

Francie (Owens) is a slightly delinquent youth. His father (Rea) is a talented, but unrecognized musician—and an anti-social, violent alcoholic. His bipolar mother does her best to distract herself from the family’s depressing existence via a zealous plethora domestic rituals.

Despite his oddball, dysfunctional family life, Francie manages to hang on until his mother commits suicide. The tragedy triggers a series of frantic misfortunes that lead to an insidious and inevitable structural decay of the framework that Francie desperately needs for a normal maturation.

Lacking valid coping options, Francie immerses himself in a comic book-fueled world of fantasy, accentuated by typical boyish adventures and games. But the games become increasingly grim when misfortune and his own recklessness lead him ever further astray.

Beguiled by hallucinatory visions, Francie is off first to a Catholic reform school where he stabs a pedophile priest, then to a lunatic asylum where the staff jolts him with shock treatments and a fellow patient warns him of impending trepanation-style lobotomy. Concluding that the damning chain of unalterable events is rooted in a neighbor’s hatred, Francie finally plunges over the dam of reality. Maddened and desperate, he cascades away on the headwaters of a psychotic mission to compel salvation and resolution via maniacal revenge.

The Butcher Boy is a viewing experience steeped in incongruity. The plot is cinematically presented as a comedy. It is anything but. Grim, twisted, and gritty, the sequence of events that unfold are nothing to laugh at. The storybook Irish countrysides of Warrenpoint and Monaghan accent this foreboding tale, and clash with starkly seedy Dublin locations. Discordant hallucination sequences disrupt the balance of reality. The resulting contrast between subject matter and tempo results in an arty, but disturbing film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though the movie sometimes looks as if the authentic Irish wit, colour and blarney has been filtered through the sensibility of a Buñuel or Polanski, Jordan never allows the surreal/expressionist aspects to dominate.”–Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide

LIST CANDIDATE: TO DIE FOR TANO [TANO DA MORIRE] (1997)

DIRECTED BY: Roberta Torre

FEATURING: Ciccio Guarino, Mimma De Rosalia

PLOT: The movie tells the story of the life and death of Palermo mafioso Tano Guarrasi—and

Still from To Die for Tano (1997)

of the newfound freedom of his four ugly sisters who stayed spinsters because no man was brave enough to marry them—in song and dance.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  It’s weird, but given its status as an almost completely unknown movie, it’s not quite outrageously outlandish enough to earn a spot on the List on the first ballot.  A musical production telling the life story of a contemptible macho bully in styles ranging from disco to “gangsta” rap would be strange enough, but director Roberta Torre adds in bizarre dream sequences involving dancing chickens and every 1970s LSD drug trip camera effect she can afford, and films the entire mess as if she’s the long-lost love child of Maya Deren and George Kuchar.  It’s rambunctious and the energy gets to you, but it’s held back by its extreme amateurism (bad singing and choreography can gets wearisome over an hour’s time), and also by the fact that no compelling story or characters ever emerge from the sketch-upon-sketch structure.  Still, it’s one of those movies you may want to track down just so you’ll have something to make your co-workers’ eyes bug out on Monday morning when you talk around the water cooler about what you watched over the weekend.  Recommended for those hunting the obscurest oddities, and anyone who reads this site regularly is likely to find it at least amusing.

COMMENTS:  There’s something gratifying about seeing Sicily’s murderous thugs depicted as a crew of mincing ninnies.  The fact that this gangster spoof is enacted by residents of the city that suffered during the mob’s gangland wars only adds to the elation; their open mockery of their criminal overlords feels brave and subversive, and transmutes the silliness into a strange sort of grandeur.  Though shot in 1997, Tano almost looks like a 1970s production, from the washed out color to the grotesque-looking amateur actors, cheap props and camera tricks, and general “pop avant-garde” feel of an Andy Warhol or John Waters production.  The story (based on real-life events) jumps about in time, usually for little obvious reason, and there are numerous digressions for flashbacks and the absurd musical numbers that are the film’s raison d’être.  The translator earns extra credit for rendering all the songs in rhyme, especially since that practice often results in odd-sounding couplets like “I’ll beat up guys Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: TO DIE FOR TANO [TANO DA MORIRE] (1997)

CAPSULE: FUNNY GAMES (1997)

DIRECTED BYMichael Haneke

FEATURING: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski

PLOT: Held captive by two charming but very twisted psychopaths, a family tries to outwit them as they are forced to play sick parlor games.

Still from Funny Games (1997)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTFunny Games is a more substantial captive torment tale than most. It features enigmatic villains, and unconventional breaking of the fourth wall.  At times parts of the plot are relayed from different points of view. But overall it is still a straight-forward psychological thriller, too conventional in structure and subject to be considered weird.

COMMENTS:  With son Schorschi (Clapczynski) in tow, rich yuppies Ana and Georg (Lothar, Mühe) arrive at their vacation house on a remote mountain lake ready for a quiet summer of relaxation and solitude. And what better setting for it than a security gated compound in a security gated community where everyone minds his business and doesn’t come knocking unless invited?

Despite their hi-tech Maginot line of fortified privacy, Ana and Georg have no phone line to their house. Their only link to the outside world is Ana’s cell phone and she’s not prone to be careful with it. No matter. Nobody is planning on getting in touch with them, nor is anyone expecting contact from the couple for a few weeks. Or longer.

Of course, all of the security in the world is useless when one lowers the drawbridge to admit a Trojan Horse. Charming Peter, a guest of friends down the way, shows up to borrow some eggs, and of course Anna lets him right in. Peter accidentally destroys her phone, and then just can’t seem to leave.

Peter’s friend Paul arrives, and the next thing you know, the family watchdog is mysteriously dead. Now neither Peter nor Paul can seem to get out the door and go home. Georg. who had been out, returns and won’t listen to Ana’s assertion that the beguiling young men are trouble. One mustn’t be rude to guests. Georg discovers too late that he should have listened to wifey for a change. He meets the business end of one of his own golf clubs—with his knee. And a Continue reading CAPSULE: FUNNY GAMES (1997)