A boy with crooked facial features seeks plastic surgery from a rather bizarre hospital.
DIRECTED BY: Wim Wenders
FEATURING: Pina Bausch
PLOT: A selection of modern dances from avant-garde choreographer Pina Bausch, interspersed
with tributes from the dancers who worked with her and presented in 3D.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Pina Bausch invented weird dances, but filming them (even in 3D) doesn’t make a weird movie, just a movie about people performing weird dances.
COMMENTS: German choreographer Pina Bausch died unexpectedly just before Wim Wenders began principal photography on Pina; whatever profile of the working artist he might originally have planned, the film became instead a eulogy. Because Bausch believed that movement was itself a language that could express emotional truths impossible to say with language, it’s fitting that almost none of her words remain in the film but that her life is instead told through her abstract dances. (What quotes we do have are mostly platitudes for the comfort and inspiration of her dancers: “dance, dance, otherwise we are lost”). It begins with a semi-conventional staging of Stravinsky’s still-shocking “The Rites of Spring,” with pagan maidens anxiously swaying in nude-colored nightgowns until the high priest selects the unlucky gal destined to dance herself to death to ensure a good harvest. That’s as comfortably classical and representational as things get. When we move into Bauch’s own imagination, we encounter a dreamlike café where blind women crash into the walls, a ballet performed in the pouring onstage rain beside a giant craggy rock, and a woman who walks onto a train cradling a pillow and silently connects with a passenger wearing donkey ears. Next to a muddy lake, a hunched woman bears a sleeping man on her back, while further in the background another lady marches along with a tree growing out of her spine. Limp dancers manipulated like puppets by others are a repeating theme; for example, there’s one sequence where a man carefully positions two comatose lovers, placing the woman’s arm around the man’s neck and then hoisting her into his arms, but she always slips off and he repeats his manipulations over and over, performing the futile ritual faster and faster each time until he’s almost a blur on the screen. Dances from four of Bausch’s major works are recreated; Wenders sometimes pours the action out of the theater and into the streets of Wuppertal. A few shorter pieces were created for the film by her disciples in Pina’s surreal style. The stagings and costumes are minimalist but always evocative and interesting; color schemes are intense and dramatic. The musical accompaniment is tasteful, eclectic and melodic, ranging from the expected classical chestnuts (Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky) through jazz (Louis Armstrong) and Portuguese fado to moody modern avant-rock and electronica. I didn’t go into Pina as a fan of modern dance, and I didn’t come out one; but, even though the non-narrative feature did become a bit repetitive at 100 minutes, I’m glad I spent the time getting to know the woman and her craft. I don’t think Pina will spark the same interest in its esoteric subject as Wenders’ The Buena Vista Social Club did in Cuban music, but it’s impossible to come away unimpressed by the grace, dedication and creativity of the dancers, or by the love and respect that went into composing this tribute to Pina’s life work.
Though sometimes promoted as the first 3D documentary, fellow German Werner Herzog beat Wenders to the punch (at least by release date) with his equally weighty Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010). When I watched Cave on a flat screen, I was convinced that, by not having seen it in 3D as intended, I was missing out on crucial visual textures. But (although I know I’ll be in the minority here), having caught Pina in a theater in all three of its intended dimensions, now I’m not convinced that 3D technology can ever add anything to a film’s visuals but a touch of novelty. The human brain automatically adds depth to a flat image, making 3D effects superfluous. Pina‘s dancers didn’t seem richer or more real to me simply because they were superficially curvier and stood out a bit from the background. In fact, they looked artificial and unnatural, in that peculiar way only modern computer-generated effects produce. The ersatz hyperreality of 3D may perform a weirdening function by enhancing the oddness of Pina’s otherworldly compositions, however.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Pina’s power comes from the way Wenders uses that illusion of living, flexing proximity to immerse you in Bausch’s dreamlike, emotionally vertiginous world. Watching Pina is like being inside one of Bausch’s surreal pieces.”–Jordan Levin, The Miami Herald (contemporaneous)
DIRECTED BY:Werner Herzog
FEATURING: Werner Herzog (narration)
PLOT: Granted unprecedented access, Werner Herzog takes his camera crew into the Chauvet
caves of Southern France to capture images of the oldest artwork ever discovered—Cro-Magnon paintings that date back approximately 30,000 years.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s essentially a very sober and serious documentary on an important subject, with the presence (and odd musings) of ultra-eccentric director Werner Herzog supplying the only weird connection.
COMMENTS: There are two things to keep in mind about Cave of Forgotten Dreams. One is that those of us who missed it in its theatrical run will probably never get the opportunity to experience the film as it was intended to be seen. Cave was originally shot in 3D, and for maybe the first time in film history, there was actually a reason to access that third dimension. The Chauvet paintings were drawn on rocky walls, and the artists incorporated the bulges and ripples into their sketches (Herzog comments on how, in flickering torchlight, the horses and lions drawn on the craggy walls might appear to move—comparing the cave itself to a sort of proto-cinema). The second thing to keep in mind is that this is an Important work; which is not to say that it’s not also Interesting, just that Herzog takes his responsibility to document these previously unseen caverns very seriously, and if it comes down to a choice between being Interesting or Important, he errs towards the latter. The Chauvet caves, which were hidden by a rockslide and preserved away from prying eyes for millennia before being accidentally discovered by spelunkers in 1994, are considered of such scientific and historical importance that only a small number of the world’s top scientists had previously been granted access. The crew was forced to film under restrictive conditions: they were only allowed access for a few hours each day, were confined to a two foot metal walkway so as not to disturb any of the primeval footprints or animal skulls littering the cavern floors, and could only use handheld cameras and low-heat lighting elements that they could carry with them. Since there are only a few painted panels of interest to amateurs, Herzog fills up the running time with interviews with scientists who gave us background on the caves and on Paleolithic man. While he does pick a few colorful characters to interrogate—most notably a guy who dresses in deerskin and serenades us with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” piped on a vulture-bone flute—these scarce quirky digressions aren’t as gonzo as some reports might have you believe. The focus remains on the artwork. Herzog passionately believes that when we look at these mysterious scrawlings of battling rhinos and half-buffalo women we are peeking at the first stirrings of the human soul, though through a cloudy window. In the quiet finale the camera lingers over the detailed panels depicting cave lions and horses, remarkably rendered figures etched one on top of the other to suggest movement, while Ernst Reijseger’s mystical score of cellos, flutes and a droning choir plays an imaginary primordial liturgy. It’s an intense tribute, and even a little trippy. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Herzog film without at least one totally incomprehensible moment. This time it occurs in a head-scratching epilogue. After finishing his tour of the cave, Herzog takes a trip to a nearby experimental biosphere where a tropical climate has been created using heated water from a nearby nuclear reactor. There, he films some albino alligators and proclaims them our doppelgängers, wondering how they would react to the caves. It’s an obscure personal metaphor that provokes an almost universal response: “huh”? But perhaps it’s the best way to end the documentary: we can’t completely understand what Cave‘s paintings meant to artists separated from us by 30,000 years of evolution any more than we can completely understand the peculiar vision of Werner Herzog.
Herzog made two documentaries screened in the U.S. this year, neither of which have been shortlisted for Academy Awards. Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which certainly deserved a nomination, was ruled ineligible because it received a limited screening in 2010. His other film, Into the Abyss, concerned interviews with three unrepentant Texas death row inmates, did not make the shortlist of fifteen features despite excellent reviews.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a journey to prehistory that’s simultaneously wondrous and tedious, profound and completely nuts — which is to say, quintessential Herzog.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, National Public Radio (contemporaneous)
DIRECTED BY: Robert Rodriguez
FEATURING: George Lopez, Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley
PLOT: Dreamy young Max invents the imaginary superheroes Sharkboy and Lavagirl from
Planet Drool to brighten his dull existence; when his dream journal is stolen by a schoolyard bully, Planet Drool is taken over by tyrants and his imaginary friends whisk him away to his disintegrating dream world to set things right.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The childishly imaginative The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D shows all the evidence of having been taken out of the hands of the original scenarist, 7 year old Racer Max Rodriguez, and script-doctored to fit into a kiddie film format that would be more comfortable for adults. The tale heads off in weird directions, obliterating the line between fantasy and reality as it meanders down a stream-of-consciousness style from superheroes to roller coasters to electrical plug villains to omniscient floating head robots. It’s a near-perfect exhibition of the hyperactive schizophrenia of a typical seven-year old. So far, so good; but then, someone—my money is on director Robert Rodriguez—imposed a standard three-act structure on the story, smoothed out the non-sequiturs, and tossed in a moral about realizing your dreams to placate stern, rational adults. Had they stuck to Racer’s original vision, Sharkboy and Lavagirl, as the first script actually written by a seven year old, might have turned out as one of the weirdest movies ever made.
COMMENTS: Sharks are not weird. Pomegranates are weird. I base this conclusion on the fact that the Armenian director Sergei Parajanov once chose to make a weird movie about pomegranates, but no one has ever made a weird movie about sharks. Sharks are b-movie heavies, excuses for bad special effects and senseless gratuitous violence. They serve the same cinematic purpose as other non-weird bad guy archetypes like giant spiders, psychotic killers in hockey-masks, and Paris Hilton.
Mega-sharks, on the other hand, may be weird, but I thought of them too late.
Robert Rodriguez, who alternates making weirdish adult cult movies like Grindhouse and Sin City with wacky children’s movies like the Spy Kids series, loves sharks, a love affair that began when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws premiered on his 7th birthday. For recreation, he goes scuba diving in shark-infested waters in a steel cage. He’s passed down his obsession with sharks to his son Racer, who, between the ages of six and seven, made up the character of Sharkboy in stories he told to amuse himself. In an attempt to recapture the spirit of youth and create a movie that would appeal to directly to kids with as little adult intervention as possible, the elder Rodriguez took Racer’s ideas, dialogue and plot sketches (as verbatim as he could while still making a reasonably coherent movie), cast professional talent in the key roles, and directed his son’s daydreams in front state of the art green-screen special effects as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.
I say this to explain why a weird movie website is covering a semi-weird, shark-lite, non-horror movie for the b-movie roundtable SHARKATHALON!, “week-long tribute to everything that has to do with sharks and horror films” scheduled to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the release of Jaws. Fans of the toothy marine predators looking for tales of blood in the water, prepare for something completely different.
With those flimsy justifications out of the way, let’s jump into Racer’s kiddie shark pool, where the chum floating in the water isn’t chunks off a great white’s latest victim, but shreds of childhood dreams.
First off, forget 3-D. Part of the reason this film was originally panned is because the 3-D effects, which came along at the very tail end of the red-blue glasses era and just before the contemporary polarized glasses became standard, just didn’t measure up. The DVD comes with red-blue glasses and offers viewers the chance to torture themselves with them should they so wish, but most will be happy to stick to the standard flat-viewing experience.
The adventures begin with Sharkboy’s origin story: son of a marine biologist, separated from his father and lost in a CGI sea after a storm, adopted by talking sharks; naturally, his exposure to the sharky lifestyle results in him growing gills, fangs and fins. Lavagirl, the affirmative-action superheroine added to tap into the lucrative girl market, doesn’t get an origin story; she Continue reading CAPSULE: THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3-D (2005)