Tag Archives: Alienation

SHORT: THE DARK SIDE OF FRIDAY (2011)

DIRECTED BY:  Matt Mulholland

FEATURING:  Matt Mulholland

PLOT: A depressed cabaret singer and sometime mime, overwhelmed by the pressures of

Still from The Dark Side of Friday (2011)

life and loneliness, contemplates suicide and drifts off into a symbolic abyss of despair.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  As devastating a portrait of human despair as has ever been painted, on a canvass black as velvet, this  poison break-up letter to a cruel world from an embittered heart compresses into a mere three minutes an agony that  it would take a lesser artist four minutes or even more to convey.   

COMMENTS: The nameless singer, dressed in black, observes the camera from a skewed angle, indicating his unwillingness to face the world head on anymore.  Alone, he sings of the pressures of ordinary life, but as the tension and anxiety build, a doppelgänger (who will later moph into a trippelgänger) appears.  The ghastly mirror image both harmonizes with, and mocks, the protagonist as he agonizes over paralyzing alternatives, eternally unable to choose (“which one can I take?”).  The minimalist set dissolves into a series of melancholy reminiscences; the dateless singer hanging his head in front of the mirror (the recurrence of the doppelgänger motif); he stands trapped in on a traffic island, his black garb blending into the surrounding darkness as unheeding humanity rushes by him in both directions (more dualities); he holds his head in his hands as, utterly alone, he kills off a bottle of Ballantine’s; he hangs his head in dejection as he stares hopelessly at the wall.  Mysterious images are interspersed into these reveries: running water (shades of Tarkovsky here, with an urban update); the bright lights of the teeming city intruding on his solitude, taunting him; a clock ticking down to an unstated but ominous deadline; glass shattering like a broken will (the deadline arives—the time for reflection is over).  In the finale the singer, now a mime, poses in front of the Void itself, trapped in an invisible box before Eternity.  Flakes of white drift through the Stygian abyss like fragments of exploded angels.  As masterfully affecting as these images are, without the searingly aware lyrics—written by a young postfeminist poetess to explore the ironic dualities of spirited youth versus weary wisdom, and of abandoned Dionysian collectivism versus painful Apollonian self-reflection—without such sure, knowing narration, the project would have come off as corny, weepy and bathetic.  Instead, it is a spiritually acute and devastating portrait of how having nowhere to go on Friday night inevitably leads to a loss of faith in life itself.   

The Dark Side of Friday is currently available to watch on YouTube.

58. DILLINGER IS DEAD (1969)

Dillinger e Morto

Dillinger Is Dead throws narrative, psychological, and symbolic common sense out the window… the film’s refusal of clear-cut logic, its contradictory symbols, and its moral ambiguity open it to endless interpretation.”–Michael Joshua Rowin, from the notes to the Criterion Collection edition of Dillinger is Dead

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Annie Girardot, Anita Pallenberg

PLOT: Glauco designs gas-masks by day.  One night, he returns to the apartment he shares with his wife and live-in maid and, while searching for ingredients for dinner, discovers a gun wrapped in newspaper in his pantry.  He spends an evening puttering around the house, making dinner, watching home movies, playing with his various toys, disassembling and reassembling the gun, painting it, then using the weapon in a senseless final act.

Still from Dillinger Is Dead (1969)

BACKGROUND:

  • John Dillinger was a bank robber in the 1930s who became both Public Enemy #1 and a folk hero.
  • Ferreri barely directed Piccoli, giving him only simple blocking instructions and dialogue and allowing the actor to improvise the rest of the performance.
  • This is the first of six films Ferreri and Piccoli made together.
  • Model Anita Pallenberg may be best known for her romantic involvements with two members of the Rolling Stones (first Brian Jones, and later Keith Richards), but she has had small roles in a couple of weird movies besides this one: Barbarella (1968) and Performance (1970).
  • The movie was filmed in the apartment of Italian pop-artist Mario Schifano, and some of the painters works (most prominently, “Futurismo Rivisitato“) can be seen in the background.
  • The observations that the young worker makes to Glauco in the prologue are all paraphrases from philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s essay One-Dimensional Man, a critique of then-contemporary consumerism, mass media and industrialism.  Marhola Dargis of the New York Times believes that the entire movie is an attempt to give cinematic form to Marcuse’s ideas.
  • After it’s initial release, Dillinger is Dead nearly disappeared.  Variety‘s 1999 version of the “Portable Movie Guide” didn’t mention it among their 8700 reviews, Halliwell never heard of it, and Pauline Kael didn’t encounter it in “5001 Nights at the Movies.”  It was seldom screened and never appeared on home video until a 2006 revival led to the film being virtually rediscovered, culminating in a 2010 release by the Criterion Collection.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The gun that may have belonged to John Dillinger, which fascinates the protagonist.  Especially after he paints it bright red and carefully paints white polka dots on it.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Dillinger is Dead is a disconnected, absurdist parable where

Clip from Dillinger is Dead

nothing seems to be happening, and when something happens, it doesn’t make sense. It’s very much a product of its time—the anarchic, experimental late 1960s—yet the world it portrays still feels oddly, and awfully, familiar.

COMMENTS: Dillinger is Dead doesn’t take leave of reality until its very last moments, Continue reading 58. DILLINGER IS DEAD (1969)

CAPSULE: LOREN CASS (2006)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Chris Fuller

FEATURING: Kayla Tabish, Travis Maynard, Chris Fuller (as Lewis Brogan), Jacob Reynolds

PLOT:  Bad poetry interrupts episodes in the lives of three teens or twenty-somethings at about the time of the 1997 St. Petersburg, Florida race riots.

Still from Loren Cass (2006)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s only fitfully weird, but consistently dull and pretentious. Life on this planet is full of hardships and disappointments; no one should voluntarily compound their woes by watching Loren Cass.

COMMENTS:  A voice says “after the 1997…”   A solo trumpet launches a doomed search for a melody.  A boy wakes up on the floor of a mechanic’s garage.  Another boy, with a shaved head, piercings and tattoos, presumably a skinhead, wakes up on a couch and goes outside to lie in the middle of the street.  A cute blonde girl wakes up next to a black male.  The boy from the garage picks up the skinhead.  The girl takes her own car.  The three drive to school.  The parking lot is full but the hallways inside are empty.  We get a nice look at the urinals.  Someone loads a gun.  We see the urinals from a different angle.  An older man takes a shot of whiskey.  The two boys are next to last to leave the parking lot.  At a stoplight a black guy jumps out of a van and punches the punk kid with through an open window.  They have a fight.  The screen goes blank and a street poet tells us St. Petersburg is “a dirty dirty town by a dirty dirty sea.”  What’s going on here?  The cute blonde works at a diner where no one ever orders anything.  She has car trouble and takes it to the young mechanic.  He fixes it and they go to dinner together.  She shovels gray cubes of meat into her mouth.  He doesn’t eat.  They barely talk but look at each other a lot.  They are in love.  What’s going on here?  Other things happen.  They aren’t interesting, either.  Some kids drink beer and say the F-word a lot until the Man comes and hassles them.  The skinhead’s hobby is to ride the bus at night.  We look at his face.  He looks alienated. Snippets of bad beatnik poetry and drunken ramblings play on the soundtrack.  There is a punk concert.  The skinhead falls asleep on the bus and dreams he’s a victim of spontaneous human combustion.  Years ago an embattled politician committed suicide at a press conference.  The footage is in the public domain so anyone can insert it into their movie at random.  The mechanic and the cute girl have sex.  The skinhead scratches “Loren Cass” onto his arm with a hypodermic needle he finds in a dumpster.  He swallows a handful of pills in a desperate attempt to get out of the movie.  He vomits them up.  The movie won’t let him out that easily.  He wakes up the next morning and looks into the camera.  He looks disaffected.  The trumpet player still hasn’t found a melody.  The credits roll.  What just went on here?  The Variety critic stayed awake and alert long enough to write that he had just seen “a starkly radical film debut of uncommon power and artistic principle.”  Seriously, what is going on here?

The events are set around the times of the St. Petersburg race riots, which we know because we see newsreel footage of the aftermath and hear audio clips of a rabble-rousing black preacher.  The movie supplies no context to suggest whether these incidents take place before, after, or during the riots.  But the subtext makes the film political and important.  Use of the tragically real footage of Pennsylvania Treasurer Budd Dwyer blowing his brains out on camera either says something insightful about fiscal corruption in the Keystone state in the 1980s, or is completely indefensible.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…ingeniously experimental in form… The tone — spaced-out, adrift, grubby yet ecstatic — is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s experimental youth movies and Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo,’ while the formal precision brings to mind Robert Bresson’s clipped, oblique allegories.”–Nathan Lee, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MR. SADMAN (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Patrick Epino

FEATURING: Al No’mani, Scott McNairy, Rudy Ramos

PLOT: When he’s scarred in an assassination attempt on the eve of the Kuwait invasion, a mute Saddam Hussein body double with no skills or interests beyond impersonating the Iraqi dictator loses his job and moves to Los Angeles to start his life over.

Still from Mr. Sadman (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  More quirky than weird.  There are some offbeat montages, including a nutty but oddly appropriate music video stuck into the middle of the film, but not enough to elevate it to true weirdness.

COMMENTS: No doubt about it, it’s Al No’mani’s airy and amiable performance as Saddam Hussein impersonator Mounir that keeps Mr. Sadman, a low-key indie comedy with an inventive premise but not quite enough laughs or plot, afloat. No’mani is the requisite dead-ringer for the fascist dictator. But more importantly, with his arsenal of friendly, vulnerable, quizzical, and despondent expressions, Iraqi-born No’mani (who died soon after filming was complete) invests his silent character with a surprising amount of humanity, turning him into something like an unhinged but harmless and sweet uncle for whom the audience roots. It was a gamble to make Mounir mute, but it pays off; the handicap gives the character an unexpected everyman aura that makes his sparse backstory irrelevant. The film features some mild satirizing of the subculture of struggling L.A. actors and technicians trying to break into the Hollywood film industry; there’s a deeper warning about the absurdity of forging our own identities by emulating celebrities, but there’s no preaching. The message is implicit in the plot. The script scores occasional chuckles, particularly with a pair of pot-smoking Hollywood wannabes whose minds get blown when Mounir walks past them at a party as they’re watching Saddam on CNN, and a scene where the middle-aged Iraqi plays basketball with some homeboys. There are also a few groaners: Mounir’s antagonists are FBI Agents Wang and Johnson (a couple of dicks, get it?) True to the title, there is an undercurrent of melancholy, and Sadman is indebted as much to the classic alienation films of the late 1960s and early 1970s as it is to contemporary quirky indies. There’s an explicit citation to Taxi Driver, an obvious tribute to The Graduate, and scenes of a man-child in a ridiculous costume strolling down city streets oblivious to urban reactions can’t help but bring to mind Midnight Cowboy. The spirits of light comedy and despairing loneliness  sometimes mix uneasily—and the laughs are largely jettisoned by the finale—but for the most part, it works okay. The cinematography, music and editing are all professional. The script requires some leaps of faith: for example, I wasn’t convinced Mounir’s new-found Hollywood buddies would risk jail time to protect him from the FBI. With the exception of No’mani and Rudy Ramos as a hotel operator, the performances are spotty. But the Iraqi’s expressive facial acting lifts the film to something that, while uneven, is often touching.

As appears to be increasingly the case in a movie business convinced its customers are demanding fewer alternatives to repetitive Hollywood fare, Mr. Sadman has not found a distributor. The director is currently self-promoting the picture, and it can be downloaded for $8 from the Mr. Sadman site. The picture quality of the download is good, and I had no problem burning it to a standard DVD+RW for viewing on my television screen (individual results may vary).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fair warning: watching Mr. Sadman does require the viewer to suspend one’s disbelief entirely… [but] Ultimately, Mr. Sadman delivers what it promises: presenting a dark comedy about the face of evil who just wants to be loved.”–Jaimie Mendoza, Asia Pacific Arts (contemporaneous)

25. NOSTALGHIA (1983)

“I wanted the film to be about the fatal attachment of Russians to their national roots, an attachment which they will carry with them for their entire lives, regardless of where destiny may fling them.  How could I have imagined as I was making Nostalghia that the stifling sense of longing that fills the screen space of that film was to become my lot for the rest of my life; that from now until the end of my days I would bear the painful malady within myself?” –Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Andrei Tarkovsky

FEATURING: Oleg Yankovskiy, Domiziana Giordano, Erland Josephson

PLOT: Andrei is a Russian poet is traveling around Italy in the company of a fetching translator, researching a biography of a Russian composer who studied in Italy before returning to Russia only to drink and kill himself.  Andrei becomes homesick and bored with the project, and with life in general, until he becomes fascinated by a insane man living in a small town famous for its natural mineral baths.  The madman gives him a simple symbolic task to perform—which Andrei procrastinates in completing— then leaves for Rome on a mission of his own.

Still from Nostalghia (1983)
BACKGROUND:

  • Tarkovsky was considered one of the finest filmmakers in the Soviet Union; he frequently ran into difficulty with the Soviet censors, however, particularly for his Christian viewpoints.  Although his films won acclaim at international film festivals, they were often shown to limited audiences in edited versions in his own country.  Work on the historical epic Tarkovsky was helming prior to Nostalghia had been halted by the Soviet censorship board because of scenes seen as critical of the state’s policy of official atheism.
  • Nostalghia was the first film Tarkovsky made outside the Soviet Union.  Originally intended to be a Soviet/Italian co-production, the state-owned USSR film production Mosfilm withdrew financial support for the project without comment after filming had already begun.
  • The film competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but was awarded a special jury prize instead.  Tarkovsky claimed that the Soviet contingent applied pressure to assure that the film would not be awarded the grand prize.
  • Tarkovsky defected to the West soon after Nostalghia was completed, leaving his wife and son behind.  They were eventually allowed to leave the country when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986.  Rumors persist that Tarkovsky did not die of natural causes, but was actually poisoned by the KGB in retaliation for his defection.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  There are many fine candidates.  The scene of Andrei attempting to carry a lit candle cupped in his hand across a drained spa may stick with the viewer, if not for its symbolism, then because it audaciously continues for over eight minutes.  But the final, static, picture postcard-like composition of a Russian homestead nestled inside an Italian cathedral perhaps captures Tarkovsky’s theme the best, and is shockingly beautiful, as well.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The fluidity between the conscious and subconscious worlds. Although it’s almost always clear whether the events depicted actually occur or are imagined, Tarkovsky is much more interested in what is going on inside the heads of his alienated Russian poet and the Italian madman than in what is happening in the “real” world. He uses strong, sometimes obscure visual symbolism and dreams to convey an affecting mood of existential loneliness.


Trailer for Nostalghia

COMMENTSNostalghia can’t be approached without a word of warning: this movie is Continue reading 25. NOSTALGHIA (1983)

16. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)

“We hoped for the look of a Bergman film and the feel of Cocteau.”–variously attributed to screenwriter John Clifford or director Herk Harvey

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Herk Harvey

FEATURING: Candace Hilligoss, Sidney Berger

PLOT:  Mary Henry, a church organist, is the lone survivor of an accident when the car she’s riding in plunges over the side of an old wooden bridge.  Looking to start over, she takes a job as an organist at a new church in a town where she knows no one.  She finds herself haunted by the sight of a pale grinning man who appears to her when she is alone, and fascinated by an old abandoned carnival pavilion visible from the window of her boarding house that she senses hold a mysterious significance.

carnival_of_souls
BACKGROUND:

  • Carnival of Souls was made in three weeks for less than $100,000 (figures on the budget vary, but some place it as low as $33,000).  The film was a flop on its initial release, but gained a cult following through late night television showings.  The film was restored and re-released in 1989 to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
  • Director Herk Harvey, screenwriter John Clifford and composer Gene Moore worked together at Centron Corporation, an industrial film company, creating short safety documentaries such as Shake Hands with Danger and high-school propaganda/hygiene films such as What About Juvenile Delinquency? None were ever involved with a feature film again.
  • Mesmerizing star Candace Hilligoss acted in only one other feature film, 1964’s The Curse of the Living Corpse, before retiring to raise a family.
  • The movie has been very influential on other films, particularly low-budget horror films.  Director George Romero has said that the ghostly figures in Carnival of Souls inspired the look and feel of the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Other writers see a Carnival of Souls influence on films such as Eraserhead (in regards to its ability to evoke the nightmarish quality of everyday objects), Repulsion (disintegration of the mind of a sexually repressed woman), and even Apocalypse Now (the shot of Martin Sheen rising from the water mimics a similar scene involving The Man–thanks to Matthew Dessem of “The Criterion Collection” for the catch).
  • Carnival of Souls was “remade” in 1998, although the plot (about a clown killer and rapist) shared nothing with the original except the name and the final twist.  Wes Craven produced.  The remake went direct to DVD and was savaged by critics and audiences alike.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: What else, but the titular carnival? Ghostly figures waltz to an eerie, deranged organ score on what appears to be an old merry-go-round at the abandoned amusement park. The tableau recurs twice in the film: once clearly in a dream, and once near the end as a scene that may also be a dream, but may be another state of being entirely.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDCarnival of Souls is set in the ordinary, everyday world, but as seen through the eyes of an alienated, frightened woman. The world the film depicts is familiar, but made maddeningly strange, and its the subtle, grubby touches rather than ghostly apparitions that allow this creepy low-budget wonder to seep deep under your skin.


Trailer for Carnival of Souls

COMMENTS: Carnival of Souls is a minor film miracle. There was little reason to suspect Continue reading 16. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)