Tag Archives: Amnesia

97. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

“Do not demystify.  When you know too much, you can never see the film the same way again. It’s ruined for you for good. All the magic leaks out, and it’s putrefied.”–David Lynch, explaining to Terrence Rafferty why he will not record director’s commentaries

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Laura Harring,

PLOT: A woman (Harring) is involved in a nighttime accident on Mulholland Drive and flees into the city of Los Angeles with amnesia; she sneaks into an apartment soon to be occupied by naive young Betty (Watts), who has come to Hollywood hoping to find stardom.  Meanwhile, a film director (Theroux) finds himself pressured by mysterious mobsters to cast an unknown actress in his upcoming project.  Betty helps the amnesiac woman try to recover her identity, but the clues only lead to a strange avant-garde nightclub, a key, a box, and a sudden reality shift that throws everything that came before into confusion.

Still from Mulholland Drive (2001)


BACKGROUND:

  • Lynch originally intended Mulholland Drive as a TV series in the mold of “Twin Peaks.”  When the networks passed on the pilot, the French producer Studio Canal stepped in with additional financing to turn the pilot into a feature film.  In between ABC’s proactive cancellation of the series and the creation of the film version, all of the sets and props were dismantled, forcing Lynch to come up with a different way to complete the story.
  • Monty Montgomery, whose appearance as “The Cowboy” is an uncanny show-stopper, is a Hollywood movie producer (who produced Wild at Heart for Lynch).  Mulholland Drive is his only acting credit (he’s listed as “Lafayette Montgomery” in the credits).
  • Lynch insisted no chapter stops be included on the DVD.
  • The original DVD release included an insert from Lynch containing “10 Keys to Unlocking This Thriller.”
  • Mulholland Drive received significant critical acclaim, nabbing Lynch a Best Director award at Cannes (shared with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn’t There) and a Best Director Oscar nomination.  It was voted best picture of the Year by the Boston Film Critics Society, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the new York Film Critics Circle, and the Online Film Critics Society (where it tied with Memento in the voting).  It was also voted best foreign picture by the Academy Award equivalents of Brazil, France, Spain, and Australia.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Silencio nightclub, decorated in Lynch’s trademark red velvet drapes and staffed by his trademark subconscious monsters.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If the massive reality shifts and actresses unexpectedly playing


Original trailer for Mulholland Drive

multiple roles is not enough for you, then the monster behind the Winkie’s, a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” delivered by a woman who collapses onstage, and a mafia-style media syndicate run by a deformed dwarf who uses an eyebrowless cowboy as his right-hand man will convince you that we are deep in that subconscious pit of eroticism, kitsch and weirdness that can only go by the name Lynchland.

COMMENTS:  Oddly enough, what may be the most important scene in Mulholland Drive Continue reading 97. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD LEAVES (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Hiroyuki Imaishi

FEATURING: Amanda Winn Lee (voice), Jason Lee (voice)

PLOT:  A man with a television for a head and a woman with mismatched eyes wake up with amnesia, are imprisoned on what’s left of the moon, lead a revolt, have a baby, and kill lots and lots of people.

Still from Dead Leaves (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTDead Leaves moves so fast and makes so little sense that it’s almost the equivalent of putting an ultraviolent manga in a high-speed blender and trying to read it while the pieces swirl around.  The plot is nearly incomprehensible, but somehow involves mutant clones and a psychedelic caterpillar.  Weird?  Hell yes.  Recommended?  Well, definitely not to epileptics.  Even for older folks with a healthy neurobiology, the breakneck pacing is as likely to induce a headache as an adrenaline rush.  It’s definitely one-of-a-kind, though, and as an experiment in compressing as much berserk and illogical anime flavor as possible into as short a running time as possible, it’s worth a look, and maybe even an eventual spot on the List.

COMMENTS: Dead Leaves really is something to behold.  It seems to have been conceived, and composed, under the influence of an entirely new drug: amphetashrooms.  The film is essentially one fifty-minute long chase fight/scene, with a very few timeouts to catch your breath.  The female pink-eyed Pandy and TV-headed male Retro wake up, rob a bank, are imprisoned, break out, fire thousands of rounds of ammunition from weapons that conveniently appear when needed, and fight an ever-mutating horde of bad guys; Retro loses his head both literally and figuratively during the journey.  The violence and gore are extreme, but so ridiculous—with characters spontaneously transforming into human arsenals and showers of spent yellow bullet casings flying so thick that they sometimes obscure the carnage—that it becomes almost non-representational.  Animation styles change every few seconds (and sometimes even several times within a second), as the artists involved employ a variety of abstractions, split screens, shaky pans, replicate comic book panels complete Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD LEAVES (2004)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)

This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010; the article was partially recovered from Google cache, and the rest of the text was recreated. Sorry, original comments were irretrievably lost in cyberspace.

DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Kasten

FEATURING: Andras Jones, Seth Green, Jeffrey Combs, Beth Bates, Ted Raimi

PLOT: Awakening from a dream to find himself on an operating table, an amnesiac is informed that he is a schizophrenic murderer who has been committed to a private institution and is now being sent to a halfway home—nicknamed “the House of Love”—to be rehabilitated.

Scene from The Attic Expeditions (2001)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Attic Expeditions sounds echoes of some (better) weird movies: Jacob’s Ladder (in the way that the script offers different possible explanations for the protagonist’s hallucinations, and jerks the viewer back and forth between those theories) and Donnie Darko (in that it seems the director intended to tell a fantastical story that “made sense” on a literal level, but lost control of the story when he took it one paradox too far). An interesting, confusing, out-of-control picture, it’s as fascinating for its misses as for its hits. It falls just short of a general recommendation, but it is recommended to anyone interested in psychological, mindbending horror seasoned with heaping doses of confusion and who isn’t a stickler for great acting. This is the kind of curious, singular picture that could wind up filling one of the final slots in the List.

COMMENTS: Trevor Blackburn may be a schizophrenic murderer, or he may be an amnesiac sorcerer, or he may be the victim of an unethical psychological experiment; or he may be all three. It’s impossible to tell, especially since The Attic Expeditions is full of contradictions and contains segments where the timeline suddenly resets and the action repeats itself with slight variations. The mystery promiscuously throws out clues, but every possible explanation for Trevor’s woes seems chained to its own refutation. Trevor is an unreliable narrator in triplicate: he’s a definite amnesiac, a possible schizophrenic, and, to top it all off, his state-appointed guardian appears to be deliberately playing with his loose grip on reality. Psychiatrist Dr. Ek (played by Jefferey Combs as a variation on Herbert West as a pot-smoking, skin-popping headshrinker) uses Trevor as a case study for an experiment in Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE OREGONIAN (2011)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Calvin Reeder

FEATURING: , Robert Longstreet

PLOT: A young woman blacks out after an automobile accident on a lonely rural road, and

Still from The Oregonian (2011)

wakes up in a nearly deserted world inhabited only by silent women in red robes, truck drivers with a taste for omelets and gasoline cocktails, and man-sized green Muppets.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Though not entirely successful, it’s the most dedicatedly weird surrealism/horror hybrid to come down that lonely pike in quite some time.

COMMENTS: Before The Oregonian screening at the Dallas Film Festival, an almost apologetic writer/director Calvin Reeder came out and told the audience that, if they were expecting to see a horror film, they would probably be disappointed. He (accurately) described the movie as “a surrealist/experimental film with horror splashes” and confessed that previous screenings had seen “a lot of walkouts.” A crowd of about 30 people was on hand. Two people walked out about thirty minutes into the experience, during the “rainbow pee” sequence, a long bit where a bearded wheezing man stops by the side of the road to relieve himself, and his urine stream changes color from yellow to red to green to black. (Ironically, this was possibly The Oregonian‘s best and funniest sequence, and the walkouts left before the punchline). Three more patrons departed soon after, when, in response to the heroine’s desperate pleading for help, a man offers her omelet recipes instead. After that exodus, the remainder of the audience seemed to settle in to the movie’s groove, bursting into laughter when omelet man disposes of eggshells in the toilet and gasping when the shapeless green puppet (which looks like an experiment in splicing the genes of Kermit the Frog with the Cookie Monster) suddenly appears behind the protagonist. Still, not everyone could make it to the end; two more fled at about the one-hour mark, when the whole crew of accumulated weirdos (by this time the shapeless Muppet and omelet man have been joined by a gentle folksinger, a cigarette smoking man and a pair of robed women who don’t say anything but emit deafening screams) suddenly relocated the party from the Oregon woods to the Mojave desert, for no apparent reason. None of the audience members left because the content playing on the screen was offensive or shocking; they simply beat it at the point when their personal tolerance for non-narrative noodling reached its breaking point. The loud and Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE OREGONIAN (2011)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: 964 PINOCCHIO (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Shozin Fukui

FEATURING: Haji Suzuki, Onn-Chan

PLOT: Pinocchio 964, a malfunctioning sex slave, is thrown out onto the street by his

Still from 964 Pinocchio (1991)

dissatisfied owner.  Without speech or memory he stumbles, literally, into the lap of an amnesiac woman, Himiko, who takes him home to care for him.  As her memory returns she undergoes a cruel personality change, returning Pinocchio to the mysterious corporation that made him.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: 964 Pinocchio is certainly weird, but doesn’t hang together as a totally coherent film.  However, days later, I was still thinking about it.  I don’t think that the film is a satisfying blend of the weird and the entertaining; in fact some sequences are seriously hard work.  Pinocchio deserves a second look in the future though, because odd and confusing as it was, distasteful as some scenes were, that sad sex slave worms his way into your mind.

COMMENTS: 964 Pinocchio is quite clearly a low budget film, but it is inventive, imaginative and uncompromising.  Many scenes are filmed guerrilla style, and I found myself looking sympathetically at the bemused bystanders during some of the full-on craziness.  A film which includes a three minute vomiting scene will not be to everyone’s taste; and it’s not as if that’s an uncharacteristic sequence.  964 Pinocchio is a wet, messy film throughout.  Pinocchio emits a flood of custardy mess from some unspecified point on his head; Himiko regurgitates mounds of porridgy vomit before rolling in it and re-ingesting it; the head of the company which made Pinocchio continually eats cherries from a bowl of spittle.  The film really screams in your face and refuses to apologize for any of its bizarre imagery.

The film introduces us to one of the two central characters, Pinocchio, as he flounders unwillingly in the middle of a M-F-F threesome.  It’s an unerotic sex scene intercut with shots of a man in vague surgical garb, a huge drill bit entering someone’s head, and a voice informing someone that their memory will not return.  The opening scene really lays the film’s cards on the table; it’s just going to get more confusing from here.  Thrown onto the streets for failing to perform sexually, Pinocchio stumbles into Himiko.  She’s sitting, looking through Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: 964 PINOCCHIO (1991)

CAPSULE: MEMENTO (2000)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Nolan

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT:  A man suffering from an inability to form short term memories hunts for his wife’s murderer, relying on notes he leaves himself and important facts he tattoos on his body.

Still from Memento (2000)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It isn’t weird.  Other than the unconventional narrative structure, Memento could even be viewed as a bit of hardcore realism.   But it is easy to see why lovers of the weird are attracted to it; the cloudy mystery that attaches to the story and its central cipher doesn’t lift until the very end, creating a disorientation that feels subjectively weird even though the story is actually firmly grounded in reality.

COMMENTS: Here, I’ll make it easy for you with this paragraph.  To appreciate just how intricately Memento is constructed, and how big of an accomplishment the movie is, try reading the sentences in a story or essay backwards, from the last to the first, and see how much sense they make and how satisfying the experience is.  This time, it’s executed flawlessly.  The movie is epistemologically pessimistic, but artistically invigorating; it’s one of those rare, unique plot hooks that come around once or twice a decade, and you can only hope the filmmakers don’t compromise and do invest the extra work required to pull it off.  It’s a simple concept but far more than a gimmick; the inversion of cause and effect works wonders.  Nothing distracts our attention from trying to unravel the puzzle.  The direction and the performances by the three principals are professionally transparent; the script is the star, as it should be in a mystery.  Leonard insists that memory is faulty, eye witness testimony is unreliable, and that the only thing he can depend on is facts—the notes he inks indelibly on his own body—but as the story works its way from the conclusion to the origin, we start to suspect that there may be nothing that we can accept at face value.  It quickly becomes apparent that it would be Continue reading CAPSULE: MEMENTO (2000)

CAPSULE: BURNING INSIDE (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Nathan Wrann

FEATURING: Micheal Wrann, Kristina Powis

PLOT: An amnesiac wakes up from a coma; an internal trauma stemming from a

Still from Burning Inside (2010)

brutal, repressed tragedy is gradually revealed in scenes that mix flashbacks with uncertain reality.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s a noble low-budget attempt, but it’s not distinctive enough, and not ready for big-time weirdness.

COMMENTS:  When I glanced at the back of the Burning Inside DVD case and saw that the running time was 120 minutes, I got an anxious feeling; I was afraid that I might end up trapped iside the work of a young director in love with his own vision, who didn’t know when to turn the camera off.  After watching the first scene—five minutes of a nurse shaving a comatose man—my suspicions were confirmed.  The man (known only as John Doe) awakens from his coma with a gasp; 15 minutes later, he hasn’t spoken and we haven’t learned anything at all about him.  30 minutes in, all that’s happened is that he’s drawn a mysterious picture on the wall.  By that time, most people will have given up on the movie, which is a bit of a shame because by the halfway point the pace picks up, the weirdness commences, and some interesting things start to happen: chief among them is a montage mixing a slaughter and a love scene, set to “Ave Maria” (the sudden introduction of music is jarring considering the near silence of the surrounding soundtrack).  Unfortunately, Burning Inside falls prey to a style-over-story fallacy that’s too common in the avant-garde: the filmmakers believe the atmosphere they’re creating is so intoxicating that viewers will want down time to breathe it in without the constant distraction of plot developments.  It ain’t so.  Visually, Burning Inside takes its cue from the grainy, high-contrast monochrome aesthetic of great weird films like Begotten and Pi (not to mention Eraserhead, from which Wrann also took the idea of using a far off industrial hum as sonic wallpaper).  Weird movie fans who’ve seen these black and white classics will feel they’re in a familiar landscape.  There are some very pretty shots along the way, including some bleak landscapes where the contrast is turned up so high the grass glows like snow, and some interesting uses of double images and dissolves (there’s a very effective dissolved where the protagonist appears to be going cross-eyed, until the image resolves and we see that another character has been sharing an eyeball with him).  Some sequences use a washed out color for contrast, as if we were looking at someone’s old Super-8 home films.  The attractiveness of the b&w cinematography is undermined at times by the grain added to the film, which looks blocky and pixelated and very obviously digital.  The performances are competently amateur for the most part, but star Michael Wrann, usually shown in a grimy wife-beater and two day growth of beard, has an effective presence: he displays the necessary mix of torment and menace, and remains enough of a cipher that we’re able to project imaginary tragedies on him.  He’s asked to over-emote at times, but he’s more effective when he stands unspeaking, grim and mysterious. Enough plot is eventually revealed to piece together a backstory, although there’s nothing especially shocking or surprising about the tale, and the viewer will still have to sort out what’s flashback and what’s fantasy.

Burning Inside has about 45 minutes of story to tell, but tries to cram that plot into 120 minutes of film. It could have been an effective mood piece at 80 minutes, and still have been a very leisurely tale with plenty of time for the viewer to soak up the atmosphere. This is a case where studio interference would have been a good thing: would the director really go to the mat for the extra three minutes of shaving footage?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Wrann’s style of filmmaking reminds me a lot of David Lynch’s, not for its weirdness, but in the way it stretches scenes and moments out to almost unbearable length – and yet I could not stop watching…  definitely a film worth seeking out, just don’t expect something you can watch with your friends and a six pack as part of a Friday night double feature; it isn’t a low budget slasher/monster flick, but a surreal trip through one man’s bent mind.”–Greg Lamberson, Fear Zone

DISCLOSURE: Screener copy provided for review by Channel Midnight.