Tag Archives: Autobiographical

121. 8 1/2 (1963)

AKA Otto e Mezzo; Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2

CLAUDIA: Let’s leave this place. It makes me uneasy. It doesn’t seem real.

GUIDO: I really like it. Isn’t that odd?

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Sandra Milo, Claudia Cardinale, , Edra Gale

PLOT: Full of doubts and very near to suffering a breakdown from stress, a director is planning to make his next movie, never making much progress. The story is continuously interrupted by flashbacks to his boyhood and dream sequences, including one where he imagines all the women in his life living together in a harem. The production is complicated further by the arrival of his wife on the set, who is humiliated to find that his mistress is also there.

Still from 8 1/2 (1963)

BACKGROUND:

  • By Fellini’s count, this was the 8 1/2th film he directed (counting shorts and co-directing gigs as 1/2 of a movie each).
  • This was Fellini’s first feature after the incredible international success of La Dolce Vita (1960). In the movie, Fellini’s alter ego Guido has just come off of a great success, and everyone around him is expecting him to produce another masterpiece.
  • After making La Dolce Vita and before 8 1/2, Fellini became involved in Jungian psychoanalysis and started keeping a dream diary.
  • 8 1/2 won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1964. It played out of competition at Cannes, because the Italians split up their two 1963 prestige pictures, 8 1/2 and Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, between Cannes and the Moscow Film Festival (a successful strategy, as Visconti took Cannes and Fellini Moscow). 8 1/2 has since far surpassed its companion and become a staple of “best movies of all time” lists. It ranked #9 on the 2002 version of Sight & Sound’s critic’s poll of the greatest movies ever made, and #3 on the director’s poll.
  • The “dance” ending was originally intended as a promotional trailer, but Fellini decided he liked the optimistic tone of this sequence better than the dark ending he had originally planned.
  • Unaccountably, this intellectual meditation on artistic doubt was adapted as a Broadway musical (!) called “Nine,” which was then made into a mediocre Hollywood musical.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It is with great reluctance that I select the image of Marcello Mastroianni flown like a kite above the beach as 8 1/2‘s representative image; not because it isn’t a fascinating and beautiful invention, but because I have to pass on so many other worthy candidates. In particular, I would have loved to pick a shot of Guido with a whip trying in vain to tame the women in the harem of his mind; but that ten minute sequence flows so beautifully and seamlessly from polygamous bliss to infantilism to feminist rebellion that it unfortunately can’t be summed up in a single still.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Watching 8 1/2 is like being dropped inside Federico Fellini’s brain and wandering around inside its convoluted folds. As self-centered stream-of-consciousness filmmaking, this wonderfully masturbatory masterpiece has never been equaled. The film flows smoothly from anxiety-ridden nightmares to wish-fulfillment daydreams to some state we could safely call “reality” (although some new magic is always creeping up on even the most mundane moments of Guido’s confused existence).


Opening scene from 8 1/2

 

COMMENTS: Expressing my disappointment with the middelbrow conventionality of 2009’s Continue reading 121. 8 1/2 (1963)

CAPSULE: CARMEL (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Amos Gitai

FEATURING: Amos Gitai,  (voice)

PLOT: A series of autobiographical reflections mix with impressionistic recreations of a battle between Romans and Jews and poetry read by Jean Moreau.

Still from Carmel (2009)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although there are a few moments of effective weirdness, most of Carmel is too personal to convey much meaning to anyone other than its director.  Far too much of the movie is misty flashbacks of characters we can’t place fondly reading letters from relatives we don’t know.

COMMENTSCarmel is a confusing movie, and its lack of urgency about telling a story combined with disinterest in avoiding dull patches doesn’t serve it well.  To give it its due, it does announce itself as a “poem”—one supposedly “about people, what they think and what they want and what they think they want”—providing ample warning that, if you don’t like to read poetry, you’re probably not going to like this movie.  Of course, that’s a very different proposition from saying that if you do like to read poetry, you will like this film.  Scattered interesting images and turns of phrase aren’t enough to make great verse; good poetry, after all, exhibits focus, discipline, and communication, which are Carmel‘s weak points.  That said, Carmel does turn a few fine film phrases, which save it from being a complete, solipsistic waste of time.  The first of these phrases happens early on, when Gitai evokes an ancient battle between Romans and Jews.  Moreau narrates the battle over Hebrew dialogue, and, further in the sonic background, an English-speaking voice (could it be Sam Fuller, who makes it into the credits?) chronicles the exact same events, but out of phase with the primary narration.  Visually, two (sometimes three) overlapping images play onscreen at the same time, all featuring centurions in horsehair helmets battling robed Jews by torchlight.  The effect is dreamy and abstract, rather than chaotic; this montage would be successful if were extracted and presented as a short film all its own.  We fast-forward in history for the film’s second meaningful moment, which also utilizes the overlapping dialogue motif.  A father (Gitai himself) is searching for his recently-deployed soldier son at a gas station.  He shares coffee with the attendant, but their attempt at conversation, while taking the outward form of a dialogue, drifts into the two men delivering two completely unrelated monologues.  A metaphor for Israeli-Palestinian relations?  Both those bits occur in the movie’s first third, and (besides an unexpected re-occurrence of the battle scene at the movie’s midpoint) we have to wait almost to the end before encountering the movie’s third interesting interlude, a bizarre bit involving a young couple who wander into an old woman’s home during a terrorist attack, borrow gas masks, recite prophecies and poems, briefly make out, and leave when the air sirens fade out (promising to return for a chat if they’re ever in the neighborhood).  The vast valleys between Carmel‘s high points, however, are filled with autobiographical boredom.  There are pretty establishing shots that establish nothing, and lots of readings of old family letters that lead to pastoral flashbacks.  Characters are shown, but not introduced.  Who is the red-haired boy who writes letters home from boarding school?  One of Gitai’s sons, maybe the one who later becomes a soldier, or Gitai himself as a kid?  (It doesn’t help that the lad looks like no one else in Carmel, not even the kid Gitai is shown auditioning to play the role of his son in [another?] movie).  Who is the pretty brunette woman shown endlessly looking at herself in the mirror while an opera aria plays—a younger version of Gitai’s mother?  Of his wife?  A daughter?  The familial relationships, along with the symbolism, can probably be untangled, but the author gives you little inducement to want to figure out who is who or what they really want, as opposed to what they think they want.  It’s all important to Gitai, but he never makes it important to us—the film seems aimed at an audience of one.

The “Carmel” of the title may refer to Mount Carmel, which is associated with the Old Testament prophet Elijah. There are several other towns and settlements in Israel called “Carmel,” including one that was involved in the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in the second century A.D.—could this be the site of the battle shown in the film?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gitai seems to care little about what the audience will glean from this oddity, which is its strength and weakness… fuses documentary, narrative and stream of conscious forms in creating a singular, occasionally exasperating, work.”–Mark Keizer, Box Office Magazine (contemporaneous)

94. PINK FLOYD THE WALL (1982)

“It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before—a weird fusion of live action, story-telling and of the surreal.”–Pink Floyd the Wall Director Alan Parker on the movie’s Cannes premiere

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker

FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Kevin McKeon, Jenny Wright,

PLOT: The movie begins with a man sitting motionless in a chair in a hotel room.  A series of scrambled flashbacks, fantasies and impressions tell the story of Pink, who grew up fatherless but became a successful, if unhappy, rock star prone to tantrums and bouts of severe depression.  Eventually, Pink’s manager and a crowd of roadies and doctors break down the hotel room door and give him a shot which revives him; his body rots, he peels it away to reveal himself as a fascist dictator who goes onstage to perform.
Still from Pink Floyd: the Wall

BACKGROUND:

  • “The Wall” began life as a 1979 concept album by Pink Floyd.  The double LP and the single “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” both reached #1 on Billboard’s U.S. charts.  “The Wall” remains one of the 50 top selling albums of all time to this day.
  • Most of the incidents in The Wall stem from Roger Waters’ personal history; a few, however, are taken from the life of former Pink Floyd lead singer Syd Barrett, a psychedelic drug abuser whose erratic behavior caused him to be kicked out of the band and to eventually become a recluse.
  • Almost all of the songs from the original album appear in the movie, sometimes in slightly altered forms.
  • With Alan Parker as producer, The Wall movie was originally intended to be a concert film with animated sequences and a few specially shot live action scenes.  When the concert footage was found to be unusable, the project was reimagined as a (semi-) narrative film with Parker as director.
  • Pink Floyd singer/bassist and Wall librettist Roger Waters originally wanted to play the lead, but after a poor screen test fellow musician Bob Geldof was cast instead.  Ironically, Geldof, lead singer for the Irish punk band The Boomtown Rats, was reportedly not a Floyd fan.
  • Parker and Waters clashed on the set, with the director almost quitting several times.
  • Designer/animator Gerald Scarfe was a caricaturist and political cartoonist before he began collaborating with Pink Floyd.
  • The cheering extras at the fascist concert were actual white supremacists.
  • Director Parker called The Wall “the most expensive student film ever made.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Picking a single image to represent The Wall is a tough assignment.  Among the live-action sequences, the vision of British schoolchildren in faceless blob masks marching into a meat-grinder is fairly unforgettable.  It would be criminal, though, to elevate any mere photograph over Gerald Scarfe’s animations; even picking among them is a tough call.  Though short, these bizarre and horrific images blaze across the screen in such a haunting way that their impact makes up for the brevity. We’re going to select the scene of the goosestepping fascist hammers as the most unforgettable (partly because the hammer imagery that recurs throughout the movie reaches a startling peak with this scene, and partly because Sacrfe’s crossed hammer symbol proved so iconic that it was adopted by actual fascist groups).  If you chose the genitalia-shaped flowers who entwine, mate, and then grow teeth and viciously rip into each other before the female swallows the male whole, however, we couldn’t argue against it.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDPink Floyd: the Wall is a collaboration between three separate


Original trailer for Pink Floyd The Wall

creative talents.  In 1979 Roger Waters performed a public self-psychoanalysis by writing a bombastic, self-indulgent rock opera, full of catchy melodies and sardonic lyrics.  When it came time to adapt the album into a movie, he enlisted political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to provide animated segments, which ultimately included a surrealistic version of the bombing of London during World War II, a judge who is literally an ass, and some of the scariest cartoon vaginas ever drawn.  Bringing it all together was director Alan Parker (Midnight Express), who devised fantastic over-the-top live action visuals to complement the music and found a way to weave the competing thematic strands (autobiography, social commentary, and spur-of-the-moment surrealistic flights of fancy) into something comprehensible, while nonetheless keeping it defiantly weird.  Trying to meld these three separate creative egos on a project whose source material was already grandiose and scattershot could easily have produced an incoherent, pretentious mess.  Remarkably, the result instead is a semi-coherent, pretentious near-masterpiece.

COMMENTS: Watching, or listening, to Pink Floyd: The Wall is one miserable experience. All Continue reading 94. PINK FLOYD THE WALL (1982)

66. THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP [La science des rêves] (2006)

Mrs. Miroux: “So, what did you think?”

Stephanie: “I adore it!”

Mrs. Miroux: “Really? I’ve always found it rather strange.”

Stephanie: “That’s what’s good.”

DIRECTED BY: Michel Gondry

FEATURING: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg,

PLOT: Stephane is a young artist and inventor from Mexico, a man who has always had trouble distinguishing dreams from waking life; he is lured to Paris by his mother with the promise of a “creative” job that turns out to be a position as a typesetter at  a company that makes nudie calendars. He slowly falls in love with his next door neighbor Stephanie, who is also a creative type, an amateur composer and toy designer. Their developing relationship becomes complicated and eventually melancholy because Stephane can’t tell if Stephanie returns his affections; whenever he meets her, he can’t even be sure if it’s in a dream or reality.

Still from The Science of Sleep (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Science of Sleep was Michel Gondry’s feature fiction followup to 2004’s Certified Weird Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  It was Gondry’s first feature screenplay.
  • Gondry stated that the character of Stephane was about 80% based on himself (the other 20% coming from Gael García Bernal’s interpretation of the character). Many of the dreams depicted in the film came from Gondry’s own dreams; the scene where Stephane has giant, cartoon-like hands came from a recurring nightmare the director had as a child. In the commentary on the DVD Gondry also implies that the romantic trauma Stephane goes through in the script was inspired by a real life unrequited love. Gondry also filmed the picture in the house he grew up in a s a child.
  • The director said in an interview that he got some of the inspiration for the film’s look from Communist propaganda films aimed at children.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The two would-be lovers on a gray felt horse with button eyes in a white boat with a forest inside, sailing off on a cellophane sea.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Science of Sleep is nearly a straight shot of surrealism masquerading as a romantic comedy, under the cover of dreams. In this movie, it’s the reality-sequences that interrupt and inform the dream narrative, not the other way around.


Original trailer for The Science of Sleep

COMMENTS: In the very first scene of The Science of Sleep, Stephane’s subconscious,  Continue reading 66. THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP [La science des rêves] (2006)

39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)

“I only include things that are psychologically true in my stories, no matter how bizarre, stupid, silly or gratuitous the episodes in them may seem… I can only hope that the spectacle of me trying to inflict pain on hard-to-reach places on my own body is amusing to some people.”–Guy Maddin

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Melissa Dionisio,

PLOT: Amateur hockey player Guy Maddin falls in love with the proprietor’s daughter when he takes his current girlfriend to a hair salon/brothel for an abortion. The daughter, Meta, will not give herself to a man until her father’s death at the hands of her mother is avenged. To accomplish this, she wants to transplant her dead father’s hands onto Guy, so that it will be her father’s hands that strangle her mother.

Still from Cowards Bend the Knee (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Commissioned by the Power Plant Art Gallery of Toronto.
  • On its debut at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, viewers watched the ten chapters of Cowards Bend the Knee through ten peepholes in a wall. Spectators had to kneel to put the peepholes at eye level.
  • Maddin issued a companion book to Cowards Bend the Knee (now a collector’s item) containing an expanded screenplay of the film and an interview with Maddin where he discusses Coward‘s autobiographical elements and gives his personal interpretations of the film.
  • Autobiographical elements abound in Cowards Bend the Knee. Maddin’s real life Aunt Lil owned a beauty parlor similar to the one that appears in the film. Maddin’s father coached the Winnipeg Maroons, a pre-NHL professional hockey team; the actual Allan Cup championship ring his father won appears in the film.
  • Maddin’s mother, Herdis, a non-actress, played Meta’s grandmother in the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: As Veronica lies on the operating table undergoing a clandestine abortion, the blood streaming between her legs forms itself into a Canadian maple leaf.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cowards features Maddin’s trademark in-your-face style (a mix of silent film artifacts and glitchy hypermodern editing); crazed, dreamlike narrative (incorporating hockey matches, beauty salons, murder, infidelity, ghosts, and a hand transplant); and a wildly veering, yet somehow coherent tone that moves from melodrama to slapstick to absurdist vintage pornography to Greek tragedy in the space of a few frames. If that’s not enough, there’s the fact that the entire story is observed by a scientist, who witnesses it being played out while looking through a microscope at a dab of semen on a slide. Weird enough for you?

[wposflv src=http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Cowards-Bend-the-Knee.flv width=480 height=360 previewimage=http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/cowards-bend-the-knee-still.jpg title=”Cowards Bend the Knee clip”]
Clip from Cowards Bend the Knee

COMMENTS: Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee is a dream, and like all dreams it is at the Continue reading 39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)