Tag Archives: British

CAPSULE: THE MIGHTY BOOSH (2003-2007)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Paul King, Steve Bendelack

FEATURING: Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Rich Fulcher, Michael Fielding, Dave Brown

PLOT: Throughout its three seasons, we watch the adventures of Howard Moon and Vince Noir who start as zookeepers with musical ambitions, become musicians with musical ambitions, and finish off as shopkeepers with musical ambitions.

WHY WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Exceptions for a movie list, once made, have a danger of proliferating; so it is with heavy heart that I can’t recommend adding this series to the Apocrypha list. That said, its got weirdo merits aplenty: no narrative diversion is too outlandish, and at any moment a song or “crimp” can break out. Skating forever between idiotic and genius, it is unfailingly creative, absurd, and oddly charming.

COMMENTS: On the heels of my northern outing, I decided it was time to hunker down and crash through every episode of the famed cult comedy, “The Mighty Boosh.” I couldn’t resist its invitation at the start of each episode to join the troupe “on a journey through time and space,” and found myself neck-deep in a sitcom that veered recklessly all over the comedy spectrum. I’ll admit that the first few episodes left me both speechless and with a fixed raised eyebrow. Once I got onto the Boosh‘s twitchy wavelength, however, I just couldn’t stop watching, and discovered how quickly ten solid hours of weirdo comedy can whiz by.

Whatever the surrounding nonsense, the focus is always squarely on Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) and Vince Noir (Noel Fielding). The former is a middle aged, mustachioed neurotic whose character exudes constant worry about himself and his surroundings coupled with a paradoxical belief in his own merit and strength (imagine, perhaps, a more charismatic version of Arnold Rimmer from “Red Dwarf”). Vince Noir, whose bubbly mask of idiocy covers a friendly vapidity, is his only friend. Vince is obsessed with fashion to the same degree that Howard is obsessed with his self-image. The second tier characters of Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher, utterly uninhibited as a bombastic zoo manager), Naboo (Michael Fielding, mysterious—and often stoned—as Howard and Vince’s shaman buddy/landlord), and Bollo (Dave Brown, Naboo’s not-altogether magical “familiar”) are joined from episode to episode by countless oddball guests ( among them).

While the first season is incredibly strange, “The Mighty Boosh” hits peak weirdness in the second season thanks to two episodes: “The Priest & the Beast” and “The Legend of Old Gregg.” In the former, Howard and Vince are in the background, as Naboo relates the story of Rudi and Spider (also played by Barratt and Fielding, respectively), two famed musicians in the Boosh universe. They are a “bongo brother” duo traveling the desert “in search of the new sound.” Rudi is contemplative and mystical, as symbolized by a door in his afro that, upon deep thought, can open up to dispense a relevant item of some sort. Spider is a sex-crazed drummer (like all drummers, apparently), so named because he has “eight of something.” They search for the new sound, sing about their quest for the new sound, and ultimately save a nearby village from the “Betamax Bandit,” a heartless desperado made up entirely of Betamax tape.

In “The Legend of Old Gregg,” the best known episode in the series, Howard and Vince escape an angry mob infuriated by the horrendousness of their latest gig to find themselves in a seaside tavern peopled exclusively by exaggerated fishermen (the house band are all clad in a three-person corded sweater). Howard stays out fishing and captures a merman, who after brief conversation exposes himself and his “mangina” to an unreceptive Howard before dragging him down to his lair for further seduction. Bailey’s Irish Cream, watercolor paintings (including one of Bailey’s “as close as you can get to it without getting your eyes wet”), and a snappy Motown/Funk dance duet ensue as Howard awaits rescue.

This is not typical sitcom fare—and those are only brief descriptions of one-tenth of the series. Each episode necessarily has a musical number in it, and many of them have a bizarre chanting referred to late in the series as “crimping” (described by Julian Barratt as something like “folk rap”). And beginning in the second season, there is the ever present danger of “The Moon” appearing out of the blue for a brief non-sequitur speech that will simultaneously infuriate and delight. Yessir, it’s all here, and all crazy. Whatever it is that Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding have created, it is singular and stupid, distinct and delightful, and mighty, “Mighty Boosh.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…after a few minutes of half-hearted setup, Barratt and Fielding are off, having surreal adventures that involve ancient legends, talking animals, elaborate costumes, and a few snappy musical numbers. Even when a Mighty Boosh episode isn’t fall-down funny, there’s always something happening.” –Noel Murray, The Onion A.V. Club

362. THE DEVILS (1971)

“There was no better director to learn from. He would always take the adventurous path even at the expense of coherence.”–Derek Jarman on Ken Russell

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Gemma Jones, Dudley Sutton, Michael Gothard, Murray Melvin

PLOT: Father Urbain Grandier is the charismatic spiritual and political leader of the independent city of Loudun; Cardinal Richelieu wants him replaced because he refuses to allow the city’s walls to be torn down. Sister Jeanne, Mother Superior of the town’s convent, is tormented by sexual dreams about Grandier. When Sister Jeanne confesses her fantasies to a priest, Richelieu’s men hatch a plot to frame Grandier as a warlock, and the entire convent is whipped into mass hysteria, becoming convinced they are possessed by devils.

Still from The Devils (1971)

BACKGROUND:

  • Father Grandier and Sister Jeanne, among many other characters in the film, were real people. Grandier was burnt at the stake in 1634 on accusations of practicing witchcraft.
  • The Devils was based on John Whiting’s play “The Devils of Loudun,” which itself was based on Aldous Huxley’s novel of the same title.
  • Ken Russell’s original theatrical cut ran 117 minutes, after the British censors removed an infamous 4-minute sequence known as “the rape of Christ.” The U.S. distributor cut an additional three to six minutes of sex and blasphemy out so that the film could be released with an “R” rating in the States, and that release became the standard version and the only one released on VHS. The longer director’s cut was not seen until 2004, thanks to a restoration effort led by . Russell’s director’s cut has never been issued on home video; the X-rated theatrical cut is the most complete version currently available. Portions of the “rape of Christ” scene are preserved in a BBC documentary called “Hell on Earth” (included on the BFI DVD).
  • A young designed the sets. This was his first feature credit.
  • The Devils is included in Steven Schneider’s “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”
  • The contemporary arguments over the film became so heated that Russell himself attacked critic Alexander Walker on live television, hitting him on the head with a copy of his negative review.
  • Warner Brothers has steadfastly refused to release the movie on DVD, but they did eventually sublicense it to the British Film Institute for overseas release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Even with the “rape of Christ” scene excised, what sticks out in The Devils are the scenes of possessed nuns, some with shaved heads, whipping off their habits and cavorting in the nude, writhing, self-flagellating, jerking off votive candles, and waggling their tongues in an obscene performance. For a single, and singular, image that encapsulates the themes and shock level of The Devils, however, try the vision of Vanessa Redgrave seductively licking at the wound in Oliver Reed’s side when she imagines him as Christ descended from the cross to ravage her.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Crocodile parry; Christ licking; John Lennon, exorcist

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Nobody, but nobody, shoots a nun orgy like Ken Russell. Aside from a dream sequence or two, The Devils is a historically accurate account of a real-life medieval witch hunt—but Russell emphasizes only the oddest and most perverse details, so that the movie itself becomes as hysterical and overwrought as the frenzy it condemns. Truth, in this case, is at least as strange as fiction.


Original U.S. release trailer for The Devils

COMMENTS: Viewed from a great distance, The Devils is a classical Continue reading 362. THE DEVILS (1971)

CAPSULE: THE BOOK OF BIRDIE (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Elizabeth E. Schuch

FEATURING: Ilirida Memedovski, Kitty Fenn, Suzan Crowley, Kathryn Browning

PLOT: A young woman is brought to a convent to protect her from an unspecified danger. There, she explores both her emerging spirituality and womanhood.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Schuch’s movie relies heavily on a theological flavor of “magic realism”. While it explores various fringe topics—(clerical) sisterhood, puberty, paganism, and suicide—using a variety of stylish techniques, it doesn’t push boundaries as far as it should, and ultimately doesn’t adequately explore the various narrative avenues it goes down.

COMMENTS: Director Elizabeth Shuch cannot be accused of lacking in ideas:

  • The intersection between Femininity and Christianity.
  • The intersection between Christianity and Paganism.
  • The intersection between Paganism and Femininity.
  • Coming of age, first love, and suicide.

Throughout The Book of Birdie, Shuch addresses all these topics while maintaining a precarious narrative thread.

Our story begins in a dying convent consisting of a dozen or so nuns. Young Birdie (Ilirida Memedovski) has been brought there for the protection and (ostensible) comfort that a life of wholesome religiosity may bring. Birdie integrates with her new wards slowly, but surely, while also making acquaintance (then friendship, then love) with Julia, the groundkeeper’s daughter. Birdie learns prayers, attends services, and sees the ghosts of two dead nuns haunting the convent. After staining her bedding with a heavy menstrual flow, things become slightly more unreal.

Arthouse film techniques abound. There are extended shots of Birdie’s entrancingly dark eyes. Ephemeral lighting abounds inside the compound while a bleak sun saturates the outdoors. Animations of symbolic imagery are seamlessly integrated. While the camera-work and editing veer close to heavy-handedness, they never fall into parody. The nun characters—both alive and dead—help to keep the film grounded in the reality of this hollowed-out haven. One enthusiastic nun in particular stands out. She confides her aspirations to Birdie: “I knew Jesus was the only man for me when I had my First Communion. I felt the wafer sizzle in my mouth and I felt him calling to me. Everything I’ve done since then has been to prepare me for a spiritual life. I want to be the best.” Unfortunately, it is Birdie who experiences the transcendence that this nun strives for. The cause (effect?) of this brings me to a needful observation.

This film has a lot of blood in it: a lot of menstrual blood. It shows up in specks around the chapel, it shows up in trails, and it shows up in the small vials that Birdie fills with it and, on occasion, drinks from. She also crafts what I can only describe as a “fetus fetish” from porridge and stores it in vinegar. This entity comes to life on occasion, as does a statue of Christ—as do her reproductive organs, which we see escaping her body and flying off, like an angel. There is a mountain of symbolism of which, with my limited catechism, I can only understand fleeting hints.

The important question, though, is whether this works as a movie. To that I say, “Yes… mostly.” The performances are all tip-top and the limited scenery provides a real sense of a derelict haven. And the narrative moves from one point to the next, with a beginning, middle, and end. However, I can’t help but feel that this movie is like an empty Chinese puzzle box: fascinating to watch unfold, but ultimately yielding nothing. An ambiguously tragic life is explored with ambiguously theological symbols bringing us to an ambiguous, tragic ending. All spirit and no flesh, perhaps?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weird, glittery, feminine fever dream.”–Lindsay Pugh, Woman in Revolt (festival screening)

366 UNDERGROUND: TURN IN YOUR GRAVE (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Rob Ager

FEATURING: Marc Bolton, Jennifer Moylan-Taylor, Debra Redcliffe, Christopher Honey, Richie Nolan, Christopher Pavlou, Bonnie Adair

PLOT: Seven characters wake up with no memory inside a warehouse; they’re besieged by a menagerie of monsters and teased with abstract clues as they search for an exit.

Still from Turn in Your Grave (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: We’re jaded weirdsville patrons around here. The creators of Turn In Your Grave have certainly made a passing acquaintance with our wild jungle, but they obviously haven’t seen Maximum Shame yet. But it’s still just weird enough to warrant keeping an eye on Rob Ager, in case he comes up with a more distilled brew later.

COMMENTS: Shot in black-and-white or muted color, we open to bewildered people waking up in a warehouse, silhouetted by puzzle pieces and with industrial tones on the soundtrack. If you’re looking to grab the attention of a weird movie site, you’re off to a good start! The group of seven take in their surroundings, with boxes, mirrors, nonsensical paintings and flags of several countries. All of the characters question what this place is and how they got there. Sounds like we have another ontological mystery on our hands. Sure enough, they all start talking and asking each other what’s going on.

The space they’re in seems set up to mess with their minds—paintings flip over, doors appear, and several of them have conflicting views of their environment. This of course leads the paranoid dude in the camo jacket (seven and a half minutes in, what took him so long?) to accuse the group of harboring a planted agent and to start threatening violence against them if they don’t fess up. And did we mention some of the boxes they rummage through contain weapons? No sooner is the fight getting started than loud noises from outside cause them to scramble for arms to meet this new threat. Through the dark doorway, otherwordly zombie-like beings immediately emerge and begin to attack, but their bodies phase out like static while our cast struggles with them. The first monsters are easily defeated, promptly dematerializing after they fall.

We’re just getting started. The warehouse eventually turns out to be more than just this one big room, and the place is crawling with monsters, ranging from guys in childish papier-mâché head masks to full-on gory ghouls. And so we go on, puzzles and unexplained events piling up while the cast banters in “Waiting for Godot” terms, wondering why somebody is doing this and is it some kind of joke or test, that sort of thing. The events follow a poetic logic, such as when stricken monsters vanish into flutters of paper scraps, while other scraps of paper turn up stuck to boxes and shirts with teasing clues typed on them. Illusions and delusions abound, but one thing is certain, the monsters are getting feistier and harder to fight off with every wave.

Bring on the cast questioning their fragmenting sanity, or running in terror through hallways with nightmarish aberrations in pursuit. Think of Cube (1997), Circle (2015), and Exam (2009) for touchstones the same genre. With a story like this, you can settle down to being pitched an onslaught of riddles mounting into a confusing haze, and it isn’t going to matter whether at the end we get a satisfying explanation or are left in limbo. What’s going to matter to the weird movie viewer is how the journey goes. Things do get pretty creepy within this framework, mixing some outright horror with its surreal mystery, suggesting alternate dimensions, or that perhaps they’re all imprisoned in a psychotic’s dream. For the record, the ending, a blessed relief from the claustrophobic former acts, is certainly an original twist on the run-of-the-mill ontological mystery.

Bear in mind that this is a micro-budget production, but you can see where they made every penny count. The acting is solid and capable, the film work is expert level, and the props and effects squeeze in as much imagination as they can. It has a style of its own, especially as the paintings are one-of-a-kind and suitably loopy, to suggest a well-oiled imagination somewhere around the corner. Later monster attacks double down on elaborate costumes and imagination levels, with rows of wood screws doubling for teeth or DVDs lodged on the face for eyes. There’s some good jump scares and spooky sound effects to keep things skewed, and at least the monster attacks and action stop it from becoming a talky bore. Hey, the ending even invites fanciful interpretations! This is exactly the kind of first project a larval-stage or would make while still in school, so we can’t say there’s no potential here. Of course, this is also the kind of production you’d make if you were a stoner college student who’s a big fan of Cube and Exam and didn’t have any better ideas, so we also can’t give it an unqualified rave.

Bottom line: not too shabby a starting act! As a freshman midterm, it gets an A. But it’s far too early in his career to tell whether Rob Ager is destined to shake up the world.

Turn in Your Grave is available exclusively from the official website.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“When there is a concept in a filmmaker’s head that he/she is trying to communicate to an audience, that’s great… but somehow that concept needs to make it out of that filmmaker’s head and into the heads of the audience eventually. If that never does happen then what you get is a film that only makes sense to the filmmaker, while leaving the audience dazed and confused.”–Don Sumner, HorrorFreak News

340. A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (1985)

“The film contains three absurd propositions that aren’t impossible but are highly improbable: 1) Siamese twins who don’t want to be reunited; 2) a woman fascinated by zebras who dreams of being raped by them; and 3) a crippled woman who gives birth to twins whose fathers are also twins. These are deliberately bizarre notions that we’ll be trying to render believable using all the artifices of cinema.”–Peter Greenaway on A Zed and Two Noughts

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Brian Deacon, Eric Deacon, , Frances Barber, , Agnès Brulet

PLOT: The wives of two zoologist brothers are killed when a car driven by their friend Alba Bewick strikes a swan outside the zoo where they work. The grieving brothers question Alba, now missing a leg and bed-ridden, trying to find answers to the tragedy, while simultaneously documenting the decomposition of various animal corpses with time-lapse photography. Eventually both brothers fall for Alba, forming a strange menage a trois.

Still from A Zed and Two Noughts (1985)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was Peter Greenaway’s second theatrical feature, after The Draughtsman’s Contract (1980’s The Falls was made for television). It was partially filmed at the Rotterdam Zoo.
  • Zed was the first (of an eventual eight) of Greenaway’s collaborations with cinematographer Sacha Vierny. Vierny’s other projects included Last Year at Marienbad, Belle de Jour, and The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, making him arguably 366’s favorite cinematographer.
  • In keeping with the alphabetic sub-theme, Greenaway and Vierny worked out twenty-six different ways to light a set.
  • Painter Johannes Vermeer inspired the film’s look. The character named Van Hoyten is a reference to van Meegeren, the famous Vermeer forger.
  • On its original American release A Zed and Two Noughts was sometimes screened alongside “Street of Crocodiles.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Peter Greenaway films each scene like a painting: static, with characters arranged in precise visual relationships, moving very little. That technique creates a multitude of memorable tableaux: two children dragging a dog past the enormous blue ZOO sign at the Rotterdam Zoo, Alba with her head sticking through the car windshield while a swan’s hindquarters decorate the hood, the twins flanking the legless woman in bed. For something with a bit of motion to it, you could pick one of the slightly nauseating time-lapse experiments, such as the decaying  zebra corpse (which heaves as it is swollen with scurrying maggots, then deflates as they consume its guts). We decided on the image of the legless man standing erect on crutches, a character who suddenly shows up in the film for no other reason than to provide a masculine symmetry to maternal amputee Alba.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Accident on Swann’s way; sex for corpses; snail suicide sabotage

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Greenaway’s highly structured, artificial movies often come off as strange simply because of the complicated intellectual conceits behind them; but this tale of amputees, carcasses, and cages played out in the stylized zoo of his mind might be his weirdest, right down to its decaying bones.


Brief clip (opening) from A Zed and Two Noughts

COMMENTS: A Zed and Two Noughts begins with death and climaxes Continue reading 340. A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (1985)