Two parents leave their daughter to be raised by wolves throughout her adolescence to help ensure her success in the world.
“My idea was to have an orchestra in complete contrast to Disney’s. I saw Fantasia eleven times at the movies as a child. I loved the visuals but I didn’t really care much for the live-action sequences, the stylized orchestra, all the lights. It seemed too elegant, too refined. So to do something rather shabby and wacky, the exact opposite, I thought would work.”–Bruno Bozzetto
DIRECTED BY: Bruno Bozzetto
FEATURING: Maurizio Micheli, Néstor Garay, Maurizio Nichetti
PLOT: A film producer in an empty concert hall announces he will soon present something unprecedented and original—animations scored to classical music—and insists on continuing even after getting an angry call from Hollywood. An orchestra of old women is assembled and a cartoonist is released from a dungeon and ordered to draw illustrations in real time as the band plays. We then see the cartoons—a faun pining for a nymph, creatures that evolve from a coke bottle, the domestic fantasies of a stray cat—set to compositions by Dvořák, Ravel and others, with comic sketches set in the orchestra hall in between the featurettes.
- The phrase “allegro non troppo” is a musical direction literally meaning “fast, but not too fast.” “Allegro” also means happy, upbeat or cheerful in Italian, so the title could be read as a pun suggesting that the movie is lighthearted, but not saccharine.
- Animator Bruno Bozzetto began his career making shorts and commercials. In 1965, his West and Soda was the first Italian feature-length animation film in over twenty years.
- Allegro Non Troppo did not fare well in Italian theaters. According to animator Giuseppe Laganà, there were approximately forty people at the premiere: thirty of the cast and crew, five film critics, and only five paying customers. Bozzetto later complained that Italian audiences weren’t interested in seeing cartoons unless the name “Disney” was attached.
- The character the artist draws on a sheet of paper during dinner is Signor Rossi, Bozzetto’s most popular creation, who would have been familiar to Italian audiences (though not as familiar as Mickey Mouse).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: As tempted as I am to select the live-action scene of the gorilla attempting to do a Cossack dance in the orchestra pit, or the drawing of the boob tree (a tree with breast fruit hanging heavy off a nude torso trunk, as envisioned by a horny hallucinating satyr), I have to concede that the march of the mutating dinosaurs to Ravel’s “Bolero” is certain to be the memory that sticks in your mind’s eye through the years.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This compilation of animated sonatas featuring satyrs, devils and dinosaurs traipsing through colorful post-psychedelic landscapes might not have been odd enough to place the movie on the List of the 366 Best Weird Films of All Time if not for the equally bizarre black and white slapstick intermezzi featuring a sleazy promoter, a bully conductor, a harried artist and an all-female geriatric orchestra. It helps that the music is transcendent and the animation witty, but throw in a guy in a gorilla suit and the deal is sealed.
Italian DVD trailer for Allegro Non Troppo
COMMENTS: Bruno Bozzetto very wisely addresses the surface similarities between his movie and Disney’s more famous animated classical Continue reading 152. ALLEGRO NON TROPPO (1976)
The Wick: Dispatches from the Isle of Wonder can be seen in its entirety (for free) at the movie’s home page.
DIRECTED BY: Tom Metcalfe, John Rowley
FEATURING: Tom Metcalfe, John Rowley
PLOT: A documentary on the London neighborhood of Hackey Wick, which claims to have a higher per capita concentration of artists than anyplace in the world (1 in 7 residents), and simultaneously a comic mockumentary about two bohemian filmmakers making a documentary about Hackney Wick.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: An odd and noble no-budget effort, but one of the weirdest movies ever? No, but nice try.
COMMENTS: John and Tom, the filmmakers behind The Wick, have a framed photograph of Jean-Luc Godard hanging on the wall of their dingy Wick flat. You might view that fact as either a hopeful sign of experimentation to come, or a warning of impeding narrative incoherence. Both guesses would be somewhat correct. This strangely conceived project, which somehow manages to come across as improvised and carefully planned-out at the same time, will appeal to a very narrow audience. It’s obviously aimed at the art crowd and most emphatically not at the mainstream. Viewers will lean something about the run-down neighborhood of Hackney Wick, its struggling artists, and the effect that the Olympics had on the area, although all of those subjects ultimately get slighted. John and Tom demonstrate the spirit of the Wick by doing rather than by telling, and the biggest audience for this film is anyone interested in DIY art, the creative process, or the pains and passions of microbudget filmmaking. There are two, or maybe even three or more, movies embedded in The Wick, and they don’t always play together nicely. It begins with a series of nearly silent sketches featuring John (the one with the handlebar mustache and occasional pipe) and Tom (full beard, long hair, umbrella) going about their daily routine in the Wick, which consists of sneaking onto a rooftop to listen to weather reports on a beat up radio. At night they sleep foot to head in a single bed; Tom reads a copy of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” each night before turning in. They have a series of note cards pinned to the bedroom wall, the first of which reads “scene one” and the last “epilogue,” with a dozen or so blank cards in between. The two are waiting for inspiration to strike, which occurs after twenty minutes have passed when Tom has a dream of becoming a naked giant and striding across the urban sprawl. Mild pantomime comedy bits (e.g. the guys forget their keys and have to go back to the flat) relieve these early bits, but this overextended opening, unfortunately, is easily the weakest part of the movie. John and Tom finally decide to create a documentary on the Wick “in the framework of an avant-garde adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest.'” “John describes it as an attempt to undocument the documentary,” Tom explains in voiceover. “I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I believe it sounds suitably provocative.” Studies of a half-dozen residents of the Wick follow, including a photorealistic portraitist, several conceptual/performance art weirdo types, an author who gives historical background on the area, and a young Australian man who’s shipped over to work on Olympic security detail while seeing the world. There’s about thirty to forty minutes of documentary footage altogether. The final segment of the film consists mostly of short comic scenes of John and Tom camping out in a pup tent (they’ve rented out their flat to Olympic tourists), eating beans over a portable stove, editing the movie on a laptop, and even doing the Foley work for the feature. There are a few more ambitious and planned-out bits strewn about here and there, including a farcical audio tour of the Wick that provides the movie’s biggest chuckles (“once home to Percy Dalton’s peanut factory, Hackney Wick is an area steeped in history…”) and a running subplot about Tom’s desire to impress his mother with the movie (“pray be lenient mum, for we tried, and surely that counts for something.”) As for the “Tempest” references, they are indeed spread throughout the movie, although to what purpose is never exactly clear. The Wick itself is Shakespeare’s island, we can guess, and as the orchestrators of this mirage, John and Tom share duties as Prospero (although most of the time they act more like the comic relief characters Stephano and Trinculo). But where are Miranda, Ariel and Caliban, and who is it that’s shipwrecked upon the Wick? The “Tempest” conceit never really gets going, while the realistic documentary portions feel out of place, and the mockumentary sections are only sporadically funny. Still, even when it’s not quite working as entertainment, there’s an inherent likableness to the movie, mostly because John and Tom (their personalities aren’t that distinct, and they almost function as a single character) come across as the kind of mates you’d like to buy a pint for, just so you can listen to them talk about their love of movies. Barely speaking or even moving for much of the run time, they nonetheless radiate a passionate confidence and belief in their strange little work that is endearing and humorously self-deprecating. If you can get past the dry opening, you may find lots to like in The Wick, and even a little to wonder at.
“Isles of Wonder” was the name of the Danny Boyle production of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…without a doubt one of the oddest independent films I’ve watched, period. It’s also, in an acquired taste kind of way, quietly brilliant. And mad. And very, very odd.”–David Ollerton, The London Film Review
DIRECTED BY: Yûdai Yamaguchi
FEATURING: Tak Sakaguchi, Mari Hoshino
PLOT: A boy with a (literally) killer fastball grows up to become a vigilante, is imprisoned, and is blackmailed into playing on the jailhouse baseball squad despite the fact that he has sworn never to use the fatal pitch again.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Yûdai Yamaguchi strikes out with this charmless screwball baseball-gore comedy.
COMMENTS: Deadball lost me at the first special effect. Dared to throw some real heat, preteen pitching prodigy Jubeh jumps into a green screen stratosphere and launches his best ball from a mile up. The fatal results are expressed by an extremely fake CGI fireball laid over the film, followed by an extremely weak and thin CGI blood splatter from the victim, followed by a closeup of a subpar latex mask with a distorted eyeball lolling off to one side and stage blood bubbling up through a puncture wound in the forehead. Sure, we know the movie is cheap, but there is a real laziness in this scene, a rushed “that’s good enough” feeling. I got the sense that Deadball doesn’t think too highly of its target audience, especially since the rest of the movie—with its incoherent plot and jokes about puke-eating and body cavity searches—seems to have been written by a team of particularly immature twelve-year-old boys during breaks on the playground. Everything about the movie is cheap. Locations are minimal; the prison set Jubeh gets remanded to after he turns into a vigilante looks like a modified warehouse, and the warden’s office looks like a garage (there’s even a car parked in it). Costumes are also threadbare, although when it comes to the opposing team, a squad of female delinquents uniformed in black leather bikinis and ripped fishnet stockings, there might not be so many complaints. Nazis play a role in the plot (what, the Japanese can’t plunder their own fascist history for villains?), so swastika armbands offer more cost-conscious wardrobe choices, while a prop portrait of a vaguely Asian Hitler that looks like it came from a Yokohoma thrift shop is an unintentionally amusing lowlight. As we’ve already discussed, the special effects are bottom-of-the-barrel, even for splatterpunk (which usually prides itself on its crimson-tinged money shots, if nothing else). The digital blood here is just way too voluminous, and way too cartoonish: a geyser of a nosebleed, in particular, is simultaneously nauseating and risible. By the time they trotted out the giant robot in the ninth inning, I just didn’t care about the outcome anymore. Deadball‘s lone asset is Tak Sakaguchi, who somehow manages to convincingly play a teenager even in his thirties. For whatever reason, his character is modeled on Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name,” right down to the Navajo duster who wears slung across his shoulders. There’s a running joke about how he always manages to have a cigarette ready that’s one of the few gags that actually works (the other notable example being an extremely silly moment when he punches his dominatrix warden through the phone). Sakaguchi manages to keep some kind of dignity in the film, and considering the script requires him to fighting a transvestite using a salt-shaker full of MSG as a weapon, that’s a testament to the actor’s inherent heroic charisma. Sushi Typhoon keeps grinding out these splatterpunk DVDs, and they’re showing no signs of stopping. Deadball may suffer at my keyboard because it is the latest in a long line of these gory assembly line B-imports, but I can honestly say that this movie, in particular, annoyed the hell out of me. Hell, I’d rather watch an A-Rod at bat than see Deadball again; they both cheat the audience, but at least Rodriguez is trying.
Deaball is a reworking of an earlier Yamaguchi film entitled Battlefield Baseball (2003), that also starred Sakaguchi. That one reportedly had an even lower budget than Deadball.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Filmed in the bloody style of Battle Royale and fueled by a rowdy cast of hilariously psychotic characters, the film is nothing but splatter-action that at times literally sizzles with shamelessly low budget yet playful visual effects.”–Maggie Lee, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)
You do not need to consult your doctor: the sound of your jaw hitting the floor while watching Ray Dennis Steckler’s Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (1966) is perfectly natural. Even the title’s origin is enough to numb you, from head to toe, in disbelief. The original title was supposed to be Rat Fink and Boo Boo, but in the editing Fink was misspelled Pfink and somehow the ND from AND was left out. With a threadbare budget the producers could not afford to change it, and the misspelled title stuck.
Director Ray Dennis Steckler claimed that the film was shot on a $20.00 budget and that he made it because of his love for the (dreadful) serial, Batman and Robin (1949). I believe him. Remarkably, this was Steckler’s sixth film. His first was Wild Guitar (1964), which became something of a cult hit despite starring would-be teen idol Arch Hall Jr. (who was cast because daddy produced). For years, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) was thought to be more legend than actual film. Sinister Cinema dug up a print and released it, I think, before anyone else did. There went the legend. Unfortunately, it’s a dull unimaginative affair about a psycho, with nary a zombie in sight. The Thrill Killers (1964) starred Steckler himself under his pseudonym Cash Flagg (chosen because he made his checks out to cash!) Again, Steckler seemed to put more effort into a name than he did he actual plot. Steckler was Cash again, this time doing a second-rate imitation of the second-rate Bowery Boy Huntz Hall in The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965). Steckler claimed that he made the film as a kind of fan’s valentine to Hall. One must give him some kind of credit for authentic obsession and affection, even if the finished product was nothing more than a series of loosely assembled shorts, with Cash pitted against the Green Grasshopper and The Vampire Lady From Outer Space.
A crazy title is no guarantee of an entertaining flick, but Rat Pfink A Boo Boo obtained its odd moniker unintentionally and, for once, the sheer lunacy of the movie matches the name. Lonnie Lord is a multi million selling rock singer who likes to ply his trade on the street corners (it probably goes down easier if you don’t ask). His girlfriend Cee Bee (Steckler’s wife Carolyn Brandt) is terrorized by the Chain Gang thugs. (Steckler seemed to get a thrill watching Brandt terrorized, because even after the two divorced he continued hiring her to play a perpetual victim).
Midway through, the film switches gear and becomes a comedy with our heroes finally appearing as the title characters. Throwing on ski masks and long johns, they chase the Chain Gang through the neighbors’ backyards (Steckler must have put on a hell of a barbeque). The final, elongated chase scene takes place in the middle of a local Christmas parade, which Steckler and his ragtag team crashed. The cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake comes in the guise of a guy in a gorilla suit showing up for the finale.
Lack of money for a sound team necessitated all the dialogue being added in post-production. Predictably, it doesn’t always sync up and, upon hearing the dialogue, one might question their having gone to the trouble: “We have only one weakness: bullets. Let’s go fight crime.” The sound effects match the absurdity of the slipshod fight scenes. The weirdness level is even more off the meter since Steckler tinted the film, possibly as an homage to silent serials. Rat Pfink A Boo Boo is available in both black and white and the color tinted version, with a blue first half and orange second half. It actually makes the film stranger: impossible, but true.
In a “making of” interview Steckler tells us that if we knew what he and his team had gone through to make the film, we would watch it 100 times. I don’t know if I have enough time in this mortal coil to throw a 100 more weird movie parties, but I will take Steckler at his word and try to make room for Rat Pfink A Boo Boo during the next one.