A father struggles with eating spaghetti and other basic tasks as a black and white infomercial character.
366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
DIRECTED BY: Peter Strickland
FEATURING: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Leo Bill, , Hayley Squires, Julian Barratt
PLOT: Sheila, a divorcee in the market for a new man, purchases a new red dress for a series of dates; things do not turn out well for her. Separately, Reg Speaks is a washing machine repairman about to marry is longtime girlfriend; after wearing that same red dress on his stag night, things turn out poorly for him, as well.
COMMENTS: For capsule reviews, we aim to describe the action in one sentence. However, among the number of odd things about In Fabric is the fact that this is really two films in one: a pretty good feature-length story about Sheila’s experiences with a cursed red dress, and a much weirder, shorter film about Reg’s experiences with that same dress. There are plenty of strange things going on in this movie, and in many ways it should qualify for apocryphally weird status. Unfortunately, while the graft is forgivable, it fails overall.
Peter Strickland, who wrote and directed, clearly has an obsession with 1970s exploitation—his two previous films both focus on that decade and that genre—and his penchant forshines through brightly. The red of the dress and the red lighting of the strange advertisements for “Dentley and Sopers Trusted Department Store” are the most obvious tributes, with the movie’s palette generally mimicking whatever evil form of technicolor was used by the original giallists. In Fabric could be viewed as a love letter to that arty vein of horror, albeit a letter with an incredibly long postscript.
I enjoyed watching this, despite a glaring flaw: it was difficult to commit to the characters. Sheila’s tale ultimately left me indifferent, but the story of “Reg Speaks” was more in the transcendent mold, almost literally. Reg’s last name is strange, but apt. Though a lowly washing machine mechanic, he has something of a super power: the ability to bring listeners to an orgasmic trance while speechifying on the finer details of the problems vexing broken machines. In the world of In Fabric his reputation is such that even the bank managers whom he sees about a loan know about it, and want him to do a “role-playing” exercise so they can enjoy his mesmeric talents. (Julian Barratt plays one of these bank managers, with a performance that expertly rides along the razor’s edge of hilarious and mundane. Describing a memo about having a “meaningful handshake”, he explains, “It’s written in a fun, easy language, with a cartoon at the end that summarizes key points.”)
Fatma Mohamed, as the chief store clerk, stands out among the madness. She makes one believe she could be an alien, a demon, or perhaps a mannequin brought to life by some eccentric paranormal force. Her lines (“The hesitation in your voice: soon to be an echo in the spheres of retail” or “dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements”) sound like ornately translated Italian as delivered by a supernatural facsimile of a sales woman.
Strickland will hopefully sort his visions out enough to make that truly weird, and truly worthwhile, movie in the future (under the guidance, perhaps, of Ben Wheatley, executive producer here). But, measuring In Fabric, we find all the pieces are there, but he’s crafted something altogether ill-fitting.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“What’s less engaging is the suspicion that neither of these stories was substantial enough for a feature film on their own, and so they were combined to make a justifiable whole. The film’s demented satire of consumer culture and weird diversions into psychosexual nightmare fuel are less reliant on a coherent narrative arc, however, and Strickland’s unique ability to convey the sense of touch in an audio-visual medium isn’t dependent on story at all.”–Katie Rife, The AV Club (contemporaneous)
“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”–Zen koan
DIRECTED BY: David Fincher
PLOT: A yuppie actuary with chronic insomnia becomes obsessed with going to self-help groups for ailments he doesn’t have. At one, he meets a woman who shares his obsession, but resents her for infringing on what he thought was his unique form of self-therapy. Later, he meets and is befriended by a soap-maker named Tyler Durden; together, they form a “fight club” where men reassert their masculinity with bare-knuckle fighting, but the group’s activities grow into a cult.
- The movie was based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 debut novel of the same name. The genesis of the novel came when Palahniuk got into a fight over the weekend. When he returned to work with two black eyes, he was surprised that no one asked what had happened; instead, everyone avoided looking him in the face. He theorized that if you looked bad enough, no one would ask what you were doing in your free time, because they’d be scared to find out the answer.
- Pepsi provided product placements for this anti-consumerist movie. Fincher also claims to have hidden a Starbucks cup in every scene.
- Budgeted at $63 million, Fight Club lost money in its theatrical release, but quickly became a cult film and recouped its cost on video.
- Fight Club placed #5 in Rolling Stone‘s poll of readers’ favorite movies of the 1990s, #17 on Empire‘s readers’ poll of the best movies of all time, while American Movie Classics named it the 20th best “guy movie,” among other lists the film made.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: It has to be one (any) of the many scenes of brutal bare-knuckle boxing, overseen by a shirtless, cigarette-smoking Brad Pitt, oozing sweat, blood, and raw liquid testosterone.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: D-cup dude; penguin spirit animal; subliminal Durden wang
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Yes, it’s possible to be popular and weird. Often misunderstood as a simple adolescent anti-consumerist message movie aimed at impressionable young men, Fight Club is actually a movie-length hallucination about the painful process of becoming a man.
Original trailer for Fight Club
COMMENTS: How do you talk about Fight Club? I first saw it in a Continue reading 348. FIGHT CLUB (1999)
PLOT: A young boy being raised in a sterile modernist home prefers the company of his childlike uncle, one M. Hulot.
COMMENTS: Mon Oncle could almost be described as a tale of two houses. There’s not a lot of plot; the movie hinges on set design more than anything. The movie’s satirical targets, the Arpels, live in a white, clean-looking modernist geometric home fitted out with all the latest 1958 gadgets, like automatic garage door openers (incroyable!), air-conditioning, and an automatic steak-flipper. The most significant of all the doo-dads is the dolphin fountain in the garden, which a vigilant Mme. Arpel turns on and off (to save on water bills) depending on the social status of the villa’s latest visitor. The Arpels are thoroughly bourgeois consumers; M. Arpel owns a hose factory (the source of a gag later in the film when he hires hapless frere-in-law Hulot). Oncle Hulot’s apartment is more magical. Like it’s most famous tenant, it’s a ramshackle, organic, and impractical domicile. We view Hulot enter from across the street and see as he passes through half a dozen windows and balconies, not always emerging exactly where we expect.
Easygoing, unambitious Hulot, with his rumpled overcoat and the ever-present pipe clutched between his teeth, represents an almost bohemian view of life as something to be enjoyed at leisure. The Arpels, obsessed with acquiring status symbols, find him to be a shamefully out-of-touch embarrassment, and seek to make him into a respectable member of modern society. They try to find him a job and a spinster to wed. Of course, his nephew finds his nonchalant oncle to be a lot more fun than his nagging parents. I’d certainly side with Hulot over the Arpels, but it’s not much of a choice; they take all the fun out of being rich. As satire, however, Mon Oncle is far too forgiving, almost affectionate to its targets. The critique never stings—which is not the way Voltaire or Molière would have done it. The Arpels seem merely foolish rather than venal. And parts of Tati’s attack are now dated. The Arpel’s decor, then chosen to represent the ugliness of modernism, now looks quaint and almost classical. I wouldn’t mind living in their house at all.
As comedy, Mon Oncle is dry stuff, usually cute rather than funny. Tati recycles gags that might have been used by vaudevillians or silent comedians; rarely does the dialogue itself have any zing or purpose. A schoolboy prank that causes pedestrians to walk into light poles is as mischievous as things ever get. Hulot accidentally busts the water supply to the fish fountain and oversees a malfunctioning hose production unit, but the mishaps never get truly out of control, and certainly never approach the dangerous. The gags get elaborate, but go on for some time without much payoff, making them more to be admired than beloved. It’s hard to dislike Jacques Tati, but I’m not the biggest fan of these Hulot pictures. Like a beautifully plated but insubstantial French dish, there’s an awful lot of mise en scene to chew on for very little nourishment.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…perceptibly contrived when it lingers too long and gets too deeply into the dullness of things mechanical. After you’ve pushed one button and one modernistic face, you’ve pushed them all.”–Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “christine,” who called it a “totally weird but fun 1958 French movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
BAGLEY: Everything I do is rational.
JULIA: Why have you put chickens down the lavatory?
BAGLEY: To thaw them before dismemberment.
FEATURING: , Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson, Bruce Robinson (voice)
PLOT: Dennis Dimbleby Bagley is an unscrupulous advertising executive, but he finds himself blocked while trying to come up with a campaign to sell pimple cream. The stress leads him to combination epiphany and mental breakdown, and he decides to renounce hypocrisy and manipulation and retire from marketing. The internal strife, however, has caused a boil to form on his neck; and that pustule then forms a face, and a voice, and a personality that’s even nastier than the old Bagley…
- Director Bruce Robinson began his career as a struggling actor, but found greater success when he turned to screenwriting and directing. His first script, The Killing Fields, was nominated for an Oscar in 1984. His first film as director, 1987’s Withnail & I, was a semi-autobiographical story of two poor, hard-drinking actors, also starring
- Robinson (uncredited) provides the voice of the boil.
- Advertising was produced by George Harrison’s Handmade Films, who also produced Monty Python films and the Certified Weird Time Bandits.
- The London Sunday-Times gave away free copies of the DVD as a promotion in 2006.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, the fetuslike boil-with-a-face peering out from Bagley’s executive neck.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Disney birds; chatty chancre; notice his cardboard box?
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: How to Get Ahead in Advertising grows organically from that greatest fertilizer of weird films: obsession. Writer/director has Something to Say, and he is not going to let taste, subtlety, or realism get in the way of him saying it. The movie is completely committed to its bizarre two-headed premise, and star Grant gladly goes over the top for his director, literally baring his buttocks while wearing an apron and stuffing frozen chickens in his toilet.
Original trailer for How to Get Ahead in Advertising
COMMENTS: Ad exec Dennis Bagley develops the mother of all zits Continue reading 215. HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)
Eager to satisfy his need for consumption, a supermarket shopper goes on a shopping spree. The way in which he decides to use his groceries, though, is taboo.
DIRECTED BY: Bruce Robinson
FEATURING: Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson
PLOT: A young hotshot ad exec begins to crack from stress when he has difficulty coming up with a campaign for pimple cream; compounding his problems, he grows a boil on his neck that gradually develops a face, and a nasty personality.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The talking boil, the cracked Bagley tossing thawed chickens into the toilet wearing only an apron, and a few other weird surprises. What works against Advertising‘s weirdness is that the film’s bizarro bits are all part of a perfectly clear and rational satirical plan.
COMMENTS: Ad exec Dennis Bagley develops the mother of all zits in this blackheaded black comedy: does he need a dermatologist, or a psychologist? He’s up against a deadline to design an ad campaign for a pimple cream account, and he’s obstructed. “I can’t get a handle on boils,” he explains. “Compared to this, piles were a birthday present… so was dandruff!” Brilliantly portrayed by an acerbic and unhinged Richard E. Grant, Bagley is a man on the edge from the moment we meet him. He delivers an authoritative, amoral address to junior execs delighting in the dieting-reward-guilt dynamic that keeps women buying unwholesome food and stressing the importance of marketing to “she who fills her basket;” but in private, his advertiser’s block is driving him to knock back highballs in his office and nearly break down into quivering mass at lunch with his beautiful wife Julia (Ward). On a fateful train ride home for a weekend of fretting over the acne campaign, frazzled Bagley has an epiphany about the pervasiveness of the advertising/propaganda mentality while listening to strangers discuss a sensational newspaper account of a drug orgy, and launches into the first of many entertainingly deranged rants. By the next morning Bagley has gone completely off his rocker: he’s running around the house nude except for an apron, thawing frozen chickens in the bathtub and trying to rid the homestead of everything connected to advertising. But, to his distress, he’s also developed a rather nasty and surprisingly painful pimple on his neck, one Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)