Tag Archives: Criterion collection

153. CLEAN, SHAVEN (1993)

“With Clean, Shaven, I really tried to examine the subjective reality of someone who suffered from schizophrenia, to try to put the audience in that position to experience how I imagined the symptoms to be: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, disassociative feelings, anxiety. Hopefully the audience would feel at the end of it like how it must be to feel that way for a lifetime and not just eighty minutes…”–Lodge Kerrigan

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Greene, Robert Albert, Jennifer MacDonald

PLOT: Peter has been released from a mental hospital, but he still suffers from near constant auditory hallucinations and paranoid thinking. Insulating himself from the outside world by taping newspaper over his car windows, he drives through New Brunswick, Canada, searching for his lost daughter Nicole, who was adopted after he was institutionalized. As Peter hones in on Nicole’s location, he is simultaneously being hunted by a detective who believes that the schizophrenic is responsible for the murder of a girl about his daughter’s age.

Still from Clean, Shaven (1993)
BACKGROUND:

  • Lodge Kerrigan’s first film, Clean, Shaven took two years to complete filming, as the director was always running out of money. The film was eventually completed for under $70,000. It has grossed far more than that.
  • Kerrigan’s inspiration for the film was a college friend who was afflicted with schizophrenia.
  • In 1994 Clean, Shaven screened at Cannes in the “Un Certain Regard” category alongside movies like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and ‘s Faust.
  • Although he is very good here in the type of intense and challenging part that usually wins awards, this role did not catapult Peter Greene to stardom. He did, however, land small parts in two of the 1990s greatest hit movies: Pulp Fiction (where he plays Zed, the cop who colludes with the pawnshop owner) and The Usual Suspects (an uncredited bit part).
  • According to reports, Kerrigan turned down early offers that conditioned a distribution deal on his editing out the fingernail scene.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s hard to argue against the infamous “fingernail” scene, the gruesome moment that made festival audiences scream, squirm, hide their eyes, and sometimes stand up and head for the exits. When I think back on Clean, Shaven, however, what I remember are the shots of telephone wires streaming along to the sound of Peter’s buzzy personal soundtrack of distorted voices and static; the images reflect the miswired disorientation of Peter’s brain, mirrored in the scary external world racing by outside his car window.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This movie traps us inside the mind of a madman. We are assaulted by his auditory hallucinations, and, like him, we can’t be sure whether what we see and experience is real, or a product of a tormented imagination. The schizophrenic sound design is superlative; this may not be the weirdest movie you’ll ever see, but it’s definitely in the running for the weirdest movie you’ll ever hear.


Original trailer for Clean, Shaven

COMMENTS: Lodge Kerrigan makes movies about people you’d cross the street to avoid bumping into: the homeless, prostitutes, the mentally ill. Continue reading 153. CLEAN, SHAVEN (1993)

149. REPO MAN (1984)

“Exec-produced by an ex-Monkee (Michael Nesmith) and directed by a onetime Oxford law student, ‘Repo Man’ was destined for weirdness.”–“Entertainment Weekly” in their 2003 list naming Repo Man one of the top 10 cult films of all time

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Emilio Estevez, , , Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Zander Schloss, Fox Harris

PLOT: A scientist drives a Chevy Malibu through the desert with a mysterious cargo in his trunk that vaporizes people who try to look at it. Meanwhile, in southern California, young punk Otto, desperate for money, takes a job repossessing unpaid vehicles as a “repo man.” The two plotlines collide when the repo men discover a $20,000 bounty on the car, and the race is on between Otto and his pals, government agents, and rival repo men to repossess the vehicle, along with whatever resides in its trunk.

Still from Repo Man (1984)
BACKGROUND:

  • Thinking it might make for an interesting story, writer/director Alex Cox rode with a repo man before conceiving this script.
  • Former Monkee Michael Nesmith was executive producer of the film.
  • Both Harry Dean Stanton and Alex Cox have both reported that they squabbled with each other through the film; in one incident, Stanton insisted on using a real baseball bat rather than a prop and almost struck a fellow actor. Some fans have speculated that some of Stanton’s scenes were rewritten and given to Sy Richardson due to this tension.
  • In the originally planned ending, Los Angeles was vaporized in a mushroom cloud; executives at Universal Pictures vetoed the idea. Another proposed ending had Otto becoming a revolutionary in Latin America.
  • Initially, Repo Man was shown in theaters for only a week, but when its punk soundtrack sold tens of thousands of copies the studio reconsidered and decided to give it a slightly expanded release. Still, far more fans came to the film via home video than caught it on the big screen.
  • The version of the film shown on television included several scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical release. (This “TV cut” is included as an extra on the Criterion Collection release).
  • Cox wrote a script for a sequel to Repo Man that was never produced; in 2008 it was adapted into a graphic novel titled “Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday.”
  • Over Universal’s objections (they owned sequel rights), in 2009 Cox made a poorly-received, low budget green-screen “spiritual sequel” to Repo Man called Repo Chick.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Repo Man is a film that’s better known for its dialogue than its imagery, but we’ll go with the vision of someone vaporizing when he opens the Chevy Malibu trunk, leaving behind a smoldering pair of boots (this scene happens more than once in the film). It’s one of Repo Man‘s few forays into cheesy special effects, but like every other seemingly inconsistent stylistic element of the movie, it feels right for this material, fitting into this consistently erratic and bizarre nightmare version of L.A.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Repo Man‘s weirdness is subtle, but unmistakable to the connoisseur. Consider the question: what genre is this movie? Is it sci-fi, social satire, a punk testament, or just a smart B-movie goof? And what to make of the movie’s interest in UFOs, conspiracies and fringe theories, the “lattice of coincidence” and Miller’s observation that “you know the way everybody’s into weirdness right now…. Bermuda triangles, UFOs, how the Mayans invented television?” If weirdness can be defined as that which reminds you of no other, than Repo Man is genuinely weird—and genuinely great.


Original trailer for Repo Man

COMMENTS: It may be hard for young folks to believe, but there was a time when Emilio Estevez was more than just Charlie Sheen’s mortified Continue reading 149. REPO MAN (1984)

DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: JEAN COCTEAU

The late critic Leslie Halliwell wrote of Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1949): “It is the closest cinema has gotten to pure poetry.” The same might be said of Cocteau himself. Poet, painter, filmmaker, librettist, historian, stage designer, and playwright, Cocteau refused to be confined to the parameters of a single artistic medium. His circle of friends and collaborators included Pablo Picasso, , Serge de Diaghilev, Les Six, Igor Stravinsky, Marcel Proust, and Erik Satie. He was a dominating figure in virtually every “ism”, including Dadaism and Surrealism. Cocteau only made six movies, and insisted that he was merely an amateur who “dabbled” in the medium. Despite his self-proclaimed amateur status, four of those films are frequently hailed as masterpieces of cinema. These four have been collectively given the Criterion treatment.

Blood of a Poet (1930) was Cocteau’s first film. It is often compared to ‘s Un Chien Andalou (1928) and L’Age d’Or (Blood was, in  fact, financed by the same patron as L’ Age d’or). Yet, Blood of a Poet is its own film, having a texture unlike any before or since. It is, possibly, the weakest of the four on the Criterion set. Despite it’s stage bound milieu, it remains bewitching, startling, and memorable even after the passage of 80 years. It features absurdist mythology and is semi-autobiographical, told in four life episodes. The artist, searching for his muse, is martyr to his art. Cocteau narrates, surrealist Lee Miller plays a statue and Les Six member Georges Auric composed the music. Mirrors are passageways into an inner world, a theme Cocteau would perfect in Orpheus (1950). Budgetary limitations led to improvisation, which worked to the film’s advantage. Upon release, the film was attacked from different corners. Andre Breton and his Surrealist circle were aggressively hostile, obviously fearing a coup d’etat ((Cocteau, who never claimed to be a Surrealist, was mostly amused by Breton’s histrionic objections. By this time, Breton was running the movement like an autocracy. Predictably, Cocteau outlived the movement that Breton himself managed to assist in killing.)). Coming on the heels of L’ Age d’or, the Catholic Church read an iconoclastic message into Blood, threatening the producer with excommunication, which resulted in a delayed release. In hindsight, this is surprising since the main thrust of the film, which comes through the multifariously interpreted imagery, mostly conveys the artist in the spiritual realm.

Cocteau was nearly sixty in 1946 when he made his first feature-length film, Beauty and the Beast (based on the children’s story by Madame Leprince de Beaumont). Inspired by Gustave Dore’s engravings and the naturalistic paintings of Johannes Vermeer, Beauty and the Beast is sensual, frighting and enchanting in the way only a childhood fantasy can be. It is more aesthetically assured than Blood of a Poet, greatly assisted by Henri Alekan’s exquisite black and white cinematography, Georges Auric’s enduring score, and Christian Berard’s production design, costume and makeup work. Disembodied hands light the way to the Beast’s elegant castle with candelabras. Animated statues convey amusement and dread. Mirrors, doors and jewelry are constant elements of Cocteau’s world. Cocteau and company play with the gifts of the medium, but it is more than a mere display of cinematic trickery. Everything serves the mythical narrative. Stark and magical compositions are the result of a highly collaborative work with unified purpose. According to Cocteau’s diaries, the collaboration was not as seamless as the film appears. Apparently there was much tension between the director and Alekan. Cocteau, knowing nothing about the camera, preferred flat, artistic compositions. Alekan resisted such an approach and pushed Cocteau to think in more classical cinematic language.

Jean Marais’ Beast acts almost entirely with his eyes (peering from behind lycanthrope-like makeup). He conveys pathos, wretchedness, latent savagery and erotic yearning in a tour-de-force performance. His Beast is threatening, and more compelling than the civilized Continue reading DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: JEAN COCTEAU

148. SWEET MOVIE (1974)

“Not everything can be explained.”–Potemkin in Sweet Movie

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Carole Laure, , ,

PLOT: A billionaire marries a virgin beauty contest winner. Meanwhile, a Socialist ship captain sails down an Amsterdam canal with a Marx masthead and hold full of sugar and candy. The virgin escapes her wedding night and goes on a sexual odyssey around the world, while the ship captain lures a proletariat man and four children onto the ship and kills them.

Still from Sweet Movie (1974)
BACKGROUND:

  • Yugoslavian Dusan Makavejev made some highly regarded movies in the beginning of his career, but he really came to international notice when his strange psychosexual documentary WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) was banned in his home country and he was exiled from the relatively liberal Communist state for making it. Makavejev landed in Canada where he made Sweet Movie. After the outraged reaction to this provocation, Makavejev did not direct a feature again for seven years.
  • Makavejev was a devotee of psychoanalyst William Reich (the “WR” of WR: Mysteries of the Organism). Reich began his career as a controversial but serious psychologist advocating total sexual freedom, but descended into madness and crankery in his later years when he claimed to have discovered a mysterious invisible energy named “orgone” that could cure cancer, among its other godlike properties. The film’s orgy performed by members of the Vienna Actionists’ commune under the leadership of performance artist Otto Mühl, who was also a follower of Reich’s teachings.
  • Makavejev turned down an invitation from Francis Ford Coppola to direct his script for Apocalypse Now to make Sweet Movie.
  • The black and white footage of corpses being disinterred is actual archival footage shot by the Nazis when they discovered the mass graves of the Katyn massacre, where the Soviets had murdered 22,000 Poles on Stalin’s orders in 1940.
  • The story was originally intended to follow the adventures of Miss World. Actress Carole Laure felt pressured on the set to perform sexual acts that made her uncomfortable, and she quit the production after shooting a scene in which she fondled a man’s flaccid penis. She later complained that the film was edited to make it appear that she engaged in more sexual activity than she actually had. To fill out the running time, Makavejev added the plot with Anna the ship captain.
  • The Polish government revoked actress and cabaret singer Anna Prucnal’s passport because of her involvement with Sweet Movie, and she was unable to return home for seven years.
  • Sweet Movie was banned in Britain (and in many other countries). In the United States it played with 4 minutes of scatology cut out.
  • Sweet Movie was one of two films selected as among the weirdest movies of all time in 366 Weird Movies 4th Reader’s Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: After watching Sweet Movie, you’ll wish, in vain, that you could wash some of the images out of your mind—particularly the commune feast featuring food in all its forms, pre- and post-digestion. There are other moments that are strikingly beautiful, for example, Anna Planeta and Potemkin making love in a vat of sugar as a white mouse crawls over their bodies. For the most memorable image, however, we’ll go with the film’s first and funniest shock: the wedding night, when, after rubbing his new bride down with isopropyl alcohol while she clutches a crown of Christmas lights between her thighs, Mr. Dollars reveals his uniquely pimped-out phallus.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Mixing beauty with disgust like sugar mixed with blood, Sweet Movie is a confused concoction of politics, sex, excreta, and Reichian psychology. Exiled director Dusan Makavejev abandoned all reason to make this movie, a fact which ironically makes its stabs at political satire ring hollow. Still, as a strange cinematic thing, Sweet Movie has an undeniable freak show appeal for those with strong stomachs: just be prepared for a cavalcade of unsimulated urine, puke, feces, mother’s milk, and pedophilia.


Unofficial 2013 trailer for Sweet Movie (made by Chelsea Sweetin of Montreal’s “Garden Scene Evenings”)

COMMENTS: Dusan Makavejev must have been very confused when he was making Sweet Movie, but probably even more so when he was editing Continue reading 148. SWEET MOVIE (1974)

CAPSULE: WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957)

Smultronstället

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: An aging professor has dreams of death and flashbacks to his youth as he drives to a university to accept an honorary degree.

Still from Wild Strawberries (1957)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough. Only the presence of a couple of dream sequences, and the fact that the story emerges from the mind of semi-surrealist auteur Ingmar Bergman, make this character study worthy of a footnote in weird movie history.

COMMENTS: Incredibly, Ingmar Bergman released Wild Strawberries in the same year as The Seventh Seal, and although the overriding theme of both films is death, the approach taken in this quiet character study could hardly be different than the bombast of Seal‘s epic medieval fantasy. Wild Strawberries is an intimate, internalized movie about an ordinary man coping with regret at the end of his life, and, without a couple of dream sequences that Freud-obsessed Bergman couldn’t resist adding, it would belong to a tradition of quotidian dramatic cinema that stands directly opposed to the world of weird film. Many people deeply identify with Professor Isak’s pre-mortem ruminations, but I confess I’m not one of them. This is the kind of realism-based movie that conjures no magic for me, although I can appreciate the craftsmanship and understand why others with different predispositions rate it so highly. The dreams depicted here err towards psychological realism rather than mystery. The initial nightmare comes in quickly, taking pride of place directly after the credits. Featuring a withered man with a squashed face and a hearse accident, it’s obviously Isak’s death-anxiety dream, an easy slam dunk interpretation for any amateur psychotherapist. The second trip into Isak’s psyche takes place after we’ve been exposed to some flashbacks to his youth, and digs a bit deeper, although the symbolism is still fairly simple to grasp. It’s actually a series of dreams, beginning with another flashback to his youthful love. That turns into a common examination dream; Isak has shown up for a test, but he’s not prepared. He looks into a microscope and can’t see anything, he sees only nonsense words scrawled on the chalkboard. (At least he remembered to wear pants). After failing the exam, the experience morphs into a guilt dream; the test is revealed as a trial. The sequence ends on another memory, this time of his wife, and a tryst that may or may not have occurred as depicted but which nevertheless reveals his ambivalence about the woman who fathered his son. There is a conundrum in Wild Strawberries; Isak seeks forgiveness, but he seems rather a good egg than a terrible sinner. We are repeatedly told Isak is cold and unfeeling, but the warmth that emanates from behind Sjöström’s sad and crinkly eyes contradicts that narrative. When his daughter-in-law tells him he’s a selfish old man who only thinks of himself, we are immediately on his side; we know that he’s been misunderstood. Bergman surely could direct cold and unfeeling—see the performances of Jullan Kindahl as the buttoned-up housekeeper and Naima Wifstrand as Isak’s harridan mother—so perhaps the idea behind our instant fondness for Victor Sjöström’s grandfatherly professor is that we, the audience, see the doctor as he sees himself, not as others see him. The movie seeks to redeem a character with whom we begin in sympathy; a strange emotional arc, but one that works for many people. Ultimately, although Wild Strawberries is doubtlessly an excellent movie, I do find it a tiny bit overrated—but perhaps that’s only because it’s being compared to the author’s other masterpieces, like The Seventh Seal and Persona. This is a different species of film, a ruminative and elegiac movie that is focused narrowly on a perfectly realized individual rather than grand existential allegories. One of Bergman’s gifts is that he was comfortable working either on an epic stage or in a small chamber. He could bring a sense of warmth to the one and an echo of universality to the other. Wild Strawberries is clearly on the realistic chamber drama end of his range, and the “recommended” rating here is for general cinema enthusiasts, not lovers of the weird.

The Criterion Collection’s Wild Strawberries DVD includes a commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie and a ninety-minute Bergman documentary/interview, Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work. The 2013 Blu-ray upgrade (buy) adds a short introduction from the director and new behind-the-scenes footage.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…so thoroughly mystifying that we wonder whether Mr. Bergman himself knew what he was trying to say. As nearly as we can make out… the purpose of Mr. Bergman in this virtually surrealist exercise is to get at a comprehension of the feelings and the psychology of an aging man.”–Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)