After his wife passes away, heartbroken Frank starts to have hallucinations involving his childhood stuffed toy, Jericho.
DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier
PLOT: A young woman grapples with serious depression on her wedding day, causing rifts i nher already-tempestuous family relationships. Meanwhile, a planet known as Melancholia is making its way towards Earth.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Von Trier’s rumination on the end of the world is for the most part surprisingly understated, incorporating surrealistic imagery here and there but primarily relegating itself to a realistic study of a family in crisis with a science-fiction background.
COMMENTS: Opening with breathtaking slow-motion shots of a dreamlike apocalypse set to a bombastic Wagner score, Melancholia begins with the promise of something literally earth-shattering. Its ambition and scope seem far-reaching and all-encompassing, much like Malick’s confused 2011 offering The Tree of Life. Shifting to close-quarters shaky cam as the focus moves to new bride Justine’s wedding party, Melancholia becomes an investigation of her debilitating depression and how most of her wealthy, bitter family is unsympathetic. The second half keeps the setting of an isolated mansion inn, but puts the spotlight on sister Claire, whose extreme anxiety is increased by the foreboding presence of the incoming planet.
As the promise of a visually and thematically grandiose event lingers over the film’s proceedings, von Trier endeavors to first fully establish his characters and their relationships. We spend a lot of time with these people, seeing their connections and lack thereof, slowly understanding their underlying flaws and neuroses. The looming threat of complete world destruction is barely acknowledged during the first half as the script is absorbed in Justine’s efforts to hide her disease and Claire’s concern for keeping up appearances. It’s meandering and slow-moving, but the strong lead performances from Dunst and Gainsbourg—along with a charismatic supporting turn from Sutherland—are engaging enough to keep things interesting until the apocalypse strikes.
Because we spend so much time with these characters beforehand, their plight at the end is felt all the more acutely. Seeing how these women lived—raised in wealth but suffering internally (all very Salinger-esque)—is such an intimate experience that it’s hard to not feel involved personally. The planet Melancholia itself is truly an awesome sight, eerie and intimidating, seeming to affect the actors internally and causing a few mouths to open in the audience. Of course, the ear-shattering Wagner orchestration helps build the intensity.
Weird movie fans will surely appreciate the gorgeous surrealistic imagery peppered throughout, but at its heart Melancholia is a serious examination of mental illness and family ties in the shadow of a cataclysmic event.
G. Smalley adds: Melancholia is an intensely metaphorical movie, but it is essentially a more conventional, dramatic reworking of the theme of clinical depression vonTrier explored in the weirder, more outrageous Antichrist. The two movies contain common themes and a similar look (I was surprised to discover that they had different cinematographers), but they are so different in their approach that I’m not sure liking one will predict how you’ll react to the other. In fact, I suspect that many of the people now singing the praises of Melancholia were the ones complaining the loudest at Antichrist and von Trier’s descent into “torture porn.” Melancholia is strong throughout, but I found the opening the most astounding part. It’s a six-minute super slow motion surrealistic montage that manages to enrapture while featuring characters and events about whom we know nothing yet. It opens with a shot of a devastated-looking Kirsten Dunst with dead birds falling in the background, and includes what may be my favorite image of the year: Dunst trudging through a forest glade in her white wedding gown, dragging behind her a train of huge vines tied to her ankles and waist. The slow motion photography is technically amazing; sometimes you believe you’re looking at a still photograph until you see a foot lift, and at other times it seems figures in the foreground and background are moving at different rates. It’s thrilling (to me, at least) to see a director who once advocated stripping film down to its basics (the short-lived “Dogme 95” movement) now embracing the full operatic range of cinematic tools.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“In many ways this bizarre, nihilistic meditation is a dreary, redundant, pretentious bore… On the other hand, the magnificent, ethereal visuals/special effects are haunting, particularly the opening collage which compresses the entire story.”– Susan Granger, SSG Syndicate
“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
DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker
FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Kevin McKeon, Jenny Wright, Bob Hoskins
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.
- “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 WEIRD: Pink 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)
Pink Floyd the Wall has been promoted to “Certified Weird” status. Comments have been closed; please post all new comments on the official entry.
DIRECTED BY: Alan Parker
FEATURING: Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Wright
PLOT: A rock singer, “Pink,” isolates himself in a hotel room and reflects upon his life while
slipping further into drug addiction and madness. The film has little in the way of dialogue and is heavy on visual interpretations of Roger Waters lyrics for the 1979 double album of the same name. The metaphorical “wall” is constructed around the rock singer’s life separating him from the outside world and alone with his tortured thoughts and memories.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Possibly for one reason only: the fantastic and bizarre animation sequences rendered by British political caricaturist Gerald Scarfe. Although the sequences are relatively short, the horrific images blaze across the screen in such a haunting way that the impact makes up for the brevity.
COMMENTS: Watching, or listening, to Pink Floyd: The Wall is one miserable experience. All the key elements of a depressing film are on display: madness, alienation, the atrocities of war, mind-numbing drug addiction, infidelity, fascism…well, you get my drift. This is not an upbeat or fun movie by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, the film is constructed in such a skillful manner by director Alan Parker that it is hard not to justify its reputation as a work of art.
Upon the opening scene we see the protagonist rock star “Pink” (Bob Geldof) in his hotel room staring blankly at the television screen with a long burned out cigarette perched between his fingers. Pink is in this position and state of mind for many of his scenes. It is open to interpretation, but perhaps all of the scenes of the film are what is playing out in his unraveling mind. The images correlate to the lyrics of each song, and we start off things by learning of Pink’s father’s death in World War II. His bunker was blown to bits by an air raid bombardment. Pink never knew his father and it is clear that this had a major impact in his childhood, as evidenced by a scene where he is playing in a park as a young child and desperately tries clinging on to a hand of an unsuspecting and unwilling male father figure. As Pink grows up and goes to school he’s subjected to the harsh British educational Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: PINK FLOYD:THE WALL (1982)
DIRECTED BY: Suzan Pitt
FEATURING: Jose Luis Rodriguez Avalos (“El Doctor”)
PLOT: A collection of three surreal animated shorts. In “El Doctor”, a Mexican doctor visits odd patients while dreaming of a long dead love. “Joy Street” contrasts a the life of a whimsical anthropomorphic ashtray with its suicidally depressed owner. “Asparagus” is a totally abstract surrealist film featuring a faceless woman and obscene iterations of the titular vegetable.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a question of classification, not of weirdness or quality. Counting these three short films, made decades apart, as one “movie” for List purposes would clearly be cheating. That means that we’re really only considering the compilation’s main event, “Asparagus,” for inclusion on the List, which raises the metaphysical question: how good/weird does a short have to be take away a spot from a deserving feature length presentation? Some shorts will eventually make the List. “The Heart of the World,” though a “must see” weird film, was eliminated from consideration for being too slim at just over three minutes long. Pitt’s impressive work clocks in at 18 minutes—should that be enough to put it on equal footing with films that run four or five times as long?
COMMENTS: Considering the shorts included in The Films of Suzan Pitt from most recent to oldest, and coincidentally from least favorite to most highly recommended:
“El Doctor” sports the crudest animation of the three shorts; deliberately, because the style means to evoke Mexican folk art. We find the title character slumped at a bar, dreaming of riding into the sunset on horseback with a señorita, but soon the world-weary médico is called away to his strange and melancholy rounds. These appointments—which take the form of miracles—don’t do too much for the main narrative; mainly, they supply Pitt with the opportunity to take mini-flights of fancy. There’s not much to the story other than these surreal digressions. One patient is pocked with holes from which flowers grow, giving Pitt the opportunity to film a field of flowers as if they were a rainforest (an image which pervades all Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE FILMS OF SUZAN PITT (1979/1995/2006)
“If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, [Antichrist] is the movie he would have made.”–John Waters, “Artforum Magazine”
DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier
PLOT: He and She (the characters are nameless) are making love when their child tumbles to his death out of a window. She falls into inconsolable grief, and He, a therapist, unwisely decides to take her under his personal care. When He discovers the root of She’s anxiety and irrational fears centers around a woodland retreat they call Eden, He forces her to go there to face her fears; but when they arrive, nature itself seems determined to drive them both mad.
- Von Trier says that he was suffering from extreme depression when he made Antichrist and that working on the script and the film was a form of self-therapy. Von Trier was still depressed at the time of screening and sometimes had to excuse himself from the set.
- In the title card and much of the promotional art, the “t” in “antichrist” is suggested by a figure combining the Christian cross and the symbol for “woman.”
- The therapy He employs in the film is called “exposure therapy” (where an anxiety-ridden patient is gradually exposed to the source of their irrational fear); von Trier had undergone this treatment for his own anxiety problems, and thought little of the practice.
- The idea for the fox came from a shamanic journey taken by von Trier.
- Besides this film, British cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle also shot Slumdog Millionaire, for which he received the 2009 Academy Award, in the same year. Of the two, Antichrist, with its extreme slow-motion photography, was the more difficult and magnificently shot film.
- Von Trier dedicated Antichrist to Andrei Tarkovsky, which caused jeers at Cannes and gave critical wags the opportunity to take deserved, if obvious, potshots (Jason Anderson’s “we now know what it would’ve been like if Tarkovsky had lived to make a torture-porn movie” was a typical dig).
- The film’s Cannes reception was tumultuous, with audience members reportedly fainting, and hostility between the press and von Trier (who proclaimed himself “the world’s greatest director.”) Charlotte Gainsbourg won “Best Actress” for her brave and revealing performance. The film received a special “anti-humanitarian” prize from the ecumenical jury (a Cannes sub-jury with a Christian focus), who called Antichrist “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world.”
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without doubt, the searing image is of the encounter between Charlotte Gainsbourg’s intimate prosthetic and a pair of rusty scissors. However indelibly gruesome this scene may be, however, it comes out of von Trier’s shock toolbox rather than from his weird shed. For an image with a power to make us do more than squirm, we turn to the scene where He and She are copulating in the woods, with her head resting on a bed of roots from a massive oak tree. The camera slowly pulls back to reveal a number of disembodied human hands sticking out at various places from between the oak limbs.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though the graphic torture-porn (and plain old-fashioned porn) elements have stolen the headlines and alienated viewers, at bottom this is von Trier’s spookiest and most mysterious film, a trip deep into the heart of darkness, and one the viewer may have as difficult a time returning home from intact as the characters do. The irrational horror of von Trier’s vision is only magnified by the sense that you aren’t so much watching a story of madness as watching a director going insane in real time, before your very eyes: he seems to lose control of his story as it progresses, turning the climax over to his internal demons for script-doctoring, before reasserting some measure of control of his material in a surreal epilogue.
Trailer for Antichrist (WARNING: contains non-explicit sexual content)
COMMENTS: Lars von Trier deserves to be roundly criticized for burdening Antichrist with four Continue reading 72. ANTICHRIST (2009)
Antichrist has been promoted to the List of the 366 weirdest movies of all time. This page is left here for archival reasons. Pelase go to 72. Antichrist for more in-depth coverage of the film and to make comments.
DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier
FEATURING: William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
PLOT: After the death of their only child, a therapist takes his grieving and anxiety-ridden wife to a retreat in the woods to face her irrational fears; when they arrive, nature itself seems determined to drive them both mad.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Actually, von Trier’s troubled and troubling Antichrist is almost a shoo-in to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies. Though the graphic torture-porn (and plain old-fashioned porn) elements have stolen the headlines and alienated viewers, at bottom this is von Trier’s spookiest and most mysterious film, a trip deep into the heart of darkness, and one the viewer may have as difficult a time returning home from intact as the characters do. The irrational horror of von Trier’s vision is only magnified by the sense that you aren’t so much watching a filmic depiction of madness as watching a director going insane in real time, before your very eyes: he seems to lose control of his story as it progresses, turning the climax over to his internal demons for script-doctoring, before reasserting some measure of control of his material in a surreal epilogue. While worthy of consideration, Antichrist finds itself in the same situation as the Coen brothers A Serious Man; we’re not going to officially certify it for the List until it receives its home video debut and we have a chance to scrutinize it more closely than is possible in a cinema.
COMMENTS: Lars von Trier desreves to be roundly criticized for burdening Antichrist with approximately four transgressive, shocking scenes: not because such sights should never be shown, but because these tasteless displays dominate our experience and force every viewer (and reviewer) to deal with them first and foremost. Their sole artistic function are to serve as obstacles to appreciating the grim beauty of the remaining film. Whether their inclusion is a calculated act by a prankster director, or a lapse in judgment resulting from psychological impairment (von Trier claims to have written the script as self-therapy to help him deal with a crippling bout of depression much like the one suffered by Charlotte Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)