Tag Archives: Desert

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: LA CICATRICE INTÉRIEURE [THE INNER SCAR] (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Philippe Garrel

FEATURING: Nico, Pierre Clémenti, Philippe Garrel, Christian Aaron Boulogne

PLOT: A man leads a woman through the desert;  abandons her as she pleads for help;  a nude archer arrives; the woman travels with him as well, until she again cries out in despair.

Still from La Cicatrice Interieur [The Inner Scar] (1972)

COMMENTS: The woman sits alone in a desolate landscape. A man approaches, wearing a burnt umber suit that is somehow both 70s and Victorian. He pulls the woman to her feet. They walk, heading toward the horizon as we fade to black. Before we’ve had a chance to fade in on the new scene, we can hear her, sobbing and wailing that she can’t breathe. She keens like a toddler who has been denied dessert, and the silent man finally abandons her, trudging off… in what turns out to be a circle, ending up right back with his bereft traveling companion. She shrieks “I don’t need you!” and staggers off into the distance. 

So passes the first ten minutes of La cicatrice intérieure. There isn’t going to be all that much variation on the theme. A first-time viewer should gird their loins for a lot of walking, a lot of screaming, occasional appearances by fire, and several dramatic songs that might be at home in a Ren Faire, courtesy of Nico. It’s the kind of film that will devote five minutes to despairing cries of“There is no justice!” followed immediately by an extended tracking shot of sheep being herded down a dirt road.

The temptation is to view La cicatrice intérieure as some kind of allegory. No one has a name, no one engages in dialogue, none of this should be taken literally. The locations in Egypt, Iceland, and New Mexico are stunning, but the people are barely even characters, and there are almost no situations to speak of. (The film even starts to parody itself, as more than one lengthy pan across a dramatic vista suddenly reveals Nico, once more shattering the peace with her vocal despair like an inescapable buzzkill.) But it doesn’t really say much in an abstract sense, either. The fire, the sword, the giddy nude toddler lying on a fur amidst a field of ice… they’re metaphorical, but without actually representing anything. 

So what is the goal? The film seems to function in part as a kind of proto-music video for Nico, the German chanteuse best known for her collaboration with the Velvet Underground. This makes it all the more curious that she doesn’t get top billing. Here she is, the actor with the most screen time, the only one to make the journey from the beginning of the film to the end, the ostensible reason the film exists at all, and she’s listed second. Although in fairness, perhaps the top spot is meant as a reward for Clémenti, who shows up as the new male lead roughly halfway through the film and who spends the duration completely naked save for a quiver and bow (which go unused). Clémenti is mostly impassive, although he impressively does things unclothed like ride a horse or sail a boat off an icy coast, inspiring the thought, “That looks really uncomfortable.”

The few moments of speech may be a clue as to the directorial intent. Nico alternates between German and English, while Clémenti and an adolescent boy speak French. Garrel reportedly refused to permit subtitles, meaning the literal incomprehensibility of some of the dialogue is a feature, not a bug. Being opaque is the point. That seems to be an overriding philosophy in La cicatrice intérieure; if you’re going to complain about things not making sense, you’re not the right audience. In that case, you might want to take a walk.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… pretentious artsy indulgence at its worst.” – Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

(This movie was nominated for review by NGboo, who dubbed it one of “the most surreal and weirdest movies I’ve seen this year” back in 2011. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE PLANTERS (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alexandra Kotcheff, Hannah Leder

FEATURING: Alexandra Kotcheff, Hannah Leder, Phil Parolisi, Pepe Serna

PLOT: Emotionally-stunted Martha Plant is a terrible telemarketer and prefers her side hustle of burying junk in the desert for treasure hunters to dig up; things change when she offers her spare room to a recently released mental patient with multiple personalities.

Still from The Planters (2019)

COMMENTS: The appropriately named Martha Plant is an odd woman with an odder passion: she shoplifts souvenir shop trinkets, buries them in the desert, posts the GPS coordinates on a lonely bulletin board, and then digs them up later to find the cash left behind by grateful treasure hunters. (“It’s one of the most successful enterprises in the area,” she brags.) Martha is such a great crackpot that all she needs is an equally oddball sidekick, and the script almost writes itself. Enter Sadie, who literally comes careening down a sand dune, padlocked into a bicycle helmet and carrying a red suitcase, and crashes into Martha, the only landmark visible for miles. Laid-back, whimsical wackiness ensues.

Well, there are a couple more complications. One, Sadie has been released—or rather, cut loose—from a mental hospital that’s gone bankrupt. And she has multiple personalities, which show up over the course of the film. Two, while working at her day job selling air conditioners by phone, Martha develops a friendship with a lonely widower who’s just as socially awkward as the two women. And three, when Sadie peeks into the tins Martha buries, she sees biblical scenes (which play out in claymation): Jesus carrying on a casual conversation with the two crucified thieves, Moses parting the Red Sea, that sort of thing. Sometimes Sadie sees herself inside these little clay parables. These hallucinations are obviously the weirdest feature of a movie that otherwise merely leans to the absurd side of quirky, but it sets up a final scene that, for what it’s worth, indeed goes all the way into the surreal.

With its squared-off mise en scene, bright colors, deadpan line deliveries, twee musical selections, and eccentric characters, comparisons to are inevitable. And although that’s a great touchstone to determine if this might be your bag, Anderson rarely gets anywhere near this weird. Readers of this site might instead find connections to a similar mismatched-oddball desert buddy comedy, Rubin & Ed (although The Planters never gets quite that wild or aggressive). At any rate, it’s unfair to write this original comedy off as simply ersatz Wes. It’s its own weirdo thing.

The Planters has a terrific DIY backstory. It was created almost entirely by the two lead actresses/co-directors, from scriptwriting to costumes, sets, lighting, props, and sound, with no other crew. Begun in 2016, it took half a year to shoot, and spent a couple more years in post-production (Sam Barnett’s claymation creations took a while), finally arriving at film festivals in late 2019, and getting a very limited theatrical release in December 2020. The best part about it all is that, watching the film, you have no idea that the actresses are alone on set; everything seems to flow naturally from deliberate stylistic choices rather than result from filmmakers scrimping to cram their vision within their limitations.

The Planters is currently free on Amazon Prime for subscribers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Odd. Quirky. Deliberately stilted at times. Colourfully shot with interesting camera angles. Filled with eccentric characters.”–Carey, OrcaSound (contemporaneous)

255. RUBIN & ED (1991)

“People try to make me sound a lot… weird… and just, strong, you know, I’m strong!”–Crispin Glover on “Late Night with David Letterman”

“Talk about el weirdo.”–Ed, on Rubin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Howard Hessman, , , Michael Greene

PLOT: Ed is a recently-separated loser who joins “the Organization,” a cult-like real estate pyramid scheme. Rubin is a shut-in nerd whose mother takes away his boom box and refuses to return it until he makes a single  friend. When Ed tries to recruit Rubin to attend an Organization seminar, Rubin agrees to go, on the condition that Ed helps him find a place to bury his dead pet cat.

Still from Rubin and Ed (1991)

BACKGROUND:

  • Rubin & Ed was Utah-based director Trent Harris’ first feature film after making the three documentary/narrative hybrid shorts known as “The Beaver Trilogy” (the first installment is a documentary featuring an oddball kid who performs in drag as Olivia Newton-John, while the next two recreate the first using actors and Crispin Glover, respectively).
  • Glover created Rubin Farr for another role that never materialized. He convinced Harris, who was looking for a project for his feature film debut, to write a script around the character.
  • In 1987, three years before Rubin & Ed began filming, a stuttering, awkward Crispin Glover appeared in character as Rubin on “Late Night with David Letterman.” Letterman thought Glover was there to promote River’s Edge, and walked off his own set when Glover almost kicked him in the head while wearing Rubin’s giant platform shoes. The segment only lasted a little over four minutes. Many Americans who saw it live assumed Glover was wasted on psychedelic drugs.
  • Although it had a reasonable degree of star power and was produced by major independent Working Title Films (who released the Palme d’Or winning Barton Fink the same year), Rubin & Ed initially received terrible reviews made a mere $15,000 in its original theatrical run. The film flopped so badly that the studio pulled funding for another Trent Harris project that had already been greenlit. Rubin & Ed later found a small cult following on VHS.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Rubin’s happy hallucination, which features his previously-dead cat alive and waterskiing while its owner relaxes in a floating inner-tube wearing shoes with two foot heels, on which the bikini babe motoring the speedboat compliments him.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Weaponized platform shoes; waterskiing cat; insole slurping

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though structured as a quirky comedy, not too different from the usual outing of the period, Rubin and Ed has a gaggle of weird points in its favor, including a hallucination scene with a water skiing cat and a lunatic Crispin Glover playing something very near the Crispin Glover-iest character ever written. Its sense of humor is so eccentric that it’s been forced off-road to become strictly a cult curiosity.


Trailer for Rubin & Ed

COMMENTS: “It’s going to get weird now, isn’t it?,” frets Ed, after Continue reading 255. RUBIN & ED (1991)

LIST CANDIDATE: FANDO Y LIS (1968)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Jodorowsky

FEATURING: Sergio Kleiner, Diana Mariscal

PLOT: Fando carts and carries his paralyzed lover Lis across a ravaged landscape searching for the legendary city Tar.

Still from Fando y Lis (1968)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: If you’ve ever seen a Jodorowsky movie before, you know what to expect. Fando y Lis is a parade of fantastical, shocking imagery, including snakes that penetrate a baby doll and a man who begs for blood (he extracts a donation with a syringe and drinks it from a brandy snifter). That said, Fando & Lis is one of the least of Jodorwosky’s works, an early curiosity that is thoroughly weird, but not strongly conceived enough to make the List on the first ballot. (Plus, Jodo’s so well-represented here already we don’t feel at all bad about the possibility of leaving one movie off).

COMMENTS: Fando y Lis begins with a woman eating flowers while a siren wails. Later we will learn she is the paraplegic Lis, whose lover Fando will cart her across a bizarre post-apocalyptic landscape searching for the mystical city of Tar. Along the way they encounter a man playing a burning piano, mud zombies, a transvestite parade, and a gang of female bowlers led by a dominatrix, among other absurdities. There will also be flashbacks to both Fando and Lis’ childhoods, and unrelated fantasy sequences of the actors goofing around (posing in a graveyard, and painting their characters’ names on each other). And there’s quite a few more transgressions, both beautiful and clumsy, to be found in this rambling, overstuffed avant-garde experiment. Although Jodorowsky comes from an older bohemian tradition, at times Fando y Lis plays like something made by Mexican hippies, improvising scenes with random props in between hashish tokes.

The “spiritual journey” structure makes for an episodic film, but the ideas aren’t as stunningly realized or obsessively detailed as The Holy Mountain. Here, Jodorowsky has found, but not perfected, his unique voice: it’s as if he’s working with individual sentences, rather than complete paragraphs. It would have helped the movie feel more coherent and unified if the relationship between Fando and Lis was better done, but their dynamic is unpleasant. They unconvincingly profess eternal love for each other, but Fando is much better at conveying his irritation and annoyance at having to carry Lis everywhere, while her character is reduced to desperate, pathetic whining for most of the film.

In 1962 Jodorowsky, Fernando Arrabal and , feeling that Andre Breton and the old guard Surrealists had lost their edge and were no longer extreme enough in their embrace of absurdity, founded the Panic movement, which was mostly an experimental theater group. Fando & Lis was originally a play from this school, written by Arrabal and staged by Jodorowsky. This movie adaptation is not intended to be faithful; Jodorowsky instead described it as based on his memories of the play. When Fando y Lis premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival in 1968 it caused a riot (presumably due to its abundant nudity and mildly sacrilegious content) and was subsequently banned in Mexico. The film basically disappeared for years. Discovering Jodorowsky in the early 90s, when his films were only available in bootleg VHS versions, I was unaware that he had made a movie before El Topo; Fando wasn’t even a filmography entry. It wasn’t until 2003 that a DVD of this early work suddenly popped up.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… pothead vaudeville all the way… A tumultuous cause celebre at festivals, it paved the way for the director’s rise from small-time poseur to big-time poseur with El Topo a few years later.”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

(This movie was nominated for review by “Zelenc” who called it a “must see film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

“A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!”–original poster tagline for Manos, the Hands of Fate

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Harold P. Warren, John Reynolds, Tom Neyman, Diane Mahree

PLOT: After making a wrong turn on a family vacation, Mike and Maggie and their daughter Debbie find themselves lost in the Texas desert. As night falls they discover a lodge and its mysterious caretaker Torgo, who reluctantly agrees to let the family stay the night. As the night wears on the Master and his wives awake, while Torgo develops an obsession with Maggie.

Still from Manos, the Hands of Fate (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, had a yen to become an actor, and met and befriended screenwriter Stirling Silliphant when the latter was in El Paso scouting locations for the television series “Route 66.” Warren made a bet with Silliphant that he could make his own horror movie. He scribbled out the initial outline to Manos on a napkin at a coffee shop.
  • Manos was filmed with a hand-wound 16mm camera that could only shoot 32 seconds of footage at a time. There was no live sound and all dialogue was later dubbed in by the principal male actors (Warren, Reynolds and Neyman) and one uncredited actress voicing all the female roles.
  • John Reynolds, who played Torgo, was a heavy drug user who was often high on LSD on set. He committed suicide months after shooting concluded, before Manos‘ debut.
  • Manos had been completely resigned to the grindhouse dustbin, almost never screened on television, only gaining notoriety after being featured on the bad movie-mocking cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in 1993. (Manos became one of the show’s most popular episodes).
  • For most of its history Manos was available only in scratchy second generation prints with visible defects; many fans believe that the murky visuals add to the film’s outsider appeal. In 2001, cameraman Benjamin Solovey found a pristine work print of the movie  and crowdfunded a digital restoration of the movie, which he released on Blu-ray (via Synapse films).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There is a brief moment when all of Manos‘ bizarre characters share the frame at the same time. Arms outstretched, as always, to display the scarlet fingers lining the inside of his coal-black cloak, the Master points to a shivering Torgo, while two of his nightgown-clad wives pirouette towards him and drag him onto the stone altar, his massive knees pointing towards the nighttime sky. In her review of the film’s opening night, the local El Paso film critic refers to this as the scene where Torgo is “massaged to death.”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Torgo’s knees; wives’ nightgown brawl; who the heck is ‘Manos’?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like most misguided amateur efforts, Manos notches a weird points from anti-naturalistic acting, incoherent editing, strange dubbing, and negligent continuity.  In the case of Hal Warren’s sole feature, the staggering ineptitude magnifies the movie’s strange little bumps until they become looming mountains; the story takes place in some uncanny west Texas wasteland that’s similar to our own world, but permeated by a dreamlike offness.


Clip from Manos: the Hands of Fate

COMMENTS: Manos: the Hands of Fate demonstrates an important Continue reading 223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)