Tag Archives: Ghost

81. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

“Q: How would you define the film’s genre?
A: Psychedelic Melodrama.”–Gaspar Noé, Enter the Void Cannes pressbook

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta

PLOT: Oscar is a drug-dealer living in Tokyo with his stripper sister.  One day he is shot and killed during a deal inside a bar called “The Void.”  He spends the rest of the movie as a silent ghost, floating around Tokyo and observing his sister and friends, while simultaneously hallucinating and remembering the details of his life.

Still from Enter the Void

BACKGROUND:

  • Noé wrote preliminary scripts for Enter the Void as early as 1994; the screenplay was consider to expensive to produce until the director’s 2002 success with Irréversible made it appear commercially viable.
  • Star Nathaniel Brown, a non-actor, was chosen because of his physical resemblance to lead Paz de la Huerta and because he was interested in directing.  As someone with no acting ambitions, Noé presumed Brown would not be upset by the fact that his face is only seen once in the film, briefly in a mirror.
  • Visual perfectionist Marc Caro supervised the set designs.
  • The 100 page script indicated the action and described the visual effects, but very little dialogue was scripted; the actors improvised most of their lines.
  • The paintings Alex is shown working on in the film were actually painted by Luis Felipe Noé, the director’s father.
  • The original run time of the film at its Cannes debut was 163 minutes.  Post production and editing continued after this debut, and, as completed in 2010, the final run time of the film (which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2010) as screened in the U.S. is about 140 minutes.  There is a longer version of the film, however, including a 17 minute sequence where Oscar believes he has woken up in the morgue; this segment occupies reel 7 of 9 reels, and for American screenings the film was simply shown with reel 7 omitted.  The extended cut is available on French DVD releases.
  • Noe instructed theaters that the film should be run at 25 frames per second rather than the usual 24 frames (this fact accounts for some of the discrepancies in listed running times).
  • At the Cannes premier there were no opening or closing credits.  The film began on a closeup of the none sign reading “enter” and ended with the words “the void.”
  • Noé got the idea for the film form watching Robert Montgomery’s noir The Lady in the Lake while on a magic mushroom trip.  Like Enter the Void, Lady in the Lake is filmed entirely from a first-person point of view (actually, in Void the POV is usually from about a foot behind Oscar’s head, though at other times we see events through his eyes).
  • Tokyo was chosen as the location of the film partly because Japan’s strong ant-drug laws would make the actions of the police more believable, partly because Noé believed the city, with its abundance of neon, had a “druggy mood.”
  • Pioneering acid guru Timothy Leary used to read “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” to voyagers undergoing LSD trips in an attempt to steer the experience in a spiritual direction.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The opening DMT trip, with it’s multicolored mandalas, floating planetoids, and neon tentacles seems hard to top, but it merely sets the mood.  It’s the pornographic “Love Hotel” scene, with its parade of rutting couples with mystically glowing genitalia, that really impresses itself on the mind’s eye.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets an automatic pass onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. The fact that the protagonist is dead throughout most of the movie doesn’t hurt its chances one bit.  But the clincher, the sure sign that the movie is weird, is the walkouts.  Less than halfway through the screening I saw, the sexagenarian couple who had stumbled into the film by accident (probably thanks to ad copy suggesting the movie was a sentimental ghost story about brotherly love that transcends death) walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.


Original trailer for Enter the Void

COMMENTSEnter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, Continue reading 81. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

77. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR [Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)

“Beloved be those who sit down.”
–César Vallejo

“People have wondered how to classify my film. Absurdism or surrealism? What the hell is it?… This film introduces a style that I’d like to call ‘trivialism.’ Life is portrayed as a series of trivial components. My intention is to touch on bigger, more philosophical issues at the same time.”–Roy Andersson, DVD commentary to Songs from the Second Floor

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Roy Andersson

FEATURING: Lars Nordh, Stefan Larsson

PLOT:  Set at the dawn of the millennium in a nameless city that seems to be undergoing an apocalyptic panic—traffic is at a standstill as people try to leave all at once, parades of flagellants march down the street, and the Church considers returning to human sacrifice—Songs unfolds as a series of brief, seemingly unrelated, vaguely surreal scenes.  Eventually a main thread emerges involving a family: the father’s furniture business has just burnt down, one son has gone insane from writing poetry, and the other son is a melancholy cab driver.  The father enters the retail crucifix business and begins seeing ghosts.

Still from Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was inspired by the verse of the relatively obscure avant-garde Peruvian poet César Vallejo (1892-1938), whose poem “Stumble between to stars” is quoted in the film.  Anyone who thinks Andersson is obscure would do well to avoid Vallejo, whose work—with its invented words and grammar and difficult symbolism—recalls James Joyce at his most impenetrable.
  • Songs  from the Second Floor was Andersson’s third feature film, and his first since 1975’s Giliap.  He spent most of the intervening time directing commercials, although he did complete two highly regarded short films.
  • Andersson discovered Lars Nordh shopping for furniture at an IKEA.
  • Many of the exterior shots were actually shot inside Andersson’s studio with trompe l’oeil paintings or three-dimensional models as backgrounds .
  • All scenes are completed in one take.  The camera only moves once (a calm tracking shot in the railway station).
  • At the time of the film’s release reviewers consistently marveled that none of the scenes had been scripted or storyboarded beforehand.  The method here shouldn’t suggest that Andersson simply made up the film as he went along, however, as unused footage shows that each scene was meticulously rehearsed and refined dozens of times, often on incomplete sets with stand-ins for the actors, over what must have been a period of weeks or months.  Andersson says they sometimes shot twenty to twenty five takes per scene to achieve the perfect performance.
  • The film took four years to complete.
  • Songs from the Second Floor tied for the jury prize at Cannes in 2000 (the jury prize is the third most prestigious award after the Palme D’Or and the Grand Prix).
  • Andersson followed up Songs with You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007) (also Certified Weird). The two movies are extremely similar both thematically (the comically apocalyptic mood) and stylistically (made up of intricately composed, brief vignettes). Andersson has said he intends to create a trilogy; however, he has suggested that the third film may not follow the same style as the first two.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Fat Kalle standing at a deserted crossroads by the pile of discarded crucifixes, gazing at the figures approaching on the horizon, is an image worthy of European arthouse greats like Buñuel or Fellini.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: There are a few moments of magical realism in Songs from the Second Floor, involving subway commuters bursting into classical verse and the matter-of-fact appearance of ghosts, but even if these interludes hadn’t been included, the movie would feel strange because of the high artificiality of Andersson’s style: the static camera, the constant crowds of expressionless figurants gazing dispassionately at the action in the foreground, the carefully controlled compositions filled with background detail. Adding deadpan absurd black humor, bleak existentialism, and a sense of looming catastrophe into the mix produces a singular concoction, one that captured Sweden’s—and the West’s—mood of anxious despair as the new millennium dawned.


Scene from Songs from the Second Floor

COMMENTS: Songs from the Second Floor uses deep focus—the photographic technique Continue reading 77. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR [Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)

LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

Enter the Void has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. This page is left up for archival purposes. Please view the full review for comments and expanded coverage!

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown

PLOT: A small-time drug dealer in Tokyo is shot, and spends the rest of the movie as a

Still from Enter the Void (2009)

hallucinating ghost, floating about the city watching over his drug buddies and his grieving stripper sister.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets automatic consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  The fact that the protagonist is dead throughout most of the movie doesn’t hurt its chances one bit.  But the clincher, the sure sign that your movie might be weird, is the fact that less than halfway through the screening the sexagenarian couple walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.  The Region 1 DVD drops January 25, 2011, at which time Enter the Void will become eligible for the List and get an immediate second look.

COMMENTS: Enter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, eye-candy masquerading as mind-candy; it has all the reckless visionary enthusiasm and delightful pretension of a Ken Russell picture.  With the opening credits—a series of garish, frequently unreadable stills sprayed at the screen like pop bullets from a machine gun projector, set to a pounding techno score—Gaspar Noé warns us to prepare ourselves to see something different, though we have no idea what.  (The original festival screenings did not include any credits, beginning immediately with the closeup of the neon sign reading “Enter”).  After quickly introducing the main characters, drug-dealing Oscar (from whose POV the entire film is shot) and his stripper sister Linda, the movie segues into a wordless five minute DMT trip, an abstract rainbow odyssey of swirling, melting mandalas and gently waving tentacles.  Oscar emerges from his drug reverie, still fuzzy-eyed, and the film ever so briefly enters the realm of straightforward narrative as he strolls with a buddy through the neon streets of  Tokyo towards a fatal rendezvous.  Shot to death in a men’s room, the vast bulk of the movie involves Oscar’s passive postmortem adventures, as he floats around the city observing his former friends in the expatriate community, and especially spying on his beloved sister—including, creepily, watching her real time sexual encounters in the back Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

CAPSULE: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Tim Rutili

FEATURING: Angela Bettis, members of the indie-rock band Califone

PLOT: A fortune teller carries out her psychic reading business in a country house inhabited

Still from All My Friends Are Funeral Singers

by a slew of ghosts.  The spirits do not haunt her, but keep her company; they’re one big family.  When the ghosts see a mysterious light outside, they feel they are being beckoned and rebel against the fortune teller, thinking she has trapped them against their will.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it is a bit quirky and takes a unique spin on the age-old haunted house tales, it is simply not that weird.  It is an unlikely little gem that unfortunately few will probably see.

COMMENTSAll My Friends Are Funeral Singers (great title, by the way) is the directorial debut by Tim Rutili, the front-man for the underrated indie-rock outfit Califone.  Being familiar with the band and a fan of their music, this movie sparked my interest.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a good film with an actual story and good acting, not just an extended music video piece displaying the band’s musical talents.  Viewers who are unacquainted by the music of Califone should appreciate this film for what it is…  a decidedly different independent movie with a supernatural approach. This is certainly not your typical horror film.  If anything, it is a hodgepodge of drama, comedy, and a pinch of suspense, all intermingled with the worldly twang of Califone’s score.

The character Zel is nicely played by Angela Bettis, whom some may recognize from another independent horror film: May.  Zel lives in an old isolated country house and makes her living providing fortunes and psychic readings.  What her customers are unaware of is that she is assisted by the actual spirits that live in the house with her.  The ghosts are not frightening or menacing, just regular looking people all wearing pristine white suits or dresses and having normal conversations.  They sit around playing Trivial Pursuit, theorize about the connections between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, talk about sex, or play music (sometimes too loudly for Zel’s liking).  Most fascinating are the snippets of documentary-style interviews with many of the ghosts discussing how they bit the dust.  A ghostly bride exclaims “I hung myself with my ‘something blue.'”  Another prominent spiritual entity is a young mute girl who Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (2010)

LIST CANDIDATE: AFTER LAST SEASON (2009)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Mark Region

FEATURING: , Peggy McClellan

PLOT: Although it’s fairly incoherent, the core of the story involves two medical students working on a project and a serial killer who is stalking the area; telepathy and ghosts also play significant roles, and clunky “special effects” are added courtesy of primitive CAD software.

Still from After Last Season (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  “Huh?,” “um…,” and “whah?” are all equally valid responses to After Last Season.  This movie may go down as this generation’s Beast of Yucca Flats: stultifyingly dull at times, but so full of misguided directorial choices and  failed attempts at cinematic poetry that it takes on a dreamlike character.  Watching After Last Season is like trying to follow a old timey radio monologue on an AM radio station with fading reception: you can tell there’s a voice trying to make itself heard, but the transmission is so garbled that the basics of the story become lost in static and long stretches of dead air.  It’s difficult watching, for sure—thus the “beware” rating—but for intrepid curiosity seekers looking to experience the worst of the worst, it’s a must see.  It has potential to become a The Room-like cult item.  Time will tell if After Last Season gains enough of a following that its devotees storm 366 Industries World Headquarters and take the staff hostage, demanding this anti-masterpiece take its rightful place on the List.

COMMENTS:  There’s a concept in cinema theory called “film grammar;” it refers to sets of filmmaking conventions that  have been proven over time to work to tell a story to an audience in a coherent fashion.  A director breaks these “grammatical rules” at the risk of confusing and losing his audience.  Here’s a very simple example of a “grammatical” movie “sentence”: a two way conversation starts with a shot of the character who’s speaking, cuts to a reaction shot of the party who’s listening, then cuts back to allow the speaker to finish his thought.  In After Last Season director Mark Region consistently exhibits atrocious film grammar: he will have his speaker deliver a line and then pause awkwardly, then cut to a shot of the listener Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: AFTER LAST SEASON (2009)

61. KWAIDAN (1964)

AKA Kaidan; Ghost Stories

“A hundred thoughts suggested by the book might be written down, but most of them would begin and end with this fact of strangeness… many of the stories are about women and children,–the lovely materials from which the best fairy tales of the world have been woven. They too are strange, these Japanese maidens and wives and keen-eyed, dark-haired girls and boys; they are like us and yet not like us; and the sky and the hills and the flowers are all different from ours… in these delicate, transparent, ghostly sketches of a world unreal to us, there is a haunting sense of spiritual reality.”–from the original introduction to the folk tale collection “Kwaidan”

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Masaki Kobayashi

FEATURING: Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Keiko Kishi, , , Kan’emon Nakamura

PLOT: An anthology film telling four Japanese folk tales centered around ghosts or nature spirits.  An ambitious samurai leaves his faithful but poor wife for a rich new one, and finds himself haunted by regret over his desertion.  A winter spirit spares the life of a young woodcutter, on one condition.  A clan of ghosts demand a blind minstrel play the tale of their tragedy for them night after night.  The final story tells of a guard who sees an apparition in a bowl of water.

Still from Kwaidan (1964)

BACKGROUND:

  • The four episodes were adapted from Lafciado Hearn’s collections of Japanese folk tales (the two middle pieces are from his 1903 volume entitled “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things”).  Hearn was born Greek, educated in Ireland, and spent time as a journalist in the United States (causing a scandal by marrying a black woman in Cincinnati, which was a crime at the time).  He later became a foreign correspondent in Japan and was naturalized as a Japanese citizen, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo.
  • Hearn offered “Weird Tales” as one possible translation of the Japanese word Kwaidan.
  • Kwaidan won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes (at that time, the second most prestigious prize after the Palme D’Or).  It was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, but lost to the Czech war drama The Shop on Main Street [Obchod na korze].
  • The episode “The Woman of the Snow” was (unwisely) trimmed from the original American theatrical release in order to cut the runtime from three hours to just over two hours.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Although it’s hard to top the image of the minstrel Hoichi covered (almost) from head to toe in holy Buddhist characters or the ghostly court of samurai, it’s the expressionistic set of “The Woman in the Snow”—with it’s constellations of warped watching eyeballs set in a deep blue sky—that makes the eeriest impression.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Kwaidan illustrates the rule that, the better the movie, the less weird it has to be to make the List. Although on the surface it’s just a collection of bare-bones ghost stories, in telling these tales director Kobayashi wisely jettisons reality in favor of a stylized, expressionistic, visually poetic aesthetic that gently detaches the viewer from everyday life and floats him into an ancient spirit world that seems simultaneously to have never and always existed.


Original Trailer for Kwaidan

COMMENTS: In Kwaidan‘s opening credits black, blue, red and purple inks swirl around in Continue reading 61. KWAIDAN (1964)