Tag Archives: Meta-narrative

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LUX ÆTERNA (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: An art-house movie shoot is falling to pieces, with the director losing her cool, the lead receiving dreadful news from home, and the director of photography angling to take over the production.

Still from Lux Aeterna (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Noé continues his exploration of artistic collapse with a deep dive into the traumatic possibilities found within filmmaking. Iconoclastic quotations, chaotic social disintegration, and dizzying technicolor strobe effects do a quick hit-and-run on the viewer, leaving the brain addled and the eyeballs reeling from the flicker.

COMMENTS: “Fuck entertainment movies” is either a defiant stance against mass media or a pretentious defense of fringe cinema. Either way, it is a very Frenchy disposition—or at least a very Frenchy cinematic disposition. Just off dooming a dance troupe in the psychedelic horror experience, Climax, Gaspar Noé continues to follow his chaotic muse. In LUX ÆTERNA he takes on his own field, filmmaking, and drags his cast and the viewers along with him on a quick trip into nightmare in his pursuit of art.

Events begin calmly enough. After a brief Häxan-influenced opener, we find Charlotte, an actress, and Béatrice, the director, calmly chatting about witches. Sometimes in one shot, sometimes in two photograph-slide frames side-by-side. This camera trick continues regularly throughout, capturing the behind the scenes chaos of the production of God’s Craft. The camera slides fluidly to, from, around, and between various concurrent scenes of imminent collapse: the producer cannot believe this erstwhile actress is such a horrible director; the various leads wonder just what is going on after a five-hour wait; the director of photography (who, as he reminds us, has done camera work for Godard) is on the cusp of quitting, lingering only in the hope that he might replace the current director.

LUX ÆTERNA is one of those very “meta” meta-movies. It’s a movie about a making a movie, certainly—and that’s been done. But it is informed and influenced exclusively by films pertaining to cinematigraphicality (to coin a phrase). Yellow Veil felt it advisable to include four iconic short films on the Blu-ray release: Kenneth Anger‘s “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” which clearly inspired Noe’s stylistic chaos; Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s “La Ricotta,” a religious-comedic-(existentialist) romp about a meaningless death on the set of a Crucifixion film shoot; and “Ray Gun Virus” and “The Flicker”—two items that both explore, at length, strobing effects both aural and visual. This in mind, you should only approach LUX ÆTERNA if you’re willing to do some homework.

That line above probably sounded like a closer, but it’s not. Gaspar Noé’s purpose here is that, as an artist, and by extension an appreciator of art, one cannot stop. Climax covered much of the narrative and stylistic ground retread here, but it is through an artist’s pursuit of complete expression, of expression as close to one’s vision as possible, that all art continues, no matter humanity’s circumstances. As LUX ÆTERNA reaches its climax, a stroboscopic nightmare blinds the cast, crew, and hangers-on. The director melts into self pity; the lead actress reaches peaks of psychological ill-ease; but the cameraman, an old fellow with experience, is clued in to what it is that is happening. Freak misfortune has given this ill-fated a movie a chance to achieve greatness despite itself, to bottle that lightning that has eluded all the planning and practice. He keeps rolling as Charlotte writhes—at first in pain, then in ecstasy—and the strobing lights blast the crowd. Films, per Noé, are not about entertainment. They’re about snatching that divine spark and showing it off to the world.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…like all of Noé’s films [it] is as much overwhelming hallucinatory experience as straightforward narrative… this “dream-like movie”, shot metacinematically behind the scenes, exposes the ugliness of a set, and of society, while also finding room in its ultimate, flickering apocalypse for a peak moment of multi-hued rapture.”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: DAWN BREAKS BEHIND THE EYES (2021)

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Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Kopacka

FEATURING: Anna Platen, Jeff Wilbusch, Luisa Taraz, Frederik von Lüttichau

PLOT: A couple visit an old gothic castle the wife has inherited; it’s haunted, and simmering resentments from their past erupt into anger—but then there’s a twist.

Still from Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes (2021)

COMMENTS: Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is a difficult movie to talk about, plotwise, because it contains a major twist coming at the end of the first act. It’s much easier to discuss in terms of its stylistic inspirations: it’s a shameless tribute to minimalist Gothic Eurohorror of the late 60s and early 70s, as exemplified by , , and (especially) . Set in a “castle” (I’d call it more of a manor), you can expect to see lots of lingering scenes of women wandering the darkened corridors bearing candelabras or walking through the grounds at night in a trance clad in white nightgowns, that sort of thing. The music—jazzy prog rock à la Goblin, alongside a variety of other rock-pop styles and more traditional orchestra-and-synth scare cues—is excellent, if ladled on a bit thick at times. Period details are perfect, even down to the pale pink, drop-shadowed opening title font, festooned with curlicues.

Again, there is not much that can be said about the plot without spoiling things. We’ll mention this nugget: while wandering around in the dusty wine cellar, Dieter (whose face and bearing perfectly express a Germanic arrogance that begs for a bloody comeuppance) finds a chest. Inside are a pair of glasses, an old newspaper article describing a tragedy, and a whip. All three items are clues, of an obscure sort. True to its inspirations, Dawn Breaks is more concerned with eerie ambiance than with narrative momentum, and the first thirty minutes are slow going. Things pick up, however, in the second act, eventually landing in a massive psychedelic-fueled orgy that shades into a finale that’s even weirder and more abstract than what came before.

Fans of vintage arty European horror movies are likely to be sucked in, although it is not the simple homage it appears to be at first. If the viewer can make it through the slow-paced introductory act, the movie starts to open up, introducing more levels that provide a psychological depth to the characters, casting them as archetypes of man and woman engaged in an eternal battle of the sexes. You are invited to infer your own backstory for the major characters based on hints dropped in casual conversation. The movie does well overcoming its budgetary limitations, utilizing every dusty, paint-stripped corner of its setting and relying on nifty editing and basic camera tricks (blurring, pink gel filters, superimposition) when it strides into lysergic territory. Multilayered and elegantly decadent, Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes remains mysterious to the end, a fact which will frustrate many horror fans hoping for a clear denouement, but which shouldn’t be a barrier for most of our readers.

Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes debuts on video-on-demand starting June 24; we’ll update this post with the link when the time arrives.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“About once a year, I see a movie that is so weird it takes me about 48 hours to figure out if I like it… Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is that movie this year.”–Sharai Bohannon, Dread Central (festival screening)

CAPSULE: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Orson Welles

FEATURING: John Huston, , Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Robert Random

PLOT: On the last day of his life, director Jake Hannaford shares footage from the movie he’s been trying to complete despite a desperate lack of funding, the disappearance of his leading actor, and the doubts of his crew, his peers, and the Hollywood press.

Still from The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

COMMENTS: It’s natural to be wary of a movie where the story behind it is more interesting than the one on the screen. On the other hand, it’s arguable that Orson Welles never made a movie where that equation wasn’t in play. From his very first feature, a little picture about a newspaper publisher, the story off-camera has always been at least as compelling as the one made for public consumption, and usually with a good deal more tragedy attached. As the major studios turned against him and his efforts to assemble financing and infrastructure became more haphazard and idiosyncratic, the subject of Welles himself invariably took precedence over whatever story he actually hoped to tell.

But even by his own yardstick, the road to The Other Side of the Wind is unusually winding and protracted. Welles filmed over the course of six years on two continents, with multiple parts recast over the years and the lead role unfilled until Year 3, and with the filmmaker insisting that there was still more to shoot. Completion was held up by variety of obstacles, including producer embezzlement, flooding in Spain, Hollywood indifference, and the Iranian revolution. Like so many of Welles’ projects, Wind would remain unfinished at the time of his death, another dream lost to history… until, 42 years after principal photography wrapped, a team of Welles collaborators and admirers endeavored to assemble the many pieces of his last great work into a form he might have intended. (Whatever you may think of Netflix, they did cinema history a favor by not only bankrolling this effort but by releasing it alongside a documentary about Welles’ torturous efforts to complete the film, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. It’s an invaluable companion piece for anyone interested in this chapter of the great man’s legendarily troubled career.)

It is impossible to know how successfully this reconstruction got to the vision locked inside Welles’ head. After all, Welles himself changed his intentions throughout production. Furthermore, he seems to have been going for something entirely new and alien to him. Welles made much of the fact that neither the framing film or Jake Hannaford’s work are meant to be in a style in any way recognizable as his own, so we can’t even rely upon the director’s previous works as a guide. Today, we recognize Welles’ use of improvisation and documentary techniques as what we’ve come to call “mockumentary,” but in the early 70s, there was very little precedent (except, possibly, Welles’ own “War of the Worlds”). But we know enough of Welles’ increasing focus on the subjects of abandonment, thwarted ambition, and betrayal to recognize that Wind is not only a continuation of those themes but maybe his most personal exploration of them.

Welles denied suggestions that the film was autobiographical, which Continue reading CAPSULE: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (2018)

CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1988)

DIRECTED BY: Mike Jittlov

FEATURING: Mike Jittlov, Richard Kaye, Paige Moore

PLOT: Aspiring filmmaker Mike Jittlov makes a wondrous, delightful short film that catches the eye of Hollywood producers; they enlist him to make a feature containing the same formula of special effects magic and raucous whimsy, but sinister forces conspire to prevent Jittlov from realizing his dream.

Still from Wizard of Speed and Time

COMMENTS: Moviemaking is a cutthroat business, you know. Maybe you got a hint of that from a film like The Player. Or possibly  Barton Fink. Could have been The Big Picture. Or perhaps State and Main. Come to think of it, it might’ve been Living in Oblivion. Or Bowfinger or Hollywood Shuffle or My Life’s In Turnaround or In the Soup or …And God Spoke or any number of films where Hollywood takes a look in the mirror to catch a glimpse of the laborious and fraught process of trying to get a movie made. When filmmakers are instructed to write what they know, there are plenty who do exactly that.

Well, you can add Jittlov’s sole feature to that list, with the twist that what he knows is how to make lively low-budget special effects. In 1979, he created a short film exploiting his editing and stop-motion photography skills. As these things often do, the short became Jittlov’s calling card, a golden ticket into the world of Hollywood filmmaking. That turns out to be the starting point for this feature-length exploration of his journey into the heart of the moviemaking beast. And when it comes to “writing what you know,” Jittlow keeps his focus squarely on what he’s good at: special effects. The result is… almost exactly what you’d expect.

On the one hand, anyone who manages to assemble a feature film, particularly without the aid of a well-heeled studio, has undertaken a major achievement. On the other hand, Jittlov’s production is laden with the self-awareness of this achievement, and practically demands to be recognized for its own bravery and pluckiness. To call it self-indulgent is a ground-shaking level of understatement. Self-indulgence is the point; the message seems to be, “Everybody deserves a piece of this genius.”

For a zany comedy, The Wizard of Speed and Time is notably angry. One subplot of the film is Jittlov’s ongoing battle against moviemaking’s gatekeepers. Studio indifference, greedy vendors, apathetic accountants, zealous cops, guild oppressiveness (boy howdy, does this movie hate unions), gawking tourists, and general grownup shallowness are just a few of the forces lined up against the filmmaker’s pure and simple goal to make jolly little movies. Atlas Shrugged wishes its heroes and villains were drawn as starkly as this.

So this movie stands as Jittlov’s demonstration of what the Magic Store could be like if there wasn’t so much red tape and cynicism in the business. That being the case, let’s hear it for the bad guys, because The Wizard of Space and Time is exhausting. Determined to pile on the charm, it never lets up. Every jokey moment is slammed up against another jokey moment, with irony-laden captions, a music score taken directly from a theme park, undercranked footage, goofy sound effects, and so much post-production audio looping to guide you along the way. It’s so breathlessly insistent, it makes Airplane! look like a film.

The Wizard of Speed and Time is undeniably weird (or, as the movie itself jokes, “WHOLLY ODD”), but it’s so invested in its zany iconoclasm that it’s impossible to enjoy on any terms if you’re not Mike Jittlov. The climax of the film features a complete re-creation of the original short. This is a smart move; it reminds the audience that there is something genuinely charming here. What Jittlov does with little money and a whole lot of imagination is quite remarkable. And probably best appreciated in a small dose.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Created by cult animator and weirdo Mike Jittlov, this 1988 hella-low-budget film follows a talented but jobless special effects wizard as he navigates Hollywood… Jittlov’s enthusiastic DIY production earned a generation of cult fans, who allege he slipped over 1000 subliminal messages into the film. Spooky.”–Chase Burns, The Stranger

(This movie was nominated for review by Marko. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MONDO HOLLYWOODLAND (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Janek Ambros

FEATURING: Chris Blim, Alex Loynaz, Alyssa Sabo, Jessica Jade Andres, Ted Evans

PLOT: A being from the 5th dimension enlists the help of a purveyor of magic mushrooms and observes a cross-section of the town’s residents in an effort to define the concept of “mondo.”

Still from Mondo Hollywoodland (2019)

COMMENTS: The fabled Hollywood sign, symbol of dazzling entertainment throughout the world and physical representation of the film industry’s outsized sense of self-importance, began its existence as an advertisement. “HOLLYWOODLAND” arose in the Santa Monica mountains nearly 100 years ago to lure prospective Southern California residents to a new real estate development. The last four letters were stricken when the sign made its shift from billboard to civic symbol, and the sign enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom.

So while the most obvious inspiration for the title of Mondo Hollywoodland would seem to be the similarly named 1967 quasi-documentary about the region’s curious subcultures, the newer film leans more into Hollywoodland’s origins as a neighborhood. The Dream Factory is ever-present in the lives of the absurd, deluded, ridiculous people chronicled here, but they are still people, and this is a movie that looks for the community among them.

Early on, when the narrator identifies himself has being from the 5th dimension (presumably not the band), we can take comfort in knowing that everything about to ensue is pretty silly. Further exemplifying the flimsy structure of this endeavor is the decision to divide Southern California society into three classes, each of which is trying to buy into the Hollywood dream despite repeatedly seeing the cracks in the façade.

We begin with the Titans, ostensibly the power brokers who make blockbuster entertainment and break the hearts of aspiring stars. And yet our focus on Ted, a perpetually coked-up mid-level executive desperately trying to bring a Disney Channel starlet to heel, reveals these masters of the universe to be puny. There is no world beyond sci-fi epics and last-minute dialogue changes for these Titans, and Ted’s triumphant fist pump (earned by completely caving in) belies his fear at losing what little power he has.

The Weirdos occupy the opposite end of the spectrum, determined to better their world and generally clueless about how to do so. Hoping to take down a Trump-allied neo-Nazi, they pass out flyers at a gun-sense rally. Meanwhile, on the artistic front, they advocate for harmony. One even mediates a conflict between two pieces of wood. They are obsessed with politics, the state of the world, and whether their empathy and good intentions are enough to bring about utopia. At least, they are when they’re not tripping. Weirdo Daphne is so disillusioned with the slow pace of change that she takes matters into her own hands, torching a car. “Hope they got the message,” she says, even though it’s doubtful if even she knows what the message might be.

Enter the Dreamers, certain that their taste of fame and fortune is just around the corner. Not surprisingly, this section of the film flirts with sadness, as all these dreams seem to be deferred. From an agent whose clients are all up for the biggest roles but never get the gig to an acting coach whose credibility derives entirely from his stint on “Mad About You” to a wannabe fitness guru who longs for even the reflected glory of training the stars. Central to this section is Anna, the granddaughter of a one-time Grace Kelly stand-in who goes on a date to a concert by the grandson of Bing Crosby. The barest glimmer of Hollywood’s allure is being pushed away by generations.

Boyle, the hapless mushroom dealer, is our connecting thread, popping in and out of stories while still carrying on his own peculiar battle against the rats hiding in his rented bungalow. Regularly high on his own product, he is frequently flummoxed by the simplest interactions, and wants only for things to be “groovy,” a condition that has eluded him since the disappearance of his cat. But he also becomes the unifying force that brings our Titan, Weirdo, and Dreamer together in a genuinely hilarious low-rent heist. They’re a marvelously motley crew, and the success of this scene at the film’s climax is a tribute to the laid-back vibe Mondo Hollywoodland cultivates.

We never learn, precisely, what “mondo” is to this crowd, but if it means anything, it’s a special kind of magic that happens when aspirations manage to outdistance reality. Mondo Hollywoodland is self-evidently a Dreamer’s enterprise (having nabbed actor James Cromwell as an executive producer, the film’s publicity spares no effort to highlight the connection), but it is determined to face down the formidable opposition of a negative world and to be, in the end, groovy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Our lead protagonist, Boyle, is a mushroom dealer, and the entire film feels like a psychedelic bender... If you’re a fan of the experimental or WTF genre, you will find a home here.” – Alan Ng, Film Threat (contemporaneous)