Tag Archives: Non-narrative

CAPSULE: TWO TONS OF TURQUOISE TO TAOS TONIGHT (1975)

AKA Moment to Moment; Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos; Jive

BewareWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Elsie Downey

PLOT: None, although certain strands (such as the idea that someone has been hired to convey

Still from Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight (1975)

two tons of turquoise to Taos tonight) recur throughout this series of brief sketches.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s actually too far out, man; it’s almost an hour of nonsense, but too randomly assembled to be any fun. The individual sketches aren’t carefully composed beforehand and they aren’t allowed to play out to their full potential, resulting in comedy that’s juvenile and ridiculous rather than cleverly absurd.

COMMENTS: If Robert Downey Sr. were James Joyce, then Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight would be his Finnegan’s Wake; the point where he took what had been fertile boundary-pushing experimentation beyond the limits of the audience’s tolerance, and ended up producing something so obscure and esoteric that it was of interest only to the author himself. It’s clear enough what he intended to do: make a movie with no beginning or end, one that existed only “moment to moment” (the film’s original title). The problem is that the individual moments aren’t very good and don’t link up to anything universal; there are too many sections of the film that are just montages of Elsie Downey wearing different outfits, or Downey family home movies that have been spliced into the film at random points. As for the individual bits, there are far too many moments when the actors look like they’re improvising while high as a kite, working without a plan and assuming everything they’re doing is hilarious. An example is the frankfurter scene, where a man and woman are sleeping on a park bench and the fella asks her to fetch him a frankfurter. He repeats the request over and over until she finally leaves the bench, then a couple of youngsters walk over—one of whom can’t say anything but “ri-ight…”—and strike up a nonsense conversation with the bum. The woman comes back sans hot dog and the man asks where his food is; the woman answers, “you’re lucky I got up at all.” Hilarious, right? Well, if you don’t like that one, at least there will be another gag in thirty seconds; the problem is it’s not likely to be any more amusing or interesting than the last bit. There are a few brief moments that shine through the general avant-garde dreck: a game of baseball played by men on horseback, a woman who donates her panties to a hungry man, and conventionally funny exchanges like the man who proclaims “I have a brain tumor,” to which his companion responds “It’s all in your head.” But, after watching a scene where a woman with an eyepatch and a cowboy snort cocaine and giggle inanely at each other’s babbling monologues, you might assume that large parts of this mess are just too autobiographical for comfort. Downey Sr.’s best work came when he had a clearly stated central theme (advertising in Putney Swope, religion in Greaser’s Palace) which he could play off of with his improvisatory absurdist riffs. Set him loose without any sort of structure and he’s like a bebop musician who just assumes that if he ignores the melody he can play the greatest, most out-there free jazz you ever heard. The result may be beautiful to his ears, but most folks will only hear a noise that sounds like a cat with a kazoo taped over his mouth and his tail caught in a blender.

Some of the dozens of investors who put up money to fund Downey’s mad vision and may have later regretted it included Hal Ashby, Norman Lear and Jack Nicholson. Taos was, essentially, Downey’s last experimental film venture; in the 1980s and 90s he would sell out, only to direct some horrible Hollywood flops (like the Mad magazine financed fiasco Up the Academy). Despite the fact that his wife Elsie Downey is featured in almost every scene, and the film basically plays like a love letter to her, the couple divorced the year this was released. Taos was screened at underground venues but understandably never got any real distribution; Downey has continued to tinker with the editing through the years. The version offered on Eclipse’s “Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.” disc is a recent re-edit that cuts 20 minutes off the running time (it’s still too long).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…taps the same welcomed vein of indulgent weirdo gags found in Soderbergh’s ‘Schizopolis’ or Rafelson’s ‘Head’…”–Aaron Hillis, IFC (DVD)

119. MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943)

“This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.”–Maya Deren, notes on Meshes of the Afternoon

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: , Alexander Hammid

FEATURING: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

PLOT: Approaching her apartment one afternoon, a woman picks up a flower, sees a figure disappearing around a corner down the garden path, then fumbles her key as she tries to unlock the door to her room. She goes upstairs and falls asleep in a chair looking out of the window, where she has a series of dreams that recombine these simple events and objects in unexpected ways. Doubles appear, she floats up the staircase, and the person she briefly glimpsed earlier appears as a figure of menace haunting the corners of her mind.

Still from Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

BACKGROUND:

  • Deren legally changed her first name from Eleanora to Maya (Sanskrit for “illusion”) just before embarking on her career as a filmmaker with Meshes.
  • Alexander Hammid, Deren’s second husband, co-created and appears in Meshes as “the Man.” The music that now accompanies the film was added in 1957 and was composed by Deren’s third husband, Teijo Ito.
  • Some commentators, including avant-garde director Stan Brakhage (who knew the couple) claim that Meshes was largely the work of Hammid rather than Deren, who went on to have the more noted career.
  • Meshes was made for $275 (which would be about $3,500 today adjusted for inflation). Deren once joked that she made movies for what Hollywood spent on lipstick.
  • Added to the National Film Registry in 1990. The registry began in 1989 with twenty five American films worthy of preservation due to their historical and artistic importance and adds twenty five more films each year since; Meshes was in the second class inducted.
  • Deren, a Ukrainian immigrant, was the first avant-garde filmmaker working outside the studio system of any importance in the United States. She was also a lecturer, wrote articles on film theory, and established the Creative Film Foundation and the Film-Makers Co-op. She unexpectedly died of a brain hemorrhage at 44 while studying and filming Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The image film critics usually invoke when describing Meshes is Deren with her face and palms pressed up against the windowpane, the reflections of palm trees merging into her curly black hair and an inscrutable expression on her face. The picture has an undeniable metaphorical power: here we see a portrait of the psyche, the plane where reflections from the external world merge into the self. But while there’s an undeniable intellectual appeal to that selection, we’re going to go instead with something freakier and more nightmarishly visceral: the cloaked form with a mirror for a face, a mysterious figure into whom the sleeping protagonist pours her suppressed fears and anxieties.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Many weird movies are about dreams, or plumb the sleeping mind to exploit dream logic and plunder the unconscious’ mutated symbols, but Meshes of the Afternoon is probably the most psychologically accurate dream movie ever made. From the way it repurposes everyday events and objects, turning keys into knives and passing pedestrians into emissaries of the unknown, to its impossible geometries where windows open onto stairs and distant beaches, Meshes captures the architecture of a dream—and traps us inside it.


Film student analysis of a scene from Meshes of the Afternoon

COMMENTS: A mesh is a net or a web, and this afternoon the strands that trap our nameless Continue reading 119. MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943)

93. TRASH HUMPERS (2009)

Beware

“Why castigate these creatures
Whose angelic features
Are bumping and grinding on trash?
Are they not spawned by our greed?
Are they not our true seed?
Are they not what we’ve bought for our cash?”–poem from Trash Humpers

DIRECTED BY: Harmony Korine

FEATURING: , Harmony Korine, Brian Kotzur, Travis Nicholson

PLOT:  Four rednecks in wrinkled geriatric masks wander around nearly deserted streets drinking wine, demolishing abandoned television sets, tormenting the bizarre outcasts they come across in their wanderings, and humping trash. One of the humpers explains to the camera that, unlike the suburbanites sleeping in their homes, they “choose to live like free people.” By the end of the video the focus shifts to a single humper who may be having doubts about the trashy lifestyle.
Still from Trash Humpers (2010)

BACKGROUND:

  • Trash Humpers was basically unscripted, although the characters and aesthetic had been thought out beforehand.  According to Korine, the cast wandered through Nashville for a few weeks, sleeping outdoors, and filmed their in-character improvisations; the most interesting bits were edited into the final product.
  • Korine assembled this film quickly in reaction to his negative experiences making his third feature film, the relatively big-budget Mr. Lonely; he found the bureaucracy surrounding that production creatively stifling.
  • Trash Humpers is distributed by Drag City, an independent music label that has only recently branched out into underground film.  Their other 2009 release, Vernon Chatman’s absurdist Final Flesh, was previously inducted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made.
  • American DVD-by-mail rental giant Netflix originally declined to stock copies of Trash Humpers.  Drag City circulated a press release suggesting that the movie was refused because of its provocative content, and pointing out other controversial movies the company stocked.  Trash Humpers was accepted into the rental program soon after the press release.
  • Trash Humpers was one of two winners of the second “reader’s choice” poll asking 366 Weird Movies’ readership to select films that had been reviewed but passed over for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It seems impossible to think of the title without immediately calling up the mental picture of actors in creepy geriatric masks in an alley grinding their groins against garbage bags.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Any film in which four rednecks in latex masks that make them look like escapees from a nursing home for the criminally insane force a pair of Siamese twins connected at the head by what looks like a giant tube sock to eat pancakes doused in Palmolive has weirdness in its corner.


Festival teaser trailer for Trash Humpers

COMMENTS: Weirdness obviously counts for a lot.  For a movie that goes so far out of its way Continue reading 93. TRASH HUMPERS (2009)

LIST CANDIDATE: TRASH HUMPERS (2009)

NOTE:  Please go to Trash Humpers Certified Weird entry for an in-depth discussion of the film.  Trash Humpers was one of the two winners of the second Reader’s Choice poll, and has been promoted to the List.  Comments are closed on this version.

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Harmony Korine

FEATURING: Rachel Korine, Harmony Korine

PLOT: A narrativeless, shot on VHS chronicle of four rednecks in wrinkled geriatric masks

Still from Trash Humpers (2010)

who wander around a nearly deserted suburbs drinking wine, demolishing abandoned television sets, torturing and murdering the bizarre outcasts they come across in their wanderings, and (of course) humping trash.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Any film in which four rednecks in latex masks that make them look like escapees from a nursing home for the criminally insane force a pair of Siamese twins connected at the head by what looks like a giant tube sock to eat pancakes doused in Palmolive obviously has weirdness in its corner.  But among Trash Humpers many qualities, weirdness isn’t the pre-eminent one: the movie is also repetitive, ugly, pointless, unsavory, deliberately annoying, and tedious.  In fact, the weirdness here is likely just another blunt weapon used to bludgeon the viewer; the film is intended as an anti-audience provocation rather than a movie.  As one reviewer sagely put it, “Harmony Korine dares you to hate this movie…and I accept.”

COMMENTS: Mimicking the lo-fi aesthetics of VHS tape, complete with horizontal hold tracking errors and blocky-fonted “play” and “rew” legends appearing on the screen, is a great trick to give Trash Humpers an antiquarian, found footage feel. But the look isn’t the only anachronistic thing about the movie, which evokes (like a third or fourth generation dub) the punk spirits of earlier shock auteurs like Paul Morrisey (1960s), John Waters (1970s), and Nick Zedd (1980s). First rejecting conventional cinematography for the camcorder’s glare, Trash Humpers next dispenses with narrative in favor of disconnected episodes celebrating the beauty of vandalism and sadism. In between bouts of garbage copulation, the nameless humpers break TVs with sledgehammers and ride around a deserted, trash-strewn Nashville with baby dolls dragging behind their bicycles. In the course of their wanderings they meet a boy in a Sunday suit whom they teach to slip razor blades into apples, pancake-making fake Siamese twins, overweight prostitutes who serenade us with a Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: TRASH HUMPERS (2009)