Tag Archives: Oedipal



DIRECTED BY: Shuji Terayama

FEATURING: Hiroshi Mikami, Takeshi Wakamatsu, Keiko Niitaka

PLOT: A youth embarks on a quest through his unconscious to uncover a tune that his mother used to sing for him as a child.

Still from The Grass Labyrinth (1979)

COMMENTS: Shuji Terayama, emperor of Japan’s post-war avant-garde scene, made a name for himself mainly through experimental plays and films such as Death in the Country, The Fruits of Passion (starring ), and the controversial Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Grass Labyrinth is a 40 minute work that extravagantly exhibits the author’s tendencies and style while also assuming a relatively restrained approach.

The premise of an investigation into the labyrinth of memory allows for an exercise in oneiric and experimental filmmaking free from the solidity of conventional narrative. Images float in and out of the screen in a liquid stream of consciousness, like half-remembered memories (the other half filled by reconstructions, dreams and hallucinations) in a state of hypnagogia. Recurring motifs and ideas form a subliminal thread that never assumes the form of a clear and rational plot: mother figure, appearing in an Oedipal context (already suggested by the film’s premise); open fields; the ocean; and, of course, the melody of the song that our protagonist so desperately seeks, the picture’s main leitmotif.

The search for a lost childhood item (with all its psychological implications) provides the film’s central point of focus, the axis around which all the apparitions dance. The immersion in the confusing (and occasionally terrifying) sea of childhood memories summons a cast of disquieting sights and sounds, specters of all sorts that haunt the boy’s psychic depths. The mother, who at times seems to be conflated with the song itself, is the most prominent vision, but we can’t ignore the contribution of the unnamed woman who inspires contradictory attitudes of attraction and repulsion in the main character, or a troupe of demonic figures that burst into the film in a loud and ritualistic spectacle typical of Terayama’s style.

Grass Labyrinth succeeds in replicating the aura of a striking but badly remembered dream, or a trip down unconscious lane. Like other works by Terayama, it subverts the conventional trappings of cinema in order to provide an experience that couldn’t be communicated otherwise. Standing in between the author’s more experimental short-films and his (relatively) more accessible full-length outings, it works well as an introduction to the overlooked auteur.


“…a surreal trip of a short film…. It doesn’t take long for Akira’s journey to fall down a rabbit hole of weirdness and the movie quite literally ends in a madhouse.”–Trevor Wells, Geeks


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DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Roeg

FEATURING: Theresa Russell, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lloyd, Sandra Bernhard,

PLOT: Linda leads a boring existence in a small southern town, taken for granted by her model-railroad aficionado husband; she is roused from her stupor by the arrival of Martin, a volatile young Englishman who claims to be the child she gave up for adoption at birth.

Still from Track 29 (1988)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: If Track 29 were only about the taboo subjects at its heart – sexual assault, incest, adoption, infidelity – it might get our attention for that audacity. But those touchy subjects pale in comparison to the outlandish manner in which these characters behave, seemingly immune to any rational expectations of behavior. For what could have been (and once was) an intimate drama, it’s a lot.

COMMENTS: The pairing of a screenwriter with a message and a director with vision is a risky thing. Two strong points of view can sometimes coalesce, but they can just as easily result in conflict and confusion. Usually, one of those voices has to dominate the other. Now, I’m not 100% certain what happened when a Dennis Potter screenplay wound up in the hands of Nicolas Roeg, but I’m willing to hazard a guess: Roeg won.

Potter’s script is based upon his BBC teleplay “Schmoedipus,” and it’s instructive to watch both because you can see where expanding the material has taken it from a comparatively sedate affair to become hyperactive and exceedingly peculiar. Much of Potter’s dialogue makes the transition intact, but the whole tone of the piece changes significantly. Opening up the setting from a cramped suburban London rowhouse to a sun-kissed beach community in the Outer Banks changes the stakes, as does the creation of a more violent backstory for the child’s conception and the introduction of railroads as an unexpectedly prominent theme. (The title is a reference to the lyrical location of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.) The characters themselves have undergone an enormous transformation. The middle-aged Elizabeth becomes Russell’s youthful, childish Linda; her husband’s tedious office job becomes Lloyd’s doctor with a toy train fixation, and the quietly seductive stranger played by Tim Curry on television is a wholly different animal as embodied by Oldman, fresh off his portrayal of Sid Vicious and primed to play the angriest of young men. 

Oldman is fully schizoid, turning on a dime from deranged madman to bereft toddler. (There is no reason for his character to be British, except that it reverses Potter’s gambit in the teleplay, where the young mother’s child has been shipped off to Canada.) His unpredictability is magnetic, as he lures Linda in with sweetness and just as quickly turns antagonistic. Amazingly, though, Oldman shares the wackiest scene in the film with Lloyd’s appearance at a model train convention that unexpectedly turns into a rabble-rousing political rally. As Lloyd becomes more histrionic on behalf of (double-checks notes) toy railroading, the crowd gets increasingly amped up. This is intercut with Oldman’s full-blown assault on Lloyd’s personal track Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TRACK 29 (1988)


“I have heard this insensible and necrophilous oath, ‘¡Viva la Muerte!’, and I, having spent my life writing paradoxes that have provoked the ire of those who do not understand what I have written, and being an expert in this matter, find this ridiculous paradox repellent.”–Miguel de Unamuno


FEATURING: Madhi Chaouch, Núria Espert, Ivan Henriques

PLOT: Fando is a boy growing up in Spain in the early days of the Franco regime, raised by his mother, about whom he has sexual fantasies. One day he discovers that his mother turned his father in to the authorities because of his “dangerous progressive” political views. In between fantasies, Fando decides to go searching for his father, but his quest is interrupted when he contracts tuberculosis.

Still from Viva la Muerte (1971)


  • Like the father in Viva la Muerte, Arrabal’s own father was imprisoned by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War (one report claims it was for an assassination attempt). After five years he escaped from custody and was never seen again.
  • The title refers to a quote from the Fascist General Millan Astray: “Down with intelligence! Long live death!,” a line barked during a political debate with philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.
  • The movie is an adaptation of Arrabal’s 1959 novel “Baal Babylone” (which does not appear to have been translated out of the original French).
  • The sadomasochistic torture sketches first seen in the opening credits are by Arrabal’s fellow Panic movement member (for more on the Panic movement, see the background information section of I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Fando’s papa, buried in the sand with only his head showing, and a quartet of riders fast approaching.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Incestuous S&M mourning; priest’s tasty balls; slaughterhouse frolic

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A howl of protest at the horrors of the Franco regime, as well as an autobiographical attempt to exorcise some serious mommy issues, Viva la Muerte uses surreal vignettes as a savage expression of personal outrage.

Original trailer for Viva le Muerte

COMMENTS: Fernando Arrabal’s Viva la Muerte is the kind of movie Continue reading 292. VIVA LA MUERTE [LONG LIVE DEATH] (1971)

113. CAREFUL (1992)

“The pandemonium of everyone, everywhere suddenly declaring all at once ‘and I too was molested by my father, or my mother; I too have recovered memories which have basically obliterated my chances of any kind of comfortable adult sexuality’—it seemed at that moment almost unthinkable to slant a movie—even going back into the German romantic past when incest was almost a common theme—to slant it comically and yet still somehow catch the feverish horror of incest in the net… It was only when the idea of the Alpine world, where extreme caution was required for all behavior, where there was a kind of silencer on everyone’s libido and behavior, when that was factored in, then I could see the green light in Guy’s eyes. Once he had the world ‘careful’ it was there all at once.”–George Toles describing genesis of Careful in the documentary Guy Maddin: Waiting for Twilight



FEATURING: , Gosia Dobrowolska, Sarah Neville, Brent Neale

PLOT: Villagers of the Alpine town of Tolzbad believe that avalanches will bury them if they are not meticulously careful to keep their voices low and their movements measured.  The film follows the adventures of a family of a widowed mother and her three sons: Johann, who is engaged to be married; Grigorss, who is training to be a butler; and Franz, a mute who never leaves his chair in the attic. Presaged by the appearance of the blind ghost of the father, the family’s repressed emotions eventually erupt into suicide, duels, and even the dreaded avalanche.

Still from Careful (1992)


  • This was Guy Maddin’s third film, and his first fully in color (Archangel featured a few tinted scenes). The chromatic process used in the film mimics the so-called “two-strip” Technicolor which was used before 1932.
  • The setting of Careful was inspired by “mountain movies,” a 1920s subgenre popular in the German national cinema, although Maddin admits in the DVD commentary that he had not actually seen any mountain movies when he made the film.
  • Long-time Maddin screenwriting collaborator George Toles appears in Careful as a corpse in drag.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: I am tempted by the vision of the mountain mineworkers—women stripped down to their underwear, wielding pickaxes while wearing candle-bearing diapers on their heads—but the film’s most significant image is Johann gazing manically at his mother sleeping under her goat’s-head headboard while spreading the limbs of his massive garden shears.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If movies themselves could dream, their dreams would look like Guy Maddin movies: sludgy jumbles of styles, moods, and melodramatic preoccupations, composed of fragmented images made up from bits of misplaced, distressed celluloid. Like Maddin’s other movies, Careful keeps us at two removes from reality: it displaces us once by its narrative dislogic, and then a second time by its archaic stylization. In Careful the technique is particularly appropriate, since the subject matter—repressed incestuous desire—demands to be buried under layers of mystery.

Original trailer for Careful

COMMENTS: Careful begins with what amounts to a pre-Code Public Service Announcement, Continue reading 113. CAREFUL (1992)


The Road to Mandalay (1926) & West of Zanzibar (1928) represent the Tod Browning/Lon Chaney collaboration at the height of its nefarious, Oedipal zenith, brought to you, for your entertainment,  by Irving Thalberg.

Still from The Road to Mandalay (1926)Unfortunately,  The Road to Mandalay exists only in fragmented and disintegrated state, a mere 36 minutes of its original seven reels.  In this passionately pretentious film, which is not related to the Kipling poem, Chaney plays “dead-eyed” Singapore Joe (Chaney achieved the eye effect with egg white) who runs a Singapore brothel.  Joe’s business associates are the black spiders of the Seven Seas:  the Admiral Herrington (Owen Moore) and English Charlie Wing (Kamiyama Sojin), the best knife-thrower in the Orient.  Joe’s relationship with his partners is tense and, often, threatening.

Apparently, Joe’s wife is long dead.  The two had a daughter, Rosemary (Lois Moran), who Joe left at a convent in Mandalay, under the care of his brother, Fr. James (Henry Walthall).  Joe, a repulsive sight, occasionally emerges from his sordid, underworld activities to visit Rosemary, who works in a bazaar.  Joe plans to clean up his act within two years, once he has enough money  to undergo plastic surgery and retire.  Joe wants to be a reborn man, so he can reunite with his daughter and rescue her from the confines of poverty. Rosemary, however, unaware that Joe is her father (a frequent Browning theme), is repulsed by dead eyed Joe, understandably mistaking his friendliness for sexual predation.  Fr. James  warns  Joe that waiting two years is too long.  Joe’s insistence for patience only makes Fr. James skeptical that Joe can actually achieve or sustain the redemption necessary to give Rosemary a good life.

One day the Admiral walks into Rosemary’s Bazaar and discovers love at first sight when Continue reading TOD BROWNING’S WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928) & THE ROAD TO MANDALAY (1926)