Tag Archives: Political Allegory

200. METROPOLIS (1927)

“I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier… Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities.”–H.G. Wells

“Those who understand cinema as an unassuming storytelling mechanism will be deeply disappointed in Metropolis. That which it recounts is trivial, overblown, pedantic and outdatedly romantic. But, if to the tale we prefer the ‘plasitco-photogenic’ background of the film, then Metropolis will fulfill our wildest dreams, will astonish us as the most astonishing book of images it is possible to compose.”–Luis Buñuel

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: The future city of Metropolis is starkly divided between two classes: the rulers who spend their days in pleasure gardens, and the workers who live underground and run the massive machines that supply the city with power. Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, the most powerful man in Metropolis, discovers the existence of the underground world when he becomes entranced by beautiful Maria, a woman who prophesies to the workers that a Mediator will come to unite the two classes. Joh is not happy with this development and he enlists the scientist Rotwang to kidnap Maria and create a robotic duplicate of her to discredit her with the workers; but the doctor, who harbors a personal grudge against Fredersen, sabotages the plan.

Still from Metropolis (1927)
BACKGROUND:

  • Metropolis cost 5 million reichmarks to produce (about $24 million in inflation-adjusted dollars). This would make it one of the most expensive movies of its era, and although its cost has often been exaggerated, it did almost send its studio into bankruptcy. The movie utilized thousands of extras: reports range between 25,000-37,000 people.
  • Adolph Hitler was a fan of Metropolis, despite having banned another of Fritz Lang’s films, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, for its anti-Nazi sentiments. Joseph Goebbels told Lang that he would be made an honorary Aryan despite his Jewish heritage (the director’s mother was a Jew who converted to Catholicism). Goebbels offered him a position as head of UFA, Germany’s national studio, which Lang declined.
  • Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, wrote the screenplay for Metropolis and followed up with a novelization of the story. She willingly joined the Nazi party in 1932. Lang and von Harbou divorced in 1933. Lang fled to France in 1934, and then went on to Hollywood in 1936.
  • In the early years of movies, the concept of film preservation had not yet been formed, and many movies were lost when the prints decayed or were deliberately destroyed. At 153 minutes, Lang’s original Metropolis cut was too long for many exhibitors of the time, and 30 minutes were deleted after the premier for international audiences. Portions of the original uncut prints of Metropolis did not survive, and it was long thought that a complete version of the film would never surface. In 2008, however, a nearly complete print containing an additional 25 minutes of footage was discovered in Buenos Aires. Although of poor quality, the segments were incorporated into existing prints of Metropolis and the film was re-released to theaters (and later on home video) as “the Complete Metropolis.” A few minutes of footage are still believed to be forever lost, however.
  • Ranked #35 on Sight & Sound’s poll of the greatest movies of all time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The robot encircled by electrified rings as it takes on the form of Maria is not only Metropolis‘ most memorable vision, it’s one of the most iconic images in all of cinema.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An allegory of steely skyscrapers and miserable sewers, Metropolis is a movie that reveals, and revels in, the unique power of silent film to create an experience that feels more like living through a myth than listening to a story. Divorced from dialogue, drained of color, it is the pure images that stick in our memory, like fragments of a dream. Metropolis is not the weirdest film on our List, but its influence is seen throughout fantastic cinema (the cityscapes of Brazil would not have the same shape without it, to name just one example). Metropolis is simply too big to ignore.


Trailer for the 2010 restoration of Metropolis

COMMENTS: There is hardly an ounce of reality in Metropolis, which Continue reading 200. METROPOLIS (1927)

148. SWEET MOVIE (1974)

“Not everything can be explained.”–Potemkin in Sweet Movie

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Carole Laure, , ,

PLOT: A billionaire marries a virgin beauty contest winner. Meanwhile, a Socialist ship captain sails down an Amsterdam canal with a Marx masthead and hold full of sugar and candy. The virgin escapes her wedding night and goes on a sexual odyssey around the world, while the ship captain lures a proletariat man and four children onto the ship and kills them.

Still from Sweet Movie (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Yugoslavian Dusan Makavejev made some highly regarded movies in the beginning of his career, but he really came to international notice when his strange psychosexual documentary WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) was banned in his home country and he was exiled from the relatively liberal Communist state for making it. Makavejev landed in Canada where he made Sweet Movie. After the outraged reaction to this provocation, Makavejev did not direct a feature again for seven years.
  • Makavejev was a devotee of psychoanalyst William Reich (the “WR” of WR: Mysteries of the Organism). Reich began his career as a controversial but serious psychologist advocating total sexual freedom, but descended into madness and crankery in his later years when he claimed to have discovered a mysterious invisible energy named “orgone” that could cure cancer, among its other godlike properties. The film’s orgy performed by members of the Vienna Actionists’ commune under the leadership of performance artist Otto Mühl, who was also a follower of Reich’s teachings.
  • Makavejev turned down an invitation from Francis Ford Coppola to direct his script for Apocalypse Now to make Sweet Movie.
  • The black and white footage of corpses being disinterred is actual archival footage shot by the Nazis when they discovered the mass graves of the Katyn massacre, where the Soviets had murdered 22,000 Poles on Stalin’s orders in 1940.
  • The story was originally intended to follow the adventures of Miss World. Actress Carole Laure felt pressured on the set to perform sexual acts that made her uncomfortable, and she quit the production after shooting a scene in which she fondled a man’s flaccid penis. She later complained that the film was edited to make it appear that she engaged in more sexual activity than she actually had. To fill out the running time, Makavejev added the plot with Anna the ship captain.
  • The Polish government revoked actress and cabaret singer Anna Prucnal’s passport because of her involvement with Sweet Movie, and she was unable to return home for seven years.
  • Sweet Movie was banned in Britain (and in many other countries). In the United States it played with 4 minutes of scatology cut out.
  • Sweet Movie was one of two films selected as among the weirdest movies of all time in 366 Weird Movies 4th Reader’s Choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: After watching Sweet Movie, you’ll wish, in vain, that you could wash some of the images out of your mind—particularly the commune feast featuring food in all its forms, pre- and post-digestion. There are other moments that are strikingly beautiful, for example, Anna Planeta and Potemkin making love in a vat of sugar as a white mouse crawls over their bodies. For the most memorable image, however, we’ll go with the film’s first and funniest shock: the wedding night, when, after rubbing his new bride down with isopropyl alcohol while she clutches a crown of Christmas lights between her thighs, Mr. Dollars reveals his uniquely pimped-out phallus.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Mixing beauty with disgust like sugar mixed with blood, Sweet Movie is a confused concoction of politics, sex, excreta, and Reichian psychology. Exiled director Dusan Makavejev abandoned all reason to make this movie, a fact which ironically makes its stabs at political satire ring hollow. Still, as a strange cinematic thing, Sweet Movie has an undeniable freak show appeal for those with strong stomachs: just be prepared for a cavalcade of unsimulated urine, puke, feces, mother’s milk, and pedophilia.


Unofficial 2013 trailer for Sweet Movie (made by Chelsea Sweetin of Montreal’s “Garden Scene Evenings”)

COMMENTS: Dusan Makavejev must have been very confused when he was making Sweet Movie, but probably even more so when he was editing Continue reading 148. SWEET MOVIE (1974)

LIST CANDIDATE: TOYS IN THE ATTIC (2009)

Na pude; Na pude aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny?

DIRECTED BY: Jirí Barta

FEATURING: Vivian Schilling, Douglas Urbanski, Forest Whitaker, , Joan Cusak (US dubbed version)

PLOT: When the doll Buttercup is kidnapped by a plaster head, a teddy bear, a marionette knight and a mechanical mouse must journey to the other side of the attic to save her.

Still from Toys in the Attic [Na Pude] (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Trust the Czechs to take the basic notion of Toy Story (the private lives of toys when their owners aren’t around) and turn it into a creepy stop-motion parable about totalitarianism wherein a head and his army of vermin kidnap a doll and attempt to brainwash her. Sure, it’s a bit weird, but apparently Czech children are into “weird”…

COMMENTS: It seems lazy and obvious to describe Toys in the Attic as 50% Toy Story, 50% , but that’s exactly the way it plays out. The movie, which takes dusty Communist-era toys and knick-knacks and brings them to creaky life, splits the difference between sentimentality and nightmarishness straight down the middle. The tale begins by introducing the retired playthings’ domestic life, as mother-figure Buttercup prepares breakfast for the other toys: a mechanical mouse with button ears, a battered teddy bear, a wooden Don Quixote marionette who speaks in rhyming couplets, and some sort of nutty clay homunculus with a pencil nose and a bottle cap hat. Their first act of business is to roll a die to figure out who has a birthday that day; the cake’s candle flames are simulated with a cascade of colored tinsel. The toys then each march off to their daily jobs (for the knight Sir Handsome, this involves slaying an inflatable dragon; when his pencil lance pierces its hide, a monkey nurse pops out and patches the beast up). Meanwhile, the bust of a Head spies on the happy toys via an eyeball embedded in a slithering hose, and their storybook existence is shattered when a little girl finds Buttercup and accidentally leaves her in the area of the attic controlled by the Head. The Head, whose existence in the household is never rationalized, is a magnificent creation, spookily realized by a live actor (which ironically makes him an alien creature in the artificial stop-motion world). He’s a bespectacled apparatchik with spies everywhere and a voice like Steve Martin’s “wild and crazy guy.” Besides his “snakey eye,” his minions include a house cat who goes undercover as an old man, a scorpion with eyeglasses and a  mustache, and a chorus line of rotten potatoes with Rockette gams. And there’s even more weird stuff along the journey, including a floods made up of pillowcases and garbage bags, watches that inexplicably turn into black holes, and a celebratory disco feast thrown by the Head. As in Svankamjer’s animated worlds, the animated objects here are antique and distressed: it’s a world of recycled tin cans, rusty nails, and unfinished furniture. There’s a nostalgia for the perishability and endurance of handcrafted things. Besides the Svankmajerian stop-motion, traditional animation also pops up in unexpected places throughout the film: when Buttercup opens a hand-drawn window in the attic, she sees a bird drawn in a kid’s cartoon scrawl pecking and flying about. If you’re looking for a “logical” explanation, I think that the movie could be understood as an imaginary story made up by the little girl who discovers the old toys to entertain herself on an otherwise dull afternoon at grandma’s house. The film has that loose, improvisatory, anything-can-happen quality of “make believe” stories that children tell themselves, before adults channel their narrative understanding into predictable logical corridors. (For similarly crazy, but brighter-toned animated Eurokiddie fare, check out Belgium’s A Town Called Panic). There’s a narrow window for American kids to enjoy this. With the eyeball-on-a-stalk peering into secret places, it’s too frightening for very young kids, and many older kids will be put off by its anti-Pixar sensibilities, its drab color palette and its overall foreignness. Adults, of course, can enjoy it at any age.

Jirí Barta began making animated films in the 1970s, but Na Pude was only his second feature-length effort (the first was 1986’s Krysar, AKA The Pied Piper of Hamlin, which is currently in our reader-suggested review queue). He had not made a movie for twenty years before this one. Vivian Schilling, who voiced Buttercup, also wrote the English translation, directed the American voice actors, and designed a new title sequence. Schilling was previously best known for writing and starring in the laughable 1990 Joe Estevez sci-fi snoozer Soultaker. Ms. Schilling, consider yourself redeemed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…easily earns a capital-W for weird.”–Matt Pais, Redeye (contemporaneous)

137. THE TIN DRUM [DIE BLECHTROMMEL] (1979)

“[Günter Grass] called our [first draft] script ‘Protestant and Cartesian.’ It was lacking the irrational dimension of time, the nodal points where everything becomes confused and collapses in an illogical and tragicomic way. He wants more hard realism on the one hand, and on the other, more courage in the unreal. Imagination as a part of unreality –Oskar’s reality… Another visit to Grass, almost a year after the first, this time with the finished script. It is now more ‘Catholic,’ and less rational…”–Volker Schlöndorff, in his Tin Drum production diary

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Volker Schlöndorff

FEATURING: David Bennent, Mario Adorf, Angela Winkler, Daniel Olbrychski, Katharina Thalbach

PLOT: At the age of three, Oskar, a boy who always carries his beloved tin drum and whose scream can shatter glass, decides that he does not want to grow up, and throws himself down the cellar stairs to stunt his growth. As Hitler rises to power, his mother becomes depressed and kills herself by eating raw fish; his uncle, who may be his real father, is killed by the Nazis. Still looking like a child, Oskar lives through Fascism and World War II and has love affairs, eventually joining the Nazis and entertaining the soldiers with his drum.

Still from The Tin Drum (1979)

BACKGROUND:

  • Die Blechtrommel [The Tin Drum] is based on Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass’ schizophrenic 1959 novel of the same name. The film adaptation only covers approximately the first half of the book.
  • Prolific screenwriter  was a frequent collaborator with Luis Buñuel; scripts for the Certifed Weird films Belle de Jour and The Milky Way count among his 138 writing credits. Carrière appears in the film (in the director’s cut) as Rasputin.
  • Actor David Bennent had a “growth disorder” and was actually twelve years old when the movie was filmed.
  • The Tin Drum is set in Danzig, which at the time of Oskar’s birth was a Free City located between Germany and Poland, although the population was mostly German.
  • The Tin Drum shared the 1979 Palme D’Or with Apocalypse Now. It also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
  • In the United States, New World Pictures—s company—distributed the picture. Some of New World’s other releases that year were Humanoids from the Deep and Shogun Assassin.
  • The movie ran into censorship problems due to brief sex scenes between David Bennent and Katharina Thalbach (then 24 years old, but portraying a 16-year-old). The oddest case occurred in Oklahoma in 1997, almost twenty years after the film’s release, when a judge ruled that the film violated state child pornography laws which banned even non-explicit depictions of sex between minors. Police seized videotapes from the homes of people who had rented the movie. The documentary Banned in Oklahoma, included on some editions of The Tin Drum as an extra, details the controversy. The film was later vindicated, and today Oklahomans no longer need fear being labeled as pedophiles for watching 1979’s Best Foreign Film winner.
  • In 2010 Volker Schlöndorff created a director’s cut of the film, restoring about 20 minutes of footage which had been removed to shorten the running time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Wild-eyed Oskar pounding away on his drum in an insane, trance-like fury is undoubtedly the film’s emblematic image, although the horse’s head filled with eels is probably the most shocking one.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Tin Drum is a comic nightmare about “little people’s” acquiescence to Fascism in the 1930s and 1940s; as Germany goes insane, children refuse to grow up, eels breed in horse’s heads, and Santa Claus turns into the Gas Man.


English language trailer for The Tin Drum

COMMENTS: Many people believe that Oskar’s decision in The Tin Drum not to grow up past the age of three is a refusal to succumb to adult Continue reading 137. THE TIN DRUM [DIE BLECHTROMMEL] (1979)

LIST CANDIDATE: SWEET MOVIE (1974)

Sweet Movie has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. This initial review is kept here for archival purposes. Please leave comments on Sweet Movie‘s official Certified Weird entry page.

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Dusan Makavejev

FEATURING: Carole Laure, Anna Prucnal, Pierre Clémenti,

PLOT: Two alternating stories: in one a virgin beauty queen escapes from her millionaire

Still from Sweet Movie (1974)

husband and his solid gold penis, while in the other a Socialist sea captain sails down an Amsterdam canal with a hold full of sugar and candy.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Any movie where a virgin beauty queen is frightened on her wedding night by her billionaire husband’s solid gold penis is certainly weird enough to qualify for the List. My hesitation in anointing it as one of the 366 most notable weird movies of all time my belief that this is a really bad movie—not just a grotesque and disgusting film, but an empty, morally bankrupt, and frequently dull one, as well. (Despite it’s Criterionization, Sweet Movie‘s uninspiring 6.3 rating on IMDB coupled with a mediocre 47% positive on Rotten Tomatoes supports my suspicion that it’s not a film many people can admire). Sweet Movie, which glories in loving depictions of urine, feces, puke and blood, is like an arthouse version of Pink Flamingos, only with a puffed-up self-importance in place of that movie’s radical humor. The film has its defenders, who are encouraged to speak up in the comments section—because it will take some convincing for us to honor this greatly reviled provocation with a spot on the List.

COMMENTS: Sweet Movie mixes shock aesthetics with an unfocused political polemic; like blood and sugar, the two strategies prove immiscible, and so it’s like getting two bad movies for the price of one. It starts out with a promising satirical idea. A chastity belt manufacturer is holding a beauty contest, the prize being marriage to the richest man in the world. The winning contestant, beauteous Carole Laure, even has a glowing hymen! In an unrelated plotline, a ship is cruising down a canal in Amsterdam with a bust of Karl Marx jutting from the prow; a man dressed as a Potemkin-era Russian sailor tries to get the attention of captain Anna Prucnal from the shore. The movie quickly goes off the tracks, however, when “Miss Monde” escapes from her Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SWEET MOVIE (1974)

115. A REPORT ON THE PARTY AND GUESTS (1966)

O slavnosti a hostech

“When one lives in a society that is essentially not free, it is the obligation of every thinking person to attack obstacles to freedom in every way at his disposal.”–Jan Nemec

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ivan Vyskocil,

PLOT: Seven people are pleasantly picnicking by a stream when they see a festive bridal party in the distance; they wonder if they can join in the celebration. Later, walking through the woods, a gang of men accosts them and takes them to a clearing where the leader interrogates them without explaining why. The bully’s adoptive father shows up, apologizes for the son’s crude behavior, and invites the party to the outdoor bridal banquet; the older man becomes upset, however, when one of the invitees decides to leave the party and strike off on his own…

Still from A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Even under the relatively liberal 1967 Czechoslovakian regime, The Party and Guests was banned (at the same time as ‘s Daisies) because it had “nothing in common with our republic, socialism, and the ideas of Communism.” The movie was briefly exhibited during the Prague spring of 1968 then banned again after the Soviet invasion. In the second round of censorship, hardline President Antonín Novotný honored Party and Guests by naming it one of four films that were “banned forever” in the dictatorship.
  • The movie was filmed quietly and quickly in five weeks because director Jan Nemec was afraid that authorities would shut down the production.
  • Party and Guests was accepted in competition for the 1968 Cannes film festival, but the festival was cancelled that tumultuous year out of solidarity with striking French workers and students.
  • The common English translation of the title O Slavnosti a Hostech adds a pun on “party” (both a celebration and a political association) that wasn’t present in the original Czech. The American title also adds the word “report” (the British released it as simply The Party and the Guests).
  • None of the cast were professional actors; most were artists and intellectuals who held “counter-revolutionary” political views. Jan Klusák (who makes quite an impression as the bullying Rudolph) was a composer who scored many of the Czech New Wave movies (including Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), and later made music to accompany Jan Svankmajer shorts. Director Evald Schorm (“House of Joy“) plays the guest who decides to leave the party. This bit of casting suggested to the authorities that the film was a protest of their decision to ban one of Schrom’s previous films.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The idea of a functionary sitting behind a desk, your fate in his hands and an enigmatic grin on his face, is the preeminent vision of bureaucratic totalitarianism from the 20th century. The incongruous twist A Report on the Party and Guests puts on this disquieting picture is to set up that desk in the middle of an open forest glade, with birds chirping merrily in the background.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: When discussing A Report on the Party and Guests, every critic is required to use two words: “allegorical” and “Kafkaesque.” The second descriptor explains why this quietly disturbing examination of senseless conformity earns its place on the List of the best weird movies ever made. After watching this quietly absurd totalitarian nightmare, I can pretty much guarantee you will scratch Report on the Party and Guests off your list of possible wedding themes.


Short clip from A Report on the Party and Guests

COMMENTS: Understated to the point of madness, A Report on the Party and Guests slips Continue reading 115. A REPORT ON THE PARTY AND GUESTS (1966)

CAPSULE: MY JOY (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Sergei Loznitsa

FEATURING: Viktor Nemets

PLOT: A Russian truck driver veers off the main highway and into a hinterland of institutionalized

Still from My Joy (2010)

corruption and disjointed narrative.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: My Joy is serious, slow, bleak, oblique, and political; put together, all these adjectives coalesce into “important” in the mind of the average film critic or festival programmer. They do not, however, add up to “entertaining” in the eyes of the average viewer. Add to this the fact that the adjective we are most interested in—“weird”—is present in the film only at trace levels, and My Joy is more of interest to cineastes who make it a point to see important films, as well as to those with a special interest in the sociopolitical situation inside modern day Russia, than it is to pure weirdophiles.

COMMENTS: My Joy‘s confusing journey into the Russian heart of darkness makes more sense after a second viewing, although thanks to plentiful narrative elisions there are still many mysteries that are never resolved. After an unexplained funereal opening, the story proper begins when long haul Russian truck driver Georgy slips away from a couple of crooked checkpoint cops as they are distracted by a more attractive detainee. In a brutal flashback to the days of the post liberation of Berlin Red Army, an aged hitchhiker tells him a story of how military bullies stole his suitcase, his wife, and even his name. (It’s not the last time the film will travel back in time to that particular era; this bitter nostalgia suggests both that the current Russian situation resembles those anarchic times and, more fatalistically, that graft and thievery are the way business has always been done in this part of the world). A child prostitute then shows Georgy a detour around an accident, and he finds himself lost in the wilderness with his cargo until he meets a group of petty thieves. At this point, about an hour has passed—very slowly, in the Russian style, with lots of long shots of people milling about and cab-level views of the trucker driving along deserted roads between the sparse action. Suddenly, it seems that Georgy (the only decent and honest man in all of Russia, as far as we have seen) disappears from the story, as we find ourselves Continue reading CAPSULE: MY JOY (2010)