FEATURING: Valeria Bertuccelli, Alejandro Urdapilleta, Rafael Ferro, Sol Moreno, Florencia Raggi, Jonathan Sandor
PLOT: In a town where the only person with a voice, The Voice, doesn’t have a face, Mr. TV has nefarious plans. When he kidnaps The Voice, her eyeless son and their neighbors must find her and stop Mr. TV before he can take what little they have left. Things come to a head during a boxing broadcast where Mr. TV attempts to suck all language out of the citizens.
La Antena premiered at Rotterdam Festival (2007) and was the first ever film chosen to both open and compete in the festival.
The movie was a runner-up for the Fantasia Film Festival Ground-Breaker Award, losing the first spot to Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Made for a reported 1.5 million, the script was only 60 pages but the storyboard consisted of over 3,000 shots. Shooting took 11 weeks and post-production took more than a year.
This was Estaban Sapir’s second feature film, and is his last completed work to date.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: An angry pixie girl inside an ever-snowing snow globe, with typewriter keys jutting from her helmet, a pacifier in her mouth, and arrows at her feet on which she plays a twisted version of Dance Dance Revolution as she turns the people’s voices into commodities.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Eyeless boy strapped to Star of David; family climbs crumpled paper mountain
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: La Antena melds Fritz Lang with Tim Burton by way of Guy Maddin and Terry Gilliam, paying homage without feeling derivative. It’s a black and white, (mostly) silent film with subtitles that interact with the scenes. With inventive writing, bizarre characters, and whimsical sets, La Antena surprises throughout.
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DIRECTED BY: Kaizô Hayashi
FEATURING: Shirô Sano, Koji Otake, Fujiko Fukamizu, Yoshio Yoshida
PLOT: A retired film star hires Uotsuka and Kobayashi, a pair of down-on-their-luck detectives, to track down her daughter Bellflower, who was kidnapped by riddle-loving criminals.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The detective genre is turned on its head and spell-bound to slumber in Kaizô Hayashi’s silent film debut. This playful noir is fueled by dream logic, pantomime capering, and a nostalgia more full-throated than Guy Maddin‘s—as well as hundreds of hard-boiled eggs.
COMMENTS: In the market for the best P.I. in town? Then look no further than the Uotsuka Detective Agency. Sure, his schedule may be empty—so much so that his chalkboard agenda has nothing more than a doodled face on it. And he may not have the best assistant—Kobayashi idles away his time riding a pneumatic horse. But Uotsuka is as hard-boiled as they come, as proven by his in-office hen and his egg-only diet. Fine, fine, he may not be the best for everyone, but for an aging silent film star whose daughter has disappeared, his knack for riddles and protein-fueled energy fits the bill perfectly.
Kaizô Hayashi places his love of nigh-lost cinema squarely in the foreground in To Sleep So As To Dream, his directorial (and screenwriting and producing) debut. He presents the film in the Academy ratio, records in black-and-white, and, in his clever way, makes a “silent” film. Audio effects (knocked doors, clinked metal, thumped guns) are sprinkled in judiciously, but there is no spoken dialogue from the on-screen characters, who communicate through facial expressions, gestures, and often-novel intertitle cards. (As the detective obsesses over the clue “General Tower,” those words completely fill the screen.) Two circumstances break this silence: whenever a recording is played—invariably from the kidnappers, whose love of money is matched only by their love of riddling—and in the presence of a benshi.
Another throw-back to classic Japanese cinema, the benshi was the live narrator of a silent film, telling the story and interpreting the on-screen action as a film is projected. This aural eccentricity underpins the embellished performances, making for a self-aware, but never parodying, silent-style experience. The combination of off-kilter and heightened reality makes To Sleep a creditable facsimile for a dream, and Kaizô is well aware of what he’s up to. Pursuing a trio of gyroscope-peddling magicians (a “chase” sequence I can only describe as “goofily suspenseful”), Uotsoka has a nasty run-in with a handful of goons and loses two million yen. After awakening from his wallop, he meets up with his client to reassure her, “…Bellflower and the money will be found—if the whole thing isn’t just a dream.”
Kaizô Hayashi is a film nostalgist, bringing to that embryonic genre his impressive visual sense and deft sound engineering to craft an experience both innovative and sentimental. (If To Sleep So As To Dream wasn’t an inspiration to Maddin, I’d be much surprised. ) Our experience of Uotsuka’s and Kobayashi’s serpentine meanderings through theme parks, carnivals, dreamscape movie theaters—and even a memory-warping film shoot—is what movies are all about: the bending of technique to vision so as to create storytelling art.
DIRECTED BY: Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe De Liguoro
FEATURING: Salvatore Papa, Arturo Pirovano, Emilise Beretta, Augusto Milla
PLOT: In the company of the poet Virgil, Dante Alighieri descends into Hell, where he discovers the variety of malefactors consigned to the netherworld by their misdeeds on Earth and the array of torments visited upon them.
COMMENTS: When the pioneers of the Italian film industry set about creating the country’s first feature-length motion picture (a format still in its infancy in 1911), they most decidedly did not screw around. No, they went straight for an adaptation of a foundational piece of literature, the one that did as much as anything to establish the language and the national identity. Without hesitation, they turned to Dante.
It’s an ambitious undertaking. “The Inferno,” the first part of Dante’s epic Divine Comedy, is a true horror story, a warning about the torture that awaits sinners in the afterlife. Part of what made Dante’s work so noteworthy was his willingness to name names. Various popes, Holy Roman Emperors, and other notable figures are depicted, along with their crimes and punishments. And his God is a harsh one: Julius Caesar’s assassins undergo perpetual torment, but Caesar himself was relegated to Limbo, an inferior paradise for those who made the terrible mistake of existing on Earth before Christ. It took a very pure life to stay out of Dante’s Hell, and he was only too happy to reveal the consequences of failure.
If all it took to get on our list was the “Indelible Image” category, L’Inferno would make the cut in a cakewalk. The limited practical and special effects of early cinema yield terrific results, conveying Hell as a real and horrible place in spectacular fashion. The harsh landscapes are difficult to navigate, and usually strewn with writhing bodies in some unholy mix of Hieronymous Bosch paintings and Spencer Tunick photographs. Multiple exposures conjure up rivers in the sky composed of thousands of the damned. Forced perspective brings the travelers into the realm of the mighty and rageful Pluto, and blackout techniques permit one doomed soul to carry his own head. The film’s climactic tableau combines these methods and more to present a three-mouthed Lucifer devouring some of history’s most notorious traitors; it resembles nothing so much as Goya’s grotesque classic “Saturn”. This appears simplistic to modern eyes but remains quite powerful in its effect. It’s as though the filmmakers carefully studied the magical techniques of Georges Méliès for the sole purpose of applying them to horror.
But alas, imagery alone is not enough to make a weird movie. The film of “The Inferno” suffers from the format that inspired it: it’s a travelogue. A travelogue through Hell, but a winding, episodic tour nonetheless. Dante visits a new circle of Hell, Virgil explains what the condemned did on Earth and what fate awaits them now, and we see that fate enacted. There’s not much more to it, so that this work of tremendous faith and contrition is reduced to a haunted house. Hell? It’s pretty bad, say the filmmakers. Rinse and repeat.
L’Inferno is a landmark film, and it creates dramatic and powerful screen pictures that most modern CGI-powered spectacles would be hard-pressed to match. Those pictures are often ugly and monstrous, and the rhythms are repetitive, which is probably why it hasn’t endured like more fantastical or pastoral works of the period. But it certainly deserves to be remembered. To abandon it to history would be a sin.
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DIRECTED BY: Esteban Sapir
FEATURING: Rafael Ferro, Sol Moreno, Alejandro Urdapilleta, Jonathan Sandor, Julieta Cardinali
PLOT: Mr. TV’s grip on the city is nearly complete, since he controls the only citizen known to be able to speak; however, not only does he want to control the people’s only voice, he wants to rob them of their words as well.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: A scattered analogy is the easiest way to argue this: The Aerial is Guy Maddin directs Alex Proyas‘ Dark City with a comic-book noir-Expressionist flair in a silent city whose populace communicates in colliding sub-, super-, and fore-titles.
COMMENTS: I generally don’t like my sociopolitical allegories to slap me so hard across the face, but The Aerial can feel free to slap me all it wants to. As you might infer from that mental image, Esteban Sapir’s movie is incredibly heavy-handed. It drops symbols like hot rocks (rocks so hot that, at one point, there’s a blistering contrast between some broadcasting baddies and their swastika-shaped device and the broadcasting goodies with their Star of David-shaped device). It’s overt in its rhetoric: “They have taken our voices, but we still have our words.” And even if the evil “Dr. Y” had a bigger mouth-enlarger-screen attached to him, it couldn’t have screamed “NAZI SCIENTIST!” any louder. But at this point I am hopeful that you’re wondering, “Just what is going on?”
What’s going on: Mr. TV lords over a voiceless city. The only person who can speak—“The Voice”—is controlled by Mr. TV and his ubiquitous media concern (TV billboards cover the metropolis, and the populace is fed with “TV Food”). The protagonist (credited only as “The Inventor”) loses his job with the TV monopoly after losing another balloon-man advertising sign (which is just what it sounds like). When a parcel containing “eyes” is delivered to the wrong address (and is conveniently received by the Inventor’s daughter), we learn that The Voice’s eyeless son can also speak. Meanwhile, Mr. TV conspires with crazy, creepy scientist Dr. Y to use The Voice to extract everyone’s words.
By now you probably see why I am feeling forgiving. Plus, the movie has a constant visual *pop*. Going into it, I wondered at the “very little dialogue” remark in its description. That is a bald-faced lie. There’s plenty of dialogue, and it is All Over The Screen. Not being a Spanish-speaker, I read the subtitles, but these were subtitles for everywhere-titles. They moved like hands on a watch, they were completed with “o”s from a smoke ring, and they were hidden behind fingers before a reveal. This town, though voiceless, is full of communication: the citizens read these words that are “spoken”. Even the blind boy “reads lips” by feeling the text. This gimmick was astounding to behold, and marvelously executed.
The rest of the movie’s aesthetic is just as lively, feeling at times like something from Dziga Vertov after he slammed back a samovar of strong tea. The visual mash-up (piano hands playing a typewriter while a ballerina in a snow globe desperately maneuvers what looked like a DDR challenge, for example) is consistent throughout, and although patently artificial, feels natural. Nothing looks cheap, and the film is helped in no small part by the actors as they deftly walk the perilous tightrope of Expressionism and film noir styles. I still feel The Aerial‘s energy, and so must stop myself. Suffice it to say, I wish more moralistic beatings were this pleasurable to suffer through.
PLOT: Scored to a disturbing minimalist composition, a parade of early 20th century images on decayed and damaged film stock march across the screen, forming hypnotic abstract landscapes.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: We avoided the hypnotic experimental documentary subgenre on our first pass through the List of the Weirdest Movies ever made, because this peculiar corner of art films normally wed an unusual (weird) form to commonplace (not-weird) subject matter. When it comes to honoring movies as Apocrypha, however, it’s harder to argue that formally groundbreaking movies like Koyaanisqatsi—and this one—can be excluded from being considered among the strangest things the mind of man has come up with.
COMMENTS: A boxer punches an amoeba. A man in a fez prays at a mummy’s tomb, in negative image. A lone airplane flies through the sky, almost perfectly centered in a wavering iris puncturing the darkness. Nuns and schoolchildren strobe in and out of existence. The screen is filled with nothing more than a billowing cloud. Abstract patterns whir by, almost looking as if they were drawn by hand—a butterfly here, a flower petal there—and fade away to reveal a shy geisha.
Experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison scoured over what must have been thousands of hours of partially decayed stock footage to select the most wondrous and poetic images time accidentally created. A complete taxonomy of film damage is on display here. Images sometimes decay from the center outward, sometimes from the edges inward. Frequently, the film is warped so that abstract cracked lines obscure the underlying picture, but often the effects are more surprising. Individual stills might look like gibberish, but because each frame of film holds a slightly different piece of information about the whole, when the series is run through a projector, ghostly figures emerge. The visuals often resemble Stan Brakhage‘s splatter-paint-on-the-celluloid experiments, except that the effects here have been created entirely by the natural degradation of cellulose.
Decasia‘s reliance on a minimalist classical music score obviously recalls Godfrey Reggio‘s time-lapse documentaries. But whereas Philip Glass’ work on the “Qatsi trilogy” of films was smooth and dreamy, Michael Gordon’s composition is dissonant and confrontational. Low strings create a ceaseless rhythm, while violins fall through microtonal scales in a long, slow decay. Horns enter the mix like distant alarms. Gordon specified that certain instruments in the Basel Sinfonetta be deliberately out of tune. In keeping with the theme of recycling, he used discarded car brake drums he found in a junkyard as an instrument, along with detuned pianos. His intent, he said, was to “make the orchestra sound like it was covered in cobwebs, with instruments that had been sitting for a hundred years, creaky and warped and deteriorated…” The uncomfortable but still beautiful sounds divert our thoughts to the darker implications of the pictures dancing and disintegrating before our eyes. The music and the images exist in such a perfect, unconscious symbiosis that it’s meaningless to wonder which came first.
Decasia is an authentically Surrealist documentary. The startling images have all been generated via a random process, with the interpretation up to the individual viewer. Everyone in these film clips is long dead, and soon the damaged images themselves will fade away to nothing. And yet, the experience is marvelous, not depressing.