Tag Archives: Surrealism

45*. SPACE IS THE PLACE (1974)

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“I am strange,
my mind is tinted with the colors of madness,
they fight in silent furor in their effort to possess each other,
I am strange.”–Sun Ra, “I Am Strange”

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ray Johnson

PLOT: Sun Ra returns to earth from his cosmic explorations with plans to relocate black folk to a new planet. Arriving in his spaceship in Oakland, Ra visits a youth community center and opens an outer space employment agency to spread his message.; NASA agents kidnap him, hoping to learn his technological secrets. Meanwhile, in a desert dimension, Ra and the pimp-like Overseer play a card game for the future of the black race.

Still from Space Is the Place (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount. He dropped out of college after he had a vision in which he was transported to the planet Saturn (or so he claimed). Never signed to a big record label, Ra toured and recorded prolifically, especially throughout his 1950s and 1960s heyday, releasing albums himself. His music was highly avant-garde, incorporating free jazz, synthesizers, chanting, oddball poetry incorporating mythological and space-faring themes, Egyptian costuming, and lavish stage productions.
  • The producer originally envisioned the film as a documentary, but input from many sources (including Ra himself) eventually led to this narrative movie.
  • Filmed in 1972 at the same time and on some of the same sets (and with one of the same actors) as the pornographic film Behind the Green Door. Space Is the Place was briefly released theatrically in 1974. It then disappeared until an edited version surfaced on VHS in the early 1990s.
  • Sun Ra improvised all of his dialogue, as did the kids interviewed at the community center.
  • Confusingly, Sun Ra’s classic 1972 album “Space is the Place” is not the soundtrack to this film, despite the fact that Ra wears a costume from the production on the cover. The actual soundtrack album was recorded contemporaneously but not released until 1993. The two albums share only the title track in common, in a radically different performance.
  • In 2003, scenes were restored which were missing from the VHS release. These scenes, featuring nudity, violence, or other debauchery inserted by co-screenwriter Joshua Smith, had been removed by Sun Ra himself; therefore, the 64-minute VHS cut is sometimes known as the “Sun Ra cut.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Su  Ra’s Egyptian costume, especially his crown combining a King Tut-styled headdress topped by an enormous solar crystal flanked by golden antlers. (It resembles the crown worn by Isis.) Ra’s fashion choices earn him some genuine stares from pedestrians as he drives through Oakland streets in a convertible, flanked by a golden-headed lion and a falcon. This majestic Pharonic helmet was so striking it made both the cover of both the movie poster and the identically titled jazz album.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Tarot blackjack for black souls; “Dixie” torture

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An improvised mashup of surrealism, blaxploitation tropes, bizarro cosmic jazz, and messianic intergalactic Egyptology, Space Is the Place is an outsider artifact that could only have come from one man: the great Sun Ra.

DVD release trailer for Space is the Place

COMMENTS: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and Sun Continue reading 45*. SPACE IS THE PLACE (1974)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: RABBITS (2002)

“…scientists in Steve Heine’s lab at the University of British Columbia wanted to see if acetaminophen could also dampen those feelings of uncomfortable uncertainty that occur when our sense of the meaning of life is threatened — like when we think about our death or watch a surrealist film. To test their theory, they ran two experiments. First, they asked participants to write a few paragraphs about what will happen to their bodies when they die. In the second experiment, they showed participants a clip from David Lynch’s 2002 film ‘Rabbits.’”–The Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2013

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Scott Coffey, , Naomi Watts, Rebekah Del Rio

PLOT: Lynch’s own tagline reads, “In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain … three rabbits live with a fearful mystery.” These human-shaped bunnies occupy a bare living room, where they confirm the time, question whether there have been calls, and occasionally listen to the rantings of a demon, all to the accompaniment of canned applause and laughter. 

Still from "Rabbits" (2002)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: “Rabbits” goes pretty far toward weird on its overall theme of dread and foreboding. Absurd in their enormity, the titular animals nevertheless deserve empathy for their moments of uncertainty and terror. What takes the project to another level is the suggestion of a logic underpinning the enterprise. The dialogue is almost entirely non sequitur, but it hints at an order that remains just out of reach.

COMMENTS: To my knowledge, David Lynch has never directed a stage play. But he clearly has an affinity for performances on stages. Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and “Twin Peaks” are some of the selections from his oeuvre wherein everything stops and someone takes command of the scene to put on a show within the show. So the least surprising thing about “Rabbits” is that Lynch would create a work in which that style of performance was the entire show. 

Of course, David Lynch has a very different notion of what constitutes a compelling stage show than most of us. There’s little action. Most “Rabbits” episodes open with sorrowful train horns, a steady rain beating down,  and a baleful Angelo Badalamenti theme, while Suzie stands upstage in a dressing gown, ironing, and Jane stays seated on the couch. After a moment or two, Jack walks through the front door in the kind of entrance usually accompanied by a hearty “Hi, honey, I’m home” greeting. Enormous applause from an appreciative audience greets Jack’s entrance, as though he were a TV legend making a welcome return to the small screen. But the stage offers only disquiet. 

What follows is mostly disjointed dialogue: “I am going to find out one day.” “There have been no calls today.” “It was a man in a green suit.” There are enough common elements—secrets, lost things, the time of day—to make you feel that the dialogue could be reassembled into something approaching linear coherence, but no sense that doing so would bring clarity.

But that’s not to say “Rabbits” doesn’t mix things up. Two episodes are devoted to monologues, while a third features a haunting musical number. Periodically, the telephone rings ominously, the only event that occasions an insert shot. And on two separate occasions, the room turns dark and an unintelligible monster appears on the back wall. At one point, there is a piercing scream offstage. Two episodes conclude with all of the coneys huddled on the sofa, clinging to each other for whatever comfort they can find. Lynch is almost cruel in calling his creation “a sitcom.”

The production itself is plenty bizarre. Lynch built the stage in his backyard garden and filmed at the same time each night to ensure consistent lighting, much to the annoyance of his neighbors. It appears that it really is Harring, Coffey, and freaking Academy Award-nominee Watts inside those big bunny costumes. And there’s not even a single way to watch the show. It originally appeared on Lynch’s now-defunct website in eight installments. Portions were later incorporated into his next film, Inland Empire. (In fact, those wascally wabbits were our Indelible Image.) He has since reformatted it on his own “David Lynch Theater” YouTube channel as a four-part presentation, minus the installment showcasing Del Rio’s musical contribution. (You can find the pieces assembled into a single presentation, likely taken from Absurda’s out-of-print “Lime Green Box,” while another YouTuber has helpfully adapted the series into an ambient loop, in case LoFi Girl isn’t giving you the focus you need.) 

That we are watching something being performed is implicit in the static camera, the characters’ careful respect for the downstage fourth wall, and most notably by the presence of an audience—or at least a raucous laugh track seemingly imported from an episode of “Married… with Children.” The faux audience laughs uproariously at distinctly non-comedic lines, and bursts into effusive applause every time Jack enters the room. It’s unsettling, then oppressive, and ultimately terrifying.

“Rabbits” has remarkable stickiness for such a short and static production. It has the familiar feel of Lynch’s other works, but there’s something pure about the way he whittles away the decadence of his features, including such baubles as scene-setting, linear movement, or continuity. It’s all mood, and the mood is unsettling. It’s easily the grimmest show about rabbits this side of Watership Down. They’re doing their best to hold it together in the face of awful uncertainty, but just barely. And if the rabbits can’t stay strong, what hope is there for the rest of us? As Jane says, “I wonder who I will be.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..this is Lynch at his most nightmarish, a bizarre and disconcerting series of disconnected moments that slowly builds in its weirdness towards a typically Lynchian moment of horror at the end.” – David Flint, The Reprobate

David Lynch The Lime Green Set [DVD]
  • A collection of his own films picked by director David Lynch, including the Lynch supervised hi def re-mastered edition of Eraserhead, a collection of The Short Films of David Lynch, Blue Velvet with brand new 5.1 sound mix supervised by David Lynch, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted, and The Elephant Man, along with new Lynch produced extras and Lynch direc

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

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: LA CICATRICE INTÉRIEURE [THE INNER SCAR] (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Philippe Garrel

FEATURING: Nico, Pierre Clémenti, Philippe Garrel, Christian Aaron Boulogne

PLOT: A man leads a woman through the desert;  abandons her as she pleads for help;  a nude archer arrives; the woman travels with him as well, until she again cries out in despair.

Still from La Cicatrice Interieur [The Inner Scar] (1972)

COMMENTS: The woman sits alone in a desolate landscape. A man approaches, wearing a burnt umber suit that is somehow both 70s and Victorian. He pulls the woman to her feet. They walk, heading toward the horizon as we fade to black. Before we’ve had a chance to fade in on the new scene, we can hear her, sobbing and wailing that she can’t breathe. She keens like a toddler who has been denied dessert, and the silent man finally abandons her, trudging off… in what turns out to be a circle, ending up right back with his bereft traveling companion. She shrieks “I don’t need you!” and staggers off into the distance. 

So passes the first ten minutes of La cicatrice intérieure. There isn’t going to be all that much variation on the theme. A first-time viewer should gird their loins for a lot of walking, a lot of screaming, occasional appearances by fire, and several dramatic songs that might be at home in a Ren Faire, courtesy of Nico. It’s the kind of film that will devote five minutes to despairing cries of“There is no justice!” followed immediately by an extended tracking shot of sheep being herded down a dirt road.

The temptation is to view La cicatrice intérieure as some kind of allegory. No one has a name, no one engages in dialogue, none of this should be taken literally. The locations in Egypt, Iceland, and New Mexico are stunning, but the people are barely even characters, and there are almost no situations to speak of. (The film even starts to parody itself, as more than one lengthy pan across a dramatic vista suddenly reveals Nico, once more shattering the peace with her vocal despair like an inescapable buzzkill.) But it doesn’t really say much in an abstract sense, either. The fire, the sword, the giddy nude toddler lying on a fur amidst a field of ice… they’re metaphorical, but without actually representing anything. 

So what is the goal? The film seems to function in part as a kind of proto-music video for Nico, the German chanteuse best known for her collaboration with the Velvet Underground. This makes it all the more curious that she doesn’t get top billing. Here she is, the actor with the most screen time, the only one to make the journey from the beginning of the film to the end, the ostensible reason the film exists at all, and she’s listed second. Although in fairness, perhaps the top spot is meant as a reward for Clémenti, who shows up as the new male lead roughly halfway through the film and who spends the duration completely naked save for a quiver and bow (which go unused). Clémenti is mostly impassive, although he impressively does things unclothed like ride a horse or sail a boat off an icy coast, inspiring the thought, “That looks really uncomfortable.”

The few moments of speech may be a clue as to the directorial intent. Nico alternates between German and English, while Clémenti and an adolescent boy speak French. Garrel reportedly refused to permit subtitles, meaning the literal incomprehensibility of some of the dialogue is a feature, not a bug. Being opaque is the point. That seems to be an overriding philosophy in La cicatrice intérieure; if you’re going to complain about things not making sense, you’re not the right audience. In that case, you might want to take a walk.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… pretentious artsy indulgence at its worst.” – Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

(This movie was nominated for review by NGboo, who dubbed it one of “the most surreal and weirdest movies I’ve seen this year” back in 2011. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)