Tag Archives: Surrealism

CAPSULE: LITTLE ASHES (2008)

DIRECTED BY:  Paul Morrison

FEATURING:  Javier Beltrán,

PLOT:  In Madrid in the 1920s, with Dadaism in full flourish and Surrealism in its infancy,

Still from Little Ashes (2008)

soon-to-be-famous poet Federico García Lorca flirts with soon-to-be-famous painter Salvador Dalí while soon-to-be-famous director Luis Buñuel hangs around.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s subject is Surrealism, but its style is conventional historical romance.

COMMENTS:  A supposed collegiate love affair, supposedly unconsummated, between stuffy poet Lorca and flamboyant painter Dalí is the subject of this pleasantly lensed and generally competent costume affair.  Spanish society in the 1920s is socially repressive (although the three idealists have no clue how much worse it will get in a few years with Franco’s arrival), and the budding geniuses yearn to upset the established order.  Beltrán imbues Lorca with a sense of dignity, although his thick accent is frequently a practical impediment for the viewer.  Pattison makes for a distractingly pretty Dalí; his failure to capture the spirit of the eccentric painter is probably more the failing of the simplistic script.  Buñuel is an underdeveloped third wheel and utility player: a homophobe when the story calls for a homophobe, a foil when it needs a foil, a mediator when it requires a mediator.  We hear bits of Lorca’s poetry, get glimpses of Dalí’s canvases, and see the shocking bits from Un Chien Andalou (1929), but we get no real sense of what motivates these men as artists.  Though Beltrán shows suitable young romantic torment when he’s rejected, it’s hard to credit the suggestion that this awkward fling would have made enough of a impact on either man to influence their future art, much less be a driving force.  Dalí postures and lectures about the need to “go further” and “go beyond” in art; not only do we not see concrete examples of what he means, but there’s irony in the fact that the filmmakers don’t heed his advice.  Other than one mental montage where Lorca mixes up impressions of a bullfight he’s watching with jealous fantasies of Salvador and Luis living it up in Paris, and an odd pseudo-ménage à trois that may make some giggle, the film is extremely conventional and predictable in its approach.  These are fascinating men in a fascinating time, so the decision to put the overwhelming focus of the film on a bit of gossip about who did or didn’t sleep with whom, while humble, is a let down.

I can’t help but be amused by the thought of the few tween Twilight fans, showing up to see vampire heartthrob Pattison in action, getting slapped in the face by the eyeball slitting scene from Un Chien Andalou.   It still makes me squirm, and it must seem incredibly weird, random and shocking—particularly in this context—to anyone who doesn’t know it’s coming.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film is an open-hearted tribute to three great iconoclasts, whose response to its piety and sincerity would, most likely, have been ruthless and obscene mockery.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times

31. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT [NAISU NO MORI: THE FIRST CONTACT] (2005)

“Only appearing in your dream.  Distorting every sound to create a world like to other.  This is what they live for; jumping from one person’s dream to another.  Once you have been chosen, you will lose all control of your dreams.”–from the script of Funky Forest: the First Contact

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Isimin (AKA Aniki), Shunichiro Miki

FEATURING: Tadanobu Asa, , Susumu Terashima, and a large ensemble cast

PLOTFunky Forest is a series of absurdist skits—including both computer generated and hand drawn animation segments and musical interludes—sharing some common characters and situations, thrown together in a blender. The movie features the interwoven antics of two squabbling TV comedians, a trio of brothers who are unpopular with women, an English teacher in love with a recently graduated student who sees him as a friend only, and a school where strange bloodsucking creatures are growing, among many other threads. The comic nonsense sketches and dreams are loosely tied together by references to visitations from “alien Piko-Rico.”

Still from Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

BACKGROUND:

  • There is little hard information on this production that is available  in English. Of the three credited co-directors, Katsuhito Ishii, who directed the majority of the sequences, is usually given most of the credit for assembling the collaborative project.
  • Ishii composed the animated sequences for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) and had a minor arthouse hit with The Taste of Tea (2004).
  • Funky Forest is the first movie directing credit for Shunichiro Miki, whose only previous movie credit was a small acting role in The Taste of Tea.  Miki directs commercials in Japan.  He is responsible for the “monster” segments of the film.
  • Prior to Funky Forest, Hajime Isimin (who is also known as Aniki) had released one direct-to-video comedy in Japan and worked as the musical director on The Taste of Tea.  He is responsible for the “Notti & Takefumi” sequences that contain the film’s major musical and dance numbers.
  • Funky Forest won the “Most Innovative Film Feature” award at the 2006 Toronto After Dark film festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The still of the Japanese schoolgirl with a tube jammed into her navel hooked up to a strange machine encasing a large orifice while two strangely costumed men look on, from the segment titled “Wanna go for a drink?”, has already become an iconic image on the Internet. It’s the picture people post or email when they want to illustrate either 1. how weird the movie Funky Forest is, or 2. assuming the picture is from a mainstream Japanese soap opera, how weird they think the Japanese people in general are.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As the trailer indicates, Funky Forest‘s weird credentials are unimpeachable; if anything, this is a movie that’s almost too weird to be comprehensible, which is why it’s nice that it’s divided into small bites that can be digested independently. It works like a surrealist version of Altman’s Short Cuts.


Japanese language trailer for Funky Forest

COMMENTS: The opening paragraph of every review of Funky Forest is where critics get Continue reading 31. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT [NAISU NO MORI: THE FIRST CONTACT] (2005)

GUEST REVIEW: JESUS AND HER GOSPEL OF YES (2004)

Guest review by Kevin Pyrtle of WTF-Film

Here in Minneapolis there’s a strange little show [you’ll have to forgive me for not remembering the name of it] that plays the public access stations every week or so. It features a host of young talent who frolic in front of a blue screen in various stages of undress while ancient video effects are laid over top of it all in a random fashion. It goes on for an hour, reaching ever dizzier heights of incomprehensible nonsense and leaving you puzzled as to what, if anything, you were meant to take away from the experience.

Still from Jesus and Her Gospel of YesAll of the above could rightly be said for this Alfred Eaker film as well, which the director describes on the IMDB as ‘a surreal, complex, modern, psychedelic film retelling the life of Christ as woman and leader of the Gospel of Yes.’ The main difference between the two is that Jesus runs slightly longer, around seventy three minutes before the lengthy credits roll.

Complex it is, indeed – there’s never a moment [credits included] in which Jesus has nothing going on. We get endless loopy dialogue, re-interpreting the Gospel with frequent pop culture references and commenting on the various ills of contemporary society all the while. Not that there’s time to soak any of it in, as the words pile up in ungainly multitude and start to sound like inarticulate mush after a while. It’s akin to a rambling political address. I know that there’s a point to all of it somewhere, but the manner in which it’s put across leaves me with no interest in finding out what it is.

If interpreting the dialogue is difficult on its own, then the accompanying visuals make the task doubly so. Jesus is populated by an endless parade of excruciatingly bad visual effects that could have originated from the plugin archives of any prosumer video editing application. Most of them involve people doing random things while other people, through the magic of digital process photography, do random things in front of them. There is some interesting artwork on display [all credited at the end], but you have to look closely to even see it through the multiple layers of visual obfuscation. There is also some not-so-interesting artwork, much of which could have been accomplished in MS Paint.

Still from Jesus and Her Gospel of YesFar be it from me to say that Jesus, in spite of its obvious faults, is not a creative enterprise. Creativity is one thing its producers obviously have in spades. There’s no telling how many long days and sleepless nights went towards its realization, making it all the more a pity that something easier to appreciate didn’t result. There’s some good substantive meat to the rambling narrative [like commentary on drug abuse, abortion, and sexual dynamics], but you have to dig through piles of aesthetically repellent gunk to find any of it. I doubt that most, regardless of their artistic sensibilities, will have the patience for it.

Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes is undeniably weird and original to the max, but its crude brand of no-budget shot-on-video mayhem just wasn’t for me. While I didn’t enjoy it, I have to admire that Eaker was at least trying something new here – a rare thing in these days of utterly barren mass marketed entertainment. I have a feeling that the world would be a far better place if even a hundredth of a percent of the box office earnings from the latest Hollywood action debacle was to find its way into the pockets of the Eakers of the world.

Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes is currently available exclusively for download at DownloadHorror.com.

MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) opens with a scene of fearsome waves crashing against a desolate shore.  It could almost be described as Debussian, save for the unsettling dead and total silence that continues, unabated, throughout the film.

Maya Deren's At LandThe exotic Deren appears, emerging from a sleep, like a mermaid spit ashore from the crashing waves.

Deren begins slowly climbing a massive, twisted, dead tree trunk; the figure of Deren/Eros embarking on her great existential journey.

The nymph (her face adorned with child-like innocence) slithers on her stomach across a dining room table, populated with faceless corporates.  They do not take notice of her, preoccupied with idle chatter and many cigarettes.  Her eyes focus on a solitary figure, playing chess at the table’s end.  By the time she reaches that end (there are brief, repeated, struggled, exploratory diversions through a mass of shrubbery) she finds the player has just left and, as she gazes at the board, the rest of the room’s occupants are also leaving.

Telekinetically, she moves the chess pieces, until the pawn (one of eight) falls through a hole in the table.  She attempts to retrieve it and finds herself  back on the shore, then on a country road, walking and talking with a young man (represented by five different men).

She cannot keep up with the man and he leaves her behind as he disappears into a cabin, shutting the foreboding door behind him.

Determined not to be abandoned, she crawls under the log cabin but emerges in a contemporary, nearly abandoned home, laden with furniture, covered in white sheets.

It is not the young man she finds, but an older, bedridden man (figure number six), under a white bed sheet.  They silently stare at each other, identify Continue reading MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

26. THE MILKY WAY [LA VOIE LACTEE] (1969)

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”–Matthew 10:34-36

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Laurent Terzieff, Bernard Verley, Edith Scob, ,

PLOT:  Two tramps follow the ancient pilgrimage road leading from France to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of the apostle James are supposed to be interred.  Along the way they meet strange characters from various times who debate ancient Catholic heresies, a child with a stigmata, an angel of death, and a nun voluntarily undergoing a crucifixion.  Also scattered throughout the film are recreations of fictional and historical events, including dramatization of an Inquisition trial, a cameo by the Marquis de Sade, and scenes from the Gospels.

milky_way_coie_lactee

BACKGROUND:

  • In retrospect, director Luis Buñuel realized that The Milky Way formed the first part of a trilogy about “the search for truth” along with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Phantom of Liberty (1974). The subsequent two films use the same fragmented, non-linear narrative style pioneered in The Milky Way.
  • The film is exhaustively researched, with many of the episodes composed of direct quotes from the Bible or the writings of heretics.
  • Released while the general strike and student protests of May 1968 were still fresh in France’s mind and a spirit of liberal revolution was in the air, some leftists were not happy that one of their own had chosen this moment to make a non-political film about the history of heresy in the Catholic church.  According to anecdote, Buñuel’s novelist friend Julio Cortazar accused the director of having completed the film with financing from the Vatican.
  • Although the film is often blasphemous on its surface, it was well-received by the Catholic Church, who even intervened with the Italian censors to reverse their decision to ban the film.  This was an unexpected reaction, as the Vatican had declared Buñuel’s 1961 film Viridiana “blasphemous”.
  • With its large, almost epic cast, it’s inevitable that several French actors with significant contributions in the weird movie arena appeared in cameo roles, including Delpine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad) as a prostitute, Julien Guiomar (Léolo) as a priest, and Michel Piccoli (La Grande Bouffe, Dillinger is Dead) as the Marquis de Sade.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The execution of a pope by a gang of anarchists, a scene that leads to the film’s funniest and most unexpected punchline.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In The Milky Way two worldly pilgrims make their way through a strange, heresy-obsessed world in which every maître d’ is an expert theologian and Renaissance fops duel to the death over arcane philosophical doctrines, while any random stranger they meet may actually be God, an angel, or the fulfillment of a recent prophecy.

Hollywood-style VHS trailer for La Voie Lactée

COMMENTS:  Of all the great directors, Luis Buñuel was the greatest prankster.  His son, Continue reading 26. THE MILKY WAY [LA VOIE LACTEE] (1969)

SLAPHAPPY VOLUME 8: SURREAL COMEDY

The “SlapHappy Volume 8 Collection: Surreal Comedy” must be unreservedly recommended for making available  rare, hidden fragments from surreal cinema’s infancy.  It’s not everyday one gets to see J. Stewart Blackton’s 1908 Thieving Hand which pre-dates the later, similar theme of a wayward, disembodied hand  found in films like The Beast with Five Fingers (which Buñuel worked on during his brief Hollywood stint).

The Thieving Hand

The Thieving Hand (1908)

Edwin S. Porter collections aren’t  exactly a dime a dozen either, so 1906’s Melies-inspired Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, based on the famous Windsor McCay comic strip, is possibly the highlight here.  The sight of something akin to Linda Blaire’s bed engaged in a Dickens-like flight across a city skyscape is well worth the price.  Today, Fiend is possibly the most interesting of Porter’s vast but not entirely distinguished output, certainly much more so than some of the historically better known films such as  Life of an American Fireman.

The team of Richard M. Roberts, Larry Stefan and Paul Lisy have certainly done thorough research and a number of delightfully rare oddities are compiled here: Eddie Lyon’s 1923 Hot Foot; Bobby Dunn ajd Ferdinand Zecca’s 1910 Slippery Jim , Edward F. Cline’s 1925 Dangerous Curves Behind, and the 1948 Fresh Lobster with Billie Bletcher.

Still, despite the glimpses of rare treasures here, SlapHappy Volume 8 falls short of being the ideal collection.  These are indeed mere glimpses, clips culled from the films, and since most of these are shorts, presenting these films in their entirety could have been easily accomplished and would have been much more desirable.

The SlapHappy producers, in following the formulaic recipe of their series, short-changed the potential of what could have been their most valuable volume.

Stills from films like Keaton’s The Playhouse are utilized, but there no actual clips. Instead, excerpts from lesser, more obvious, on the surface examples of Keaton’s ventures into surrealism are shown (Buster running into dangling skeletons, etc) simply because these are more obvious; a bit like Salvador Dali being held up as the quintessential persona over considerably more substantial surrealists such as Max Ernst and Paul Klee.

The producers’ goal, as Sam Charles’  narration indicates, is focused on early surreal comedy–as opposed to early surrealism–but even here, it falls short of being the reference volume.  An extraordinary amount of time is given to the weaker Fresh Lobster, when much more time could have been devoted to Zecca’s far more compelling Slippery Jim (Zecca was an editor for Melies, and it shows), the films of Charley Bowers, or numerous, much more substantial examples of early surreal comedy (Chaplin’s surreal heavenly dream sequence from The Kid, Keaton’s The Navigator, The Frozen North, Sherlock Jr, or Beckett’s Film are just a few of the better known examples).

Surreal Comedy is an all too brief entry, abbreviated to make room for the Getting the Girl and Chaplin bonuses, both of which contain footage found elsewhere. Still, Volume 8 is a valuable but unimaginative introduction to the art of early surreal comedy that ultimately falls short of being the priceless collection it could have been.

22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

“He showed me this little script he had written for Eraserhead.  It was only a few pages with this weird imagery and not much dialogue and this baby kind of thing.”–Jack Nance

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: ,

PLOT:  Henry is a factory worker living in a dingy apartment in a desolate urban nowhere. His girlfriend Mary’s mother informs him the girl has given birth to his child—although Mary objects, “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!” Henry and Mary get married and care for the monstrous, reptilian, constantly crying infant until Mary can take no more and deserts the family, leaving Henry alone to care for the mutant and to dream of the oatmeal-faced woman who lives inside his radiator and sings to him about the delights of heaven.

eraserhead

BACKGROUND:

  • Eraserhead was started with a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute while Lynch was a student at their conservatory. Initially, the 21 or 22 page script was intended to run about 40 minutes. Lynch kept adding details, like the Lady in the Radiator (who was not in the original script), and the movie eventually took five years to complete.
  • When Lynch ran out of money from the AFI, the actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Hollywood production designer Jack Fisk, contributed money to help complete the film. Fisk also played the role of the Man in the Planet.
  • Lynch slept in the set used for Henry’s apartment for a year while making the film.
  • After the initial screening, Lynch cut 20 minutes off of the film. Little of the excised footage survives.
  • Eraserhead was originally distributed by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films and was marketed as a “midnight movie” like their previous underground sensation, El Topo (1970).
  • Based on the success of Eraserhead, Lynch was invited to create the mainstream drama The Elephant Man (1980)  for Paramount, a huge critical success for which he received the first of his three “Best Director” nominations at the Academy Awards.
  • Jack Nance had at least a small role in four other Lynch movies, and played Pete Martell in Lynch’s television series, “Twin Peaks.”  His scenes in the movie adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) were deleted. Nance died in 1997 after being struck in the head in an altercation at a doughnut shop.
  • Lynch has written that when he was having difficulty with the direction the production was heading, he read a Bible verse that tied the entire vision together for him, although he has refused to cite the verse and in a recent interview actually claims to have forgotten it.
  • Winner of this site’s 2019 Mad Movie Tournament as the most popular weird movie ever made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The iconic image is Henry, wearing that expression permanently lodged between the quizzical and the horrified, with the peak of his absurd pompadour glowing in the light as suspended eraser shavings float and glitter behind him. Of course, Eraserhead is nothing if not a series of indelible images, so others may find the scarred man who sits by the broken window, the mutant infant, or the girl in the radiator to be the vision that haunts their nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Eraserhead is probably the greatest recreation of a nightmare ever filmed, a marvelous and ambiguous mix of private and cosmic secrets torn from the subconscious. Or, as Lynch puts it, it’s “a dream of dark and disturbing things.”


Clip from Eraserhead

COMMENTS:  When you tell people you are interested in “weird” movies, I’d wager at least half Continue reading 22. ERASERHEAD (1977)