Tag Archives: Tinted footage

CAPSULE: WILD AND WEIRD (ALLOY ORCHESTRA SILENT FILM COMPILATION)

The Alloy Orchestra Plays Wild and Weird: Short Film Favorites with New Music

Must See

DIRECTED BY: D.W. Griffith, , , Segundo de Chomón,  F. Percy Smith, , Ernest Servaès, Ladislas Starevich, Winsor McKay, , Eddie Cline, Hans Richter

FEATURING: Jack Brawn, Paul Panzer, Ernest Servaès, Buster Keaton

PLOT: A compilation of twelve strange, fantastic, and experimental films from the dawn of cinema (spanning the years 1902 to 1926) with new scores for each composed by the Boston-based silent film ensemble “the Alloy Orchestra.”

Still from The Red Spectre (1907)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This presentation won’t make the List solely on formal grounds, because it’s a compilation. You could make a case for several of the individual shorts, however, on the basis of their historical significance, especially “A Trip to the Moon,” “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend,” “Play House,” or “Filmstudie.”

COMMENTS: Hidden off in a corner of the Movie and Music Network‘s catalog, far away from the exploitation films in a quiet place only the cool kids know about, is an obscure little collection of classic cinema. For the most part the Alloy Orchestra’s selections in this compilation aren’t especially rare, at least to silent cinephiles, but wild and weird they certainly are. From trippy nickelodeon snippets to epic hallucinations, these films hail from a thrilling era when cinema was fresh and every new movie was an adventure in invention.

The Orchestra’s musical accompaniment is excellent and appropriate to the material. It’s mostly classical-ish, with a little bit of tasteful electronic ornamentation, and very rarely does it get avant-garde or dissonant enough to threaten the casual listener’s delicate ears. At times it’s electronic-Baroque, often it’s vibraphone and percussion heavy, with a welcome cameos by musical saws and theremins in some dream sequences. Unfortunately, the digitization used here captured some analog rumbling and distortion when the volume got too high, but in general the music is a pleasant accompaniment to the main attraction.

A brief rundown of each slice of weirdness:

CAPSULE: SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (2014)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: , Powers Boothe, , , , , ,

PLOT: Three stories involving gamblers, thugs, private detectives, strippers, corrupt senators, and femme fatales, and other disreputable denizens of the mythical Sin City.

Still from Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It doesn’t do anything new or better to distinguish itself from its Certified Weird predecessor; not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, entertainment wise, but the original represents the Sin City franchise on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies well enough.

COMMENTS: First, the good (or bad) news: this 2014 followup does such a good job recreating the look and feel of the surprise 2005 hit, right down to renovating the rapidly aging faces of Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis to the point where they’re indistinguishable from their decade-younger selves, that you could edit the stories from A Dame to Kill For into the original Sin City and never notice the difference. The tangled timeline—some of the stories here take place before any of the events in the first movie, while others are roughly contemporaneous with it—helps with that sense that Dame is not so much a sequel (or prequel) as it is an organic extension of the original, almost as if we were viewing deleted scenes. Returning from the first film is Rourke’s Marv, that slab of grizzled muscle with a vertical nose and a horizontal chin, who unites the stories and plays a supporting role in two out of three tales; Willis’ romantic cop Hartigan, in what is basically a cameo; and Jessica Alba’s diva stripper Nancy, now an alcoholic wreck. Josh Brolin tackles a younger (yet somehow more bitter and jaded) version of the role played by Clive Owen in the original, while Powers Boothe’s corrupt politico has a greatly expanded part as the new principal antagonist for two of the three characters. There are numerous callbacks to the previous films (e.g., a portrait of Nick Stahl’s Yellow Bastard on his fathers’ wall) and origin stories (we learn how Manute got his stylish gold eye). The real stars here are the new characters, though: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny, a gambler with a golden touch whose boyish looks are a welcome contrast to the craggy male miens that otherwise populate the city, and especially Eva Green’s seductress Ava. Green is frequently nude—in fact, her first appearance naked, on a diving board in front of a digital moon, is itself justification for the movie’s existence—but she is also the first female character in the Sin City universe who is a worthy adversary for a male. Her femme fatale performance is campy, but riveting, and with ruby red lips and turquoise eyes accentuating her classical black and white beauty, she’s a breathtaking update of the archetype. The digital cinematography is as crisp and beautiful as the original film: the whites of characters’ eyes sometimes appear to glow, as does their spurting blood, and there are wonderfully evocative effects like tendrils of steam that hang in midair without dissipating. There are scattered weird visual touches, the most impressive of which is a giant poker hand (you’ll know it when you see it). Overall, fans who loved their first visit should find plenty of reason to go slumming again in this City, while those who had their misgivings about the trip may find themselves depressed by the burg’s seedier aspects, now that it’s really showing its age.

Given that the new Sin City is pretty much of a piece with its predecessor, its lackluster performance with critics and box office patrons requires explanation. The core fanbase seems appeased, based on a decent 7.2 IMDB rating, so we assume that the movie failed to put casual fans’ butts in theater seats. The lesson is that nine years between installments is not exactly striking while the iron is hot, no matter how faithful to the original you make the followup.  On the critical side, Dame bashing may be partly a chance to reappraise the original, which caught reviewers by surprise with its technique. (Nathan Rabin candidly takes this tack in his review for The Dissolve). In 2005 nothing else quite leapt off the screen the way Sin City did, and the glowing visuals, star power and cinematic energy caught critics by surprise and allowed them to overlook the film’s many flaws: its painful faux-Chandler dialogue, pornographic brutality, and adolescent understanding of both masculinity and femininity. Since the visuals are no longer original, today’s reviewers appear to be looking past the screen’s gilded surface and letting their misgivings about the movie’s lack of any worldview beyond appreciation of the awesomeness of violence dictate their opinions.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…it was easy to imagine that A Dame to Kill For would try to one-up the original, to push the envelope of perversity in some fresh and jarring (if likely unsuccessful) way. Instead, Rodriguez and Miller have erred in the opposite direction, offering up a movie that feels timid, half-hearted, eager to play it safe. The former path might have been a mistake. This one feels almost like a betrayal.”–Christopher Orr, The Atlantic (contemporaneous)

 

171. SIN CITY (2005)

“It’s pretty damn weird to eat people.”–Marv, Sin City

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: , , (“special guest director”)

FEATURING: , , , , Nick Stahl, Jaime King, , , , Brittany Murphy,

PLOT: The movie tells three stories (with some common characters) set in the mythical Basin City: in one, a police detective risks his life to stop a child-killer. In a second, a brutal, mentally ill criminal hunts down the men he believes killed the only woman who ever showed kindness to him. A final strand tells of a suave assassin who attempts to prevent someone else’s accidental killing from turning into an all-out war between the cops, the mafia, and the self-governing prostitutes of Old Town.

Still from Sin City (2005)
BACKGROUND:

  • A fan of Frank Miller’s original series of Sin City comics, Robert Rodriguez wanted to make the movie as true to the book as possible: “a translation, not an adaptation.” The actual comics were used as the storyboards. The stories selected were “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill,” and “That Yellow Bastard” as well as the short “The Customer is Always Right.”
  • Rodriguez shot the opening segment, “The Customer is Always Right,” in one day as a proof-of-concept to convince Miller that he could do justice to the art style. He then used that clip to convince actors such as Bruce Willis and Benicio Del Toro to sign on to the project.
  • Rodriguez insisted that Miller receive a co-director credit on the film, but the Directors Guild of America objected to the credit (they do not allow co-directing). He then decided to give Miller full credit, but Miller refused. Rodriguez then resigned from the Guild so the co-directing credit could remain.
  • Quentin Tarantino directed a single scene in the movie (a segment from “The Big Fat Kill” involving a conversation between the severed head of Del Toro’s “Jackie-Boy” and Clive Owen’s “Dwight”). Tarantino directed for a salary of $1 as a way to repay Rodriguez for composing music for Kill Bill: Vol. 2 for $1.
  • The movie was entirely shot on Rodriguez’s “digital backlot” (green screen studio) near his home in Austin, Texas.
  • Sin City screened in competition at Cannes and won the Technical Grand Prize.
  • Plans for a sequel (based on Miller’s “A Dame to Kill For“) were announced immediately after the film was completed; the followup feature was delayed until 2014, however.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: From the very first frame—a woman in a blood-red backless cocktail dress on a balcony staring out over a steel-grey city—Sin City‘s pulp Expressionism is consistently startling and poetic. Since we’re fascinated by the weird, we’ll select the first sight of the Yellow Bastard, the bald, satellite dish-eared pedophile killer dyed the color of French’s mustard, as our unforgettable take-home image from the movie.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A marriage between the mythologies of film noir and violent comics, Sin City‘s bloody tales are set in an abstract urban hellscape inhabited by invulnerable tough guys and rough sexy dames. They play like the lost works of Raymond Chandler’s alternate universe grandson, written to scrape up a few bucks for a bottle of booze while he was down and out in Gotham City. With a cast of cannibal serial killers, jaundiced pedophiles and ninja hookers, the adventures of the hard-boiled demigods of Sin City are as fantastical as its random splotches of color in a monochrome landscape are visually unreal.


Original trailer for Sin City

COMMENTS: Sin City earns its “recommended” label almost solely on the basis of its visuals (bolstered by some finely weird touches), and not for its Continue reading 171. SIN CITY (2005)

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

Historians, film buffs, and Disney fanatics all cite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as the first animated feature. While it is the first animated feature as we Americans tend to think of animation, actually that “first” honor goes to a little known, innovative oddity from eleven years earlier. The Adventures Of Prince Achmed (1926) is a labor of love from the pioneering female German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger and her husband, Carl Koch.

What makes Achmed still unique 88 years later is animation entirely composed of cutout silhouettes. The result  was one of the silent era’s most enchanting and captivating films. It is also a lucid reminder that the medium of film was at its most innovative in its infancy, before the rules were set and the mediums defined.

Reiniger lucked into a patron for her artistic efforts: Louis Hagen supplied her with enough film stock and financing to proceed with her project. Using scissors and black construction paper as her primary tools, Reiniger spent three years meticulously working in an attic on Achmed with a small crew that included her husband/cinematographer, Koch.

Influenced in part by Georges Méliès and Arabian Nights, Reiniger created a world of sensuous, exquisitely detailed beauty. The film has an almost surprisingly coherent and linear narrative, given that Reiniger was embraced by the European avant-garde. Unfortunately, the director had difficulty booking Achmed, and with the exception of Dr. Doolittle And His Animals (1928), the rest of her career was relegated to short films. There was work on a third feature, to be based on Maurice Ravel’s enchanting opera, “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges”; unfortunately, rights to the music could not be secured and the film was abandoned. The Adventures Of Prince Achmed is the only one of Reiniger’s films to date that has seen a home video release. Some of her shorts occasionally appear on television, but often in truncated versions. One such example is Doolittle, which has aired with added (and intrusive) voice over narration, coupled with woefully inadequate projection speeds. Fortunately, YouTube has been more respectful. The Star of Bethlehem (1921), Cinderella (1922), The Adventures of Prince AchmedPapageno (from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”) (1935), The Magic Horse (1953), and Jack and The Beanstalk (1955) along with a short documentary of her work can all be found there. The documentary shows her storyboarding techniques and the almost rapid-fired speed at which she crafted her baroque figures.

Still from The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)There is a noticeable gap of activity in Reiniger’s filmography from 1938 to the early 1950s. With the rise of Fascism, Reiniger and Koch struggled to flee Germany. Although not Jewish, politically they leaned left, which marked them as subversives. Jean Renoir was among those who aided the couple, but they lived in abject poverty until finally being able to settle in England in 1949. Despite the initial financial failure of Achmed, Reiniger and Koch were respected in film circles and were able to be relatively prolific.

Achmed is of its time in its portrayal of the good guys as completely good, bad guys as completely bad, and the pretty girl as in need of saving (Reiniger’s later films frequently had biblical, Victorian, fairy tale, and operatic themes). Still, it’s put over so beautifully, even the most hardened cynics will hardly care. The color tinting renders the film a phantasmagoric smorgasbord of gemstones. Achmed is awash in emeralds, sapphires, rubies, garnets, aquamarines, amethyst, topaz, citrine, tanzanite, and fire opal.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed weaves interrelated narratives involving our protagonist, his princess sister, their Caliph father, an erotic heroine (who Achmed voyeuristically spies on while she is bathing), a flying horse, a malevolent shape shifting African magician, the Witch of the Fiery Mountain, dancing harlequins, sphinxes, terrifying demons, Aladdin, and the genie of the magic lamp. Locales include an exotic island, a majestic palace, Peru, and China.

Reiniger was  master of her medium and an innovator. Every step through her unique world is an enchanting one.

157. NOSFERATU (1922)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens; Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror

“It is commonplace to say that silent films are more ‘dreamlike,’ but what does that mean? In ‘Nosferatu,’ it means that the characters are confronted with alarming images and denied the freedom to talk them away.”–Roger Ebert

Must See

DIRECTED BY: F.W. Murnau

FEATURING: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach

PLOT: A young clerk named Hutter leaves his wife Ellen to travel to Transylvania with a deed for one Count Orlock to sign so he can purchase a house in Viborg. Orlock, however, is nosferatu, a vampire, and Hutter find himself a prisoner in the Count’s castle as Orlock ships himself to the German port in a coffin. When Orlock arrives the town is shut down for fear of plague, and the vampire takes an interest in Ellen…

Still from Nosferatu (1922)

BACKGROUND:

  • F.W. Murnau’s first seven films, made between 1919 and 1921, are all considered lost. Among them was an adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Nosferatu was his tenth movie.
  • Albin Grau, Nosferatu‘s co-producer, financier and production designer, was an occultist and a German rival of . His production company Prana intended to produce films promoting occultist beliefs, but the company went bankrupt after Nosferatu.
  • Nosferatu is an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” barely disguised by changing the names and moving the action from London to Germany. The Stoker estate successfully sued the filmmakers for copyright infringement after release, and the film was ordered to be destroyed (fortunately, many prints survived).
  • Ranked #21 on Empire Magazine’s List of Best Films of World Cinema.
  • ‘s 2000 film Shadow of a Vampire is about the making of Nosferatu, and plays on the notion that the actor Max Schreck might really have been a vampire (an idea fleshed out from a tongue-in-cheek suggestion made by the writer Ado Kyrou in his book “Surrealism in Cinema”).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: What else could it be but Max Schreck, the rat-faced herald of plague and pestilence and the screen’s most bestial bloodsucker? The scene where he rises unnaturally, stiff as a plank, from his coffin in the ship’s hold still presses the primal panic button.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The experimental use of negative images, sped up film stock, primitive stop motion photography, and the play of shadows to suggest a diabolical world coexisting with our mundane sunlit world creates an uncanny, nightmarish universe. The once new and startling techniques Murnau employs quickly became commonplace, but after nearly a century of disuse they have again become novel through their very archaism.


Trailer for a 2013 re-release of Nosferatu

COMMENTS: At the dawn of cinema, horror movies weren’t diversions meant to give teenage boys an excuse to put a comforting arm around their Continue reading 157. NOSFERATU (1922)

RAT PFINK A BOO BOO (1966)

You do not need to consult your doctor: the sound of your jaw hitting the floor while watching Ray Dennis Steckler’s Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (1966) is perfectly natural. Even the title’s origin is enough to numb you, from head to toe, in disbelief. The original title was supposed to be Rat Fink and Boo Boo, but in the editing Fink was misspelled Pfink and somehow the ND from AND was left out. With a threadbare budget the producers could not afford to change it, and the misspelled title stuck.

Director Ray Dennis Steckler claimed that the film was shot on a $20.00 budget and that he made it because of his love for the (dreadful) serial, Batman and Robin (1949). I believe him. Remarkably, this was Steckler’s sixth film. His first was Wild Guitar (1964), which became something of a cult hit despite starring would-be teen idol Arch Hall Jr. (who was cast because daddy produced). For years, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) was thought to be more legend than actual film. Sinister Cinema dug up a print and released it, I think, before anyone else did. There went the legend. Unfortunately, it’s a dull unimaginative affair about a psycho, with nary a zombie in sight. The Thrill Killers (1964) starred Steckler himself under his pseudonym Cash Flagg (chosen because he made his checks out to cash!) Again, Steckler seemed to put more effort into a name than he did he actual plot. Steckler was Cash again, this time doing a second-rate imitation of the second-rate Bowery Boy Huntz Hall in The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965).  Steckler claimed that he made the film as a kind of fan’s valentine to Hall. One must give him some kind of credit for authentic obsession and affection, even if the finished product was nothing more than a series of loosely assembled shorts, with Cash pitted against the Green Grasshopper and The Vampire Lady From Outer Space.

A crazy title is no guarantee of an entertaining flick, but Rat Pfink A Boo Boo obtained its odd moniker unintentionally and, for once, the sheer lunacy of the movie matches the name. Lonnie Lord is a multi million selling rock singer who likes to ply his trade on the street corners (it probably goes down easier if you don’t ask). His girlfriend Cee Bee (Steckler’s wife Carolyn Brandt) is terrorized by the Chain Gang thugs. (Steckler seemed to get a thrill watching Brandt terrorized, because even after the two divorced he continued hiring her to play a perpetual victim).

Still from Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)Midway through, the film switches gear and becomes a comedy with our heroes finally appearing as the title characters. Throwing on ski masks and long johns, they chase the Chain Gang through the neighbors’ backyards (Steckler must have put on a hell of a barbeque). The final, elongated chase scene takes place in the middle of a local Christmas parade, which Steckler and his ragtag team crashed. The cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake comes in the guise of a guy in a gorilla suit showing up for the finale.

Lack of money for a sound team necessitated all the dialogue being added in post-production. Predictably, it doesn’t always sync up and, upon hearing the dialogue, one might question their having gone to the trouble: “We have only one weakness: bullets. Let’s go fight crime.” The sound effects match the absurdity of the slipshod fight scenes. The weirdness level is even more off the meter since Steckler tinted the film, possibly as an homage to silent serials. Rat Pfink A Boo Boo is available in both black and white and the color tinted version, with a blue first half and orange second half. It actually makes the film stranger: impossible, but true.

In a “making of” interview Steckler tells us that if we knew what he and his team had gone through to make the film, we would watch it 100 times. I don’t know if I have enough time in this mortal coil to throw a 100 more weird movie parties, but I will take Steckler at his word and try to make room for Rat Pfink A Boo Boo during the next one.

LIST CANDIDATE: TUVALU (1999)

Tuvalu has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry. Comments on this post are closed.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Chulpan Khamatova, Terrence Gillespie, Philippe Clay, Catalina Murgea

PLOT: Can a picturesque but dilapidated Turkish bathhouse pass a government inspection, and can love between a poolboy and a female patron flourish after the girl’s father is killed when a piece of the crumbling ceiling falls on him?

Still from Tuvalu (1999)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Stylized to the T’s and set in a bleak world where crumbling Romanesque baths sit in fields of rubble, Tuvalu shows all the right cinematic influences and has the instinctual organic oddness necessary to be canonized in the halls of weirdness. In fact, it falls short of making the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies on the first ballot by as slim a margin as is possible. Visually, Tuvalu is a stunner; it only falls short of classic status due to a stiff storyline. While it’s hard to imagine 250 or so more impressive weird movies to make the list ahead of this one, we’re going to hold back for the moment and hold out hope we do locate them; if not, we expect Tuvalu will be back to take up the slack.

COMMENTS: Stylistically, Tuvalu takes its cue from the weird world of , in more ways than one. Director Veit Helmer challenges himself to tell the story with the minimum amount of dialogue possible; only names and very occasional words (“no!,” “technology!”) are spoken. Remarkably, from the context, the characters convey almost as much information to us just by saying each others’ names with the proper inflection, and the story is effectively told entirely on the visual level. The color scheme is 1920s monochrome, sepias for indoor scenes and steel gray for exteriors, with a brief explosion of color appearing in the rambunctious storybook hand-tinting of the fantasy scenes. There are ample references to , too, with certain sequences cranked-up Keystone Kops style, and put-upon poolboy Anton (craggy-faced Lavant) constantly scurrying about his family’s Turkish bath putting out fires started by the eccentric denizens of this timeless movie-caricature world. More recent Tuvaluan influences come from famed French fantasists (in the rapturously baroque Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: TUVALU (1999)