Tag Archives: Weirdest!

366 UNDERGROUND: THE ABSENCE OF MILK IN THE MOUTHS OF THE LOST (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Case Esparros

FEATURING: , Gary Wilson

PLOT: A mysterious milkman helps a grieving mother deal with the loss of her child.

Still from absence of milk in the mouths of the lost (2023)

COMMENTS: I could give The Absence of Mil k in the Mouths of the Lost a “” tag, because the average viewer will immediately want to flee during the opening scene of a cow giving birth in real time. But, if you are reading this, chances are you are not the average viewer. Instead, I’ll just remind you that when you brave Milk, you are venturing into the strange and treacherous world of microbudget DIY surrealism—so calibrate your expectations accordingly.

A milkman (when exactly is this supposed to be set?) delivers glass bottles to a house where a young woman bathes in filthy black liquid with a blank expression; she doesn’t answer the bell when he rings. The milkman lives in a dingy basement decorated with pictures of missing children cut out from milk cartons—and a breast hanging on his wall that drips white liquid into a bowl. Meanwhile, in an alternate plane of reality, mute, cigar-smoking, boxer-wearing devils covered head-to-toe in white greasepaint plot mischief against a trio of masked children. The milkman has buzzy schizophrenic hallucinations where he sees a masked woman knitting and delivering electronically altered monologues while walled in by -style “paint-on-the-film” moving canvases. A few dramatic sequences, and much moping about the dilapidated house, advance the woman’s story, until she and the milkman finally meet for an exposition dump to tie (some of) the plot strands together. The children find it almost shockingly easy to best the middle-aged demons that beset them.

Milk clearly suffers from its low budget. The visuals often display thrift-store ingenuity, but the sound can be a serious issue: many sections were filmed without any, and there are several moments when what might be meaningful dialogue is muffled. At other times, the dialogue is both nearly inaudible and digitally altered. It’s needlessly frustrating. It’s also a pity that so much of the middle of the film has such poor sound quality, when in the opening and closing, where Esparos’ musician friends contribute songs (including a deranged cover of the gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away”), the sound mix is crucial and well-executed.

There’s a difference between having a lot of creativity on display and everything clicking. If you can focus on the former, Milk has a lot to offer. Some of the imagery is arresting: the cigar-smoking demons are as brilliantly conceived as they are easily achieved, and sequences like the woman who pierces her milk-bag bra (!) with a knife are hard to forget. And although some of the imagery is shocking, its always purposeful and empathetic. The movie has a good heart. It helps to love cows.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DEATH POWDER (1986)

Desu Pawuka

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Shigeru Izumiya

FEATURING: Takichi Inukai, Rikako Murakami, Shigeru Izumiya, Mari Natsuki, Kiyoshirô Imawano

PLOT: In a robot’s dying moments, it spews out a mysterious dust that bounty hunter Kiyoshi inhales, causing his body to undergo drastic physical changes and sending him on a terrifying mental journey.

Still from Death Powder (1986)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Death Powder manages to stretch out a visual bouillabaisse to an hour, cramming into a short block of time all of the trippy imagery and body horror that anyone could want. It may be considered a forebear to the “New Flesh” genre, but it easily stands on its own merits as a twisted piece of cinema.

COMMENTS: There are a lot of things a movie can do to catch our attention here, but one surefire way to get us to consider a film for the List is to dispense with the niceties of filmmaking—e.g. discernible plot, delineated characters, visual clarity—but pay them just enough lip service to let the viewer know that they’re going out the window. The first 20 minutes of Death Powder deftly accomplish this, teasing out a proto-neo-Tokyo in which leather-clad, fedora-wearing private contractors chase down robots in a city drenched in neon and rain, like a stepping stone between Blade Runner and Akira. Until Kiyoshi’s hand falls off, that is, at which point Death Powder becomes something very different indeed.

Once he is infected with the titular substance, Kiyoshi can see all, including the impending arrival of the strangely defaced mafia called the Scar People that employs him. He also flashes back to a sort of origin story, a jarring and hilarious jump to what is essentially a rock-star/scientist’s product launch. There’s an immediate change in tone as the robot’s inventor comes leaping in wailing on an electric guitar while the robot—bearing the ominous name “Guernica”—smiles and delivers her personal stats. Kiyoshi also undergoes physical changes, like a grotesquely misshapen face, as well as the sudden ability to punch a man in the face so hard that his head explodes.

Death Powder brings to mind the Greg Bear story Blood Music, in which a man injects himself with self-aware nanoprobes and unwittingly instigates a global biological singularity, as much as it does 1980s Japanese cyberpunk. Guernica speaks to Kiyoshi in his head, making it clear that she intends to propagate herself, and that this is just the beginning. Sure enough, when a group of hitmen arrive, artsy images of maggoty innards and liquid-drenched monster masks convey their demise. It’s not hard to imagine that all of Tokyo will soon join them in an enormous writhing blob.

The copy of Death Powder that I watched (twice, in an effort to make sense of the thing) was dark and muddy, but having seen other clips and stills from the production, I think that’s how it’s meant to be. The film looks like it’s been shot equally on film and video; the good Dr. Loo’s infomercial features classic video toaster effects, and a fight scene includes a character kicking an inset box. But the lo-fi elements only end up adding to the film’s charm. There’s something tight and compact about Izuyima’s vision, how readily he conveys a physiological disaster brought about by technological hubris. This is a movie with the wisdom to get in, confuse and horrify, and get out in a tight hour, with a jaunty saloon singalong to send you on your freaked-out way.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a bizarre and barely comprehensible one-hour short… surreal to the point of madness… ” – James Belmont, AnOther Magazine

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

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)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEEP ASTRONOMY AND THE ROMANTIC SCIENCES (2022)

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RecommendedWeirdest!

Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences can be watched for free courtesy of the Red Planet Planning Commission.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Rudy DeJesus, Michi Muzyka, the voice of Meredith Adelaide, Cory McAbee

PLOT: Rudy sits down with a quiet woman drinking, who shares with him the history of the bar they’re in, and its relation to the “romantic sciences.”

COMMENTS: “Techno-Mysticism”. No, it’s not a musical genre where Industrial meets New Age; nor is it a term used at any time during the Deep Astronomy experience. This is a designation of my own making, which I put forward because it is accurate, succinct, and there’s no one to stop me. In this film, Cory McAbee has assembled some few dozen snippets of his live performances of… well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Boy, Rudy, meets girl, Grace, at a trendy bar, flawlessly executing that immortal opening line, “Hey, my buddies and I have a bet. Are you a robot?” Turns out she is, and she claims to know everything about him. Rudy and Grace proceed to have a conversation about reality, particularly the intersection of physical reality and artificial reality. This primarily takes the form of her discussing Cory McAbee: his origins, his professional trajectory, and his Techno-Mystical viewpoints.

From all examples on display (and there are many, culled from various performances over the years), McAbee is an awkwardly charming fellow, with novel views on humanity and existence. Taking his talks at face value—the performances hover between symposia and stand-up—he believes, among other things, in trans-dimensional sliding, eternal existence, and that his observations on transformation are best conveyed through song.  Humans are composed of the light they absorb, and are doomed to pass through this existence to become light spreading eternally. We are, he opines, creatures living in an increasingly artificial social and mental construct—and the only way is forward. He is also the inventor of “the Norman”, a the-last-person-Polka-ing-wins kind of dance floor body fight. Techno-Mysticism is all these things: our machines and constructs, and our greater relationship with the cosmos. And a heapful of silliness making the whole exercise enjoyable.

Grounding the movie audience, and in delightful contrast to McAbee’s nerdful enthusiasm, is Rudy DeJesus’ performance as the man in the bar talking to the robot in the bar. Rudy’s charm is easy-going, and always feels genuine; Grace, the robot (?), has her own charm (“Thank you for sitting with me, I like you”), and provides a third, artificially artificial perspective on the proceedings (these proceedings being both her conversation with Rudy, but also, to the best of my understanding, the current social-technological proceedings of the species). Deep Astronomy is blunderbuss cinema, divotting the audience with many styles—mumblecore romantic comedy, T.E.D. talk, stand-up, and advertisements—but as if one had attached a laser sight to the projectilator in question. McAbee has themes he explores. Over and over. And Deep Astronomy and The Romantic Sciences is an entertaining and thought-provoking means for him to distill his manifold musings.

El Rob Hubbard and Gregory J. Smalley interview Cory McAbee about Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences (among other topics)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I have no idea what to make of this film… [MaAbee]’s been making weird and innovative films and music videos for years now, not to mention several albums of equally strange songs, and a busy schedule of live performances… But even those who’ve followed his sui generis career will not have expected anything this far removed from everything else he has ever done.” — Mark Cole, Rivets on the Poster (contemporaneous)

366 UNDERGROUND: MOLKIPOLKI (2023)

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Weirdest!

Molkipolki can be watched for free courtesy of the author.

DIRECTED BY: Kyril Zach

FEATURING: Kyril Zach

PLOT: A man guides a series of unseen buyers through a house, with little luck.

COMMENTS: Kyril Zach does a number of things well in this odd little exercise, but his greatest coup is perhaps choosing such a versatile nonsense phrase. “Molkipolki” (featured prominently in Molkipolki) can, it seems, convey amusement, exposition, sadness, regret, flirtation, and frustration. The first actual words I recognized in this film came from the soundtrack, during the brief “Man I’m Horny” interlude. (This turns out to be a high point, as later we learn through a background song that “I Vomit When You Cook”, suggesting a deterioration in the relationship.) Emotions rise and fall throughout this… this…

This film takes place entirely in one home, which may be described as “Early-to-Late-20th-Century-Bourgeoisie-Fusion.” (Considering this residence is the property of either the director or a family member, I’ll abstain from further remarks on the matter.) Meet protagonist, selling this home. Or trying to. The opening act ends on a discouraging note, setting it up well for the eventual seduction—or something—in the second, which in turn primes the viewer for quiet melodrama in the third act. All this is done with one man, one house, one camera, and one word.

This man, Kyril Zach, is always interesting to watch. His gestures are articulated without being overblown, and camera positions suggest at least modest experience with the art of placing a recording box and pointing it. All the action is absurd, but with some “merely odd” touches dripped about to heighten the experience. (Nearly everything is mimed, but it tickled me to see the protagonist pretending empty-handedly to have a beverage while positioned right in front of a shelf filled with a variety of drinking vessels.) The setting, chosen I suspect because of access, is a chaotic mélange of tchotchkes and doo-dads curated over decades.

So for 45 minutes we hear “molkipolki” while watching this man miming amongst a mishmash—though the camera is tastefully diverted elsewhere when our hero gets lucky (if you take my meaning), showing instead a series of shots of decorative plates, wall vases, and a few taxidermy specimens. Points, certainly, for dedication: the only non-“molkipolki” uttered from his lips was an obliging “mmmmm!” shortly before the cooking-related stomach upset. The musical score (which can also be downloaded for free) veers between tin-plate angelic choir and gut-rumble novelty bluegrass, sometimes both together, creating a musical soundscape reminiscent of The Residents on their best behavior. And while the static camera work is largely functional, the sexy-time wall-shot sequence smacked so much of a Greenaway interlude, I can’t help but wonder…

This film came to us out of the blue from a singular-minded individual with something to say: “molkipolki.” And damned if he doesn’t say it, to considerable dramatic and comedic effect.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…am I having an acid flashback, or perhaps the first signs of a stroke?… I couldn’t make a single ounce of sense out of what I’d seen in the forty-five minutes of ‘Molkipolki’ – this could be THE most bizarre film I’ve ever seen in my entire LIFE.”–Jeremy Gladstone, IndyRed (contemporaneous)