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48. INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

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“My response to viewers who are puzzled by the plots is, I don’t think you’re so puzzled as you may think.  We all have a certain amount of intuition, and that is something that can be trusted and should be trusted… And so when you see something that’s abstract in a film, and you seem to be getting lost, the thing to do is to start talking to your friends, and they’ll say something and you’ll find yourself disagreeing with that, and realize that you really had formed opinions, and you had a scenario that made sense in your mind, and that’s valid.  We know more than we think.”—direct advice from David Lynch on understanding his films

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Laura Dern

PLOT: INLAND EMPIRE shifts around on a dozen tectonic plates of varying levels of surreality, but the unstable base layer involves Laura Dern as actress Nikki Grace cast in a melodrama based on an unproduced Polish screenplay which was abandoned as cursed after its two leads were murdered.  As she acts out the adulterous scenario, Grace becomes confused, coming to believe at times that she is the character in the screenplay.  After consummating a relationship with her handsome co-star, that reality slips away and Dern is seen playing several different characters, wandering around in a series of loosely interconnected sketches that involve (among other stories) an abused woman confessing her hatred of men to a psychiatrist, the lives of a gaggle of lip-syncing prostitutes, infidelity dramas, and a sobbing woman watching a room full of bunnies in an absurdist television sitcom.

Still from Inland Empire (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film began as a series of individual short films shot on digital video, as Lynch was exploring the new format.  After Laura Dern suggested working on a project with the director, Lynch later noticed recurring themes in the shorts he was shooting, and decided to put them together into a feature film.
  • In his announcement for the movie and in interviews afterward, Lynch has said that he is done shooting on film and will work exclusively with digital video from now on, citing the greater freedom afforded by the format and going so far as to say that the idea of going back to film makes him feel “sick and weak.”
  • Lynch reported that he wrote the film scene by scene, working without a finished script and trusting that connections would appear.
  • The footage of the rabbits is recycled from a series of short films called “Rabbits” that was exclusively screened on davidlynch.com.
  • Lynch has said he decided to title the movie INLAND EMPIRE after hearing Dern say that her husband hailed from that Southern California enclave, simply because he liked the sound of the words.
  • Lynch invested his own money to get the film made.  He also distributed the film himself, thus facing no pressure to make cuts to the finished product.
  • David Lynch himself sings on the soundtrack.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The nattily-dressed, stiff and deliberately posed bunny-people from the series of short “Rabbit” films, who were so evocative that Lynch decided to give them a new home in INLAND EMPIRE.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDINLAND EMPIRE is David Lynch at his most deliberately

Trailer for INLAND EMPIRE

unhinged, experimenting with how far he can stray from linear narrative while still producing a work that feels thematically whole, searching for the minimum number of recurring images and themes needed to stitch a piece together so that it tantalizingly approaches coherence without ever actually resolving.

COMMENTSINLAND EMPIRE is a frustrating movie, or, more charitably put, a Continue reading 48. INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)

“I only include things that are psychologically true in my stories, no matter how bizarre, stupid, silly or gratuitous the episodes in them may seem… I can only hope that the spectacle of me trying to inflict pain on hard-to-reach places on my own body is amusing to some people.”–Guy Maddin

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DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Melissa Dionisio,

PLOT: Amateur hockey player Guy Maddin falls in love with the proprietor’s daughter when he takes his current girlfriend to a hair salon/brothel for an abortion. The daughter, Meta, will not give herself to a man until her father’s death at the hands of her mother is avenged. To accomplish this, she wants to transplant her dead father’s hands onto Guy, so that it will be her father’s hands that strangle her mother.

Still from Cowards Bend the Knee (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Commissioned by the Power Plant Art Gallery of Toronto.
  • On its debut at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, viewers watched the ten chapters of Cowards Bend the Knee through ten peepholes in a wall. Spectators had to kneel to put the peepholes at eye level.
  • Maddin issued a companion book to Cowards Bend the Knee (now a collector’s item) containing an expanded screenplay of the film and an interview with Maddin where he discusses Coward‘s autobiographical elements and gives his personal interpretations of the film.
  • Autobiographical elements abound in Cowards Bend the Knee. Maddin’s real life Aunt Lil owned a beauty parlor similar to the one that appears in the film. Maddin’s father coached the Winnipeg Maroons, a pre-NHL professional hockey team; the actual Allan Cup championship ring his father won appears in the film.
  • Maddin’s mother, Herdis, a non-actress, played Meta’s grandmother in the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: As Veronica lies on the operating table undergoing a clandestine abortion, the blood streaming between her legs forms itself into a Canadian maple leaf.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cowards features Maddin’s trademark in-your-face style (a mix of silent film artifacts and glitchy hypermodern editing); crazed, dreamlike narrative (incorporating hockey matches, beauty salons, murder, infidelity, ghosts, and a hand transplant); and a wildly veering, yet somehow coherent tone that moves from melodrama to slapstick to absurdist vintage pornography to Greek tragedy in the space of a few frames. If that’s not enough, there’s the fact that the entire story is observed by a scientist, who witnesses it being played out while looking through a microscope at a dab of semen on a slide. Weird enough for you?

[wposflv src=http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Cowards-Bend-the-Knee.flv width=480 height=360 previewimage=http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/cowards-bend-the-knee-still.jpg title=”Cowards Bend the Knee clip”]
Clip from Cowards Bend the Knee

COMMENTS: Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee is a dream, and like all dreams it is at the Continue reading 39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)

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

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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)

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

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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)

18. NAKED LUNCH (1991)

“It’s impossible to make a movie out of ‘Naked Lunch.’ A literal translation just wouldn’t work. It would cost $400 million to make and would be banned in every country of the world.” –David Cronenberg

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DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING:  Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Julian Sands

PLOT:  Bill Lee is a writer/exterminator in New York City whose wife begins mainlining the bug powder he uses to kill roaches, and convinces him to try it as well. He becomes addicted to the powder, and one night shoots his wife dead while playing “William Tell.” Lee goes on the lam and lands in Interzone, an exotic free zone reminiscent of Tangier or Casablanca (but which may exist only in his mind), where he begins taking ever more powerful drugs and typing out “reports” partially dictated to him by his living, insectoid typewriter.

Naked Lunch (1991) still

BACKGROUND:

  • William S. Burroughs’s original novel Naked Lunch was selected as one of the 100 best English language novels written after 1923 by Time magazine.
  • The novel was held not to be obscene by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1966. This was the final obscenity prosecution of a literary work in the United States; there would be no subsequent censorship of the written word (standing alone).
  • Several directors had considered filming the novel before David Cronenberg got the project. Avant-garde director Anthony Balch wanted to adapt it as a musical (with Burroughs’s blessing), and actually got as far as storyboarding the project and getting a commitment from Mick Jagger (who later backed out) to star. Among others briefly interested in adapting the novel in some form were Terry Southern, John Huston, Frank Zappa, and Terry Gilliam.
  • Because the novel was essentially a plotless series of hallucinatory vignettes (what Burroughs called “routines’), David Cronenberg chose to make the movie a thinly veiled tale about Burroughs’s writing of the novel, incorporating only a few of the actual characters and incidents from the book. Actors in the film portray real-life writers and Burroughs associates Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul and Jane Bowles.
  • The episode in the film where Lee accidentally shoots his wife while performing the “William Tell routine” is taken from Burroughs real life: he actually shot his common law wife while performing a similar trick in a Mexican bar. Burroughs felt tremendous guilt through his life for the accident and has said “I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death.”
  • Naked Lunch won seven awards at the Genie Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Movie and Best Director.
  • Producer Jeremy Thomas has somewhat specialized in bringing weird and unusual fare to the largest possible audience, producing not only Naked Lunch but also Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) and Tideland (2005).
  • Following a definite theme for the year, Judy Davis also played an author’s muse and lover in another surrealistic 1991 movie about a tortured writer, Barton Fink.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Clark Nova, Lee’s territorial, talking typewriter, who alternately guides and torments the writer. He’s a beetle who has somehow evolved a QWERTY keyboard as an organ. When he speaks, he lifts his wings to reveal a sphincter through which he dictates his directives.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It begins with an exterminator who does his rounds wearing a three piece suit and fedora. His philosophy is to “exterminate all rational thought.” His wife steals his insecticide and injects it into her breast to get high, and gets him hooked on the bug power, too. A pair of cops question him on suspicion of possessing dangerous narcotics, and leave him alone in the interrogation room with a huge talking “caseworker” bug who explains that his wife is an agent of Interzone, Incorporated, and is not even human. And this is just the setup, before the film turns really weird.


Original trailer for Naked Lunch

COMMENTS:  Make no mistake: Naked Lunch is clearly David Cronenberg’s movie, not Continue reading 18. NAKED LUNCH (1991)

SHORT: THE HEART OF THE WORLD (2000)

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DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

PLOT: “State scientist” Anna studies “the heart of the world” and learns it is in desperate shape, all while trying to chose between suitors: brothers Osip (a mortician) and Nicolai (an actor playing Christ in a passion play), along with “dark horse” industrialist Akmatov.

the_heart_of_the_world

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Maddin pulls out all the stops in this dreamlike, hyperkinetic tribute to silent films (especially Soviet Constructivist films such as Aelita, Queen of Mars).

COMMENTS:  This six minute minor masterpiece was produced for the Toronto International Film Festival in 2000, where it became an immediate sensation and the hit of the festival.  An incredible technical achievement, the film resurrects simple camera tricks such as multiple exposures, creative use of intertitles, expressionist shadows, and blaring lighting that creates auras or halos around the actors, techniques which were largely forgotten or abandoned when films moved from black and white to color.  Add angular 1920s costumes and sets inspired by Metropolis and Aelita, a propulsive, minimalist theme from Soviet composer Georgi Sviridov, and a blazing fast editing style (it is said that the film averages two shots per second), and you have a film that is packed full of pure cinematic images, almost exhausting to watch, yet all too brief.

There is not time to develop much plot in this fabulous sprint.  The Heart of the World is more an exhibition of virtuoso visual technique than a narrative film.  Although the overwhelming emphasis is on visual style, Maddin does include boldly drawn, archetypal characters to help guide the viewer to the film’s triumphant end.  Their presence begs an allegorical interpretation of the film, although I’m not sure anything coherent can be formulated.  Osip the mortician seems to represent the body, and he is blatantly associated with sexuality (he’s seen dragging a knife across a naked woman’s torso, then later builds a phallic cannon to try to impress Anna).  Nikolai represents the spirit (again rather obviously: the chap dresses like Jesus at the crucifixion).  Anna must chose between the body and the spirit, though its not clear why.  And it’s also not clear what Anna may represent: she begins as a scientist, and ends, presumably, as a self-sacrificing artist.  And why does Akmatov, the capitalist antagonist, suddenly appear to seduce Anna away from the other two with money?  And what does all of this have to do with saving the heart of the world, anyway?

In the end, all that’s clear is this: Maddin has taken the style of a Soviet propaganda film, and turned it into propaganda for the art of cinema.

The Heart of the World is available on the DVD, “The Guy Maddin Collection” (buy), along with the feature films Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Archangel.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an experiment oozing with creativity, layered in a knowledge of cinematic theory, history, and artistry.” –S. James Snyder, The New York Sun

7. EL TOPO (1970)

AKA The Mole (literal translation)

“Q: You’re creating this story right now.

A: Yes, this very moment. It may not be true, but it’s beautiful.”–Alejandro Jodorowsky in “Conversations with Jodorowsky”

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alejandro Jodorowsky

PLOT: El Topo, a figure dressed in black and carrying his nude son on horseback behind him, uses his supernatural shooting ability to free a town from the rule of a sadistic Colonel.  He then abandons his son for the Colonel’s Woman, who convinces him to ride deep into the desert to face off against four mystical gunfighters.  All of the gunfighters die, but El Topo is betrayed, shot, and dragged into a cave by a society of deformed people, who ask the outlaw turned pacifist to help them build a tunnel so they can escape to a dusty western town run by degenerate religious fascists.

el-topo

BACKGROUND:

  • El Topo is considered to be the first “midnight movie,” the first movie to be screened in theaters almost exclusively after 12 AM.  Although the heyday of the midnight movie has past, it was a clever marketing gimmick that stressed the unusual nature of the film and positioned El Topo as an event rather than just another flick.
  • El Topo was famously championed and promoted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
  • Due to an acrimonious dispute over ownership rights between Jodorowsky and Allen Klein, the film was withdrawn from circulation for 30 years, during which time it could only be seen on bootlegged VHS copies.  The scarcity of screenings vaulted El Topo‘s already powerful reputation into a legendary one.  Jodorowsky and Klein reconciled in 2004 and the film had a legal DVD release in 2005.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: El Topo is a continuous stream of unforgettable images; any frame chosen at random inflames the imagination.  My personal favorite is the lonsghot after El Topo kills third master gunfighter, where his body lies bleeding in his own watering hole while the rest of the landscape is littered with rabbit corpses.   The iconic image, however, is  El Topo riding off on horseback with a naked child sitting behind him, holding a black umbrella over his head.  This image is particularly representative because it shows not only Jodorowsky’s gift for composition, but his penchant for shamelessly borrowing from other sources of inspiration: the concept is pinched from the most surreal moment of Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In the first scene, a man clad in black carrying an umbrella rides through an endless desert waste. Behind him in the saddle is a male child, naked except for a cowboy hat. The man stops his horse by a lonely hitching post in the sand, ties the umbrella to the post, and hands the boy a teddy bear and a locket and a photograph. The man says, “Today you are seven years old. You are a man. Bury your first toy and your mother’s picture.” He pulls out a flute and plays while the naked child follows his instructions. What makes El Topo weird is that this is the most normal and comprehensible thing that happens the film.

Trailer for El Topo

COMMENTS: In Judges 14, Samson (the Hebrew version of Hercules) is attacked by a Continue reading 7. EL TOPO (1970)