Tag Archives: Weirdest!

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)