Radically Different Films, Part Two

Films that open the eyes to the possible are what interest me, not in a cold academic sense. These need to work on the larger storytelling level. Many cinematic experiments twist the visual and the audible but fail in the long run. Many complex layers work together in a good story, and a single visual gimmick is insufficient to carry the ball down field and score.

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That being said, part one talked about a number of delightful, groundbreaking movies. The works of Kubrick, Jeunet and Gondry were touched upon, barely. Those simply strike me as some of the all-time best films ever conceived, and you should watch every single one of them, at least twice.

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Continuing, I should mention Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. On the heels of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the world was nearly incinerated by the US and USSR over a little chess game in the Caribbean. Kubrick took this global shock and paranoia and exploited it in a twisted dark comedy, the likes of which the world had never seen before. Strangelove put the focus back on the perpetrators, the warmongers in the US particularly, who were far too eager to initiate WW3. With the idea that a single Air Force general had the power to attack the Russkies, the stage was set for Armageddon.

These posts may range all over the place. No two films are going to be all that comparable, and the idea is to take note of radically exceptional techniques and plots.

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Animated films have advanced far beyond the children’s tales of Walt Disney, and in the 1970s they were targeted directly at adults. Films like Fritz the Cat, Dirty Duck, American Pop & Heavy Metal opened up a world of possibilities that would inspire generations to come. Hayao Miyazaki created lavish worlds and brought legends to life. Films like Spirited Away and The Cat Returns dazzled and challenged children of all ages.

Waking Life was a landmark film that combined digital animation and live action video in a way no one had seen before. Unfortunately the story could not hold up to the promise of the new technique. Director Richard Linklater would return 5 years later with a Philip K. Dick story, using the same live/animated technique, and present a mind-melting take on drugs, and the “war on drugs,” unlike anything ever before seen.

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A Scanner Darkly shows a world that is very much like a drug experience. The shifting, pulsing imagery uses animation to create a hypnotic experience. An undercover narcotics officer wears a suit to maintain his anonymity, and the suit shifts and transmogrifies constantly. The storyline blurs the line between cop and criminal, narc and addict. Perception and its altered state are intrinsic parts of the story world.

Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam is legendary, known for his radically twisted story worlds. Case in point is the Hunter S. Thompson mind mash Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While the film also sought to bring the experience of an extreme drug trip to audiences, Gilliam’s bag of tricks is not limited to substance abuse. Brazil gave us a dreamy, confused take on fascism and life in a totalitarian police state. Twelve Monkeys hammered together time travel with an end of the world, laboratory concocted pandemic. Gilliam’s upcoming Zero Theorem seems right in his comfort zone, a discomforting place indeed.

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I’ll end this installment with a mention of David Lynch, who has been hit and miss. Lynch is a wildcard, and one of the oddest Americans around. My favorite Lynch film is Mulholland Drive, a 2001 brain blast that would be quite difficult to explain, particularly in a single paragraph.

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In Mulholland Drive we swiftly find ourselves in a dream world. Only, the identity of the dreamer is in question. Is it Naomi Watts’ character? Laura Harring’s character? Or, more likely, is it the director himself, Lynch? We come to these realizations, perhaps, because the identities of the characters fluidly morph from scene to scene. A cynic might just write it off as incomprehensible, but the direct assault on conventional storytelling is fascinating for its own sake. With desperate, yet confused, situations, we sit spellbound and contemplating what the hell it all was intended to mean.

…And what the hell was Lynch smoking?

Fret not, there are a world of masterful manipulators of moving images to continue the series. Unmentioned so far: David Cronenberg


Coming soon:

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3 thoughts on “Radically Different Films, Part Two

  1. This is very interesting. Truly an engaging article. Perhaps have a look at my latest review? Different to what you’re used too but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the read.

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