Now that I have your attention, here are some of the most unusual films of all time. Trust me, I’m an expert. What has this got to do with the Pacific Ocean? Well, nothing.
Cannibal Holocaust is a documentary composed of footage shot by some American filmmakers in the Amazon jungles of Colombia in 1980. Unfortunately for them the locals were the Yanomami who are world famous for extreme hostility. Anthropologists have claimed that over half the men of this tribe die violent deaths.
Another group of adventurer-filmmakers, these from Italy, decided to go in search of the first party and they actually found the film footage with the last death scene still in the camera. Here the story gets so convoluted it looks like an explosion in a spaghetti factory. In essence they brought the footage back and spliced it crudely together along with some staged recreations of violence against animals and the slaughter of local people. It’s considered one of the, or even the first, snuff film. When it was shown in Italy the filmmaker was arrested and charged with multiple murders. The film, which amazingly you have not only never seen, but never even heard of, did very well and is said to have grossed up to $200 million though I think this number is a fabrication, like the film.
In fact, the whole thing was made up. There were no ‘first filmmakers’ and no murders. Before the film was released the actors who were ‘killed’ were made to sign an agreement to not be in any more films or show up in public for a year. They did show up though to get the filmmaker out of jail. Then they had to provided outtakes to prove that the murders were staged. In the end it was a rousing success.
No less bloody and every bit as weird is the career and films of Alejandro Jodorowsky. He is a Chilean-French filmmaker of Ukrainian-Jewish descent who made his films in Mexico. I saw El Topo at a midnight showing in 1970 when I was at UC Berkeley and we students thought it was the greatest film ever. Of course we were completely stoned and we were definitely the ‘cult’ in ‘cult following.’
Jodorowsky stars in the film; he also directed it and he wrote the music. I guess I hadn’t seen that many films at that age but the movie holds up pretty well. Jodorowsky’s masterwork is The Holy Mountain from 1973. I’ve seen it twice but I couldn’t possibly tell you what it’s about. Basically it’s a fever dream with a lot of gore and again Jodorowsky is fully in charge and this time his son and grandson are featured. Much of the cast and crew were on psychedelics during the filming. Hey, it was the times.
How such a project got funded is a wonder. Often a Hollywood ‘yes’ means ‘hell no’ but a ‘get-out-of-my-office-and-go-stab-yourself’ generally means just that. No one would possibly finance this monstrosity unless one ran into some rich crazy people and that’s just what happened. In 1973 the most famous off-beat couple in the world put up the money. The film had a healthy budget and the result is spectacular. Like Jodorowsky’s other films, hardly anyone saw it. These films appeal to a very narrow audience like most of the others mentioned here.
Terry Gilliam was the animator with Monty Python and had made several hit films including Brazil, The Time Bandits and 12 Monkeys when he released Tideland in 2005. It is so hard to watch this film that few people did and it grossed just $566,000 (and that’s those wimpy Canadian dollars as that’s just about the only place it was exhibited) against a $19 million (American) budget. The plot involves a ten-year old girl who accidentally overdoses her heroin-addicted father in a remote Canadian farmhouse. The father is played by Jeff Bridges and he spends the rest of eternity, or at least the rest of the film, sitting in a decomposing overstuffed chair wearing sunglasses and ripening like a hot banana in the blistering summer heat. His daughter continues to sit on his lap assuming he will wake up as he seemed to spend most of his life asleep previously.
Then the film takes a dark turn, if you can imagine such a thing is possible. I have only run into one other person who saw this and he is still shaken. I say, give it a whorl as you will be stunned that such a film got made. It is guaranteed to keep your attention. Funny, I’ve never heard Jeff talk about this film.
Gaspar Noé made Irréversible in 2002 and it is brilliantly made and horrifically rendered. It’s an ultra-violent take on the French criminal world. At first it’s entirely confusing making no sense whatsoever. About half way in I realized that the twenty or so scenes are presented in reverse. The viewer gradually finds out what’s going on and is hit with such extreme violence that it caused many theater goers to leave half way through in disgust. I was watching it at a friend’s house and one person did leave. The film has been heralded as “groundbreaking” and panned as “unredeemable.”
Noé has made several other films with his most provocative work entitled Love. The soundtrack and the opening titles alone make this one of my top five picks of all time. The film is edited with the scenes in random order. This works more effectively than you might imagine. The character of Murphy is pretty flat but his girlfriend switches for goddess to harridan in an instant. The film really gets at the wonderland of deep but complicated love, oh ,and it also it happens to include the most graphic sex ever depicted in a mainstream film. DO NOT put this on if mom is in the room…well, unless she’s game for it.
Let’s not forget Freaks. This 1932 gem was initially a failure but in the 1960s it gained a following and is now considered a classic of weirdness and compassion for people who have handicaps. Basically it involves a cast of circus freaks played by actual people of that description. Many years ago I became interested in the world of sideshows and carnivals so I visited the Florida town of Gibsonton where many sideshow folks had retired to. These people are deformed in some way and used to make a decent living as sideshow artists. When more ‘sensitive’ sentiments took hold in the 60s and 70s it was no longer possible for them to make these livelihoods and when I visited with some of them in the 1980s they were bitter that the one job they could get was no longer available. Historically, they were called Siamese twins, midgets, fat ladies and one was known as alligator boy due to his frightening skin condition.
Thankfully today these terms are not used. I’m sorry they lost their jobs but exhibiting people as freaks is not something that elevates the human condition.
Circuses are retiring their animals except for Sea World with the dolphin and whale acts. This is amazing to me because there is no way that these creatures are living their best lives. Now, folks are turning away from eating octopuses because they don’t want to eat smart animals. Heck, next the woke mob is going to tell me I can’t eat dogs! This totally ruins the joke I told in North Vietnam a few decades back. I recall seeing dogs for sale in markets in baskets and they weren’t destined to fetch a ball. I don’t remember the exact joke but it was something about “woking the dog’.
Now that I’ve told you about the most ahhh…challenging films imaginable I’ll leave you with this spectacular work of soaring beauty, Paulo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. It’s the lyrical story of a writer who had a big hit decades earlier in his youth but never did much of note again. It is the most visually striking film I’ve ever seen. Much of the film revolves around the modern art scene in today’s Rome and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2013. The following cene of the 104 year old nun alone is worth the entire ticket. If you liked Fellini back in the day then you will love this film.
The Great Beauty ties with Lawrence of Arabia for my favorite films and I had the good luck to hang out with Paulo last year after a film festival. I never met David Lean (director of Lawrence) but one out of two ain’t bad.