“There’s a problem with your films. I don’t understand it. It’s not clear at all.”

A Belgian movie, watched for the Shadowplay thing, but I opted to cover Ferat Vampire instead because this one seemed… more difficult. As the red curtains open and the film begins, diorama-like, full of seared memories and dream logic, I tell myself “don’t call it Lynchian, that’s what everyone has said about it,” but Goodreads tell me that Smolders wrote a book about Eraserhead and Vimeo says he made a video called Lynch Empire, so nevermind, it’s Lynchian. This is his only feature to date, in a 35-year career of shorts.

Kids walk towards the camera, a bug is pinned to the wall, twin Poltergeist II preachers are flashback-puppeteers, causing a wolfman to kill the girl to big choral music, like hymns with some Thin Red Line mixed in. The girl lives again, only to be killed with scissors. Then the doctor, who is viewing these memory-plays by peering into our suit-wearing protagonist’s ear, says he’s fantasizing and he never had a sister, let alone a murdered one, and he needs to chill out.

Our man has an a static Crispin Glovery intensity, and a facial birthmark so we can conveniently tell who plays him in flashback, living in a city under near-permanent eclipse (the second time in 24 hours I’ve thought of Dark City). He works as the bug guy in a museum – a zoo worker in a room full of film cans – and we’ve seen multiple sets of identical twins at this point, making this the second movie this year after the Mandico short to be strongly reminiscent of A Zed & Two Noughts.

Enough with all the comparisons to other films – we go into overdrive when a black woman (the museum security guard) appears, sick and naked and pregnant, in his bed. We hear her thoughts, untranslated (at least on my DVD), while he deals with his stress by watching anthropological films of a beardy colonialist white man (his father, and the museum director). She make him promise not to leave, he immediately runs into the hallway while she gets killed by the ghost of his dead sister, then turns into a cocoon that births a white woman who goes to the museum, naked but for a leopard-skin coat, and murders a taxidermist, the sun comes out and everyone gets annoyed, and now the allusions/symbolism are out of my league.

Anyway, the closeup of leaf insects are great. This would seem to be a cult movie in need of a cult. Smolders was reportedly born in Kinshasa, says in the extras that his film’s vision of Africa is “a fantasized territory based on stories written by … large museums which … fanatically classified a universe that they didn’t understand.” He also says that the story’s logic is based on the rule that “what happens to a character is exactly what he most fears, yet desires at the same time.”

“No reason.”

Dupieux’s third feature, made between Steak and Wrong Cops. The Mr. Oizo music is always a plus in these, and at first I thought it was excellent until anyone opened their mouth, and it became too self-conscious about its own wackiness. In the end, I think it’s his most watchable movie, even as it breaks all the rules of storytelling.

First victim:

And last:

Cops led by Stephen Spinella of Ravenous plus a briefcase-toting accountant (Mr. Show’s Button Gwinnett) hand out binoculars to a group of spectators, who view the birth of the Scanners-powered killer tire, then all die from poisoned turkey – except for one veteran-looking wheelchair dude played by Wings Hauser (of Beastmaster II and Watchers III) who doesn’t eat.

Spinella and Button, showing that none of this is real:

Wings continues to observe the carnage for three days, and when the cops rig a dummy with explosives to trap the tire, he busts into their part of the movie to tell them it’s a stupid idea. “It’s not the end! He’s been reincarnated as a tricycle, c’mon!” The tricycle blows up Wings then continues with a growing tire army towards Hollywood.

The director is hilariously unpretentious in Cinema Scope: “Obviously there is no meaning … Obviously I made a movie about a living tire so I want to have fun.”

Rounding up some of the foremost comics and filmmakers, P-Bog opens with the greatest authority on film history – himself, of course. It’s extremely easy to find people with nice things to say about Buster Keaton, and to fill the rest of a 100 minute documentary with highlight clips from Keaton’s terrific films, and P-Bog does exactly that. In fact, the whole thing begins to feel like an advertisement for Buster and his great features – and it is, produced by Cohen Media Group, who is currently releasing the Keaton films on blu-ray, and also happens to own the Landmark theater where this doc played. But even if P-Bog doesn’t turn in something on the level of his epic Tom Petty doc, this was a fun way to revisit some Keaton. He peppers the “sad later years” section with highlights from Keaton’s forgotten advertisements and cameos, and puts this section in the middle of the film, so he can start strong with the shorts, and end strong with the features.

A loser mom in Scotland dreams of being a country singer – it’s not the worst premise, but then her extremely well-meaning employer Sophie Okonedo wants to help this dream come true, as fiery Jessie Buckley undermines her own success at every opportunity, and the movie becomes an overly-smiley, Disney version of a John Carney plot (so, it becomes Begin Again).

Jessie is a loser because she gives up on everything, including her own family, as long-suffering mom Julie Walters reminds her, but when Jessie finally goes to Nashville assuming she’s be dramatically discovered by talent scouts within a couple days, sees the sad reality of the open-mic scene there, and gives up on this dream to return home, it’s a triumph. Anyway, the climactic Mary Steenburgen song is sure to get nominated, and Jessie (Chernobyl, Michael Pearce’s Beast) is already winning things. Director Tom Harper has already followed up with The Aeronauts (LWL: “the longest 100 minutes you’ll spend in a cinema this year”).

Twenty-three SHOCKtober movies this year… I would’ve guessed the worst would’ve been Cannibal Holocaust, or another Italian horror, or the late Ken Russell, or one of the 1980’s movies… but it ended up being this made-for-TV horror-comedy stop-motion feature. The very words “stop-motion feature” make for a must-see movie, and this month’s The Wolf House was an insane masterpiece, but this thing felt like a celebrity Scooby Doo episode.

Outside of the stop-motion (especially anything involving water), Bride of Frankenstein Phyllis Diller’s laugh is the main source of enjoyment – otherwise it’s all horrible jokes and slow, pointless plot and voice impressions. All the world’s monsters, plus a sap (Jimmy-Stewart-sounding Felix Flankin) convene at Dr. Frankenstein’s castle for something or other, then fight over the doctor’s inheritance and his “formula for destroying matter.” I think we turned it off after red-haired Francesca falls in love with Felix for hitting her, or maybe it was during the endless song she sings right afterward. The monsters are all hoping IT doesn’t show up, so I watched the end of the movie the next day, but IT was just King Kong minus his trademarked name.

Most voices were by Allen Swift – his career ranged from Howdy Doody to Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the late 1950’s he was on WPIX channel 11 NYC as “Captain Allen,” ensuring his eternal legacy via the Arcwelder song. Karloff played the Doctor, at the end of his career, the year after voicing The Grinch. Francesca was Gale Garnett, who beat Bob Dylan at the Grammys a few years prior, and also appears in future Shocktober classic The Children. Diller was in her celebrity prime, the year before Tashlin’s Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Rankin/Bass made this between their Rudolph and their Frosty, long before their Hobbit and Last Unicorn, and the cowriter was Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose jokes work better in print.

Posting these out of order, but I watched this right after The Nightingale, making for a 4:3 double-feature – perverse, since no screens are shaped like that anymore. Tim & Eric and Neil Hamburger aren’t in this, so it seemed like a good starting point, and damn, now I need to watch Alverson’s other four features. In fact, I might need to watch this one again, since I suspect Denis Lavant’s big speech at the end should’ve had subtitles.

Doctor Jeff Goldblum tours hospitals, with a former patient’s introverted semi-orphan son (Tye Sheridan of Ready Player One) in tow, performing lobotomies with a seemingly low success rate. Sounds like a real drag, so I can’t explain why I loved it – the squared-off compositions, the bleak period-postcard look, Goldblum, Udo Kier as Tye’s late father, and a seething Lavant are all pluses for sure.

Benjamin Mercer in Reverse Shot:

For our fictionalized lobotomist, the object of the westward-leading circuit is to outrun the strengthening professional headwinds, the first wave of antipsychotic pharmaceuticals having recently been introduced, leaving fewer and fewer institutional decision-makers with an appetite for the operation in question, with its barbaric follow-through and uninspiring “success” rate … Andy learns that sharing a hotel room with Fiennes, not just a reckless physician but an alcoholic skirt chaser to boot, is its own special kind of hell, and he begins to sympathize more and more with the patients he’s charged with photographing for medical posterity.

Lavant’s daughter / Tye’s love interest played young Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime. Cowriters include the guy who made Person to Person and the star of Alverson’s first two features.

Too many closeups for a movie with such horrid dubbing. I listened to the English version for a few minutes, which seems to have a more balanced sound mix, but reluctantly returned to the Italian. I bought the Criterion box set of this trilogy, and in the extras you hear all about the difficulty in making these, the world travel adventures, filming on an active volcano, and the artistic work, recreating Bosch paintings with live actors, designing compositions and colors inspired by Dürer and Paolo Uccello… but while watching them, you can’t shake the feeling that they’re hastily-dubbed, silly-ass sex comedies.

You know the setup: a diverse bunch of weirdos gather around, their guide says that on the way to Canterbury they should each tell a story. Firstly, old rich dude (wicked-eyebrowed Hugh Griffith of the Dr. Phibes movies) seeks a wife, finds hot young Josephine Chaplin (Shadowman), but she falls for hip young Damiano and cucks her blind husband. Buncha stuff happened in the second chapter – a dude is burned to death, the devil (Accattone star Franco Citti) tricks another dude into hell – then ol’ Chaucer, played of course by our Pasolini, gets the idea to start writing these down.

From one Chaplin to another – highlight of the movie is Ninetto Davoli, the messenger from Teorema, doing a Chaplin parody as a cheerful tramp who is easily distracted by gambling and prostitutes. More silliness follows, overlong episodes lacking the sped-up film effect of the Ninetto. Two young dudes fight over Michael Balfour’s wife Jenny Runacre (star of Jubilee and The Final Programme). Laura Betti of (A Bay of Blood) marries a dull anti-feminist and so bites his nose off. More wife-stealing, and multiple fart jokes – I liked the section where some stupid young men go on a quest to kill Death, and almost immediately get distracted and murder each other.

Also featuring Welsh wrestler and Jon Langford subject Adrian Street – I think this is him?

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005, Jeff Feuerzeig)

RIP Daniel. This was jaw-dropping, I had no idea.

“He spent some time in Bellevue, a day or two, was released through a clerical error, and actually opened for Firehose at CBGB that night.” It all sounds perfectly unbelievable, “print the legend,” larger-than-life biography, but Daniel is real and wonderful, so you follow along from his humble beginnings as the stories get wilder. I kept pausing the movie to tell Katy stories until she asked if I was Forgotten Silvering her. Then Daniel wrestles control of his dad’s plane, cuts the engine and throws the keys out the window, and you’ve entered new ground for a rock doc.


Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records (2018, Julia Nash)

Katy overheard me watching this, said it seems like there’s a lot of talk and not much music, and she’s not wrong. Wax Trax! was started by a gay couple in the 1970’s, and this is very much their story, with the colorful rock & roll stories as decoration. In fact it could’ve used more WT! music – when the label starts taking off with some Ministry singles, we hear “To Hell With Poverty” instead of Ministry. Nice touch: we hear someone say “Nine Inch Nails was a terrible catalyst,” before showing the heretic speaking the words (it’s Reznor). The label was said to be popular in the bible belt (“It almost seemed the more conservative a small town you were in, the more you needed a Revolting Cocks record”), and in fact one of the label cofounders left it all behind and moved to Arkansas in the mid-90’s, right about when I was in Arkansas discovering all this music for the first time. The Amphetamine Reptile movie was 100x better, but this one is more emotional.


MC5: A True Testimonial (2002, David Thomas)

I watched this despite having listened to the group’s “Kick Out The Jams” album this summer and thinking it was just okay… and after watching, it turns out the MC5 is the greatest band in the history of rock & roll. One of the most unconventionally affectionate rock docs I’ve seen, with not a single celebrity testimonial, just the surviving band members and their friends and family, making the band seem smaller than they were, which lets the music (and there’s lots of it!) speak for itself.

MC5 faced down the police, constantly got arrested for obscenity, faced down the US fuckin’ Army, and formed the White Panther movement because they wished they could be as cool as the Black Panthers.

The internet says Wayne Kramer suppressed the movie for 15+ years, boooo.


Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film (2012, Hanly Banks)

Between songs, some very short interviews, scraps of wisdom and insight. Grab all you can from the Apocalypse man. A few short years later in 2019, Bill is healthy and happy, wide open, chatty and content, touring on another consecutive masterpiece record. Back in 2012, this was more than we expected, and it was good, each song with its own visual scheme, as in the best concert films.


Also watched some live Malkmus/Jicks

Some reunion-era Ween

Yo La Tengo with Jad Fair

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

and Courtney Barnett

Japanese gang-war rap musical, opens with an epic long take, then blonde gang boss Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki of Kurosawa’s Seventh Code) explains the local gangs and neighborhoods to a noob cop he has stripped and threatened with a knife, and we already know what the movie is like: it’s gross and loud and sexist, and kinda fun as hell.

Mera ambushes his hated rivals, the peaceful gang Musashino led by Kai, and kills a guy, and his body is wheeled back home with a new girl in tow (Nana Seino). Meanwhile, Mera ally Lord Buppa (played by a pop-eyed Riki Takeuchi, a classic Miike star I haven’t seen since Battle Royale 2) is sent two elite fighters by the High Priest to recover HP’s missing daughter Erika (the new girl, obvs), and previously unknown gang the Waru is activated.

A holographic message from the wise High Priest:

Kai bands together all the Tokyo tribes, including the Gira Gira Girls and Neri Muthafuckaz and probably a couple more, to fight this new threat. It all looks impressively choreographed and real, neon lights and stunt fights, then a super-fake CG tank comes along and blows it. Still, for a full two hours of rap mayhem, this doesn’t lose steam. I’d been avoiding Sion Sono since Noriko’s Dinner Table, but this and Why Don’t You Play In Hell were fun, so maybe I should watch his four-hour masterpiece Love Exposure sometime.