Feels appropriate that I watched this over the course of a week, since it’s pretty episodic. Apparently (according to scraps of the commentary track that I checked out) it’s about the gradual enlightenment of Jodorowsky’s title character. The dude could use some enlightenment, too, what with his woman issues, his murderous obsessions, his strange attraction to people with deformities, and his tendency to kill animals on-camera.

El Topo, riding across the desert dressed in black, abandons his son in favor of some woman. The woman demands he prove himself by defeating the four gun masters of the desert. Somewhere along the way they pick up an evil hot woman who talks like a man and I don’t know what that’s about. Anyway, Topo tricks and murders all four masters: blind guy; digs a hole in front of him, fall, fire… guy who always hits heart; ash tray in front of heart… guy who lives for love; distract him by crippling his wife… and crazy guy with no possessions, no gun, nothing; shoots himself to prove he has left no material desires!

Okay, but woman leaves him for the other woman, and they shoot him all up on a rickety bridge (give him the five wounds of christ, as a.j. immodestly explains on the commentary), then some mutants drag him into a hole, the end.

No! He wakes up 30 years later all white-bearded. The cripples and deformed have kept him alive as a god, and now he must leave the cave, go to the town and get help so they can all be free. Of course he does this by bringing a short woman with him and performing awful vaudeville routines for money to afford dynamite. Long story short, they free the cripples, the townsfolk mow them all down, and Topo duels his now grown son.

I had not-great memories of this one… remember most of it taking place inside the mountain (hardly any of it does!) and the picture and sound being bad, bad bad. New DVD looks miraculous… the desert sky so bright and blue. Movie not nearly as dull and drab as I remember it (and as recent restoration reviews have been saying), it’s totally watchable, and its horrible weirdness makes it worth watching.

Is it a GOOD movie then? Well it’s got some style (love the bridge scene, the rides through the desert) and it’s weird enough to recommend (most movies could stand to be weirder). I liked it more than I didn’t, so yeah, why not?

Imamura’s comeback film a decade after Profound Desire of the Gods. Flashed back and forth in time and space and starts at the end, rather like most of today’s movies, telling story of a sociopath killer with a troubled past. Iwao Enokizu is on a delivery run when he kills a couple of guys. Goes on the run for a couple months, pretends to be a professor and takes up with a girl at the boarding house he’s hiding at. They seem to like each other, but he ends up killing her (and her distrustful ex-con mother) and I think one other person before getting caught.

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Style to spare. Not my favorite movie, but definitely good and possibly great, makes up for the last Imamura movie I wasn’t too sure about, The Eel. Happy to see a very modern Japanese movie, not a sloggy period piece. Watched with Jimmy Lo, who also liked. Made about the same time as Days of Heaven, Apocalypse Now, Stalker, Stroszek, Kagemusha, Zigeunerweisen, Altered States and The Elephant Man.

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Definitely a spoof on Jaws. Actually makes a stronger case of “don’t go in the water” than Jaws. Piranha came three years later. Writer John Sayles’ first movie! Exec-produced by Roger Corman. Remade twice, for some reason, once starring William Katt from House. Sequel was of course Piranha II: The Spawning, James Cameron’s first movie.

I’m on a Joe Dante kick. Obviously influenced by the film critics’ strange love of his work, a nostalgic desire to see Gremlins again, and the just-learned fact that Dante was born in Morristown and grew up in Parsippany.

Kevin McCarthy was great as the crazy scientist who secretly continues an army experiment to breed ravenous fresh-and-salt-water piranha. Wish I’d gotten a screen shot of him before returning the DVD.

Ambitious is the movie with a drunken, antisocial, bearded mountain man as protagonist (Bradford Dillman: Briggs in Dirty Harry 4). He and missing persons detective Heather Menzies (of the 1979 Captain America) must warn the world of the killer piranha that they themselves accidentally unleashed… and quickly, before the fish eat Bradford’s daughter at a camp downstream. Italian horror star Barbara Steele is the crazy scientist’s ex, who tries to thwart our heroes, along with Joe Dante fave Dick Miller (of the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors), Death Race 2000 director Paul Bartel, and some army guys. I didn’t notice, but Keenan Wynn of Clonus and Laserblast also appeared. The two fail to stop the fish, but at least the daughter is saved.

Movie amazingly did not suck, was more funny than anything else. Gore/action/creature effects could’ve been edited more tightly, but I guess they wanted to show off what little they had.

Katy would not have liked it. Or would she?

Tristana’s (uncle?) guardian decides to start sleeping with her. She has an artist boyfriend. When she gets sick, the uncle has her leg cut off to save her, but when he gets sick, she opens the windows to the cold air and he dies. Also she has dreams where his head is a bell clapper.

Catherine Deneuve is very good as Tristana, and Fernando Rey is good as Don Lope. The movie is dreamlike and slow in that special late-period-Bunuel style that I’ve never appreciated. Pretty okay overall.

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Katy would not have liked it. Not sure that I liked it. But at least I watched it, and now I don’t have to watch it again.

Details so that I won’t have to watch it again:
– Ringo Starr doing a fake interview show dressed as Frank Zappa
– Zappa on drums once, guitar a few times, but mostly absent
– the main guys bouncing delightedly through the movie were Flo & Eddie (?)
– some kind of devil/tempter keeps offering people dumb stuff if they’ll sign in blood
– groupie girls show up from time to time
– ten-minute animated dentist duck segment right in the middle
– Jimmy Carl Black sang “Lonesome Cowboy Burt”
– most of the music/concert scenes were really good
– lots of video (not film: video) effects. Lots. LOTS.
– some kind of druggachusetts episode where the effects were just off the hook

Not a “good” movie by any means, but interesting to see what those guys were up to. Will have to check out the footage from Uncle Meat sometimes, cuz that’s another double album that never made much sense.

Addendum March ’07: after seeing parts of this movie again while working on the DVD project, I like it a lot more. The music, the centerville segment, the endless self-referentiality of it all work together well. Gotta cut it some slack too, after watching the doc and reading about the mess of a production it turned out to be. I even like the soundtrack better now.

Picked a nice, short, famous one for my first Raoul Ruiz movie. Based on a fictional painter (I didn’t know until I looked it up). The curator studies “a collection of paintings by Tonnerre, a French academic painter of the mid-nineteenth century, whose rather undistinguished works, with no consistency in style or subject matter, are said to have provoked a major but mysterious society scandal”. The title is misleading, because the supposedly missing painting is not discussed so much, but rather how the paintings are connected and what scandal they could have caused. Turns out the characters within may be enacting the rituals of a secret society, but that barely seems to matter anymore by the time it’s unveiled.

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Pretty amazing movie to watch (even though I fell asleep the first time). The curator is not the film’s narrator. The curator actually falls asleep once while droning on about the paintings, and the narrator whispers to us until he reawakens. The curator stages complicated tableaus, reenactments, like life-sized dioramas of the paintings in order to get a 3-D perspective on the hidden clues, which are in mirror reflections, light and shadow, and everything else. A movie all about mise-en-scene, so the paintings and stagings have interesting layouts, and the filming of them is interesting on its own. So many layers I don’t pretend to understand.

Below: Professional Jean Reno in his first film role.
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Completely wild. Loved it, though I don’t know who I could recommend it to. Guess I’ll just see more Ruiz movies. Not sure whether any/all questions are answered at the end… curator seems too obsessive to be able to see the truth anymore, and may be using the ritual explanation to justify his own ritualistic beliefs. The movie’s got a few visual freakouts, like the one below, but otherwise is a sort of fictional essay film.

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Where the missing painting, the fourth in the series, should have hung:
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Essential essay here: http://www.rouge.com.au/2/hypothesis.html
Katy might’ve liked it. I guess. Can’t really say.

Sissy Spacek is tormented daily (most memorably in a shower-room scene full of naked high-school girls), then just when she’s made to feel special (via rigged prom queen vote), down comes the pig’s blood and out pours the psychic rage (school fire), which later also takes out her tormentors (car crash) and her mother and herself (collapsing their house). A classic for obvious reasons. Spacek was memorably nude in Prime Cut also, and probably in Badlands but I don’t remember. She was 26 in this so it’s okay to get naked.

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Two scenes from “Other Side of the Wind” that played on Spanish television or someplace. Don’t know anything about context. First has a movie director being interviewed by the press from all sides, then a hot couple getting it on in the passenger seat while another guy drives in the rain. Not the kind of thing I’d expect from Welles. All quick cuts and artistic shots a la F For Fake.

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Man and woman are contestants on game show, go back to her place after. She argues with her ex-husband in the evening, her “sister” in the morning, then her “sister” kills the man with a big knife. Neighbor Reporter sees the killing, bring the cops, they don’t believe her. She hires private eye, then investigates on her own. Finds out woman had siamese twin who died. Gets trapped, brainwashed at woman’s ex-husband’s suspicious psychiatric house, then twin kills doctor/ex-husband. Cops now believe brainwashed reporter, but she won’t help them anymore, only repeats that there was no body because there was no murder.

Amazing that in such a hitchcock-referential movie, IMDB and I can only think of three direct sources:
Rear Window, for the obsessive voyeurism
Rope, for the body in the couch that everyone walks around and sits upon
Psycho for the killing the “main character” 30 minutes in and switching focus to someone new, and for all the psycho-babble.
I guess Sisters just intensifies the sources, makes you all-too-aware of the references if you’ve seen the original movies. Strange then that Sisters itself is getting a remake.

Best visual gag: the cake decorator tool, which in close-up looks like a long dagger dripping blood.

Has that extreme-70’s-interiors look and red red fake blood of the early David Cronenberg movies sometimes. Cronenberg must’ve seen this at some point before making Dead Ringers.

Love the Bernard Herrmann score, love the split screen scenes. Movie’s far from a perfect thriller, but it’s definitely satisfying. Great, great ending (private eye on phone pole still watching the couch at a train station).