20 posts categorized "Experimental"

January 28, 2015



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Scorpio RisingIn 1963 experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger released “Scorpio Rising,” a groundbreaking 30-minute revelry of fetishized homoerotic iconography set against a soundtrack of unlicensed pop songs from the likes of Ricky Nelson and Ray Charles. The rebellious effect of Anger’s dynamic musical counterpoint creates a bold sense of romanticized rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia that informed later filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (see “Mean Streets”).

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Anger’s mobile moving camera fawns over the clothes and boots of a black-haired motorcycle enthusiast who patterns his macho style on Marlon Brando’s Johnny Strabler character from “The Wild One” and James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” With long sideburns, slicked back hair, and a cigarette dangling from his lips here is a brother to the hot rod kids of the ‘50s who picked up where their soldier fathers left off, creating cool cars from cheap parts easily found in junkyards.

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The muscled young man slaves over putting together a “show-bike” motorcycle that sits in pieces in his garage. Little Peggy March’s rarely heard love song “Wind-Up Doll” plays as the audience is left to contemplate the significance of a human skull that sits inside a shroud that hovers over the mechanic and his bike. Implied is the motorcycle rider’s constant awareness of the danger that the blissful act of riding his carefully maintained bike presents. An intercut sequence shows a prepubescent version of the boy playing with wind-up tin motorcycle toys.

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David Lynch might never have thought to make “Blue Velvet” had he not been inspired by a sequence in which the haunting Bobby Vinton song plays over a lithe biker buckling his pants and putting on a black T-shirt. The fetishized nature of the scene is heightened. The biker methodically puts on his festooned black leather hat, jacket, and chain belt in preparation for a ride that will take him to a party of his gay peers. 

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Anger intercuts clips from a Sunday school educational film (“The Last Journey to Jerusalem”) that was accidentally delivered to his front door. Cutting between black-and-white shots of Jesus and his disciples entering a building with bikers going into a private sex club adds an undercurrent of sardonic commentary. Evocatively transgressive and subversively poetic, “Scorpio Rising” is a cinematic rebel yell against the fiercely anti-gay hypocrisies of American culture that still dog society in the 21st century.

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Having grown up in Beverly Hills with a love of all things Hollywood, as fostered by his well-to-do grandmother, Kenneth Anger (nee Anglemyer) began experimenting with filmmaking at an early age. At 19 he made his first film “Fireworks,” about a midnight reverie involving a group of sailors. He was subsequently arrested on obscenity charges and the film became the subject of a California Supreme Court obscenity trial that ruled the film to be “art.” “Scorpio Rising” suffered the same fate, but this time the court’s decision represented “a landmark case of redeeming social merit.”

Scorpio rising

Not Rated. 28 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

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April 11, 2013


To the Wonder Navel Gazing Through a Telescope

Terrence Malick’s Failed Experiment Leaves a Black Eye

Terrence Malick still hasn’t made a remarkable film since 1978. That was the year he made “Days of Heaven” — not to be confused with “Heaven Gates.” Although the “Heaven” movies do have something in common: they ruined their respective filmmakers’ careers — Michael Cimino made more of a splash because he took United Artists down with him. Malick went overboard by shooting most of the movie during the gloaming — a 25-minute period at dusk that Malick referred to as the “magic hour.” He then spent three years editing it.


“To the Wonder” is a shorthand cinematic poem told with such slightness that there is nothing for an audience to identify with beyond some vague apologia about God’s ability to put human beings through as much heartbreak as they can endure. It’s an airy cinematic sermon that mumbles for two-hours. Atheists will be bored; believers will scratch their heads. Pretentious film critics will out themselves.


Malick has made an experimental movie that fails because it’s all agenda and no substance. There’s so little character development or narrative cohesion that the viewer feels alienated through the whole experience. The filmmaker’s oh-so-deep philosophical musings, as tinged with religious inflections, are oddly apolitical. Malick’s micro-meta bubble is small and foggy. It’s a fundamental rule of screenwriting to never preach to your audience. Terrence Malick breaks that rule with impunity.

In Paris, Neil (Ben Affleck) courts Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a sensuous Ukrainian woman with a ten-year-old daughter named Tatiana. The Eiffel Tower, the gardens at Versailles, and Mont Saint-Michele make for plenty of postcard-perfect compositions via Malick’s handheld camera. Dialogue is sparse, very sparse. Malick flits between indulgent shots of streaming sunlight on suburban landscapes to fill in copious narrative blanks in his script.


The would-be family moves to Neil’s hometown of Bartlesville, Oklahoma to reside in a cloistered suburban housing community bereft of personality. Neil is giving Marina a relationship trial run. Is she marriage material? Tatiana certainly thinks so. However, Marina’s mood swings make her seem bi-polar in a “Betty Blue” kind of way. Languorous episodes of romantic harmony give way to ugly, if muted, outbursts of anger. A devil’s advocate vantage point could view Malick’s film as an unintended observation on the toxic effect of American suburbia on romantic relationships. But that would be a stretch.


Javier Bardem creeps around the story as Father Quintana, a priest who worries over the limits of his ability to help the impoverished and ailing Americans who live around him. During a sermon, he tells his parish, that a husband “does not find” his wife “lovely.” Rather, “he makes her lovely.”

Neil isn’t really that into Marina. Without explanation he sends she and Tatiana packing. The unreliable protagonist briefly dallies with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old romance from childhood. Like Marina, Jane is needy to a fault.


A romantic reversal occurs. Marina abandons Tatiana to her father’s family and returns to Neil in Oklahoma to start their lives together. Domestic troubles percolate and boil over around moot narrative details. I suppose, if you’re a believer, “To the Wonder” will bring you closer to God in as much as it will push you two-hours closer to your ultimate demise. Personally, I’d rather watch Malick’s “Badlands” (1973) or “Days of Heaven.” There was a time when Terrence Malick made incredible movies. Those days are gone.

Rated R. 112 mins.

1 Star

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

July 29, 2012


AlpsAfter the failure of his insufferable last film “Dogtooth,” Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos refines his minimalist approach to absurdist satire. However confounding on first blush, “Alps” is a provocative think piece about the nature of loss, memory, DIY psychotherapy, and emotional fulfillment.

Inside an empty gymnasium, a group of four hands-on therapists — a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast, and her coach — take turns practicing to act as surrogates for recently deceased people, whose personalities they will mimic during visitations with bereaved family members. The group name themselves “Alps.” They take their work very seriously. This is piecemeal method acting gone wild.

The talented ribbon gymnast (Ariane Labed) pleads with her coach (Johnny Vekris) to allow her to dance to modern music.


The stern coach snaps back, “You’re not ready for pop.” Such humorous jabs crackle.

"Raise your voice at me again," he says calmly, "and I'll take a club and crack your head open. And then I'll break your arms and your legs."

An uncomfortable strain of father-daughter substitution runs through their relationship. The film’s glacial sense of humor comes in a glass of ice-cold water.

The nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia) loses herself too much in her work. Monte Rosa — as she calls herself — starts to carry out her own freelance proxy work to satisfy an emotional void. The coach also crosses a line of emotional sharing in his encounters with clients; isn't that what method acting is all about?


“Alps” is a backhanded commentary on the ways in which people exploit chosen occupations to fulfill personal fantasies. It also refers to the fetishized aspects of relationships and their limited scope of sexual necessity. Anyone can be a surrogate.

Not Rated. 90 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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