A few years ago, I was checking out some Netflix viewer reviews and I came upon one that began, “If WTF was a movie category, this movie would be the best in the genre”, or something to that effect. I don’t remember which movie it was about. I don’t even remember what I ate for dinner three days ago. But I do remember thinking that it was a really apt description because there are a lot of movies that would rest comfortably in a “WTF” category. Here are ten such movies. Bear in mind, this isn’t a criticism. Quite the contrary- in almost all of these cases, I love these films. And in some cases, they’re among my favorite movies ever made.
Side note: This category could easily be dominated by Luis Buñuel; in the interest of diversity, I’m only including one of his movies. Similarly, there are two Alejandro Jodorowsky films that fit the list. I’ve only included one.
1. The American Astronaut
This is the film that inspired the list. I watched it last night. This song, titled “The Girl With the Vagina Made of Glass”, kind of says it all.
2. Daisies (Sedmikrasky)
It represents the more eclectic side of the Czech New Wave, and it also stands as a fantastic feminist anthem of sorts. It’s a film that only could have been made as part of the global counterculture revolution of the 60’s, ripe with whimsy and sexual symbolism. And it’s begging for Criterion to release it. The real fun starts around the 4:30 mark in this clip and carries on for a few minutes. 6:00 is especially great.
3. The Phantom of Liberty
This clip is a bit involved (you need to watch it all the way through) but it’s a perfect illustration of what the movie is all about. Namely, it’s about language, the meaning of words, the meaning of concepts, and turning them all upon their ear. Buñuel does so with a non-linear plot, a series of completely unrelated- but seemingly related- vignettes, all sound and fury signifying nothing at all.
4. Holy Mountain
I don’t even know how to begin describing this. First and foremost, Jodorowsky was funded and supported by John Lennon in the late 60’s. That should tell you a little about where Jodorowsky’s films are coming from. In Holy Mountain, there’s a Christ figure. But he’s not Christ- he’s just a Christ figure. And he’s a thief. He climbs into a temple where he meets a guru. This guru asks the Christ figure to defecate in a crystal dish, which is then covered and vaporized using a contraption that the Christ figure sits inside. After it’s done, Christ figure’s poo has turned to gold. Then the Christ figure and a bunch of other people go onto a mountain and have some sort of religious epiphany. I believe the actors did LSD or mushrooms before the mountain scenes were filmed (I’m not positive about that). Here’s the trailer, which has slight nudity (lots and lots of butt cheeks):
5. The Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay
If you see only one movie this year about supernatural French lesbians harboring a creepy, androgenous midget, make it “The Slave Girls of Morgana le Fay”. Honestly? The story wasn’t bad at all, it works as art, and some of the scenes were pretty incredibly hot. Here’s the best I can do for a clip- a random scene in the late 2nd or early 3rd act:
6. House/ Hausu
Criterion just released this one and I watched it right before Halloween. It’s about a bunch of Jr. High (or early High School) girls who go to a house. It turns out the house is haunted by a female spirit (that may or may not be the ghost of one of the girls’ aunts) that eats young girls to stay young. Also, a creepy cat is involved. All of the girls have names that very obviously represent their primary character trait, such as “Kung Fu”, and “Fantasy”. The special effects are laughably bad- maybe purposely so? I’m not sure- and it’s not hard to see that in some very slight ways, it probably influenced Quentin Tarantino. Here, “Melody”, the pianist girl, is eaten by a piano.
7. Last Year at Marienbad
Here’s what I wrote for my Netflix review: The opening of this film grabs you right from the start with creepy organ music, whispering, and gothic architecture. It forces you to sit up and say “What the bloody hell is all this, then?” And it never really lets up. It’s relentless with characters frozen in time, dialogue eerily repeating itself, images repeating themselves, the organ music never goes away. The whole effect is that it jars you. It unsettles you. Lord knows it fits the French New Wave dynamic but it goes so much deeper than that because it’s not playful like Godard or Truffaut. And it fits the surrealist realm, but it also goes deeper than that because it’s not playful like Bunuel. Call it “dread surrealism”. And in the end, it’s up to the viewer to decide- was it a dream? Was it real? Which parts were real? It’s probably best to not even try. Essentially it’s a love or hate movie and I can’t even begin to explain why I loved it as much as I did.
I’m not going to give you a youtube clip here, but rather refer you to the image at the top of the entry. It’s from Last Year at Marienbad. Take a good long look and you’ll notice that the people have shadows, but nothing else does. The trees have no shadows. The statues have no shadows. Only the people have shadows.
8. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
The Czech New Wave strikes again, this time using the vampire mythos- bloody mouths and whatnot- as an allegory for a young girl’s first menstruation (wow, that was really painful to type). Anyway, uncomfortable though the allegory may be, it’s an incredible film- intellectually rich, visually stunning, and full of WTFiness.
9. Brand Upon the Brain
Even though I refused to include more than one Jodorowsky or Buñuel film, I’m going to break that rule for Guy Maddin simply because I want the guy to get more recognition, and he deserves it. Nobody is better than Maddin at creating the homage to classic silent horror, and silent cinema in general. Ultimately you walk out of Guy Maddin films wondering just what the hell you witnessed, and about 4% of you will think it’s fantastic. The other 96% of you will want to stab me in the eye with a KFC spork for making such a recommendation. A lot of his work is very autobiographical, but only in a freaky Freudian kind of way. Here are two such examples of the incomparable Guy Maddin.
This clip is the Criterion release’s trailer for Brand Upon the Brain, which is part horror, part teen lesbian love story, part children’s literature, part childhood nostalgia, and part mother issues.
10. My Winnipeg
This is the most accessible of Maddin’s work and it’s my favorite as well. I hate to make the comparison, but at times it felt Michael Moore-ish. I refer strictly to the scenes in Moore’s films where he sends up his native Michigan for humor; that’s where the comparison ends. For the better part of it, it felt like Maddin had created his own personal version of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and then tried to imitate Dreyer and Bunuel in adapting it to film. If what I’ve said about Maddin has piqued your interest, this would be the starting point.