Friday, July 9, 2010

A Thirst For The Bizarre

Summer blockbusters are filling theaters across the nation. From full-length animated features like Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me to big box office draws like The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Knight and Day (not to mention critical bombs like The Last Airbender and Predators), movies that are assumed to have mass market appeal are hoping to cash in at the box office.

However, not everyone wants those kinds of films. Some people have more eccentric tastes. Others want something that will tickle their palate in ways they've never experienced (Grand Guignol and Punch and Judy shows are so yesteryear). Where can one find sophisticated fare that will please the connoisseur?

With San Francisco's Another Hole in the Head festival camped out at the Roxie from July 8-29, where does one turn for tales of the macabre, absurdist flicks, and surreal films that are just plain goofy? There's always YouTube where, with a little bit of effort, one can unearth treasures from the past like this endearing clip from the old Kukla, Fran, and Ollie show.

Or, while BP tries to reinvent the snuff film genre by cutting off the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is offering some shorts that have a strange kind of appeal. A four-minute short entitled Maurice At The World's Fair was made by Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener, Bob Stephenson, and Lance Bangs as an 80th birthday present for Maurice Sendak. The appeal of the following two shorts (The Orange and What About Me?) needs no explanation:

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If you're the least bit squeamish about insects, you should avoid Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo like the plague. If you're expecting something like a Godzilla movie, look somewhere else. Why? Jessica Oreck's documentary is one of the strangest and most disarming nature films you will ever encounter.

Oreck's film explores Japan's fascination with insect life from more perspectives than one would normally anticipate:
  • There are the entrepreneurs, including one young man who boasts of having earned enough money selling beetles to buy himself a Ferrari.
  • There are the amateur collectors, many of whom are Japanese children thrilled to have a new pet.
  • There are the music aficionados, who treasure the sounds made by crickets and other insects.
  • There are the families who head out at night to watch fireflies in motion.
  • There are the connoisseurs, who specialize in categorizing and preserving moths, butterflies, and other insects.
In her director’s statement, Oreck writes:
"In making Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, I am striking a new and unconventional approach to science education. My goal is to reach children and adults alike, and to help reframe their relationship with the natural world. My passion isn't about genetics, it isn't about global warming, it doesn't follow the latest craze in the science world -- but it is critically relevant to the problems of today. It is about attention to detail, patience, and ultimately harmony -- all of which are so rarely present in our modern lives.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo acts like a 360° virtual tour. It revolves slowly around Japan’s love of insects and, in the process of capturing different angles of this microculture, it picks up a glimmer of something much larger. Because the film travels not just two-dimensionally around an object, but also three-dimensionally through time, this glimmer of ‘something larger’ ultimately reveals itself, not just as a cultural backdrop, not just as a philosophy, but as an entire way of life -- as a possibility to change the most basic nature of our perspectives.

My aim is to challenge the way Westerners view nature, beauty, and the hectic monotony of our day-to-day routine. It is my intention to inspire a new sense of wonder -- a small sense of wonder -- one that does not overwhelm but acts, like some gentle war of attrition, to slowly but substantially coax us into rethinking how we live our lives. As with the Japanese culture, the film is subtle, but it functions as a passageway to a wholly different world of senses."
With a bold and curious score by Paul Grimstad, J.C. Morrison, and Nate Shaw, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is filled with surprises. In between discussions of how Buddhism and Shintoism teach people to treat every living creature with the same amount of respect, one sees the delighted faces of Japanese schoolchildren as they get to play with insects. Whether following beetle hunters into the forest (where they demonstrate the best way to collect insects) or watching Japanese commuter trains snake their way through Tokyo's suburbs, this film approaches the insect world very differently from your standard nature documentary.

Oreck's film compares the role of the insect in art, culture, religion, and nature while delivering a simple but provocative message: If insects have managed to survive for millions of years, mankind could probably learn a lot from studying them. Here's the trailer:

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The best advice I could give anyone heading out to see Wild Grass (a new film by 87-year-old Alain Resnais that was screened at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival and is now hitting local theatres) would be to throw caution to the wind and leave your sense of logic at the door. This is a film about fools. Romantic fools, to be sure, but fools nonetheless. Fools who don't behave like normal people.

Sabine Azéma as Marguerite
  • Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma) is a single, middle aged dentist who likes to pilot small airplanes in her spare time. As the movie begins, she has just purchased an expensive pair of shoes when a thief snatches her purse and leaves her with no money.
  • Georges Palet (André Dussollier) is the married, unemployed curmudgeon who finds Marguerite's wallet in a parking garage. Nervous about an old secret (that might involve some criminal activity from long ago), he has trouble deciding whether or not to bring the wallet down to the police station so that it can be returned to its owner.
  • Bernard de Bordeaux (Mathieu Amalric) is the unfortunate policeman working the front desk when Georges arrives at the police station with the lost wallet and a ton of emotional baggage.
André Dussollier and Mathieu Almaric

The key to understanding the comic underpinnings of Wild Grass is that both Marguerite and Georges are highly dysfunctional and obsessive individuals who often act impulsively based on their unreasonable expectations. When each misinterprets the other's responses, the plot quickly devolves into a case of "Who's stalking who?"

While Georges tortures himself trying to grapple with his new and wildly irrational passion for Marguerite, his wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny), daughter Elodie (Sara Forestier), son Marcellin (Vladimir Consigny) and son-in- law Jean-Mi (Nicholas Duvauchelle) all seem to be able to continue leading normal lives. Meanwhile, Marguerite's business partner Josépha (Emmanuelle Devos) and nosy neighbor (Annie Cordy) must cope with her odd behavior and the strange man who has slashed the tires on her car.

Wild Grass is filled with little bits of odd humor and, at 104 minutes, long passages that can either seem confusing and/or boring. Definitely not aimed at mainstream audiences, this movie is better suited to those film fans with a lust for French cinema, unhealthy relationships, and people who find it impossible to communicate with bizarre strangers trying to enact their extremely warped agendas. Here's the trailer:


mitchell said...

YO FOOL! Another Hole in the Head just started. July 8th through the 29th.

Anonymous said...

No garden without its weeds.............................................................