Movies That Mangle The Mind
For me it started with a screening of ‘Eraserhead’ at the Scala Cinema when it used to be in Scala Street. After, nothing else measured up for a while because it had dream-images that stayed despite their lack of logic.
Is there anything worse than a film where you can see every scene telegraphed? ‘The Theory of Everything’ was true and good and so relentlessly understanding and nice that I found it hard to concentrate on for more than thirty seconds at a time. It was like having dinner with a very nice middle-class family in the shires. Sometimes you need a relentlessly offbeat head-scratcher to grow angry watching, and now that David Lynch has gone off the boil, a few more films like ‘Synecdoche, New York’ and ‘Upstream Colour’ are needed (although the last was extremely oblique and frustrating).
Roman Polanski made a strange film called ‘What?’ in 1972, in which a beautiful young woman finds herself in a villa populated by decadent, oversexed Mediterranean types including Marcello Mastroianni. It had the logic of a dream and ended with an escape, or waking up. You could also count ‘Last Year At Marienbad’, which had a sumptuous de Chirico dream setting and the looping repetitions of a dream.
And of course, the master himself, Luis Bunuel, made so many strange and wonderful films that only make sense as fractured or spiral dreams with religious or sexual guilt as undercurrents. Bunuel is unique in that his later films are as wonderfully strange as his youthful ones, and his hilarious biography ‘My Last Breath’ is one of my favourite books. Who can resist the idea of the youthful Bunuel, Dali and Lorca going on the piss in Mexico?
Time travel films are reliable head-scratchers, from the impossible-to-unravel ‘Prime’ (I’ve seen it three times and I’m none the wiser) to user-friendly ‘Back To The Future’, which boiled down the temporal twists to something enjoyable – set pieces are rare in time travel films because the emphasis is always on paradox, not suspense.
‘Timecrimes’ and ‘The Door’ were good examples of what can be done on limited budgets. The ‘Timecrimes’ machine allowed you to go back only 59 minutes, which created immense problems for its protagonists. The best of the recent puzzlers was ‘Predestination’, from a Heinlein short story, in which Ethan Hawke finds himself hunter, hunted and all stops in between as he ferries between multiple timeframes and destinies.
Some films inhabit a dreamworld of oddness because they’re so much the product of their times. ‘Skidoo’, ’99 and 44 100ths Per Cent Dead’ and ‘Hudson Hawk’ (in which Andie McDowell impersonates a dolphin) are almost wonderful for being inept and/or wrongheaded.
Films with twist endings that transform what you’ve just seen have been ruined by M Night Shyamalan, possibly the worst filmmaker ever to come out of Hollywood (I would controversially include ‘The Sixth Sense’ in that, because if you’re a genre reader you’ve guessed the entire plot within fifteen seconds of the film’s start). However, John August’s ‘The Nines’ floored me so severely that I had to watch it again at once.
World cinema has produced some gems of confusion, from the dazzling ‘Hukkle’ to the dystopic ‘An Inconvenient Man’. Some Euro-movies are too deliberately quirky, like ‘Songs From The Second Floor’, but then there’s ‘Calvaire’, with its bar dance scene, which simply drops your jaw on the floor.
Alain Resnais, French cinema’s bad boy, made ‘Life Is A Bed Of Roses’, a quest for happiness existing in different time frames, but like ‘Orlando’ it’s relatively easy to follow (and no less enjoyable for that).
So today I’m looking for real puzzlers – films you come away from with images burned in your brain, but which don’t necessarily have to make sense…anyone?