We continue the mostly monthly series dedicated to provocative and outré films that have galvanized audiences and critics alike, incited passionate conversation, and inspired devoted cult followings among adventurous cinephiles.
1996, David Cronenberg, Canada/UK, 100 min.
With James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas
"A stunningly beautiful film, one of perversely satisfying passion. Equal parts astonishing and horrifying, CRASH is concise, keenly imaginative and darkly satisfying."—Ray Pride, Newcity
"***½ Challenging, courageous and original—a dissection of the mechanics of pornography."—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Body horror maestro David Cronenberg has never demurred from controversy, but, even by his standards, his erotic psychodrama CRASH proved incendiary, drawing raves and pans alike from critics and driving Ted Turner, owner of the film's distribution company, to attempt unsuccessfully to block its release. After being involved in a car accident that takes another driver's life, movie producer James Ballard (Spader, whose character is named for J.G. Ballard, author of the equally provocative source novel) hooks up with another participant in the same accident (Hunter). He finds himself embroiled in a dark underworld of car-accident fetishists, eager to stage disfiguring and potentially deadly wrecks with each other for the sake of their own sexual gratification. Featuring appropriately icy, foreboding contributions from regular collaborators composer Howard Shore and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, CRASH would prove to be one of the essential entries in Cronenberg's filmography, a perfect distillation of his career-long obsessions with human sexuality, bodily distortions, and technology run amok. 35mm. (Cameron Worden)
1970, Robert Altman, USA, 105 min.
With Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Shelley Duvall
Emboldened by the success of his breakthrough M*A*S*H, Robert Altman entered the New Hollywood of the 1970s ready to capitalize on the studios’ newfound willingness to finance eccentric, auteur-driven projects, following up his biggest hit with a rambling comedy that made room for policier action, supernatural fantasy, and ornithology lectures. After a single hellish day working for a creepy geriatric miser (Stacy Keach in unsettling old age makeup), young Brewster McCloud (Cort) absconds to a fallout shelter inside the Houston Astrodome to build a bizarre flying machine, aided by a mysterious woman in a trench coat (Kellerman) who arrives at only the most convenient moments. As a series of strangulation deaths connected to him catches the attention of police, an avowedly celibate Brewster tries to navigate the affections of a kooky Astrodome tour guide (Duvall) and take flight before the law catches up with him. BREWSTER McCLOUD ultimately didn’t deliver the box office M*A*S*H did, but its unique oddball energy marked it as readymade for cult appreciation and its director as a singular force in American cinema. 35mm widescreen. (Cameron Worden)
1971, Monte Hellman, USA, 102 min.
With James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates
"Greatest car movie, ever!...This minimalist masterpiece is one of the greatest American films to come out of the 1970s."—Ron Wells, Film Threat
"TWO-LANE BLACKTOP should have established Hellman as one of the great directors of his generation. Instead, its box-office failure made him an enduring cult figure."—Philip French, The Guardian
A souped-up '55 Chevy occupied by a stone-faced driver (Taylor) and his mechanic (Wilson of the Beach Boys) and a sparkling new GTO piloted by a loquacious loner (Oates) cross paths on the back roads of the American West. Bringing along an enigmatic young hitchhiker (Laurie Bird), the two cars set out on a race to the East Coast, but what at first seems like a white-knuckle, high-stakes contest morphs into something more abstract as the racers stare down an endless highway, reckoning with their addiction to the constant momentum of the road. Featuring a beautifully spare script by experimental novelist Rudy Wurlitzer, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP was never destined to be the post-EASY RIDER youth-market hit the studio hoped it would be. Instead, it has endured as one of the preeminent cult items of its era, a one-of-a-kind existentialist road movie. 35mm widescreen. (CW)
1992, Sally Potter, UK, 94 min.
With Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp
"Decades after its initial theatrical release, ORLANDO has all of its original allure intact, and then some. Sally Potter’s uniquely strange adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel has grown in stature."—Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Presented by Queen Elizabeth I with enough wealth to last him for eternity under the condition he remain forever young, the undying poet and nobleman Orlando whiles away his days wooing the daughters of foreign dignitaries. Then one day Orlando wakes up a woman and finds herself contending with the attentions of male suitors, gendered inheritance laws, and motherhood. Beginning in 1603 and ending in the 1990s, Potter's freewheeling adaptation of Virginia Woolf's queer literary touchstone proceeds as a series of impeccably costumed and art-directed episodes in which the ageless outsider Orlando (embodied with a beguiling androgyny by an iconic Swinton) faces physical transformation and the ever-changing currents of European history with creative resilience and a wry sense of humor. 35mm. (CW)
2001, Satoshi Kon, Japan, 87 min.
Decades after the actress Chiyoko Fujiwara has retired from the public eye, a pair of filmmakers interview her for a retrospective documentary. What begins as a straightforward accounting of her days in show business morphs into a centuries-spanning epic, shifting fluidly between scenes from Chiyoko's life and the historical films she starred in until the two become inseparable. Master animator Satoshi Kon's follow-up to his mind-bending debut PERFECT BLUE, MILLENNIUM ACTRESS solidified the director's interest in unstable and subjective realities. Rolling in homages to everything from Godzilla to Ozu, the film also brings to bear the full power of Kon's detail-oriented visual wit and technical skills, blending together one hyperkinetic set piece after another in a frenzy of movie-mad intoxication. In Japanese with English subtitles. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (CW)
1970, Brian De Palma, USA, 87 min.
With Robert De Niro, Jennifer Salt, Allen Garfield
"An exuberant grab bag of mischievous whimsy that blends radical politics, sexual freedom, racial tension, and emotional hangups with the director’s own catalogue of artistic references, from Hitchcock and the French New Wave to cinéma vérité and avant-garde theatre—and adds a freewheeling inventiveness and an obstreperous satire all his own."—Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Before achieving notoriety as a director of formally audacious commercial thrillers, Brian De Palma found his footing in the New York independent film scene of the late ‘60s, producing a series of oddball underground features that culminated with this scabrous comedy. Prefiguring his turn in TAXI DRIVER, De Niro stars as a Vietnam vet navigating the seedier corners of New York City, first as a pornographer surreptitiously filming his neighbors’ sex lives, then as a member of a politically radical avant-garde theater company, before eventually dipping his toes into domestic terrorism. Moving freely between sitcom-ready mugging, Godardian direct address, and gritty faux cinéma vérité, HI, MOM! would demonstrate the breadth of De Palma’s gifts as a cinematic stylist and preternatural ability to stage memorable set pieces. 35mm. (CW)
1966, Vera Chytilová, Czechoslovakia, 74 min.
With Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová
“My favorite Czech film, and surely one of the most exhilarating stylistic and psychedelic eruptions of the ‘60s.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
“Thirty-six years later, this Molotov cocktail of fizzy champagne and feminist theory has not lost any of its combustible carbonation...the most erotic eating sequences ever shot (sorry, Tom Jones).”—David Fear, Time Out New York
Made during the height of the Czech New Wave, Chytilová's anarchic love letter to self-indulgent femininity landed like a firecracker. Beginning with its two young protagonists (both named Marie) coming to the realization that they must be "bad" to continue existing in a world that appears to be collapsing, DAISIES proceeds to mount a series of surreal sketches in which the Maries bilk rich men for free meals, steal from their neighbors, visit a butterfly collector, and destroy several banquets worth of food in their quest to break down social order and have as much fun as they can in the process. Chytilová captures her main characters' id-driven behavior with a style that leans into the chaos, moving freely between black-and-white and color, direct address, stock footage, and giddy, goofy dance numbers. In Czech with English subtitles. 35mm. (CW)
1972, John Waters, USA, 93 min.
With Divine, Edith Massey, David Lochary
"In a world where 'underground' cult films long ago became a cozy genre, PINK FLAMINGOS still stands as the purest, most joyful jolt of outrage in movie history."-- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
After achieving tabloid notoriety, Babs Johnson (Divine) has settled on the outskirts of Baltimore with her playpen-bound mother Edie, chicken-loving son Crackers, and traveling companion Cotton. Their secluded debauchery is upset when the rich, jealous perverts Connie and Raymond Marble try to usurp Babs's title of "Filthiest Person Alive," setting off an escalating series of ever-more-vile antics. A self-proclaimed "exercise in poor taste," PINK FLAMINGOS was the film that catapulted director John Waters to underground infamy and introduced the broader world to the magnetic persona of legendary drag queen Divine. Even after being ensconced in MoMA's permanent collection and regularly cited as a pioneering work of queer cinema, PINK FLAMINGOS remains every bit the shocking, offensive, and hilarious film it was during its storied run on the midnight movie circuit, an essential work of transgressive art that has only ripened with age. 35mm. (Cameron Worden)
1973, René Laloux, France/Czechoslovakia, 72 min.
"Mesmerizing...one of the landmarks in European sci-fi animation."--Chris Justice, Senses of Cinema
On the distant planet Ygam, a revolution is burgeoning, pitting the "Oms" (a population of humans transported from Earth to be kept as pets) against the dominant and ambivalent Draags, a race of blue-skinned giants who spend their days participating in an advanced form of meditation. After the human Terr escapes from his Draag masters with a pair of headphones used to teach Draag children, he joins a colony of wild Oms and sets out to escape Ygam for its moon, the Fantastic Planet. A compendium of extraterrestrial imagery and mind-bending metaphysics, FANTASTIC PLANET marries its furthest flights of science-fiction fantasy to a timeless allegory broad enough to encompass international struggles for civil rights and the ongoing destruction of the environment. Featuring a surreal visual style designed by Roland Topor (a collaborator of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Werner Herzog) and an iconic score by jazz musician Alain Goraguer, FANTASTIC PLANET remains a touchstone of alternative animation and as concentrated a blast of psychedelia as the 1970s ever produced. In French with English subtitles. 35mm. (Cameron Worden)
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
1953, Roy Rowland, USA, 89 min.
With Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig, Mary Healy
"One of the most underrated children's musical fantasies...If you've never seen this, prepare to have your mind blown."
—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Raised by a single mother and forced to endure piano lessons from the dictatorial Dr. Terwilliker (Conried), youngster Bart (Rettig) drifts off into dreams of a fantasy realm where Dr. Terwilliker is a mad overlord, keeping Bart’s mother (Healy) captive under hypnosis and enslaving children to play a building-sized piano with thousands of keys. The only produced screenplay by Dr. Seuss, THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T proved a disappointment for the famous children's author (not least of all for its propensity to terrify children), but it found a latter-day audience as a late-night television staple where its surreal brand of musical sadism could be appreciated. A technical marvel, complete with plenty of Seussian production numbers and some of the most outlandish sets of the classic Hollywood era, DR. T lives up to the original ad copy touting it as "The Wonder Musical of the Future!” 35mm. (Cameron Worden)