This none more cult movie is reviewed here and over on Flickering Myth now…
Directed by W.D. Richter.
Starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Lewis Smith, Rosalind Cash, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Carl Lumbly and Dan Hedaya.
The 80’s film Buckaroo Banzai (I’ll dispense with the full unwieldy title for convenience’s sake) has got a pretty strong case for being one of the last truly ‘cult’ movies. The film, conceived by old college roommates W.D. Richter and Earl Mac Rauch, was dreamed up with ideas of being a full on box office smash. Back in 1984, this never happened, with mainstream audiences not really ‘getting’ the non-conformist storyline and often downright weird segments of anarchic action comedy.
Pre-internet word of mouth about the film mostly centred on midnight screenings, and if ever there was a film to be watched in a party atmosphere it’s this one. The variety of quotable lines, visual effects, ropey costume design and sheer fun make it something of a geeky treasure trove.
This was way before any sort of ‘geek culture’ existed in how we understand such things now. The production team thought they were producing a hit, with influences ranging from classic Westerns, sci-fi and Saturday afternoon TV to left of centre comic books. Nowadays, this kind of self-referential smartness can be seen in all sorts of TV and film features, with the recent sci-fi adventure Guardians of the Galaxy perhaps being the closest in style.
However, this is one film that others can’t really approximate. In the words of Kevin Smith, it doesn’t really give a shit if you get it or not. In the barest of terms then, the plot goes a little something like this:
Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), the famous neurosurgeon/physicist/martial artist/secret agent/rock star breaks through to the 8th dimension with his new invention, the Oscillation Overthruster. This spectacular feat alerts an evil alien race, the Red Lectoids, who along with the possessed Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow), want the Overthruster to help them take over the Earth. Banzai and his team of fellow agents (and backing band) the Hong Kong Cavaliers have to stop them and save the planet.
At least, I think that’s it…
There is such a range of things going on in the margins with Buckaroo Banzai that you can’t ever be too sure. The slap-stick comedy mixed with comic-book camp, political melodrama and what seems like a ton of other genres play fast and loose with narrative structure. Broadly speaking it is essentially an action comedy, but if you try and pin-point it exactly you find other genres and influences filtering through. The old racial parable involved in the Red Lectoids, or red necks and the Black Lectoids, all speaking in cod-Jamaican accent, is like something from a 60’s sci-fi serial, while the brief romantic interlude of Buckaroo and Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) is another thing altogether, evoking the overarching sweetness of John Hughes teen adventure.
The film also features a massive cast of stars and soon to be stars, with Jeff Goldblum – wearing a cowboy outfit throughout for some reason – Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown and Vincent Schiavelli all sharing space with the anarchy.
View it without making too much of a judgement and you’ll find yourself loving it, despite never really knowing what’s going on. One thing that is for sure is that it looks like it was a hell of a lot of fun to make and this energy and excitement transfers to the viewer in fine style. Pure weirdness for its own sake.
The Blu-ray release from Arrow contains almost as many extras as there are styles and influences on show in the film itself. In-depth individual interviews with Weller and Lithgow give an insight as to where they found the influences for their characters. In Weller’s case, he based Buckaroo on a mixture of 80’s pop star Adam Ant, French explorer Jacques Cousteau and the film director Elia Kazan. Lithgow reveals that much of his domineering showmanship as Lizardo was based on Italian dictator Mussolini (with accent tips from an Italian tailor at MGM) This, plus a Q + A with the two hosted by famous fan Kevin Smith provides plenty of info on the film’s background and cultivation.
The disc also includes the original opening sequence – with Jamie Lee Curtis as Buckaroo’s mother – CGI footage of the jet car from the proposed 1998 TV show, all deleted scenes and the iconic closing sequence without credits. The featurette Buckaroo Banzai Declassified is an intriguing making of piece, with director W.D. Richter presenting the film as a ‘docu-drama’. All of these features go some way to explaining the ongoing appeal of the film, without ever really describing the full strangeness at work.
My review of Cemetery Without Crosses is over at Flickering Myth now. . .
Cemetery Without Crosses (Une corde, une Colt), 1969.
Directed by Robert Hossein.
Starring Robert Hossein, Michèle Mercier, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand, Pierre Hatet, Phillipe Baronnet, Pierre Collet, Michele Lemoine and Anne-Marie Balin.
This bleak homage to Sergio Leone and the cult of the spaghetti-western is a stylish and atmospheric take on the genre. Bringing a philosophical depth to proceedings, the French/Italian/Spanish production provides enough intriguing ambiguities for a worthy slice of realism. Essentially amoral, it sets out to present the universal truth that people of all kinds are capable of both good and bad.
The stirring central theme (with vocals by Scott Walker) is probably the most typically Western thing about the movie. With long takes of no dialogue, and a stripped down narrative and languid pace punctuated by extreme violence, the film holds up well to modern audiences used to existential trips through the desert.
Focusing on Maria’s (Michèle Mercier) quest for revenge on the family of ranchers that strung up her husband, the world presented is extremely dark indeed. She seeks out gun slinger and friend Manuel (Robert Hossein) to help her make the wrongdoers pay. The fact that the late husband stole from the Rogers family further complicates matters; in their minds they were simply administering traditional wild west justice. In any case, Manuel saves one of their family from being murdered in a bar, and joins up with them after they bribe him out of gaol.
The central celebratory dinner when Manuel has been officially hired by the Rogers gang as a new team leader is the stand out scene. The long take contains no dialogue and presents the banqueting table of Rogers family members staring at their recruit in a paranoid melting-pot of evil eyes and hard-edged glares. When the surprise of a jack in the mustard jar pops out, the nervous laughter contrasted with Manuel’s deadly set features set the tone for the rest of the story. From then on, you can see that his mind is set on complete destruction.
Manuel bides his time waiting for the right moment to strike. This strike, starts off by setting free the ranchers’s horses and culminates in the kidnap of their daughter and sister (Anne-Marie Balin). Manuel then goes well beyond anti-hero territory as he sits by while the hanged man’s two brothers administer their own form of barbaric revenge on her.
At the heart of Cemetery Without Crosses is a desire to evoke a pitch black response to life at the limits. There are no goodies or baddies in this, just mystery and the grim realisation that most character’s fates have probably already been mapped long ago. The philosophical nature of the work lends it an authoritative air, and offers a rewarding – if uncomfortable – watch.
The Blu-Ray includes: Remembering Sergio – exclusive new interview with star and director Robert Hossein
Archive French television news report on the film’s making, containing interviews with Hossein, and actors Michèle Mercier and Serge Marquand
Archive interview with Hossein
Original theatrical trailer
My review of Robert Altman’s 3 Women is at Flickering Myth and appears below:
3 Women is a memorably disturbing film with its heart set firmly on the art house. Said to be inspired by a dream, Robert Altman’s (M.A.S.H., Short Cuts, The Player) feature is also strongly reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s beautifully nightmarish Persona. Indeed, both films focus on the transient nature of behaviour and psyche, and reveal the unlimited potential for personalities to rebuild and redevelop.
Taking a look at the mysteries of femininity through a male filmmaker’s hazy vision is something else both films have in common. This fear of pre-judged emotional unpredictability and instability has been something of a constant in horror stories since well before the development of cinema. But, as the title of the film suggests, it was even rarer in 70’s Hollywood to contain more than one female lead and no male star than it is today. For this fact alone, the film was breaking plenty of ground.
The ancient male view of femininity represented as the mother, the virgin and the whore are all present in the three shifting characteristics of the women. And it is this sense of gender politics and psychology framed within a fairytale like quest for meaning that provides much of the film’s valuable commentary. As with all the best creative works, it tells us just as much about the artist as it does its subjects.
Pinky Rose (Spacek) arrives for work at a Californian desert town spa and soon grows dependent on colleague Millie Lammoreaux (Duvall). The two couldn’t be more different – Pinky’s awkward and furtive looks around the work place are in marked contrast to the outspoken Millie’s constant attention seeking.
Millie is extremely talkative, but she talks at people, rather than with them. During the first part of the movie Pinky doesn’t say much of anything at all, satisfied to watch Millie and draw in as much of her energy as she can. Or that’s certainly how it seems.
The two spend more and more time together – becoming room-mates in the process – and Pinky sees more of Millie’s somewhat limited social life. This largely consists of hanging out in the theme bar of ‘Dodge City’ with off-duty cops, dudes and dirt bikes. It is in this typically male environment that Pinky briskly downs her beer, providing the first indication that she may not be quite what she seems.
The two are joined in this game of mental hide and seek by Willie Hart (Janice Rule), a local artist and wife of a faux-cowboy (Robert Fortier) who Pinky finds in bed one night with Millie. This discovery of the sexual act culminates in a suicidal dive into the apartment’s communal swimming pool. From then on Pinky – whose real name just happens to be Mildred – and Millie start to switch places in a constantly shifting and surreal series of events.
Unclear as to where one character begins and one ends, 3 Women is a challenging film to say the least. It brings an outlandish shadow-play of neuroses and unreadable motivations out to the fore, in what is a film to savour and ask difficult questions of.
As a side note, is also interesting to see Millie’s initial nonchalant question to Pinky ‘haven’t you ever seen twins before?” given what Duvall would experience in Kubrick’s The Shining a few years later. Disquieting!
Creature of Habit
Give me your name
I want to work out
If we’re one and the same
You keep getting up
And following your lines
Without stopping to think
What the sentence prescribes…
Carp Diem isn’t a kind of fish
And it’s not a dime a dozen or a standard dish
It’s an explicit wish
An ongoing creation.
My review of the Swedish TV series 30 Degrees in February is over at Flickering Myth now…
10 years ago I was looking for a flat.
10 years ago I stayed at home
10 years ago a process had begun
10 years ago the world came rushing in
Some days go slowly
Some decades go quick
10 years ago panic gatecrashed
I stayed at home, perfectly sick