Saturday 31 May 2008

Funky Forest - The First Contact

At the first Toronto After Dark Film Festival in October 2006, Twitch's Todd Brown called "Funky Forest: The First Contact" the strangest film he'd ever seen. Two and a half mind boggling hours later, several hundred attendees had just updated their own lists too. It was a great screening - a theatre full of people truly never knowing what the hell they were going to see next and completely loving it. But would a series of surreal sketches hold up as a home DVD viewing experience a year and a half later?

Turns out the answer is Yes. It's a different experience of course, but the film builds up such a great deal of good will with its silly incongruous moments and deadpan humour that I couldn't help but enjoy it all over again. As well, I started to see a bit more of a common theme running through the material - mostly as it relates to dreams and the mixing of them with reality. That, and a lot of dancing.

Singles Picnic Dance

Uso Uso-so

How can you resist a film with the recurring "Babbling Hot Springs Vixens"? Or the "Guitar Brother" segments with Tadanobu Asano and his chubby younger white sibling? Or the strangest music class you'll ever see where a series of odd creatures are played by attaching themselves to your body? Or the dog who is an animation director and needs a gargantuan headed woman to translate his ideas? Or the badminton practice that has a young woman trying to volley back the liquids coming out of a man's long nipples after squeezing his...Well, you'll just have to see that one for yourself. And how about the three minute intermission with a countdown clock? And the shorter 19 second intermission later on where the actors simply freeze mid scene? All these ideas and images combine into a surreal experience to say the least, but it's also very funny. The straight faced line deliveries help, but there's also some moments of sudden quick edits that sharpen the humour in a scene.

The Homeroom skits were one of the more popular sequences of the film during that After Dark screening and it's apparent from the clip below for several reasons:

  • The complete disparity of the ages of the students in the classroom. What kind of school is this? As well, if you pay attention you'll notice people from previously in the film as well as other characters that show up later on.
  • Each episode starts with the teacher getting whacked on the head via a practical joke by the class - and he doesn't seem to mind.
  • The theme music - How great is that little snippet?
  • The timing of the humour - both in its delivery by the actors and in the editing. Particularly at the end as they splice in small additional segments.
  • The absurdity of the situations in each episode.

The idea of mixing shows up in several forms during the film - the DJ mixing music in his apartment, the different repeating characters showing up in each others vignettes (and all of them showing up in "Homeroom") and the extended mix of sounds when we finally enter the funky forest that are created by the mixing consoles of the three young females who are "the one who controls the sounds of all living creatures", "the one who plays with the sounds of nature" and "the one who takes command of every sound made by man's technology".

The entire film is a dreamland mix of bits and pieces of everyday life with the fantastical as well as the natural with the technological (including a completely insane section involving a young girl's belly button that connects via a living cable to a grotesque pulsating...well, you'll just have to see that one for yourself too).

Just let the film wash over you like it was your own dream.

Frames Of Reference

This is all kinds of awesome from Jonathan Lapper at CinemaStyles.

It's just incredibly cinematic. And that Oliver Nelson tune underneath the whole thing is absolutely terrific.

Check out the original post and its comments too. Jonathan promises to put up a list of all the movies contained in the final video (C'mon man, don't listen to Arbogast! I need that list now!).

Friday 23 May 2008

A Potpourri Of Production Design

This post is part of the Production Design Blog-a-thon being hosted at Too Many Projects Film Club.

Playtime (1967)

Production Design - Eugene Roman

Though "Playtime" just about ruined Jacques Tati financially (entire buildings in 'Tativille' were built specifically for the film), it remains an incredible example of bringing a filmmaker's vision to screen through props, sets and lighting.

The shimmering greys of these shots add to the impersonal cold steel-like feeling of the modern buildings.

The restaurant/club where the latter part of the film takes place is a masterpiece of design - not just in the way that it looks, but the way it controls the movement of its characters and guides the many visual jokes. Screencaps don't do it justice because you need to see the flow of movement through it.

Deep Red (1975)

Production Design - Giuseppe Bassan
Set Decoration - Armando Mannini

Say what you will about Dario Argento's films (and you can certainly say a lot both good and bad), they always look great. He's certainly known for fabulous use of colours in his lighting schemes, but I found "Deep Red" had some terrific sets as well - most used to good effect during the "kill" sequences to help heighten the suspense or provide surprises.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Production Design - Walter Reinman, Walter Rohrig, Hermann Warm
Set Decoration - Hermann Warm

The standard bearer of German Expressionism, "Caligari" is designed to make everything seem off kilter with it's sharp angles and warped constructions. The tinting in these shots is apparently from the original design of the film.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Art Direction - Bernard Reeves

As fun as many of the late 60s and early 70s "horror" films are, one of the reasons they continue to appeal to so many people is the amazing look and feel they bring with them - take the opening of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" with the odd orchestra and dance sequence in Phibes' lair...

The rest of the film looks equally great with each set having its own colour palette and slightly askew feel to it.

Songs From The Second Floor (2000)

Production Designer - None listed in IMDB

Speaking of slightly askew...The incredible "Songs From The Second Floor" by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson contains washed out sets as well as washed out characters (in many ways). There's likely many ways to interpret this beautiful film, but I've always liked to look at it as a vision of purgatory.

Andersson's follow-up film, 2007's "You The Living" is similar in its construction (static shots and washed out colours) and was my favourite film of 2007.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967)

Art Direction - Robert F. Boyle
Set Decoration - Edward G. Boyle

This musical satire of the Corporate world is not only a lot of fun, but has some great looking office space. The colour schemes match the employees' clothing and keep things bright and cheerful while at the same time large swipes are being taken at the culture of business and what it really takes to climb the Corporate ladder.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Art Direction - James Basevi, Leland Fuller
Set Decoration - Thomas Little

From the grand headquarters of Satan in the opening of the film (the first two screencaps) to the overflowing colours and decor of the stately rooms, Ernst Lubitsch's story of a man looking back at his life is a feast for the eyes. Of course, when you have Gene Tierney in your movie, you could really just dispense with sets altogether...

Say Anything (1989)

Production Designer - Mark Mansbridge
Set Decoration - Joe Mitchell

And finally, some set design that doesn't necessarily stand out...As a matter of fact, it's barely noticeable. Which in the case of "Say Anything" is a good thing as nothing gets in the way of the characters and dialog. These are just a couple of examples of things I found that struck me as being quite realistic and not obviously placed in the frame.

That popsicle stick lamp to the left...We had one just like it when I was a kid and the top always leaned to one side just like this one.

That box of Glad wrap over John Cusack's shoulder that is not sitting flat on the top of the fridge, but caught in the gap between wall and fridge.

Those little coloured things in the soapdish at the middle bottom of the frame - it's true that no one actually puts soap there.

The fact that his bed isn't actually made up...