Hallie Cantor of the comedy site Splitsider was so right when recently wrote: The worst feeling in the universe may be the desperation of
aimlessnessly poking around Netflix Instant trying to find something better than the weird foreign dramas it keeps inexplicably recommending to you.
She then goes on to recommend some comedy, specifically as an alternative to The Bicycle Thief. Well, the terror and confusing of BICYCLE THIEVES (ahem) isn’t something I’d advise for the laymen. Who wants to remember what it’s like to be robbed, or Catholic? We Cineastes here on Bright Lights don’t care for comedy, we want some ART… and so bad it’s good Friday night goofball thrills– therare and hard to find, that no one else knows about, that are way left of the dial–probably because they explore taboo topics like terrorism, lesbianism junky espionage, patricide, 70s German terrorists, and Manson-esque LSD freakiness. In other words, our kind of films! After each one is a recommendation for another, similar film on Netflix streaming if you want to continue in that vein. The fun never endeth!
Currently available only on Netflix streaming is the hitherto unbeknownst to me big budget, ponderous, confusingly edited, reasonably engrossing, mildly titillating melodrama from Dino De Laurentiis, (1) FRAULEIN DOKTOR (1968). Also known as FRAULEIN DOCTOR (on Netflix), it’s the semi-true story of a WW1 German morphine-addict bisexual super spy, and is clearly structured along a DR. ZHIVAGO (1965) template, which is to say, it has big elaborate international sweep; a Maurice Jarre-ish orchestral soundtrack (by Ennio Morricone!); a superfluously elaborate train journey; a big crowd scene gas attack; and romantic leads who look a lot like Julie Christie and Omar Shariff (Suzy Kendall and James Booth).
However, this ain’t your mom’s ZHIVAGO clone, unless your mom is a lesbian junky super spy working for WW1 Germany. The opening barbed wire silhouette and deep color splotch credit design is something straight out of the Corman Poe series, which is the next best thing to Saul Bass in the cool credits depts, and in some ways FRAULEIN’s kin are less ZHIVAGO and more the Marlene Dietrich Von Sternberg collaboration DISHONORED, but ‘bigger’ and far dirtier, and more allegedly true. It dips its toes in a druggy kind of debauched super genius nastiness: our fraulein shoots up a lot of morphine, and when she stares lustily at the delicious morphine granules being given to dying soldiers, you feel her longing – and the lesbian seduction has a creepy Aldrich-ish freakshow quality–while staying true to the Zhivagosian ‘sweep.’ It’s got De Laurentiis’ fingerprints all over it, and most of all, as per De Laurentiis’ best works, there’s a sense of real moral ambiguity, where immorality is championed and condemned in equal measure. (Full Review Here)
Also recommended: NEW ROSE HOTEL
2. The BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX (2008) Sociopathic German youth never looked better than in late 1960s swinger outfits with machine guns in hand, even if the filmmakers feel the need to use, yet again, Buffalo Springfield singing about how what it is ain’t exactly clear / but there’s a man with a gun over there, to encapsulate that wild time of the late 1960s (and of course the ubiquitous flaming monk on the eleven-o-clock news). Though occasionally confusing as characters come and go with no ID cards (and all the hot German frauleinschange wigs and hairstyles understandably often), it’s all boldly ambiguous and rich without being tediously overcrafted. The terrorists aren’t painted in any particular brush, letting viewers be attracted to these angry political activists while horrified at the violence of their actions. The sobering effect is to find your gangster movie fantasia suddenly resembling middle eastern terrorist mentality; you’ve been tricked into identifying with your own enemy via the mass hypnosis of popular cinema; your own tool of hypnosis used against you, bourgeoisie schweinhund!
Consider the loop of hate that leads from the Nazis back around to the Baader-Meinhof group aka The Red Army Faction: First, the Nazis take their hate out on the Jews; then the toughened surviving Jews split to the Holy Land and take their rage against the Germans out on the Arabs; the children of the former Nazis take the rage of the Arabs out on their parents, for not fighting what they perceive as yet another Hitler in their midst (America). But is it really that these kids don’t want to make the same mistake their parents and grandparents did and look the other way as fascism takes over and seals the fate of the free world or is it merely antisemitism reborn in flashier clothes? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so cute… been so violent… for somuch media attention.
Also Recommended: CARLOS
3. CULT OF THE DAMNED (1968) Perhaps this film isn’t as well-known as its other AIP psychedelic brethren due to bad timing, i.e. the Manson murders. That tragic slaughter broke up negotiations between the generations like a bomb at Middle East peace conference. Suddenly an innocent film like ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO AKA CULT OF THE DAMNED–full of song, freak, and flag that just happened to be about killing your parents–was seen as something very dark, which the film’s satirical tone was maybe just too frazzled to support. Well, if four people count as a cult then oh, crazy lady crazy lady. So stuck in a limbo where BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS fans can’t find it (they’d love it), the film’s been rolling around in time warp obscurity ever since… ever since now, crazylady crazylady!!
Crazylady is the kind of dialogue sung by our rock messiah Peter Bogart Stuyvessant, a pint-sized icon who lays Tara, the Mama Cass-ish heiress (the one with the rich parents) down by the lake where she fantasizes in weird Freudian melt-down bloody Bluebeard forbidden stained-key-style collages. Bogart’s friends show up and sweep her into their world of forbidden pleasure and love, love, freedom! Pillows and purple gel accent lighting and a groovy old LP player and reel-to-reel. Bogart (“the original Hump-Phrey!”) even records a song to his new love about how “growing high and going wide gives you lots of ‘room’ inside.”
Tara gets confident with all this attention and learns to dance free and easy like Mama Cass and tease her mom about her obsession with expensive jewelry. With a little research Tara learns that fat used to be the height of beauty and that “Twiggy only dates back to Buchenwald.” When Bogart decides to get with Tara’s pillhead mama (“maybe you’ll adopt me, maybe I’ll adopt you, but oh crazy lady crazy lady!”) Tara freaks out and starts crying up on the ceiling. Mom hangs by the pool and notes: “He is the sort that makes you take all sorts of tranquilizers before breakfast, isn’t he? And wash them down with bloodys.” Cheers, Mrs. S.! “You drive, I dive! We all die!” With Bogart around, bloody’s always for breakfast. (more here) Also Recommended: THE WILD ANGELS, HAIR.
4. SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (AKA THE JEZEBELS – 1975)
Jack Hill’s great triumph of amok hot youth is like the grungy welfare recipient sister to the ‘richer’ films on this list – it’s got threadbare production and some bad acting, but that all just works for its urban blight mise en scene, and like most Hill films of this era this has got about eight tons of great exploitation packed in a one ton frame, and it’s a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, so the eye patch Daryll Hannah wears in KLL BILL is at least partly inspired by Patch (above). There’s also a fortified towncar tank, black militant feminists, evil dyke wardens getting beat downs, and general savagery and hotness. A real late night HUMP-phrey! See also: The BIG BIRD CAGE, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, and COFFY
5. WILD IN THE STREETS (1968) It’s to the credit of TV director Barry Shear that he can depict Max’s massive shows of youth revolt solely by tinted stock footage of the Sunset Strip, a bonfire, parked motorcycles, stalled traffic, random shots of crowds dancing, tinted windows and shots of blinking signs, footage of rock concert and earlier love-in crowds, skylines, and the Capital Building. An assortment of faces from the counterculture come and go: Bobby Sherman, Peter Tork, Gary Busey. Meanwhile there’s probably no more than a dozen people in the whole film but if you’re drunk or ten years-old hearing about it at school it can seem like the most dangerous, expensive movie in the world.
Writer Robert Thom based this on his short story, “The Day it all Happened, Baby.” Thom wrote a lot of films about overbearing moms and their beautiful Apollonian sons, like CULT OF THE DAMNED (the mom sleeps with the rock star boyfriend of her heavy daughter), BLOODY MAMA (Mama sleeps with her son’s gay lover, Bruce Dern), DEATHRACE 2000 (son runs over old lady), LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE, and something called ALIAS BIG CHERRY, so obscure it’s not even available on Netflix streaming!
WILD is, like, ‘there’ though; man is it ever, man. Streaming, man, like the angry youth streaming single file into the nation’s capital to demand change, stream baby. But dig, Thom was born in 1929, so you do the math; he was old, daddy, old. Pushin’ 40 when this film was made - it’s got a Sebastian Venable midlife crisis victim’s fingerprints all over its subtexts. Come to think of it, has Robert Thom ever written a straight love scene? Like a genuine no-nonsense straight people being genuinely romantic kind of trip? Oh wow… no. Good for him! So since it was only 1968 there’s no sex at all in WILD IN THE STREETS, and the one moment of intimacy comes with Jones and another boy. As Diane Varsi notes with a smile, “methinks you boys are fags.” Methinks these boys are narcissists, with James Dean fetishes. (Full Review Here) Also Recommended: ENTER THE VOID
Backed by music by the Steve Miller Band (freshly formed), Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, (6) REVOLUTION (1968) helps us get back to the garden after all that political satire jive. This slightly sleazy free love documentary really benefits from the crunchy psychedelic guitars; even if you’re not paying full attention to the kids onscreen or the squares gawking from the sidelines at the never-ending parade of panhandlers along the Haight, they’ll lift your spirits up in case the cynical rock of WILD IN THE STREETS lowered them.
Whoa man. I’m totally tripping after seeing all that death and cynicism in the above films. I need some love, and here it is. Pupils dilated in the mirror. 20-years old and foxy, dancing like a girl who just found freedom, who done stepped out her shell like… a girl named… Today.
No man, that’s like her name. She changed her name to Today, because that’s all we have, dig? I mean that’s everything there is. Her big LSD trip–captured start to finish–anchors the whole second half of the film: Today begs for change in a really attractive, clean looking brown and light green poncho; Today climbs trees and frolics in the park; Today drives up the coast to dig the old growth; squiggly light shows. Flowers! Flowers! She strokes an apple –it’sbreathing! Someone eats a banana. Some dude paints some crazy colors on her belly. She lies in the grass with two girlfriends, giggling hysterically. Even with the 21st century’s roseless, untinted glasses you can feel her whole body sigh with relief as socio-genetic programming is short-circuited and overcome with a single white pill and good set and setting.
Unfolding with one eye on the exploitation market, it could be argued REVOLUTION was–at least on some level–pitched less at the kids themselves and more at adults curious about all the free love, as in the lengthy naked dance light show to Country Joe and the Fish’s most psychedelic instrumental, “Section 43″ (below), but prurience is addressed too: hippies interviewed include a girl from the Sexual Freedom League who explains how only couples are allowed into the orgy to keep the numbers even (so dirty old men don’t capsize the boat). Ah the logistics of orgy-mongering!
The peak moment in all this is the writhing naked theater group dancing in front of the wild psychedelic light show to Country Joe’s most psychedelic instrumental, “Section 42.” With one exploitative eye to the bush shots, the long takes with the light show definitely have a certain magic Kenneth Anger-style power. You can feel the amount of LSD that surged through the audience, as if the black magick strength of their lysergic gaze is captured in the celluloid itself! Hey, groovy. (Full review here) See Also: TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.