So I happened to be cruising around the foreign section on Netflix a few weeks ago just for shits and gigs when I came across Leos Carax’s French Holy Motors. The cover and summary looked pretty enticing so I gave it a quick punch-in on Rotten Tomatoes and saw the always reassuring “Guaranteed Fresh” near a pretty awesome flash summary. It read something like “mesmerizingly strange”, and all the reviews that followed made me ask myself: Man, should I do this!?
As much as I’ve never understood one of his films in the least, I’ve kind of had a sense of nostalgia for since his prolonged hiatus from cinema after his unsuccessful Inland Empire. His films, no matter what your opinion on them, are a riveting and bold example of an overlooked treasure in our modern world full of trash: the freedom to be as weird as you f---ing want! In spite of the oppression during the late 1960’s, the great Alejandro Jodorowsky was still allowed to play his classic “western acid” films through the midnight movie circuit, and those are some of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. Since the 19th century, freedom of expression has been boundless, and films that remind is of this and challenge us to let go of ourselves are becoming rarer and rarer. This is why Holy Motors is a fiery gem in the mines.
I won’t go into the plot of the film, but let’s just say it doesn’t really matter. What matters about this film is the seamlessness of its challenging narrative and hypnotic visual aesthetics… It’s suggestion to let go. It’s definitely not for everyone… And has to be viewed correctly by a viewer whose fully open to the idea of surrendering their soul to the screen for 116 minutes. There’s no doubt about it, though: This movie is absolutely the exclamation point on art house cinema. The film is very fresh, having been released in theaters only last Fall. So now, the question is: Will we ever see “surrealism” as a common cinematic genre? If so, when? I think the answer to this question can be found in the few films we do have in the “surrealistic” genre.
All of my favorite surrealism movies like Eraserhead, Waking Life, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie express their own independence and separation from modern film and that’s what makes them what they are. They are the true punk rock of cinema. They are diamonds in the rough, and they’re rare as it gets… But they like it that way.
Even though not all surrealism movies are worth one’s time (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s cliché attempt to do for LSD what they did for Motorcycles with The Trip is one example), surrealism film is still the only kind of movie that defies structure, and I like that. I like that because defying structure and form is the only way to transcend them. They say that when you throw caution in the wind, the true magic becomes tangible, and that’s exactly what these kind of movies do. They take cinematic risks. While James Cameron is composing his next symphony, the weird little surrealist filmmakers around the globe are improvising jazz music… And when they start cookin’, I can tell you that I would take it over the contrived composition of pre-meditated music anyday.
But, music metaphors aside, I truly hope that surrealistic filmmakers like Leos Carax continue to stay strange in a world full of logical scrutiny and politics. Despite the great entertainment and thrills one can receive from “normal” movies, there will always be that desire to just let it all go; to watch a movie without having to remember “why she hid the money” or “who poisoned Gus”(although I do love this last season of Breaking Bad); to be forever challenged by a movie without ever having to think once… That’s what makes a truly great piece of surrealism work to me.
So now, the next question: When will America start jumping on the strange train? We’ve seen our share in the past decade with directors like Charlie Kaufman and of course, David Lynch, but will we ever see an abundance of these films? Will American cinema ever embrace “surrealism” as an actual genre? With common cultural trends growing more and more unpredictable, your guess is as good as mine, but with upcoming films like ’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the possibility of a sudden recognition of art house movies in America occurring at any moment due to our current state of sociological vulnerability to a desire aesthetic stimulation(or, in other words, the people of America’s growing “will to be weird”), fans of strange and challenging cinema may be called hipsters in a few years when they claim “I liked it before it was cool.” Ironic, huh, bro?
No matter how you look at it, though, all movies need at least a LITTLE “weird” to be a good movie. Think of your favorite movie. Now think of explaining the plot and characters to someone who has no ideas what movies are. They would probably think it was the weirdest thing they’ve ever heard. Now, think of your least favorite movie. I guess that one could go both ways, but most of the time, people will claim their least favorite movie is something dull and overly “normal”; something that took no risk. No matter what genre you’re talking about, it needs that degree of character and trademark to make it unique and memorable, which a lot of people refer to as simply “weird”. I guess it saves breath, but this “weird” is the Great Film Reel in the sky that breeds life into Hollywood, and without it, every movie would seem like Uwe Boll s—t on your face and no one needs Mr. Boll’s hot carl(s)… But they do need the screen, and the screen needs “strange”… So come on, Hollywood… Let’s get Hollyweird.