Outsider films are, dare it be said, a dying breed. Thanks to updates in technology, new and novel means of distribution, and the bandwagon like call to arms that is the Internet, even the most reclusive cinematic “genius” is bound to be discovered (and if the biz has anything to say about it, exploited). This doesn’t mean that every movie made sees the light of an everyday release, but it does make it harder and harder to stay in the background. Websites strive on uncovering the unique and unsung, and as such, banking on the uniqueness to raise their always struggling profiles. It’s the same here at Short Ends and Leader. After 12 months of sifting through the celluloid remnants, offering up a compendium of ten heretofore unknown treats is difficult, if not impossible. Still, in the annual spirit of such a discussion, we will give it a well-considered whirl.
Of course, as with any year end acknowledgment, a few consideration parameters have to be laid down. First and foremost, it’s important to note that the films themselves do not have to be made in, or originally released during 2010 proper. After all, some outsider cinema takes years in legal or logistical limbo before making it out via some manner of viewable state. In addition, there is no need for an Oscar like NY to LA preview schedule. As long as the film made it out on some format during this year (originally or in an update) we allowed it. Finally, we don’t discriminate against those who self distribute. As long as it passed over our critical transom, we considered it, no matter how it first got there. About the only consistent element is worth - if the movie wasn’t something really special, we just didn’t add it to our final overview.
There will be quibbles here and there (the unusual amount of documentaries on this list says something about the genre - and the lack of media attention to same) and, one imagines, a wealth of undeclared gems that deserved our attention. But as a blog built on balance, trying to champion both the mainstream and the atypical, we can’t cover everything. We try, but it’s unfeasible. Still, here’s hoping this list inspires you to seek out the weird and the wild, beginning with a cartoon that is as far from kiddie fodder as possible:
Like South Park by way of Copenhagen, or old school Looney Tunes after doing one too many bong hits, Terkel in Trouble is terrific. The brainchild of stand-up comic Anders Matthesen (who provides all the voices for the characters), this warped view of childhood as a determined Death Race is witty, weird, and just a bit on the warped side. Sure, for the most part, Matthesen (via the quartet of filmmakers involved) is merely riffing on the realities of growing up in our prickly post-modern society. But instead of emotional angst and psychological scarring, we get basic vulgarity and lots of ultraviolence.
Oh yes - it is a reprehensible, repulsive experiment in graphic excess. Everything you’ve heard about this proposed political allegory is horrifically true - and then some. While director Srdjan Spasojevic can argue all he wants to about the proposed allusions of life under oppressive Serbian rule, the sledgehammer over the head like delivery will leave many reeling - and sickened. Still, one has to champion a work as passionate and as powerful as this, no matter the material included. While most of it is far from unfathomable, this gross, gratuitous motion picture primal scream is unforgettable. [Trailer]
Undeniably quirky, but also very effective from a straight dramatic standpoint, this offbeat film argues for Werner Herzog’s continued viability as one of the great filmmakers of the post-modern age. With an eye that can’t help but produce masterworks and an aesthetic which neatly balances the weird with the clear and concrete, he forges a path toward enlightenment while tossing as many unusual beats at the audience as possible. Yet the director always counterattacks the initial oddness with an insight or explanation that furthers our understanding of the subtext involved in the story.
It’s really hard to get the old abandoned and/or haunted house/hospice/building/edifice concept to work. It’s been so overdone in the horror genre. Luckily, Fragile suffers from very few of these problems while providing a solid, scary experience. Reminiscent of the equally eerie and effective The Orphanage, it’s obvious that [REC] co-director Jaume Balagueró‘s knows fear. Except for a last act reveal of the aforementioned “mechanical” creature, there is very little in the way of disturbing violence. Instead, this is a film building its fright out of mood and aggressive atmosphere.
Infamous in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the crazy Kuchar Twins (George and Mike) are today regarded as the godfathers of the trash punk aesthetic, a campy combination of genre jumping designs that cherry-picks apart filmic archetypes to deliver a masterful reinvention of established elements. In her documentary, filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot catches up with the 67 year old “boys”, each now following their own career path. Between them, we see an unusual bond that breaches convention as much as it embraces it, arguing for their place in the history of the medium as much as it questions their considerable name check reputation.
While it may not be a probing piece of investigative documentation, Steven Soderbergh’s love letter to his old friend and oddball performance artist it does do a fine job of celebrating a complicated and creative conundrum. Using stock footage and old interview clip, monologist Spalding Gray’s entire life is analyzed, from his troubled youth to the sudden stardom that came with Swimming to Cambodia. What we learn is that Gray’s purpose was part of an ongoing dialogue, an endless conversation between the man and his mind that almost always bled over into his evocative form of entertainment.
Helmed by Michael Stephenson, a former child star who actually appeared in the original Troll 2 (and is willing to admit it), this hilarious documentary uses the current cult over the title claptrap to cover a lot of ground. Some of its is purely nostalgic. At other instances, it’s a pointed glimpse behind the making of a meaningless phenom. But when it gets down to the nitty gritty of the personalities and people involved, a proposed backstage glimpse at an arguably forgotten flop turned into another cinematic creature all together, it’s fascinating, funny, and sometimes rather frightening.
Rare Exports is the best unholy Christmas creation ever. It’s the perfect combination of old world superstition and new age satire. Buried in between the animal carcasses, musty slaughterhouses, and Spartan living condition is still a child’s vivid imagination - only this time, the visions aren’t of candy and kindness, but of a horned demon with elf-like minions that may or may not resemble anorexic old men. Rare Exports wants to argue that the real meaning of Santa was always as an underage cautionary tale, a coal in the stocking vs. presents by the fire kind of behavioral modification.
As a statement on overprotective parenting and the insularity of post-modern society, Yorgos Lanthimos’ masterpiece of amazingly mixed metaphors is devastating. It’s Bad Boy Bubby without the punk ethos. Centering on a domineering father who keeps his adult kids sheltered from the real world (teaching them unusual meanings for common words, portraying the society beyond their barricaded walls as dangerous and desperate), the film suggests that no amount of control can trump the human urges of life, liberty…and lust. Indeed, sex undoes this cloistered clan, a need to feed biology that leads to insights, incest - and finally - insurrection.
With its cinema verite style and the brazen honesty of its subjects, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia becomes an instant classic, a kind of post-modern revisionism of such previous family oriented documentaries as Grey Gardens and Brother’s Keeper. It’s a freak show, a cautionary tale, a found comedy, a frightmare, and perhaps most importantly, a window beyond the white picket fences and weekly Wal-Mart trips of most mainstream America. This is the real world of life in these United States, small collectives of concerns which resonate and repel as they signify the state of the country’s philosophical collapse. No one would argue for the White’s crazed criminal way of doing things, but in many ways, they are closer to the so-called American Dream than many in their specific predicament.