“Don’t Dream it, Be it.”

Newlyweds Brad and Janet travel to “go see the man who begannit,” doctor Scott. On their way they get a flat tire and the only place to stop to get to a phone is a gothic castle with motorcycles out front. They meet the residents, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia first and are instantly uncomfortable by their sexual deviance. They happen to have arrived on a very special occasion. Their master, Frank n’ Furter, is throwing a party for a monster he has created (who is really an tanned, Aryan Frankenstein in a gold speedo) as a lover for himself. We find that all the residents are aliens from the planet Transylvania. Eddie, a lover of Columbia, is brutally murdered by Frank. Everyone sits to have dinner and they find that the dinner table they have been eating off of was really a coffin with Eddie’s remains inside. This causes a ruckus and Frank turns everyone into Greek statues. He dresses the statues, and arranges them on stage. Then begins the floorshow. Riff Raff and Magenta interrupt the show because they want to return home and Frank wants to stay. The two kill Frank and the castle begins to fly home. Brad and Janet are left changed and befuddled.

How does one begin describe the indescribable Rocky Horror Picture Show? Like many cult films, this film is based less on plot and technical skill, more on performance and clever dialogue. Writer/ actor (Riff Raff), Richard O’Brien wrote the Broadway show The Rocky Horror Show. It was very successful in the Britain and Hollywood producers were keen on the idea of creating an American film version. The film was made, but not at the initial request of the producers. The producers wanted a film with American stars, but director Jim Sharman wanted the original Broadway cast. The producers agreed, but with a drastically lower budget of 1.2 million. The film had a terrible opening and theatrical run until it was discovered as the perfect midnight movie.

A midnight movie is a phenomenon that screens offbeat cinema at midnight. Films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Freaks are prime examples. The term Midnight Movie is often used as a synonym for B-movie, and Cult Film. Though these terms are all extremely similar in concept they vary and intermingle.

Rocky Horror is really the cult film to end all cult films. It is the ultimate, quintessential, and undisputed cult film. The film is also a cult film about cult films in a sense. It references numerous sci-fi and b-movies like Tarzan the Ape Man, The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari, Doctor X, King Kong, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Flash Gordon, The Day the Earth Stood Still, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, Forbidden Planet and countless more. The Rocky Horror Picture Show incorporates many of the themes that define a cult film. It’s a Sci-Fi, Horror, Parody, and Black Comedy, bisexual, glam rock spectacular.

The show is really stolen and the plot carried by the legendary Frank played by Tim Curry. In his film debut he gives the performance of a lifetime. Frank’s mood swings and emotional tumult ebbs and flows like the plot of this film. His character goes from camp queen to crumbling diva like that of an old Hollywood star. He plays the alien, mad scientist, cult leader and lovesick transvestite that is so easy to love. His ripped tights, corset, and garter belt are only additions to the beautiful and theatrical performance of Tim Curry’s life. His character has become and icon for any person trying to show edge of rebellion in their style. Frank is truly the Jesus Of the Freaks.

It is impossible to discuss The Rocky Horror Picture Show without mentioning half of its entire appeal and that is live performance. This film has gathered a following that does not watch in silence, but rather dress up and act out the film. They gather at midnight in a theater armed with toast, water guns, newspaper, lighters, rubber gloves, noisemakers, toilet paper, confetti, party hats and a bell. All objects have a significant meaning in the participation of the story. For example, when Frank snaps his rubber gloves on, the audiences does the same. This communal activity has surpassed the actual film. Many people care less about the film and just go for the party.

The legacy Rocky Horror has left behind is more cult-like than any other cult film in the world. The fan base ranges from people who were alive in 1975 to kids who were introduced recently. The film has earned 139.8 million dollars since its release through midnight showing all around the world. It is the film with the longest theatrical run in history. It’s on of the highest grossing films as well by earning over one hundred times it’s budget.

Amidst the camp and insanity is a universal message that is somewhat melancholic. It hits home for many of the “freaks” that enjoy the film so much. The motto sung by Frank in his final song, “Don’t dream it, be it,” in its simplicity, sums the entire appeal to Rocky Horror. It supports the flying of our own freak flags. In some ways the film is also a point of ultimate escapism. Participants enter a theater with hundreds of other people dressed just as strange if not stranger than the next. They are all part of a whole; the island of lost toys.  It’s a sense of community for the people who probably lacked such a feeling in their life.

The Legendary Time Warp:


“God is dead! Satan lives!”

A young couple moves into an elegant, gothic apartment in New York City’s Upper West Side. Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow, is mousy and very naïve and her husband, Guy, is an actor without substantial acting jobs. Rosemary’s typical response to anyone who asks about her husband is, “He does a lot of TV and commercials.” Their elderly, eccentric new neighbors, John and Minnie Casavets, an old couple, take interest in the couple.  John Cassavet find guy find guy to be less pure and corrupt than Rosemary. They find from dinner with a friend that the house has a dangerous history of violent events including witchcraft. The old woman, Minnie Casavet, becomes infatuated with Rosemary like a daughter or best friend. To Minnie, Rosemary expresses a desire to start a family. A young woman who lives with the Castanets mysteriously commits suicide after Rosemary meets her that afternoon. Guy’s acting career is miraculously changed just as Rosemary discovers she in pregnant. Rosemary’s health deteriorates and she begins to question the “natural” vitamin drink that Minnie has been giving her and the unorthodox doctor the Casavets assigned for her. Guy is very comfortable with the Casavets and their gang of elderly friends. Rosemary suffers in isolation. Tension builds as she becomes more isolated and self-doubting. She finds books on witchcraft. By not the audience knows the secret, but we are in suspense leading to the conclusion of Rosemary giving birth to the anti-Christ.

Rosemary’s Baby began an era of horror films like The Omen and The Exorcist. All films had prominent messages about evil and mischievous malevolence. This was very unsettling for the time. The film suggested that things that are considered good like youth, pregnancy, and little girls enable evil. A huge controversy following the release of this film was Charles Manson’s attack on Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Polanski. Some think that Rosemary’s Baby provoked the murder. Considering cult films connection to transgression it’s clear to see the connection of the film to the murder

Polanski was recommended to direct this film after Hitchcock turned it down. The producer, William Castle wanted Polanski after seeing repulsion and thinking the two would mix perfectly.

Contrary to Ira Levin’s book offers the conclusion that Rosemary is dealing with a cult early in the story. The fatalism in the story is what frightens the viewers the most. We know what’s happening and we just want the horror to end. Rosemary is either insane and everyone is trying to help her or she has fallen into the grasp of a satanic cult. Roman Polanski’s first Hollywood film is one of the few horror films that inspire fear in the audience by true suspense rather than gore or extreme violence. The film maintains a certain level of class and intelligence that it very rare in today’s horror genre. No other film gives such a clear example of self-destruction or possibly the contradiction the American dream and innocence. Rosemary’s naïve trust reflects most of America at the time.

The film analyzes the taboo’s of mistrust and betrayal in marriage and conception by using the extreme taboo of satanism and temptation to show that. Guy betrays Rosemary. He tries to excuse it as if he did something noble. He made a deal with the devil to allow his wife to be impregnated by Satan so he could have success in his acting career. He tells her in the final scene that they can live happily afterwards and start over. He tells her to treat the issue like a miscarriage and they can have a child of their own after this one. Its almost satirical in the casual way Guy speaks of his actions. The film deals with surrogacy and abortion decades before surrogacy clinics and egg donors. The Catholic Church, predictably, banned the film for its depiction of sacred icons and images to Christianity. Britain’s Board of Film censors also banned the satanic rape scene saying its “elements of kinky sex associated with black magic.” The mixture of sex and religion has always been an uphill battle and this film dropped a few bombs.

The film has a mysterious afterlife. One urban legend ties a Satanist from San Francisco to the role of occult consultant to the creative team behind Rosemary’s Baby. Though he is not in the credits there are rumors that he played the devil in the film. Another legend is that LaVay was involved with the casualty of bad luck on set. LaVay was considered to be the psychic and karmic link the Manson murders. Myths, taboos, and presidents in film are what made a film like Rosemary’s Baby legendary.

The haunting final scene:

“Fanta, you’re fantasizing!”

House’s plot is about as cookie-cutter as a horror plot gets. Most actions seem like excuses to get a group of seven dwarves  girls into a house in order to kill them off. The plot begins with Gorgeous (yes, that’s actually her name) discovering that her father, a film composer, is getting remarried. Gorgeous is upset because she sees this as a replacement for her dead mother. With summer approaching and nothing to do, she decides to go into the countryside and visit her ill aunt in order to reconnect with her mothers past. Her six other friends just happen to have their plans cancelled and they are all free. Gorgeous decides to invite them all with her. The girls all have a kitschy name matching their flat characters. There is Gorgeous (because she’s gorgeous), Kung-Fu (the tough one), Fantasy (the dreamer), Sweet (the cutesy one), Melody (the musician), and Mac (like stomach, she eats a lot). Once at the house the girls naïvely run the household for the Aunt as people go missing. Mac dies first and traumatizes Fantasy. No one believes her because she’s the dreamer (ba-dum-tschh). It takes Gorgeous’s possession by a cat demon for them to realize there are three people missing. The house tries to consume all of the girls to feed the aunt who has become a teenage girl-eating witch. Clearly the film isn’t praised for its plot.

Director Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, before directing House, was known as mainly a director for strange and cute commercials. It comes to no surprise that he started as an experimental filmmaker. House was made on the premise of marketing off the success of Jaws. Cerebral films from directors like Kurosawa and Ozu dominated Japan’s mainstream cinema. Their main goal was to affect the viewer psychologically rather than stimulate or entertain with mindless fun. In the late 1970s Japan had not caught on to the trend of marketing films towards teenagers. Ohbayashi was one of the first to realize the potential in this genre.

House may resemble films like Evil Dead that parody themselves, but in essence House is closer to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Like ‘Pilgrim’, House is a film that realizes that their audience is too smart to pretend the film is reality. The film embraces that it’s a film and emphasizes that humor in that. The effects are bad and the sets are obvious. Painted backdrops, campy editing, and rear projection are good examples. This unreality creates an atmosphere that the youth generation had not seen before.

While ‘Pilgrim’ parodies and references video games and anime to get certain points across, House does the same with television. In ‘Pilgrim’, Scott would find an archetypal enemy, his girlfriend’s ex. In order to get the point across that they are enemies, the film shows them in a fight with health bars and sound effects like a video game. In house Ohbayashi uses a similar technique. When the girls are introduced in the opening credits, the montage is as staged and comical as the opening to a sit-com. Also, rather than give away the characters traits and interests through plot, he names them after the interests. This concept gives the viewers a short cut to understanding concepts in the film because they speak that language. The pop culture references also act as ways of alienating people no “in the know” which helped the film to become popular with the teens of Japan. They loved it and it was a love not shared with the audience that once abandoned them. This was a film all their own.

The film’s loose plot and absurd logic can be credited to Ohbayashi’s eleven year-old daughter, who came up with most of the strange scenes and concepts. She told her father her fears and he then translated them into the script. She hated when the piano would slam on you fingers while playing which inspired the monstrous piano that killed Melody. She also came up with the idea of the mirror attacking the viewer.

House was one of the first horror comedies of its time. The humor was simultaneously disturbing and funny. There is a scene where the aunt dances with a skeleton to a plinking piano tune and later dines on human hand. Strange enough the scene is approached so whimsically that the viewer doesn’t know weather to laugh or cry. It’s only until its over that you realize this film is truly twisted.

Dark comedy and whimsical horror have been prominent themes in numerous cult films. Their twisted logic and juxtaposed morals make us question and realize our own. Directors like Sam Raimi and the Coen brothers , with their own styles with less vibrancy, may not have been directly influenced by Ohbayashi and his surreal vision, but there is no doubt that this piece of pop art’s effects has been felt through the years.

The wacky trailer: 


“The only thing for frightening than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.”

Suspiria is a nightmarish fairy tale about an American girl studying at a German ballet school that is a front for witchcraft. That sentence alone makes this film a wonder. The director, Dario Argento, is famous for being a huge Giallo horror director. His films have become iconic in their own sense and Suspiria is the most celebrated. Its dream-like imagery is one of the films signature concepts. Soren McCarthy, author of the book Cult Films in 60 Seconds describes the film as, “the closest man has ever come to filming a nightmare.”

Giallo is a genre of films and literature made in Italy in the late 20th century that is comparable to pulp fiction in America. It’s a noir-ish genre that can be kitsch and melodramatic, but that’s its charm. Giallo stands for “yellow” which represents the cheap paperback books printed on paper that turns yellow because of its poor quality. In Italy, Giallo means nothing different than Hitchcock, but in American it represents a mix of thriller, mystery, and slasher films. Giallo films tend to be theatrical and operatic while retaining “immoral” themes including sex, violence, and drugs.

The film seems to be made to be a cult film. It has a very stimulating color palette and an  iconic rock soundtrack by Italian band Goblin.  It’s a horror film about witchcraft (speaking of taboos…), and its already surreal look is complimented by its partial hilarity. The film is as campy and silly as it is artful and beautiful. The plot is simple; it leaves room for Argento’s imagination to take place. Dreams have very little narrative so it’s only appropriate the film has a similar story. The music is a great factor in creating the film’s suspense. Screeching strings, haunting whispers, echoing drums, pulsating synths, the sound drive the film foreword. It makes the audience tense and anxious while keeping their attention. The sounds merge perfectly with the visuals.  Complimenting the whole piece is a simple tune that sounds like a broken music box. An eerie aspect of the whispers in the score is that they tell you the “twist” from the beginning. Throughout the film the narration says, “there are witches here…witches, witches, witches…she’s a witch…Helen DeMarcos…run.”

The screenplay originally called for the action to take place in a school for young girls around the age of twelve or thirteen. One can imagine why a horror story about young girls being killed off would be asked to change. Argento smartly kept the script written with dialogue and actions for young girls and cast women in their mid-twenties. There are a few scenes where this fact is abundantly clear. At times a girl would stick out her tongue at another girl or instead of calling her some swear that seems appropriate to call like “slut” she calls her enemy a “snake.” That’s quite a G-rated insult. Girls in their twenties acting like pre-teens   only adds to the surreal quality of this dream. Their uncanny actions make you question if they are a part of the person’s character or poor writing. Either way there is uncertainty and camp. Uncertainty compliments the fear in the audience and camp compliments the atmosphere.

The imagery that the film is praised for due to Argento’s amazing vision, but also to Luciano Tovoli, the director of photography. Tovoli was one of the first cinematographers to use and embrace colored gels for their lighting. The film has a palette of very deep primary colors, especially red and blue. Along with a striking palette the film has dreamy camerawork. There are few quick cuts. The shots are complex and move frequently and give a sense of fluidity. Epic wide shots give a luxurious and dreamy look; the viewer sees everything objectively, which for a horror film can be risky because the viewer could be disengaged, but for Suspiria it adds a different level of suspense. The viewer has a sense of helplessness. We watch and suffer.

Suspiria is regarded as one of the best horror films. It has a limited amount of gore and most of the fear comes from brilliant editing, action, and music. All come together to make a hallucinatory nightmare. Rotten Tomatoes ranks the film at #41 on their Best Horror Movies 2010 list. It’s a mix of camp and beauty. It’s a tense and horrifying film that celebrates the class of ballet and the tackiness of Giallo. It’s a truly unique film that has become a signature for movie dorks and historians alike.

The infamous hanging scene:

“Its only a state of mind. “

Brazil is arguably the darkest of Gilliam’s films. It does not have a happy ending. In fact it gives the dark, yet somewhat realistic conclusion that the only way out of our society is through death or insanity. The main character, Sam Lowry, rejects society in the best way he can. He leads a boring life with no ambition and need to succeed. Promotions are handed to him (through the many connections of his mother) and he deliberately refuses. He dreams of a woman calling to him and a metallic flame spitting samurai. The samurai could represent the society and the woman freedom. We later find out that the woman in his dreams is also a suspected terrorist and his pursuit of this mystery woman brings him into a whirlwind of problems. The system pursues him.

Brazil described in simple terms is usually described as Orwellian or futuristic. yet if one looks at the film, the scenes are not futuristic at all. The film could however, be considered Orwellian because the time and place is totalitarian. The film is ultimately about Terry Gilliam’s view of our dysfunctional and industrial world.

Gilliam grew up in California in the 1960s. He was a rebel by association. He was a political cartoonist and later became the illustrator for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but directed Time Bandits and Jabberwocky on his own. Gilliam had a profound fear of America and its political state in the 1960s, “I became terrified that I was going to be a full-time, bomb-throwing terrorist if I stayed (in the U.S.) Because it was the beginning of really bad times in America. It was ’66–’67, it was the first police riot in Los Angeles.” A constant theme throughout Gilliam’s film career is escapism and the power of storytelling. He values imagination and creativity over power and wealth. Time Bandits is about a boy who escapes his boring, suburban life by following a group of little people on trips through time. The later Adventures of Baron Munchhausen is about a man who teaches a girl the benefit of storytelling in a time of repression or violence. Brazil has similar themes from Gilliam’s other films. It’s about a man who is part of this totalitarian society, but dreams for a life of freedom and fantasy.

Gilliam has never been concerned whether his films were financially successful; in fact he does quite the opposite. He has become notorious for his flops. Artistically this isn’t a bad thing, but he could rarely have a film funded. That means the mainstream didn’t love and accept it immediately. In an interview with Criterion, Gilliam declared he would rather have his films be more like Kubrick than Spielberg. He would rather have people feud over his films and have very strong opinions on them than all agree and forget about his films. Some find Gilliam’s spastic vision to be too much to enjoy. His array of images melds the real with the really unreal. The world of Brazil attacks the viewer’s senses with a cultural and visual overload. Some say the film didn’t know where to end. The film would have such a scattered plot that there are multiple places for climaxes and resolutions, but the film explores this many narrative in life and ends with the most final climax in life, death.

Brazil is a film that can only be grasped with multiple views like any Kubrick film or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The symbolism and imagery is so dense it’s hard to capture all at  once. Hollywood has no patience for these films. They are not economically profitable. Aesthetic and cultural profits have no room in business. The films were great cut from its original and screened to terrible reviews, but when the original version was screen some called it the best film of the year.  Historians, filmmakers, later discovered the film and film buffs as one of the best films in many years. They compared it  to other great political satires like Dr. Strangelove. It has since developed a cult following that praises its braveness and persistence to achieve the exact vision of the director, at any cost.

The scene form the above photo:

Jubilee (1977)

Amyl Nitrate reads a passage from her self-written history book

“So fantasy was substituted for them – films, books, pictures. They called it ‘art’. But when your desires become reality, you don’t need fantasy any longer, or art.”

Jubilee begins with the queen of England making a deal with a “dark angel” in order to travel to the future and see the future of her beloved country. When she arrives she finds an apocalyptic and punkish London and she is robbed of her crown and pearls. We meet characters from the films in a very loose and un-structured way,  if the viewer were just following this group of people is their anarchic lives.

Along the way we meet a historian who enjoys changing facts and molding history into her own “story”, a pyromaniac, two incestuous brothers and an artist in a love triangle, a lovesick nymphomaniac (played by Nell Campbell or Columbia from ‘Rocky Horror’), a psychotic queen-like woman in a tuxedo, a leather donning S&M housemaid, and a homeless punk boy who is going the be the best new thing, he “oozes sex”(played by Adam Ant). The vivid characters are the true story. The film features a myriad of punk icons and influential musicians like Siouxie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, The Slits, Wayne County, Toyah Wilcox, and the film itself is scored by Brian Eno.

Derek Jarman was one of the first openly gay public figures in the 1980s. This alone was a subject of controversy considering his films causally depicted homosexual relationships and much male nudity. His first film, Sebastiane was one of the first films to feature positive images of gay sexuality and simultaneously the first film to be entirely in Latin. Jarman was a lover of classical art and some of films include Caravaggio (a film about the painters life) and The Tempest (a surreal reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s play). His social connections were still somewhat in popular culture during his time. He directed many short films including his feature films. He also directed music videos for The Sex Pistols, Marianne Faithful, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, and Throbbing Gristle.

“Punk” is a hard term to pin down because its definition is to reject mainstream society and it faces an existential dilemma when put in the mainstream.  Ironically, punk came into the mainstream in the 1980s, creating a strong contradiction within its core. The movement itself decided to rise from working-class England and move to anti-commercialism campiness. It seemed that popular bands like the Sex Pistols were overrated and possibly a contradiction to their own genre. They spread the anti-commercialism message while selling more records.

Jarman’s connection to pop culture and interest in classical style might have led him to create Jubilee. Jubilee is heavily influenced by the late 1970s punk style in its artistic and technical style. Technically the film’s a “punk” film in the sense that it is shot with grainy color, it has a loose plot or more a series of portraits in this society. The filming took advantage of abandoned buildings and modern ruins. It’s not a film for technical appreciation. Its low fidelity shooting style adds to the anarchistic or nihilistic aesthetic of the film. He had a sloppy way of shooting, editing, and poor actors that were a product of his creative decision and a low budget.

Though Jubilee seems to be a film promoting the punk message Jarman was actually trying to criticize the current state of England and the punk culture by exploiting it. He could almost be interpreted as the queen of England character. Not for the obvious he’s-a-gay-queen way, but because the queen represents his classical tastes. In the film the queen comments on the cruelty and chaos of London. The Queen’s thoughts could reflect Jarmans opinions on the matter. One of the great founders of punk and a famous fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, designed a t-shirt called an “open letter” to Jarman denouncing the films and misrepresentations of punk. Jarman described the film as a “film about punk”, but later announced it had a much broader message.

With themes of rape, murder, assault, pyromania, incest, homosexuality, anti-capitalism, art, and anarchy Jubilee fits the mood and genre of punk. The film’s nihilistic philosophy and striking image that shows the music business monopolizing England and becoming a cover for the political issues in our world.

The loony characters interact with corny quotes and rather deep discussions concerning England’s history and philosophy. At times it feels like an essay rather than dialogue. Some scenes feel placed for shock value. It is clear that Jarman was knowledgeable yet disapproving of the punk scene. In one scene the pyromaniac carves the word “love” into the psychotic woman’s back it’s a scene that shows how nerveless these people are.

This film has become a cult film through its value to the artistic community and music fans, especially fans of the Punk genre that are looking for a document of the times. Films like these give a different dimension to a scene of music and tend to be loved and simultaneously criticized for misrepresentation. No one who lived through the real time will ever like a film generalizing a large portion of his or her life into two hours of film. Its no use to impress them if that’s the goal. Films like Jubilee can be criticizing or praising the movement it documents, but either way there is some documentation of it.

A scene where Amyl Nitrate sings a song called “Rule Britannia”

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”

Freaks centers on an enchanting preformer, Cleopatra, who entices a “midget,” named Hans, into falling in love with her. They were called midgets then, now they are referred to as little people. The “midget” is in fact enaged to another woman who is incedentally, also a “midget”named Freida. Cleopatra was at first only trying to fool around with Hans and get money from him occasionally. She soon realized that Hans had inherited quite a large amount of money. She devises a plan to marry Hans and later poison him to inherit the money. Arguably, the most famous scene in Freaks is Hans and Cleo’s wedding reception. The “freaks” reluctantly decide to accept her despite her “normality” and chant the notoriously disturbing yet hilarious quote, “We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” Afterwards, Hans then becomes very ill by Cleo’s hand. He soon figures out her plan and the freaks become offended. They knew she could not be one of them. The film ends with a horrific and disturbing chase in the rain where the “freaks” follow her slowly and Cleo screams for her life. Her and her lover, the “muscle man,” are caught and not killed, but worse. They become freaks themselves. They are mutilated, castrated, and deformed until they are the subject of a freak show. They became one of the “freaks” they hated so much.

Tod Browning is best known for directing the classic Bella Lugosi version of Dracula. A film like Dracula could be called “safe” compared to his later film, Freaks. Freaks simultaneously made and ruined Tod Browning’s career. All films produced afterwards were financially unsuccessful and not well received. Freaksis a pre-code horror drama about sideshow “freaks”. A pre-code films were in an era where films began introducing sound into film and ended in 1930. The only type of censorship was determined by state or town.  Films of this era have many themes that one would consider taboo (a large part of cult films). Some examples include references to sex (heterosexual and homosexual), miscegenation, drug use, infidelity, abortion, and intense violence. When one who doesn’t know of this time period it seems strange to think that these topics would be accpeted in such a mainstream thing as the film business considering couples were not even seen in bed together on TV until the 1950s. Considering the level of “profanity” involved in these films it’s hard to imagine them being so accepted and they were to some degree, but Freaks was quite an exception. Freaks, along with a constellation of similarly transgressive films, led the motion picture business to reconsider their levity in censorship.

One of the most gut-wrenching things about this films is the fact that every “freak” in the film was a real person with the same deformity their characters had. This gives the story a profound sense of reality, making the betrayal of Hans by Cleo all the more tragic. The film was extremely controversial when released and hated by audiences. The scenes where Cleo and the muscle man were mutilated had to be cut from the film in order to be shown in theaters. That footage has since been lost. In a viewing of the film, a sudden jump takes place after the freaks catch Cleo. The audience feels cheated. We have waited so long to see Cleo get her punishment. Part of that dissatisfaction adds to the mystique of this bizzare trip. The film was forgotten about until the mid 1970s where it was rediscovered as a counterculture cult film. A counterculture film runs counter to the the norm of society. Freaks is a great example of fame by taboos and controversy. It explores themes of humanity that are still relatively unexplored today. Some people don’t know how to interact with disabled people. They dont know wether to treat them as something “lower” than them like a baby or pet or to treat them like any other person and have the same demands as any other person. There are many dilemas that arise when considering such a flaw in our society. Freaks frightened audiences by the monstrosity of the “freaks” and by their own inhumanity. Then even more issues arise when the two fall in love. How does a “normal” person love a “freak?” As the tagline boldly suggests, “Can a full grown woman fully love a MIDGET?”

A clip of the wedding scene:

Belle and The Beast

“You stole a rose, so you must die.”

It’s the year 1946 in France. The nation is recovering from years of debt and injured population. Half of the surviving veterans are mentally injured of suffering from a roughly preformed amputation. The heart of France had been damaged and morale was low. Families were struggling to survive rather than have entertainment. The film business was suffering. A large art movement of that time was Dadaism, a belief that “everything is art”. The pieces resemble collages and have very prominent anti-war messages. This artform spawned in wartime from a strong attitude towards the unavoidable war and limited resources. Even the cultural boom of that time was somewhat influenced by politics. There was a general lack of fantasy and imagination. In an era where everything from food rations to clothing is stylistically and economically moderate, La Belle et la Bête is a film that celebrates escapism, decadence, and fantasy. All three of which are key concepts in what makes a cult film.

French cinema during the war was almost non-existent, with only ten or twenty feature length films made a year. Between 1939 and 1940, during the French-German conflict, all films in production were halted and no new films were produced. The films that were produced had to follow strict censorship laws that crippled most productions or even ceased completely.

Before  La Belle et la Bête begins there is a statement from director, Jean Cocteau, telling the viewer to suspend their disbelief and engage in this film an open-mindedness similar to a child. It’s a story for all ages that was lovingly and stylishly created.  With masters of their craft working in all departments, the films technical skill, for the time period, is clear in a viewing. Masterful French director René Clément was responsible for the brilliant and smartly simple special effects. Henri Alekan, cinematographer, is known for noir-like work on such films as Wings of Desire and Roman Holiday (though it’s not Noir it is oscar nominated black and white cinematography).  Famous fashion illustrator and designer Christian Bérard intricately designed the main characters, the costumes. They were produced with materials and manufactured in the fashion house of Lanvin. The beast alone took five hours of preparation to put on costume and makeup.

Of course the restricted equipment, locations, and rights that a normal film crew would have were a cause of the war. Cocteau used different types of film stock because of the limited availability of such a thing. He later stated that he was glad he used different types of film stock because it added to the “dream-like” quality of the film. The scene where the Beast is drinking water from a clear lake with greenery and magical plants all around him was actually shot in a sewage runoff of the production studio. Many of the creative choices were influenced by the limited resources of the film, but this specific film is known for being thrifty at times, but keeping its heart and style.

The style of the film is luxurious fantasy stripped down to a mixture of lighting and camera tricks. There is a presence of magic that is somewhat dark and mysterious. A good example is the interior of the castle. The hallway is simply hand holding candlesticks for light. The viewer never sees the walls or the floor. Everything is dark except for areas that give off light. It is as if the father of Belle is in his own mind. This is no coincidence because the time this film was released was the peak of Freud’s influence on Europe. The film blends fantasy-like imagination with a psychoanalytical counterpoint. The beast’s home, for example, was designed with influence from surreal artists such as Dalí and Gaudí. This fairy tale plays off of the more European style of fairy tale, which is darker and more dramatic than the polished and safe Disney. Every note of music and every frame are dripping with eerie fantasy and romantically indulgent style.

The film has has been recognized as not only a cult film, but a staple in film history. It’s a classic that is timeless.  La Belle et la Bête‘s subtle special effects surpass time. The film’s has influenced many others in their style and use of limited resources. It’s more modernly known for composer Phillip Glass’s operatic score that synchronizes exactly with this film. He mutes the film completely and any dialogue that is spoken in the film is sung by a chorus. The film has also been praised (as most fairy tales are) with having many central themes and being wonderfully inspiring. And with a beautiful, simple, and surrealistic style, the empty spaces can be filled by the mind of the viewer.

Here is a link to the scene where Belle is entering the castle: