Among his many other side jobs (visual artist, author, repopularizer of the pencil moustache), filmmaker John Waters sometimes pops up in "Artforum" magazine to lend his distinctive take on the state of cinema.
Waters' annual Top 10 lists are always more intriguing than 99 percent of those that see print. How many other cinephiles thought "Jackass 3D" was among the year's best? But to hear him describe it — "a scatological, gay, s/m, borderline snuff movie amazingly embraced by a wide, American blue-collar family audience" — Johnny Knoxville's crew is actually some kind of avant-garde performance art troupe.
Waters has just about persuaded me to watch that juvenile stunt movie, but I refuse to be convinced about one of his other favorites. Gaspar Noé's "Enter the Void," released this week on DVD and Blu-ray, is a snore. Annoyingly fixated on a filmmaking stunt — we see everything through the main character's eyes, and Noé even inserts eye-blinks every few seconds — the film was full of drug-addled people whose problems didn't move me a bit.
Here's the thing, though: I'd still pay to rent "Void" just to watch its credits sequence. The movie starts with a multichromatic typographical assault in which each contributor's name appears in its own font, flickering madly (don't watch it if you're seizure-prone) to a techno soundtrack. Fans have posted the clip to YouTube, but the effect just isn't the same without a big screen and muscular sound system. Noé's film has plenty of other visual trickery in store, but after those credits, it's all downhill.
Waters makes me laugh by choosing two multihour epics about French outlaws ("Carlos" and "Mesrine") and suggesting somebody should pair them up in a "Freddy vs. Jason"-type sequel, but the pick I appreciate most is one that, despite not making my own list, has stayed in my head like a disturbing dream for months.
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' "Dogtooth," released this week by Kino, is not a movie I'd recommend to my mom, or even to many of my friends. It's sick and scary, and at least one scene made me physically queasy. But it's unlike anything else in years, and its repellent aspects serve a point, which counts for a lot. Evidently the Oscar folks agree, as they just nominated it for best foreign film, an award it will surely lose to the haunting "Biutiful." ("Dogtooth" associate producer Athina Rachel Tsangari is a graduate of the University of Texas and was executive producer on Austin director Bryan Poyser's "Lovers of Hate.")
The screenwriters approach their work like misanthropic social scientists planning an experiment — one whose result suggests governments might want to rethink allowing parents to home-school their children. The Lars von Trier-like plot envisions a home in which three unnamed siblings have been raised from birth without ever being allowed to leave the house. Their parents have given them a strange education — one peppered with purposeful and bizarre misinformation that would seem like an elaborate practical joke, if only the elders seemed to derive any pleasure from the deception.
As it is, Mother and Father are humorless and intent, like zealots whose religious faith is never explained to us.
The children are post-adolescents now, and some of the weirdness in "Dogtooth" is sexual. Icky overtones of incest, though, aren't as compelling as the mythology built up to explain why the world beyond their backyard is deadly, or the movie's bizarre comic touches. (When, for instance, the man informs his children that "in a few months, your mother will give birth to two children and a dog," all three kids accept it as fact.)
Motives are only hinted at, but the action in "Dogtooth" suggests parents who are themselves the ones incapable of dealing with a scary world — a world that Lanthimos suggests couldn't possibly be as crazy as those who shut themselves off from it.