Dec 31, 2009

Surreal Xmas Films

And we're back. Seems like in September, some wicked kids removed my batteries and left me outside in the rain to rust. Least that's what it feels. Maybe more on this later.

Over the years, I have, I don't know why, developed a cherished tradition of watching surreal films around Christmas. Maybe this is because it brings back memories of watching, as a kid, often somewhat surreal, at least from a kid's perspective, animated films on the 24th (think Animal Farm). Maybe it's because I feel the surrealism of Christmas itself (virgin, manger, kings, star, etc.) is completely lost on my surrounding.

A good point to start ist The Yellow Submarine (UK, 1968), (tvtropes). They showed this on Austrian public TV when I was in grade school (ca 1985), but for me, it got "pinned" to the Holidays in 1991, when I watched it on the afternoon of the 31st of Dec. in a hotel room in Hamburg, where I was with my mom to celebrate New Year's Eve with a harbor cruise (Austrians...). The Yellow Submarine features good music, superb animation, and, unique among the films mentioned here, a plotline more coherent than the average dream.

Fast forward to Christmas 2003, which is where I watched Angel's Egg (Japan, 1985), (tvtropes). I had the strangest feeling then, that I had already seen this, as a kid, around the time it was first released, which is highly unlikely for too many reasons to name. I really like re-watching this one almost every year.

But I will never again watch Jan Svankmajer's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, (Czechoslovakia, 1988), which I rented from Blockbusters around Christmas 2005, when I was in Palo Alto. Set in a filthy, claustrophobic, apartment building in the Eastern Bloc, using stop-motion to achieve the creepiest imaginable effect (putting glass eyes in animal skulls, and animating them as disembodied skulls), this film put me in a mild shock-like state for days. You can find some scenes on youtube, but be warned.

Compared to this, Die Reise ins Glueck ("Journey into Bliss", Germany, 2004) by German dilettante director Wenzel Storch, is only mildly disturbing. Eight years in the making, the film features fantastic backdrops and stage props (most of them scrounged, or outright stolen), terrible acting, and a scene showing the mating of a sentient snail-shaped ship and a church, which, of course, results in the formation of a time-machine. I gave this, as a present, to a friend of mine, this Christmas. I think I'll opt for a tie next year.

The most surreal of all films in my list, however, is the Star Wars Holiday Special (USA, 1978) (tvtropes). I tried watching it this year, but, but ... Bea Arthur?!?!? This film is chock full of "Wait. I can't believe they did that." moments. And the advertisements fit seamlessly into the overall strangeness ("Tobor is robot spelled backwards"). If you've ever wanted to catch a glimpse of a parallel Universe, this is as good a substitute as you can probably get.