FFWD REW

At least they tried something different…

Bizarre cinematic experiments that didn’t catch on

We’re all aware of experimental films — bizarre flicks that abandon narrative or utilize bold new visual techniques or just show us 71 minutes of a deformed clown playing tennis with a giant horse. These films are seldom intended for general audiences but from time to time filmmakers will try out a crazy movie idea with the hopes of attracting regular movie audiences. These bold experiments sometimes revolutionize cinema like the first film to have synchronized sound ( The Jazz Singer 1927). Others just wind up as peculiar footnotes like the first horror film in which all of the dialogue is in Esperanto ( Incubus 1966). Here are a few of the craziest attempts to be innovative in the world of film:

Bill and Coo (1948). Get ready guys; this is a weird one. What we have here is a live action film with a cast made up entirely of trained birds. No human actors — just budgies owls crows etc. They walk around a tiny cardboard village drive taxicabs ride in hot air balloons visit the circus (there are kittens in cages) stuff like that. For 61 minutes.

So did this wacky cinematic experiment pay off? Kind of. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave the film a special plaque recognizing it for “artistry and patience blended in a novel and entertaining use of the medium of motion pictures.” That’s right — the trained bird movie won a freaking Oscar sort of.

Strings (2004). This dramatic tale of intrigue and betrayal takes place in a mythical kingdom (so far so good) inhabited by marionettes (oh dear). The mood is dark and sombre; in fact a monarch commits suicide (by cutting his own strings) in the very first scene. Amidst the power struggle that follows we learn of the peculiarities of this land such as how they deal with amputation how their prisons and gates work the nature of puppet mortality and spirituality and the obvious fact that none of the buildings have roofs. (The strings controlling the puppets extend out of sight into the sky and the puppets often look skyward and wonder what mysterious force is concealed by the clouds.)

Nobody’s really tried to do a serious Game of Thrones -style melodrama with wooden puppets before so you really want to give Strings the benefit of the doubt but the film just doesn’t work. So much of the drama comes from dramatic close-ups of the character’s faces as they experience grief anger or guilt. A little word of advice guys; your cast is a bunch of puppets. We pick up on their “emotions” from their movements not from staring at their immobile wooden faces for several minutes at a time. Some scenes achieve genuine power and majesty but these moments are fleeting and it becomes hard to take this po-faced tragedy seriously. It certainly doesn’t help that the other all-marionette film to come out in 2004 was the raunchy and ludicrous Team America: World Police .

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938). Three words: All-midget western.

Wicked Wicked (1973). Oh geez remember split-screen? It was an incredibly overused gimmick in the ’70s and a lot of us got tired of it really quickly. In fact before I checked out Brian De Palma’s early films where the gimmick is actually used well I hated split-screen. Well I guess that means I won’t be checking out Wicked Wicked any time soon because this notorious flop is split-screen from beginning to end. “Filmed in Duo-Vision!” the posters announced. “No thanks!” responded audiences and critics. The experiment was repeated in the film Timecode (2000) with four simultaneous images.

Blood Freak (1972). The world’s only fundamentalist Christian anti-drug splatter movie.

The Worm Eaters (1977). People eat worms in this film. Multiple times. In revolting close-up so you can see the wiggling invertebrates squirming between the actors’ lips and teeth. Then they turn into worm-human hybrids. It’s like a gross-out horror film for children. Does this sound like your kind of movie? No I didn’t think so.

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