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Wonderfully Odd Movies
My favorite stories are the ones about the ordinary people who, while going about their daily lives, encounter strange and/or inexplicable events. How they behave in the midst of weirdness is more interesting than the phenomenon itself. I've always been a sucker for a well-told vampire tale. (Sorry!) Or an off-center ghost story or strange-baby story... Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite, wonderfully odd movies.
Ricky, a film by Francois Ozon based on Rose Tremain's short story "Moth," replaces the story's original setting, an American trailer park, with gritty, working class Paris. An uneasy mixture of realism and allegory, this film is a fascinating look at what happens to an already fragile family when a child sprouts wings. Arthur Peyret, by turns angelic and feral, plays baby Ricky.
Let the Right One In is a profoundly disturbing, stark and beautiful meditation on alienation. In this Swedish vampire film directed by Tomas Alfredson, adapted from the horror novel Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the lonely 12 year old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) meets Eli (Lina Leandersson) one wintry night outside his apartment complex. Eli, who is as lonely as Oskar, has been 12 years old for a very long time.
The Man Who Fell to Earth, the trippy, surreal film directed by Nicolas Roeg based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, stars the preternaturally elegant David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, an extraterrestrial who has come to Earth on a mission to bring water to his drought-stricken planet. Released in 1976, this film is prophetic in its depiction of a future world controlled by corporations. Bowie is well cast as the ultimate stranger in a strange land.
Roman Polanski's adaptation of Ira Levin's bestselling novel Rosemary's Baby is a chilling exploration of innocence lost. I love this movie, set in and around New York's infamous Dakota apartment building, as much for its on-location scenes shot on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the late 1960s as for its superb narrative arc, which moves from happiness through suspicion and fear, into absolute dread. And then, to acceptance, of a sort... Mia Farrow, at her most waif-like, is Rosemary.
Vincenti Minnelli's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is another film with wonderful late '60s fashions and New York City locations (including Central Park, Lincoln Center, the Pan Am Building, the Upper West Side, and Lexington and Park Avenues). This lush, colorful musical about past life regression (still a somewhat "out there" topic for its year of release, 1970), features Barbra Streisand as Daisy Gamble, a five-pack-a-day chain smoker, and Yves Montand as her hypnotherapist.
In Bell, Book and Candle, directed by Richard Quine, based on the play by John Van Druten, a free-spirited witch named Gillian (Kim Novak) falls for her upstairs neighbor Shep (James Stewart), while literally charming him away from his fiance. I used to be annoyed by the premise of this film: that a witch loses her power when she's in love. Over the years I've come to appreciate that this just might be true... One fabulous scene features Jack Lemmon on bongos and the Brothers Candoli on trumpets, performing "Stormy Weather."
In The Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy, inspired in part by David Pinner's 1967 novel Ritual and by Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, West Highland Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is called to Summerisle, a Hebridean island off the Scottish coast, to investigate the disappearance of a local girl. A devout and straightlaced Christian, Howie is horrified by the the islanders' worship of the Old Gods and all that this implies — open sexuality! Pagan rituals! Could there also be human sacrifice...? Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle, the island's charming yet sinister laird; he has called The Wicker Man the best film he's ever made.
Harvey, directed by Henry Koster, based on the play by Mary Chase, is a gentle comedy of manners with dark undercurrents. In this film, Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) and his friend Harvey, a six foot three and a half inch tall invisible rabbit (who also happens to be a pooka), collide with the forces of the psychiatric establishment. This pair, armed with delightful eccentricty and a little bit of magic, gives normalcy a run for its money.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a novel written by R. A. Dick (Josephine Leslie), is not your average ghost story. When the widowed Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) moves to isolated Gull Cottage, she desires nothing more than to live an emancipated life; to this end, she is aided by the ghost of sea captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). This film demonstrates that time has no meaning where there is love.