FYIVOD for the week of March 2nd
The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in FYIVOD, we survey the landscape online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, we’re looking at Anthology films with classics from Woody Allen and Roger Corman…plus, a visit from Jim Jarmusch.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: Anthology Films
Anthology films — also sometimes called omnibus films — are movies organized around ideas, settings, or objects rather than a single narrative thread. Rather than one long movie, you get several little movies all connected to one another in some way. That way might be the theme (like the ironic horror of THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE) or a particular item of interest that connects all the characters (like TWENTY BUCKS, which follows the movements of a single twenty dollar bill) or a location (like the hotel where FOUR ROOMS takes place). Anthology films have been popular amongst directors for decades, probably because they require a lot less work than full-length movies.
TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE (2009)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu, et. al.
$4.99 to rent or stream; $19.99 to purchase
The end of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist dictatorship was a brutal period in the lives of the Romanian people; naturally, state-sponsored propaganda of the time referred to those years as “The Golden Age.” Hence Cristian Mungiu’s TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE, an anthology of six short films, each bringing to life a different urban legend circulating around Romania during that “glorious” era. In “The Legend of the Official Visit,” a small town attempts to make itself presentable for a touring government official; in “The Legend of the Chicken Driver,” a trucker is seduced by a woman into dipping into his haul of poultry. Mungiu, the creator of the devastating 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS (which kind of sounds like an anthology film, but isn’t) directed two of the shorts himself and recruited four young members of the Romanian New Wave to make the rest, suggesting a more hopeful alternate meaning to the film’s title; one that refers to the remarkable cinema the country has produced in the last decade.
TALES OF TERROR (1962)
Directed by Roger Corman
Free for streaming plan members
One of the most enduringly popular uses of the anthology film is as a platform for horror. These films, including DEAD OF NIGHT, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, CREEPSHOW, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE, and more, mirror the structure of a campfire storytelling session and celebrate the variety of ways in which the universe conspires to scare the crap out of us. One of the earliest horror anthologies is currently available to stream on Netflix: 1962′s TALES OF TERROR by Roger Corman. Intended as an extension of Corman’s extremely popular series of film adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, TALES OF TERROR, anthologizes three different Poe stories — “Morella,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” — all directed with skill (and, of course, extreme frugality) by Corman, all starring and narrated by the great, ghoulish Vincent Price. The shorts are connected by Price’s hilariously droll musings on the meaning of death and whatever life may come after it and borderline abstract imagery of beating hearts and dripping blood. Creeeeeeeepy.
On Amazon Prime
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* *BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (1972)
Directed by Woody Allen
$2.99 to stream
Dr. David Reuben’s sex advice book was a massive best-seller in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but it was basically just a how-to manual (or so I’ve heard, because obviously I’ve never read it because obviously I don’t need sex advice because obviously I need to get out of this parenthetical as quickly as humanly possible). To make a “faithful” adaptation of it, you’d have to make a porno. So Woody Allen’s version of Reuben’s book is downright inspired (if something of false advertising): Allen simply used a few of Reuben’s more salacious questions to inspire short comic films about the world of human sexuality. And since, in Allen’s view, sex is a strange and altogether hilarious thing, it led to some of the weirdest, funniest material of Allen’s film career. In “What is Sodomy?” Gene Wilder plays a doctor who falls for a sheep (he even dresses it up in lingerie). In “What Happens During Ejaculation?” Allen plays a reluctant sperm worried he might wind up stuck to a ceiling somewhere. The film didn’t offer much in the way of practical advice, but the laughs were plentiful.
SIN CITY (2005)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
$2.99 to stream, $9.99 to buy
Anthology films can also be a great way to paint a broader picture of unique location, or to turn several short stories by one author with a distinctive voice into one larger work. Robert Rodriguez fused both of those ideas into SIN CITY, which was based on the graphic crime novels of cartoonist Frank Miller (Miller also co-directed). Using a green screen, the talented artists of his Troublemaker Studios, and a large ensemble cast that included Bruce Willis, Josh Hartnett, Jessica Alba, and many more, Rodriguez brought us into the world of “Basin City,” a wretched hive of scum and villainy where the good guys look like villains (Mickey Rourke’s hideously disfigured Marv) and the bad guys look like saints (Rutger Hauer plays a deranged cardinal). The anthology structure allowed Rodriguez to bring more of Miller’s grungy pop art to the big screen, and to do it with as much fidelity as possible. Each story was allowed to exist as it always had, with Miller’s books treated not only as source material but as storyboards as well.
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (2003)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
$2.99 to rent
Plenty of stars appear in Jim Jarmusch’s COFFEE AND CIGARETTES but the top billed talent are the titular vices. They’re also the organizing principle; each of the eleven shorts consist of conversation carried out over a buffet of caffeine and nicotine. The topics are diverse — family trees, the dangers of addictive substances, Tesla coils — but the settings are not; neither is the cinematography (all black and white). The repeated motifs and varying topics emphasize both the universality of human existence (i.e. we all bullshit over bad food) as well as its variety. Jarmusch’s use of anthology (a device he’d deployed in earlier films like NIGHT ON EARTH) is also inherently frugal — shorts could be shot wherever and whenever talent was available, assuming you could find a restaurant that still allowed smoking.