Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Metaphyction, or My Favorite Flops

Before launching The Secret Sun I briefly toyed with the idea of a blog on metaphysical themed movies and TV shows called "Metaphyction." I've since covered a lot of the topics here that I wanted to do in that blog (which might have gone live for a short time) and more besides, so it was obviously a case of too narrow a focus.

But I realized something very telling about the films I wanted to cover on that blog- a lot of them were flops.

Granted a lot of them went on to enjoy afterlives on video, but that didn't help them any at the box office. Some of these films are still underappreciated, which gives the lie to the "pop culture" part of The Secret Sun. Actual "pop culture" is a turgid miasma of stupid these days and really doesn't warrant much analysis at all, at least most of it. Of course, working the "unpopular culture" beat won't make you many friends these days, but what do you want for nothing.

Anyhow, the point of all this is that films that delve into metaphysical themes ("metaphysical" being a blanket term for most of the stuff we look at here) don't seem to do well with the mall/multiplex crowd who make or break films these days, but often do much better with the shut-ins like myself who prefer to consume their entertainment in their own homes.

So, in chronological order here are my favorite flops, which barring a few outliers, comprise the list of my favorite films. I'm sure your lists might have some overlaps, but be sure to post them anyway in the comments.

The Wicker Man (1973)
Production Budget N/A
Box Office (Int'l) N/A

To say The Wicker Man was a flop on its release is to reduce the term 'flop' to a trifle. This was a film that its studio hated so much that not only did they go out of their way to figuratively bury it in the theaters, they actually took the negative of the film and physically buried it (it was used as landfill for a highway project).

If it weren't for low budget maestro Roger Corman, the film might have been forgotten. Always looking for product, Corman worked up a truncated cut of the film in the second-run/drive-in circuit, where it built up a devoted cult following.

As with many of these films, I prefer the theatrical cut to the extended version. Corman's old-school instincts served the film well, and cut out a lot of extraneous exposition that slowed down the action. The film draws heavily on James Frazer's The Golden Bough for historical accuracy and may also draw on the equally-unappreciated British film Eye of the Devil, which starred a young and brain-meltingly gorgeous Sharon Tate.

The Wicker Man is deeply pagan, while most of my other favorite flops are Gnostic, but the humor, the sex and the subversion (as well as the songs) have made this one of my all-time favorites. And I'm certainly not alone. And I must say that the ending was genuinely shocking to me the first time I saw, way back in the pre-Internet, VCR-powered Stone Age.

Neil LaBute's misogynistic remake has muddied the waters, although his RenFaire-gone-wrong paganism is probably more realistic than what we see in the original.

Blade Runner (1982)
Production Budget $28M
Box Office (USA) $27M

The first of many big-budget Philip K. Dick adaptations, Blade Runner was hampered by a downbeat vibe and a overly competitive release calendar (this was the summer of ET, Poltergeist, Tron, The Road Warrior, etc). I had no idea at the time (this was before our pathological obsession with box office grosses turned us into soul-dead bean-counters instead of fans). I thought it was the best thing I'd seen since the first Star Wars.

Of course, it's "weighed down" with Gnostic pessimism and metaphysical ruminations about what it means to be human, and a lot of critics chafed at the voice-over (which I loved, and still prefer) but it's still a master class in big-budget movie-making. The sparkly Vangelis soundtrack doesn't hurt either.

I miss the days before non-executives spent their Monday mornings brooding over grosses. Blade Runner is still an important movie that people still want to see for the first time, and it's still a movie that rewards repeat viewings. Can you say that about Van Helsing or Transformers 3? Of course not.

I'd imagine Blade Runner's made its money back on video but if it hasn't it exists to balance out the moral and aesthetic debts that Hollywood has run up since the early 80s.


The Hunger (1983)
Production Budget: $10M
Box Office (USA): $6M

This movie is grossly misunderstood, mostly because of that scene (if you've seen the movie, you'll know what I mean). But it's a downright startling prophecy of the AIDS crisis, which was still in its early days when the film was being made.

It's also a powerful meditation on obsession and addiction, as well as a condemnation of the shallow, youth-centric culture that only got crazy worse since the 80s. Never mind the Astro-Gnostic elements that were later introduced in the original novel's sequels.

Plus, it has Bauhaus (well, Peter Murphy) miming to 'Bela Lugosi's Dead,' which I thought was just the coolest damn thing ever, being a major Bauhaus fanatic at the time. Of course, they broke up soonafter.

The movie was savaged because of that scene but also because David Bowie -- who filmed it before the release of Let's Dance-- was seen as a dilettante playing at acting. The fact that director Tony Scott (brother of Ridley) made his bones doing commercials in the UK didn't endear him to the wags, either. Of course, this was before Communion, so the opinion makers hadn't turned on Whitley Streiber (who wrote the original novel) yet.

None of that phased me. I loved this movie back in the day and I still love it. This is the modern-day vampire story Anne Rice wishes she wrote.

Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Production Budget $25M
Box Office (USA) $26M

This movie spoke to me on so many levels-- many of which are very painful-- that it became one of the first movies that I obsessed on, rewatching more times than I could count (Apocalypse Now was the very first). As with Blade Runner, it's an object lesson in big-time directing. And having read the original script I can say it's as much--if not more-- an Adrian Lyne film as a Bruce Joel Rubin film.

Lyne used the film to stoke his own William Friedkin obsession, something my fellow children of the 70s will appreciate, but he also went out of his way to avoid horror cliche, creating a new visual vocabulary for demons and monsters that is still in use to this day.

Balancing out the terror is abject heartbreak, a young working-class father who loses a child (played by a young Macaulay Calkin) before being sent to the killing fields of Southeast Asia. Elizabeth Pena smoulders with carnality and several actors who went on to bigger and better things put in A-plus performances.

I could write a lot more about the movie and hopefully I will, providing I can avoid the minefield of trauma that the film dredges up for me.

Dark City (1998)
Production Budget $27M
Box Office (Int'l) $27M

We've covered this AstroGnostic classic (here, most recently) and it's grown in stature on DVD, but it was a flop upon release. Again, I was oblivious because I was sold on Dark City as soon as I saw the trailer. Even then I saw it took the retro-noir vibe of the first Batman movie and actually wrote a story to place it in.

Some have been disappointed with Proyas' career path since (I actually like Knowing quite a bit, Nic Cage or no) but that's Hollywood for you. Multi-million budgets are not meant to be used to make quirky statements based in Gnostic cosmology, they're meant to make multi-million dollar profits in return. That they so often don't shows that nobody in show business knows what they're doing, since it's impossible to say what will happen in the culture and the world during the several years you're working on your film.

Caveat: the Dark City Director's Cut is bogged down with a bunch of padding that belonged on the cutting room floor. Stick with the theatrical.

Dagon (2001)
Production Budget $4,800,000
Box Office (Int'l) €212,699

One of the very first essays on The Secret Sun was about this film (it was reposted in 2009 when I was at Esalen). For some reason, Stuart Gordon's far less faithful adaptations of Re-Animator and From Beyond are clutched to fandom's bosom and this film is not. This is a deeply divisive movie, even among Lovecraft fans (hell, especially among Lovecraft fans. I'll take Dagon any day.

In the surface Dagon is just another B-movie gorefest, but as the credit sequence tells us, it's below the surface where all the action is. Lovecraft's pagan-phobia was simply a stand-in for his revulsion towards the immigrant hordes descending on the Northeast. Gordon takes an opposite tack- the Mystery cult initiation we see unfold is a revelation to a deeper gnosis. Paul Marsh is systematically stripped of all of the yuppie comforts he took as a birthright, only to find a much deeper and more powerful birthright he had no idea existed.

The creepy Medieval Spanish village is a nice stand-in for Lovecraft's Cape Ann (which is a yuppie paradise these days) and the usual Gordonian sex/violence is less juvenile and more pagan. I love the ending (the film is an adaptation of 'Shadow Over Innsmouth,' so you might already know it) and the actress who portrays Uxia brilliantly encapsulates a whole powder-keg of emotions familiar to any woman who's found the love of her life. And why Ezra Godden is not a star is a mystery to me- he does a wonderful job in the Jeffrey Combs role.

If you haven't seen Dagon- or saw it and didn't like it- read my essay and watch it again.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Production Budget $15M
Box Office (Int'l) $20M

Inland Empire is essentially the same film (though much, much grimmer and much more insane) but Mulholland Dr. gets the nod for the sumptious color and cinematography that the bigger budget allowed. David Lynch has always been the poet laureate of dissociation and dream logic, and for my money Mulholland is his masterpiece.

Naomi Watts would go on to star in the remake of Ringu, but this is a much scarier film because it's real. It's about how America takes everything away from the naive and the dreamers (her character is Canadian, appropriately) and gives them nothing but cold concrete and a bullet to the head for their trouble.

A lot of people don't understand the narrative, but it's all very simple once you have the key. I didn't have it for years but loved it anyway. I'm not surprised Lynch has quit making movies, since Mulholland and Inland stripped away all of the lies and bullshit that Hollywood sells and showed the disease-riddled, reanimated corpse that hides behind the curtain, pulling all of our strings.

More on this film here.

Solaris (2002)
Production Budget $47M
Box Office (Int'l) $30M

Long-time Secret Sun readers know all about my Solaris jones, which I've covered here and here. I was late to the Solaris party, since I didn't happen to watch it until it was on cable. I made up for lost time. Soderbergh came of age at a time when Hollywood was on fire and the storytelling tics of the late 60s and 70s are all over his work. His non-linear approach sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. It definitely works here. Artistically, at least.

I can only explain this film's existence by the fact that it's essentially a James Cameron project, with Soderbergh hired on to supply the poetry. If Hollywood didn't live in mortal terror of Cameron there's no way this brooding, atmospheric Astro-Gnostic meditation would have been greenlit. Clooney might have helped seal the deal, and it's always great to see Natascha McElhone, even if she's weirdly lit in a lot of this.

As with many of my favorite films, the soundtrack is an integral part of the magic. I think I've listened the film's soundtrack more than several other favorite albums combined.

The Nines (2007)
Box Office (Int'l) $130,000

Again, another obscure film that longtime Secret Sun readers are very familiar with (you can read up on The Nines here and here). I don't think The Nines was ever released outside the festival circuit so don't be scared off by its paltry gross. The performances by Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy are spotless, not to mention some stunning work by Elle Fanning. The domesticity of the film works in its favor, as all of the action takes place in the mind. Where it belongs.

The critics saw this as John August's Charlie Kaufman move, but it's more interesting than that. It's also Gnostic as all hell, so go watch it for free on YouTube then click on this links. You'll thank me in the morning.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Production Budget $30M
Box Office (Int'l) $68 M

I've written extensively on this film, most notably here, here and here. Ironically, given the unjust drubbing this film took, it's the only film on this list to turn a profit at the box office. This film was a victim of bad timing, given that The Dark Knight (released the previous week) worked so hard to dredge up the 9/11 vibe that pulled the rug out from underneath the series.

Its time will come and people will come to appreciate how perfectly Carter captured the bleak vibe of the late Bush years and how brilliantly directed and filmed it all is. All of the various X-Files clones out there need to fail before people realize how great the original series was and how this film captures the vibe of the early seasons much better than the first XF feature did.

The Box (2009)
Production Budget $30M
Box Office (Int'l) $32M
CinemaScore audience rating: F

I can't help but wonder if this film followed on Donnie Darko's heels without Southland Tales in the middle there whether it would have done better. I love this film to pieces (and said as much here) and it depresses me to think how badly it was received, flying right over everyone's heads.

The Box taps into very deep streams of the Unconscious (both personal and collective) in such a way that most people were unprepared for. This movie seemed to bother people, in much the same way I Want to Believe did, though for different reasons. I hope that it too gets a re-evaluation, like so many of these films. It deserves one.

NOTES: I had originally intended to post this over the weekend, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

Click here for my Metaphyction Amazon buyer's guide from 2007


  1. Chris, it's pretty uncanny how so many of the films you cite, I've also had a real connection with, Wicker Man, Blade Runner, The Hunger, Solaris, Dark City, Jacob's Ladder, IWTB,...I have to admit as a massive Lovecraft fan, it took me awhile to warm up to Dagon.

    The themes in "The Nines" are interesting, from a existential level, I have thought about times in my life where something goes well for me, where I find myself wondering if somebody else is paying a price for my good fortune, in that metaphysical sort of way.

    I'm a little surprised to find no David Cronenberg on your list, some of his later films are very interesting, and I don't recall them doing all that well at the Box Office.

  2. All good films Chris.
    Speaking of flops worth taking a peek at.
    I recently met the star of this low budget Australian Grind-house type flick called
    "Dead End Drive-in"
    Whilst not in the classic category of the above films,it is worth a watch.


    Anyone interested can watch it all here,starting with part 1;


    Also an Australian classic that met a similar fate to "The Wicker Man" and was almost destroyed was a favorite movie of mine called "Wake in Fright",or "Outback" as it was known in the States.


    You can watch it here,


    although the quality may not be so great,the story is.The Outback is just a metaphor for the alienation one can feel by being trapped by the system.Nothing much seems to have changed since this film was made in the Seventies...and I'm not talking about the Outback...I'm talking about the Western world in general.It's the same old game.Maybe why this film is timeless.

  3. as is was reading x-files lexicon's comment about the surprising lack of Cronneberg films on your list somehow an early november fly started buzzing around the ceiling of my Montreal apt. don't get much of those this time of year.

    so yeah, DC's remake of the Fly definitely struck a nerve with me, around the same time as Lynch's Blue Velvet was creeping the hell outta me.

    There's a Deep River in that one too; the apt complex where Isabelle Rosselini's character lives.

    lots of them hidden currents in those there deep rivers

  4. Of the movies you mention, Chris, I, too, resonated with Blade Runner, Jacob's Ladder (one of my favorites from the early 90's, in fact), and Solaris. Both the latter, btw, and Tarkovsky's very different Russian version are in my view superior to the book (though I suspect translation issues; the only version currently available in English, to my knowledge, is a translation of the French version of the original Polish book. Go figure).

    To add some of my own:

    1. One of my favorite takes on the Arthurian mythos, the glorious Knightriders.

    2. Joe vs. the Volcano. Not sure if you'd classify it as fantasy, romance, comedy, or just out there, but one of my all-time favorites and one of the most neglected films of all time, in my view. Tom Hank's character essentially goes on a mythic quest, meeting what could be the Goddess in different incarnations (Meg Ryan in three different roles, back in the days before she went sleazy), and finally coming to a death-and-rebirth finale. If you haven't seen it, do--you wont' regret it!

    3. Silent Running--an ecological movie way ahead of its time. Bruce Dern was good in it, and I'm always haunted by the closing image of the little R2D2-like robot (one more thing Lucas ripped off...) going about its business watering the last wild plants of Earth as they drift through space on the gigantic greenhouse station to which they've been confined.

    4. Five Million Years to Earth, the movie version of the Hammer series, mentioned here not long ago, was another big influence in my youth. I never forgot the gigantic, flamelike, Satanic alien image near the end.

    5. Colossus: The Forbin Project. Always creeped me out.

    6. Cronenberg's remake of The Fly. I agree with Rick on this one.

    7. Forbidden Planet, of course.

    8. Crimes of Passion. Ken Russell's film is a weird, bizarre mess, but a fascinating one.

    9. Blue Velvet, one of my favorite older Lynch films.

    Finally, to round out ten,

    10. Pi, which goes in so many interesting directions, one doesn't even know how to start describing it.

  5. awesome post bhuddi; chris your exegii of these movies not only opened my eyes to the hidden depths of these movies, but has given me a whole new way of looking at pop culture in general. thank you man. if we were middle eastern, i would be proud to walk down the street holding your hand.turgid miasma indeed!

  6. Here's some weird-themed pics that have interested me. Chris has written about many of them, so would suggest interested parties dig up his excellent essays on some of the themes mentioned.

    Village of the Damned (1960). The original is a classic low-budget SF pic which manages to evoke a creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere. John Wyndham who wrote the original novel was fascinated by the idea of conflict between evolved humanity & homo sapiens and it featured in several of his other works, such as Chocky (made into several 80s TV series in the UK).

    Society (1989). A peculiar horror film that on the surface is your typical 80s gore and gooey effects piece. Its subtext of the upper Vs lower classes would probably appeal both to the OWS crowd and Alex Jones fans. Shame hardly anybody has seen it!

    Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Was about the only one of my friends who liked this. Its got some beautiful cinematography, is filled with symbology and has a similar rich using poor theme to the above. Think one reason this may have been a bit of a failure was because at the time we were having the dot com boom where 'anybody' could become a billionaire and that short-lived optimism didn't mix with Kubrick's natural misanthropy.

    2010 (1984). Not as good as its predecessor but still worth a watch. Plus its got the planet Jupiter turning into a new sun which stunned me when I saw it as a teenager (not quite the ending you'd expect for a big Hollywood piece).

    Creation of the Humanoids (1962). Heard about this on a podcast. Had a look and its a fascinating work. Horribly low budget, appears at first sight to be typical B-movie cheese. But much of the picture is spent discussing themes - human-like androids, downloading consciousness and so on - that appeared in later works like Bladerunner. Plus I may have totally misread the ending, but it seemed to be the very same twist used decades later in BSG - the robots are the progenitors of modern humans.

    Planet of the Apes series. The first one is the best. The second has one of the best miserable endings of all time. The later ones got worse, but were still fun.

    God Told Me To (1976). Saw this after reading Chris's write-up. You simply couldn't make a picture like that these days, it you did there would be mile-long fundamentalist protests outside every movie house.

    Close Encounters (1977). For me the interesting thing with CE is how they create a plausible cover-up narrative. Later films opted for inept government agents running round shooting everybody, CE managed to get its story entirely consistent. Not sure why, but the 70s were the golden age of conspiracy films and Close Encounters was one of the best.

    Hanger 18 (1980). Has its fair share of inept government agents who can't shoot straight, but also an ancient astronaut subplot.

    Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story (1956). While grandpa was watching Earth V The Flying Saucers at the drive-in, he probably missed this. A pro-UFO documentary seemingly made with the full approval of the US government. Much discussed (there's a comprehensive blog here: http://ufothemovie.blogspot.com/ ) but rarely seen until the arrival of Youtube and its ilk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bGTLtdwPHM).

  7. Thanks for the list Chris. I've alredy seen many of these movies but at the times that I saw these movies I was unable to appreciate them. I specifically remember seeing Jacob's Ladder and being deeply affected in a way, affected anhd disturbed. I havent watched it again for that reason. Now I know that I must see it again.

    I havent seen the movie Nines but I want to watch it now. Ryan Reynolds is one of those actors that I have a hard time pinning down. He clearly has the depth to play darker characters (even though the movie sucked the remake of The Amityville Horror showed his ability to become both light and very very dark at the same time IMO).Here's hoping to see more of that depth in his work.

    @Tumarion- I thought I was the only person in the world who loved Joe vs. the Volcano. I can't even describe how much I love that movie. There's a line in that movie where Meg Ryan says to Tom Hanks- "Have you ever slept on a boat before? It really affects your dreams. I look forward to it"
    Because of that I've always wanted to sleep on a boat, just to see. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    Great post Chris.

  8. great list of excellent but unpopular films (except for I Want to Believe, but I will heed you advice by rereading the blog posts and watching it again)

    very happy to see the new verison of Solaris included, for years i've been trying to tell people it is as good (if not better) than the original

  9. for decades I’ve wanted to infiltrate the Popular Culture Studies field and infuse a renegade Unpopular Culture Studies movement

  10. I too love pretty much all those that I've seen. I have yet to see Dagon, The Nines, or Hunger, so I know what's going on my list. The things in the comments too.

    I have a rule: anything that is mentioned on this blog or the associated Facebook group, I watch (or read, or listen to). You people have taste. Or maybe you're weird enough to have taste that overlaps with mine. :)

    I'll give you a few of mine.

    Let the Right One In (Swedish version, with subtitles)

    I have not seen the American remake. I'm afraid to. (Though Chloe Moretz was amazing in Kick Ass, so she probably does it some justice.) The Swedish version affected me somehow. I re-watched it several times, and I posted about it once before in the Secret Sun comments.

    This movie has layers, or did for me. The first two layers not so much. I went straight for the third.

    Layer 1: a vampire story. It's a good, original vampire story to boot, so it succeeds here.

    Layer 2: a bizarre psycho-sexual coming of age tale. I wondered if there were allusions to either homosexuality or child abuse here, but I'm not sure about that. I think that's too obvious, and this is not an obvious work. My interpretation is that it's about budding not-yet-physical love but with pre-pubescent authenticity, devoid of the manipulation and desperation that comes later. I recall a quote from Stephen King's Lean on Me: "I never again had friends like the ones I had when I was ten." It struck me as a mourning of youth.

    Layer 3: Here is where it gets Secret Sun worthy. About half way through I stopped seeing kids, or vampires, or whatever. I saw another film: E.T., the Extraterrestrial. Except in this version the alien is dangerous. And it's a love story. I see this film as a step toward the "other." The boy is us-- humanity. Eli is... maybe lots of things. In E.T. we touch its finger and it goes "ooooh." In this version we fall in love, and it reveals its dangerous side to us.

    (The book is very good too, though it has some gratuitous horror cliche stuff that was cut from the movie, and should have been cut from the book.)


    This is a real nerd opus, possibly the only good film I've ever seen about time travel. It's also the only film that I've ever seen about time travel that felt plausible.

    That and it captures the late-90s/early-2000s Silicon Valley zeitgeist quite well. It also captures the feel of real science. The almost mystical, transcendent "that's weird" moment that happens is far, far more realistic than the "eureka!" cliche. That never happens in the real world. Science never looks or feels like that.

    Finally, it did something that J.J. Abrams has made a career out of, but it did it better. I call it "retro-high-tech" or "high-tech-low-tech." Instead of CGI and over-the-top techno-porn, the time machine is a box. It feels so much more realistic (and spooky) that way.

    And the sounds that box makes... the way it sounds when you're inside... definitely a womb allegory.

    Come to think of it, I gotta re-watch this one. I saw a fantastic piece of sci-fi the first time through, but now that I write about it here I think it might have deeper layers.

    Aguirre: The Wrath of God

    This film dramatizes so perfectly everything that is wrong with the human condition. In particular, it focuses on the kind of people that we follow as leaders, and the lazy "oh well" attitude that we take as we follow these people to our doom.

    It's also visually stunning and moody. It's definitely the beta version of Apocalypse Now.

  11. AdamIerymenko: And the sounds that box makes... the way it sounds when you're inside... definitely a womb allegory.

    Sounds like a movie worth checking out. What's fascinating, and may rank as a sync, is that one of the most interesting sf movies I've heard about but not seen, is Je t'aime, je t'aime, which to my knowledge still hasn't been released with English subtitles (my French is too poor to attmept watching it without them). You can read in detail about it in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, and it sounds fascinating.

    What's really interesting is that it, too, is a time travel story, and the machine actually looks like a womb. Fascinating. Hope it comes out with subtitles soon!

  12. yeah Primer, another underappreciated film along with Southland Tales

    i've been meaning to watch Let the Right One In

  13. One of my favourites that I forgot to mention is "The Last Wave"


    by Peter Weir (Dead Poet's Society,Witness,etc).
    It was made in 1977 the year I saw it.And I have only just viewed it about two weeks ago for the second time in my life.
    I highly recommend it.The Aboriginals in this film are real tribal Aboriginals,too.
    View it on a Jungian level and you will be rewarded.


  14. Hey Chris,

    You listed a great collection of movies here – many of which remind me why I love film so much. Of the movies you’ve mentioned many of them resonated quite deeply in me, including Blade Runner, Jacob's Ladder, Mulholland drive and The Box.

    I think all of the films you’ve listed are so special because they kind of contain real magic in the celluloid. The combination of visuals, audio and music create a transformative magic that you can actually feel while you’re watching them. You might not know just how you’re being changed, but you’re aware that you are being changed; opened up, enriched, tested and negotiated with in strange ways.

    I remember watching Blade Runner as a kid and thinking something along the lines of “It’s like someone peered into my head and put my thoughts up on the screen. I know that world exists.” Jacob's Ladder disturbed me too, and you’re right that its code for depicting demons and dark entities is still in use today.

    But The Box is a film that speaks to me in a number of ways. Maybe it’s because the creator used so many fictionalised details from his own life, but that film has a deeply weird plausibility. A lot of fake ‘found-footage’ horror movies try for this kind of plausibility – as if acknowledging the camera’s eye somehow ensures a blurring between fact and fiction and a suspension of disbelief. Blair Witch, Cloverfield, Appollo 18 and the Paranormal Activities try to embrace this less-is-more realist aesthetic. But I think it’s not enough.

    I think The Box is so damn good because it has elements of X Files, Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, but it also manages to marry these elements to a story that gets under your skin as it unfolds. In a way The Box is kind of stagey and very stylised, and yet in another way it plays as a very faithful movie adaptation of a real event. At least, it was this way for me.

    Even though I knew the film was a complete work of fiction, it was as though the creators were able to spark a subconscious feeling in my mind: “These events really happened, pretty much as they’re depicted, and then they made a really good film about it and sold it as fiction.” I wonder if other viewers had a similar kind of insight.

    Fiction has to be very, very skilled to successfully achieve this kind of dual processing. I think there’s a strange dynamic at work here. Like I said before, found-footage movies try to authenticate their explicit narrative, but the magical implicit narrative often doesn’t feel real enough.

    But I think The Box succeeds because the magic in it has a pulse; it has elegance, shape, detail, and just enough ambiguity for it to register as genuine, active magic. It’s not just a commentary, it’s something in the text itself. You feel it as you watch.

    And this implicit pulse ends up authenticating the surface narrative almost as a side-effect, and far more effectively than found-footage movies that are essentially saying "Let’s all pretend that we’re tricking you into believing this is real."

    A movie like The Box ends up saying “You know there are aspects of this that are very real, because you can feel it, and we have wrapped it up in an intruiging story – now go and muse on the nature of self, magic and story-telling and readdress what it is you think you saw.”

    There’s more I want to say about your excellent selection of metaphyction, but I’ll leave it here for now.


  15. Chris - You should check out the film 'Split' by Chris Shaw. It is PURE GENIUS. The battle between light/dark, mind/body has never been more entertaining or enlightening. It's hilarious as well. Great 'early' special effects too.

    It's hard to find - and only available on VCR alas, but it's well worth it. For a taste, here's the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BceSlEw41nA&feature=related

    Love the blog -

  16. "It's The Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse"9:12 PM, November 03, 2011

    I'm gonna fire off Xtro (1983) and Joey (1985). Films' include scenes where children's toys come to life from something or other awakened in them. Many a enthusiastic time I have tried compiling a list of such, to coin the term "musical box", films discovered with such pivotal, happening events in them -- only to get bummed out and break my model train set -- does anyone know of any others besides Close Encounters, do speak up, I am monitoring for awhile.

  17. AdamIerymenko, I have to agree with you about Aquirre: The Wrath of God, another favorite, one of Herzog's best, Klaus Kinski was great in it, funny enough, for some reason Kinski, in his prime, reminded me of Rutger Hauer, very intense actor.

  18. I have had to go back and forth to your site today, reading you comments and posts regarding The Nines. I have seen many of the movies listed above, except The Hunger and The Nines. Great picks, despite what the "critics" say.

    I just finished watching The Nines and loved it! Thanks for the link. Now to tuck in bed for the night and ponder. If I can't sleep, I'll pull off the bookshelf the Gnostic Bible and give it another shot. I bought the book years ago in attempts to understand all that I could- still working on it) I should have it all figured out soon. LOL ;)


  19. Cole,
    If you got "The Nines" out on DVD be sure to watch the
    'special features' section on the disc.The making of the movie is almost as mystically fascinating as the movie itself.

    P.S. The Hunger is a great film,too.
    Be sure to give it a viewing if you can.In fact watch all of the above mentioned movies.My favs are "The Wicker Man","Jacob's Ladder","The Nines","The Box","Dark City" (sorry Chris,I like the 'director's cut' version better)and just about all David Lynch movies (give "Lost Highway" a look,too).

  20. Chris,
    A film I saw just the other day


    is a film I would recommend viewing,but it is very graphic in terms of sex and violence.It makes "A Clockwork Orange" look like a Disney flick.
    But as one critic said it's
    "a grotesque masterpiece"


    I'm hoping to see his latest offering "Melancholia"


    next Wednesday...if my world is still here .-)

  21. Great stuff as usual!

  22. Brizdaz, I did enjoy the movie The Nines, but a few days later, after thinking about it I realized that I merely liked it because it was the first film that I have seen that really touched so strongly on Gnostic symbolism. It had a whole demiurge/Sophia/gnostic revealer theme running through it. I would like to see more of these type of films based on this, if there are more, beyond the documentaries.

    As for the Hunger, yes I will check it out eventually. But I think I will skip the Anti-Christ. Not a big fan of violent movies.

    Oh I have a question Chris. What was with the Nines? I mean I know they said the 9's were the dimensional beings, but couldn't they have done that movie without ever mentioning the number thing? Or was that just there as a shock factor-spooky thing hopefully connecting the viewer with how everyone usually catches sequential numbers off and on.

    Mine. 111. I chalk it up to synchronicity.

  23. What ? Ahem: "Let the Right One In" You philistine.

  24. Chris - I watched The Box because of your suggestion. I honestly couldn't believe this movie when I first saw it. Stranger than strange. I immediately felt that Kubrick had been reincarnated. The atmosphere in the film is uncanny, and I can see why many people simply said "it bothered them". It's also worth note that the protagonist, Frank Langella's character, fell like lighting from the sky. I really feel that whoever made this movie were very tuned into the ether and aware of something(like the true level of technology and it's purpose)we mere mortals are not privy to.
    Also one of my all time favorites has to be The Prestige. Since this movie I think that the brother Nolan's work hasn't been nearly as great or nearly as interesting(Inception anyone?). The movie deals with sacrifice and ultimate will in a very disturbing way.

  25. A few more you might enjoy discovering if you had not already seen: Bad Boy Bubby, Battle Royale I and II, The Blade (aka The Dao), Blueberry (aka Renegade), Britannia Hospital, Casshern, Chapiteau Show, Charly, Decoder, Dust, Electric Dragon 80,000V, Enter the Void, eXistenZ, F For Fake, The Fall, Fantastic Planet, Goodbye 20th Century, Heart of a Dog, Hi Mom, The Holy Mountain, Hukkle, Immortel, Izo, Kin Dza-Dza, Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors, Kyoshin, Legend of Zu, Mickey One, Mind Game, Nothing, Nothing Lasts Forever, O Lucky Man!, Paprika, The Parallax View, Pyl, Radio Free Albemuth, Safe (1995), Stalker, Synecdoche New York, The Ugly Swans, Uzumaki, Vital, Viva la Muerte, Winter Kills, World on a Wire, The World's Greatest Sinner, Wrong is Right, Z