5 Fascinating Filmmakers That Are Equally Talented And Insane
I have a degree in film analysis. While it hasn't gotten me much outside of crippling debt and an insufferable arrogance about your movie opinions, I've also managed to learn about a ton of directors. And as it turns out, the most fascinating ones are rarely the ones that are the most talented. In fact, it's usually the ones who are the most terrifyingly insane. So let's find out what happens when you can afford a camera but not therapy.
Luis Bunuel Made One Of The Most Infamous Short Films Ever
If you're an experienced Cracked reader, there's a chance you've run across Luis Bunuel before. In 5 Sinister Old Films Way Too Disturbing for Modern Audiences, Bunuel has not one but two entries, and in 5 Old-Timey Movies Way Too Disturbing for Modern Theaters, he's got the #1 spot. In their time, Bunuel's films caused so many riots that at the premiere of Un Chien Andalou, he kept a pocketful of rocks to throw at any faces that seemed like they were up to no good.
Bunuel had nothing but resentment for the bourgeoisie, and wanted his film L'Age d'Or to piss off every major power structure in Europe. And boy oh boy did he ever get what he wanted. Fascists would crash screenings of the film and wreck shit, including artwork by Bunuel's friends Salvador Dali and Man Ray. After Parisian police banned the film completely, the Vatican got all copies of it pulled from circulation in 1934. It wouldn't be seen again until 1974.
Bunuel had a long career, including a brief stint working in Hollywood until he got kicked out of the studio system. Turns out verbally abusing an actress could be a fairly fireable offense even back then. And then there's the actual contents of his films. Land Without Bread features a real chicken getting its head ripped off, and Bunuel intentionally broke beehives that a donkey was carrying so that it would get stung to death on camera. So it's likely not very surprising when you also find out that he threatened his actors with a gun and dressed like a nun in public.
But to really get a feel for Bunuel's crazy, I'd recommend watching Un Chien Andalou. Not only does this product of a clearly abnormal mind manage to squeeze more discomfiture into 20 minutes than the Saw series did in nine movies, but it's also " the most famous short film ever made," as Roger Ebert calls it. Also, it was made in 1929. In a year in which all ten of the top-grossing movies in the United States were goofy musicals, Bunuel was putting razors against eyeballs for, well, some reason.
There Is No End To Crazy Stories About Werner Herzog
If you're not familiar with Werner Herzog's body of work, you might be familiar with his actual body (bones, face, the works). He most recently played the Client in The Mandalorian, acting like the only person in any universe, fictional or otherwise, who would want to bring harm to Baby Yoda. But he's also had an extremely long, wonderful, and subversive directing career, and tales of his exploits are the stuff of legend.
You may have heard some of them before, like how he continued giving an interview despite coming down with a mild case of " shot by a gun." But eating a shoe and cutting off a man's leg with a chainsaw are only the beginning for Herzog, a man whose life is an unending misery circus of the kind usually reserved for the orphans in a John Updike novel. He walked 600 miles in the dead of winter to visit a friend, saved Joaquin Phoenix from a car accident, and tried to hypnotize his entire cast when he wasn't getting the performances he wanted in Heart Of Glass.
But hey, hypnotism beats promising to do severe bodily harm to yourself as a reward for a good performance. When making Even Dwarfs Started Small, a nice little family film about a group of people with dwarfism who overtake an insane asylum and crucify a monkey ...
... an actor managed to run himself over with a car and also light himself on fire. Uncle Werner then promised to jump into a cactus patch if the actor could avoid any more life-threatening accidents. The actor did, so Herzog kept his promise like a joyless Bavarian Wile E. Coyote. He later described this both as "[having] long spines sticking in my knee sinew" and " a little fun."
Herzog's work is divided into both fictional films and documentaries, and the latter are like going to the aquarium while on mushrooms -- you'll be educated, you'll be awestruck, you'll be frightened, and you'll weep. For example, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams is a thoughtful 3D meditation about some of the world's oldest cave paintings, except for the part at the end that's about mutant future alligators.
But if you only watch one Herzog film, make it Fitzcarraldo. It's about how human futility inevitably drives us insane, or maybe it's just about dragging a big-ass boat through a jungle? In either case, this movie captures a blend of practicality and gibbering madness usually reserved for life hack videos, and had so many problems that the doctor traveling with the film crew ran out of anesthesia and had to sew up a camera operator's hand without it. This film came so close to falling apart so many times that Herzog literally pulled a gun on the lead actor and threatened to murder him if he didn't finish the movie. So yeah, it's awesome.
Crispin Glover's Movies And Albums Defy Explanation
You've probably seen Back To The Future, right? Crispin Hellion Glover, the nerdy dad from that movie, moonlights as a director, and he's spent his career trying to answer the question "What if a movie had the capacity to hate?"
Glover wasn't in the BTTF sequels because the ending didn't have enough "love," so the studio instead used his likeness. This kind of spoiled working on blockbusters for Glover, so he decided to have the weirdest second act since Hulk Hogan's beef-and-concussion-addled brain dreamed up Pastamania. You know how famous people will record an album, because nobody tells the rich no? Glover observed this phenomenon and decided "What if I did this, but instead of music, it was what serial arsonists hear as they sleep?" And thus, this was born:
This song is the breakout single from Glover's album, one that also contains a rap about jacking off and selected readings from Glover's written works, which are ... hang on, let me take a photo of a random page from one of them:
Glover's album is notable for featuring a phone number in the liner notes that, until 2007, you could call and possibly talk to Glover about what any of this meant. You can also watch his bizarre music videos, or maybe his infamous appearance on Letterman wherein he threw a kick near Letterman's head, which got him blackballed from late-night shows for years.
But what motivates Glover to do all of this? Is it to raise money so he can buy a castle? Yes. But it's also all in service of his true passion: directing. So far, Glover has directed two excellent films in a planned trilogy: What Is It? and It Is Fine! Everything is Fine. I can safely say that these films are unlike anything else I've ever seen.
For example, the second film is about a wheelchair-bound man with debilitating cerebral palsy and a hair fetish who attempts to have sex with a series of beautiful women, and then strangles them to death. Believe it or not, this is the more palatable of the two, and you can watch the trailer here if you work from home and also live alone.
As a filmmaker, Glover's primary interest is raising questions. Is it immoral for this physically disabled man to have these sadistic and pornographic revenge fantasies? Are his violent urges justified since he's a victim of a society that only values bodies able enough to produce capital? Is our disgust due to the fact that we're seeing sexual depictions of the disabled, or because of the associated violence? Can I get my money back?
Alejandro Jodorowsky Has The Craziest Film Ever Made (And The Craziest One Never Made)
Before Alejandro Jodorowsky was a filmmaker, he was a literal clown, so you know right out of the gate that this man has deep unresolved frustrations. His first film, 1968's Fando y Lis, was controversial upon its premiere in Mexico. And by "controversial," I mean it caused an actual-ass riot.
But this didn't dissuade Jodorowsky from directing, or from being a goddamn wizard. He created his own religion / complicated way to get laid called psychomagic, and I think the basic premise is that through tarot readings, people can understand the neuroses put on them by the ghosts of their ancestors and heal by doing avant-garde performance art. Jodorowsky claims he's even been able to perform miracles with it.
But it couldn't save Dune, which Jodorowsky agreed to make even though he'd never actually read the source material. His vision was a 14-hour epic which he hoped would "give the hallucinations of LSD without LSD," starring Orson Welles (who agreed to be in the film if Jodorowsky agreed to have the chef from his favorite restaurant cook all his meals on set), Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali (who demanded $100,000 per minute of screen time), and Jodorowksy's own son. Pink Floyd did the soundtrack, H.R. Giger did the art design, and famed comic book artist Jean Giraud did the storyboards. At this point, you're probably wondering why you've never seen what is clearly the greatest movie ever made, and the answer is that it was never made. It lost $10 million just in pre-production, and eventually the powers that be decided to give the project to a much more stable and normal director: David Lynch.
So if you're looking for a recommendation for a Jodorowsky movie, something relatively straightforward like Santa Sangre would probably be the responsib- Screw that, we're diving headfirst into the Hellmouth. Watch The Holy Mountain. It's a visually stunning film about how each of us, to truly reach our full potential, must undergo the terror of rejecting the comforting dogmas we've inherited and try to find answers for ourselves. It's also about a Christ-like character who wears a thong, eats a wax figure of himself, and has sex with a mountain. A limbless dwarf rescues him with balloons. A bunch of toads and chameleons get exploded for real. A wizard turns shit into gold.
The Holy Mountain is the result of John Lennon liking Jodorowsky's previous film so much that he made the president of Apple Corps offer Jodorowsky a million bucks to make his next film. Jodorowsky initially offered the starring role to George Harrison, who declined the role when he learned he'd have to show his asshole on camera. To prepare for this film, on the advice of his guru, Jodorowsky didn't sleep for a week straight, and according to an interview, he also did magic mushrooms. "She sent me mushrooms in a jar of honey. When I ate them, I became a lion. I went up to the roof and then I made a connection with every one of the stars."
Jan Svankmajer's Stop-Motion Films Are Nightmare Fuel
Jan Svankmajer is an animator in the same sense that John Wayne Gacy was a children's birthday clown. Whereas most stop-motion directors use the medium to animate, say, a cute clay model of a British man and his dog, Svankmajer instead decides to animate raw meat, tongues, and dead animals.
He's been making films since the '60s, but not continuously. The government of Czechoslovakia deemed his work subversive, and he was banned from making films until the '80s. But Svankmajer claims his films are apolitical, so maybe the government was just looking for an excuse to protect the fragile minds of their populace from something like this:
One of my favorite things about Svankmajer is that while some of his films are clearly aimed at adults (like Little Otik, a horror movie about a couple who carve a log into a baby, which then comes to life and has an insatiable appetite for human hair), some definitely seem to be aimed at children. He made a version of Alice In Wonderland wherein all of the nice animal friends Alice meets are played by taxidermied animals.
If you're happy that Svankmajer's mania is restricted to cinema, I have terrible news: His insanity spills over into the physical realm as well. The New York Times describes one of his art shows as featuring "illustrations in books onto which he's pasted images of eyes or genitals, or cut-up anatomical and scientific drawings with mismatched parts arranged in new configurations. His sculptures are fantastical animal amalgams, made from taxidermy, bones, fins, shells, horns or skulls." That write-up also includes a fun tidbit about a machine Svankmajer built to commune with the ghost of his dead wife. What do you expect from a man who started collecting razor blades at seven years old?
Svankmajer also claims to be on a government watchlist due to his habit of smuggling dead exotic animals into the country for him to taxidermy. So recommending your first Svankmajer film is like asking which drill bit you'd like your lobotomy performed with. So yeah, Lunacy. It's loosely based on some of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories, and also the writings of the Marquis de Sade, so we're off to a good start already. It's a film about a young man who thinks he may be on the verge of a mental breakdown, and is tortured by meat-based hallucinations. He then befriends a man who claims to be the actual-ass Marquis de Sade. What follows is a series of bizarre mind games between the two designed to make the protagonist, and the audience, question their sanity. But even without those goals, it probably would've done that anyway.
For more, check out What Directors Really Think On Set - Rom.com Extras:
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