Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Fluctuations (1970)

Made in 1970 by writer-director Joel Landwehr (under the name Leo J. Rhewonal) Fluctuations, included in a three-movie pack from Something Weird Video along with Vibrations and Submission, may just be the strangest movie I’ve ever seen. Which is saying something.

Of course in the 70s movies that mixed art and exploitation were common, but rarely is it so difficult to discern what the film-maker’s actual intentions were. Is this supposed to be an experimental film, an exercise in avant-garde weirdness? Is it meant to be softcore porn? An attempt at surrealist sexploitation? Or did a group of people simply consume way too many illicit drugs and then start randomly filming? Is it the cinematic equivalent of the ravings of a madman, or does it offer a profound insight into the human condition? I have absolutely no idea. It may have been influenced by Paul Morrissey films such as Trash, but it makes Morrissey’s offerings seem staid and conservative in style and structure.

There is nothing even resembling a plot. As the movie opens a woman us reading aloud from an erotic novel. we then cut to a scene of a couple making love, and then we cut again to two guys practising their karate. And we keep cutting between these more or less disconnected scenarios, and several others as well. There’s no synchronised sound and the soundtrack consists of the sounds of the two guys doing their karate exercise interspersed with another couple having what appears to be a mutually satisfying obscene phone call. It’s possible that all these events are taking place in a single apartment building, but I wouldn’t swear to that. The participants in the various scenarios seem to move from one scenario to another.

There are copious helpings of nudity and sex, but the movie manages to be totally lacking eroticism. This may be intended as a comment on the way modern industrial society alienates us from our true feelings, or it may just be incompetent movie-making. The camera is out of focus at times, symbolising the difficulty of perceiving events clearly in the chaos of urban life. Or perhaps they just forgot to focus the camera.

It doesn’t sound promising, but it’s oddly fascinating. At times it’s very close to surrealist cinema. Just when you think it can’t get any more bizarre, a young lady dressed only in a blouse and a pair of stockings joins the karate guys for some erotic karate. The strange juxtapositions of images, whether the result of visionary film-making or pure serendipity, do succeed at times in being genuinely striking and disturbing. I finally came to the conclusion that Landwehr was trying to make an avant-garde art film with enough sex and nudity to be marketed on the grindhouse circuit, although I honestly can’t imagine why he thought that was a good idea.

The transfer is what you expect from Something Weird. Apart from a few scratches at the beginning it looks sensational. If you like your weird cinema very very weird indeed then you can’t go past this one.

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