Mise en scene

My chronological film-viewing project brings me to 1965’s underground classic Sins of the Fleshapoids, directed by schlock auteur Mike Kuchar.  It’s a film that has influenced countless amateur filmmakers, most notably John Waters, who has called it one of his favorites.  (The DVD is, sadly, out of print, but it runs only 43 minutes and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube here.)  I’d been meaning to make time to watch this for a while now and was reminded of it several months ago while reading Hoberman and Rosenbaum’s Midnight Movies.  It’s a hilariously fun film, obviously shot in someone’s home, with some truly inspired art direction (an ordinary bathtub is turned into a neo-classical spa with the help of some plants, a bust, and a red lighting gel; see below).

Set in the future, the nonsensical plot concerns the Fleshapoids, a race of robot slaves who decide to rebel against their decadent human masters.  (In a farcical subplot, a nubile princess—outfitted with the biggest pair of fake eyelashes ever committed to celluloid—attempts to hide her lover from her jealous husband.)  Shot without sound (as nearly all underground films were until the 1970s), details of the plot are helpfully explained via campy dubbed narration; I loved the relish with which that narrator says the word “Fleshapoids.”  Excerpts from classical music also play under the film, including Orff’s “O Fortuna,” slowed down to an almost unrecognizable tempo, which underscores a scene of robot childbirth.

What I really found most inspired about Sins of the Fleshapoids, though, was its use of sets, costumes, and props.  The whole film has a wonderful “putting-on-a-show” feel, as if it’s been made by children playing dress-up (and, ever since film and video cameras have become household items, the act of dressing up and putting on a show for the camera has itself become a kind of childhood pastime).  Anyone who has attempted to disguise one’s living space for a homemade movie will recognize the creative use of bed-sheets here: throw them over the furniture, hang them on the walls, drape yourselves in them, and you’ve got costumes and a working film set.  The places where the seams show are almost poignant: a glimpse of a cinderblock wall behind one of those hanging sheets, or a vintage soapdish attached to the tile wall of the bathtub/spa.  A month or so ago I wrote about the special innovativeness required by low-budget filmmaking; that innovativeness is on full display in Sins of the Fleshapoids.  And am I wrong to see even a certain poetic beauty in some of these images, like the one below?  If we consider the particular creative talents involved in amateur filmmaking—its resourcefulness, its enthusiasm and its charm—Sins of the Fleshapoids becomes something more than just a so-bad-it’s-good movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment