Sunday, March 14, 2010

All the Little Weird Films

by Jason Pyles

By way of background and in partial response to the first paragraph of Andy’s previous post for “Moon,” this blog was established so he and I could continue watching and discussing movies when I moved to West Virginia in 2008. Almost immediately the blog’s purpose was discussion of unusual films. Unusual films like “Gates of Heaven,” “Gerry,” and “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” (Not run-of-the-mill productions like “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” or “In the Land of Women,” for example.)

In most cases, these unusual films also happened to be excellent films, though we have had a stint or two of terrible, unusual films, just for kicks.

And then there’s “All the Little Animals,” perhaps the poster-child film for this site. Clearly, this is one of our most unusual films yet, to be sure, but setting aside its diegetic content (or what appears within the world of the film), the fact that someone made “All the Little Animals” in the first place surely exalts it far enough into oddity that it must be one of the most unusual films ever made!

Set and made in the United Kingdom, “All the Little Animals” appears to be something of a low-budget film conjured in the early ‘70s, but in fact, it was released in 1998. It stars John Hurt and a 24-year-old Christian Bale who looks to be about 16. Having recently watched Bale in “American Psycho” and then contrasting his performance with this one, I was struck at his range and abilities. One can easily see his commitment to his acting craft, however, by looking at his dangerously drastic weight-loss for “The Machinist” or what he ate on camera for “Rescue Dawn.” At any rate, Bale is not to be trifled with (just ask cinematographer Shane Hurlbut).

Anyway, in “All the Little Animals,” Bale plays Bobby Platt, an animal-adoring innocent who isn’t quite mentally whole. When his mother dies and he is left with his wicked stepfather, Platt runs away and makes an unlikely connection with an even unlikelier character who is much like he is.

The two animal-lovers go about doing their “important work” together, which is quite odd, indeed. This movie is so bizarre and tonally shifty, it’s difficult to know whether we’re meant to be amused or saddened by it — probably both. But what is the purpose of this film? Why was it made? What is it meant to do for its audience? I’m so baffled by this movie.

At any rate, John Hurt (“Alien”) and Bale give wonderful performances, but the real joy of this film is simply experiencing it, and moreover, being able to tell someone else about it. What I mean is this: Watching “All the Little Animals” is like one of those weird nights when you got home extremely late from work in the 1980s, turned on USA’s late-night movie feature and ate way too much greasy food, incurred indigestion, then drifted off to sleep and intertwined your restless dreaming with the crazy movie that was on TV. That’s what watching “All the Little Animals” is like.

So why did anyone ever make this movie? Whose passion-project was this? We know it was initially a book written by Walker Hamilton, so I guess he’s the only one that can truly answer my question. And obviously, Jeremy Thomas directed it — the same guy who bravely produced David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” — another film this site must someday address. But the fact that “All the Little Animals” exists at all is a wonder.

You know, my favorite film critic, Roger Ebert, often uses a phrase that reminds me of how I feel about “All the Little Animals”: “It is done well, yet one is still surprised to find it done at all.”

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