Bonus Features: Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Our current Movie of the Month, the gender-defying whatsit Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), is a chaotic portrait of queer youth culture in late-60s Japan. Referred to in the film’s English translation as “gay boys,” its cast mostly consists of trans women & drag queens who survive as sex workers & drug dealers in hippie-era Tokyo. Their story is told through techniques as wide ranging as documentary-style “interviews” that include meta commentary on the film itself and high-fantasy fables that pull direct, violent influence from Oedipus Rex. Part French New Wave, part Benny Hill, and part gore-soaked horror, Funeral Parade of Roses is a rebellious amalgamation of wildly varied styles & tones all synthesized into an aesthetically cohesive, undeniably punk energy. It is, without a doubt, one of the most audacious queer films of all time.

There are a couple obvious titles that immediately jump to mind when considering what films to pair with Funeral Parade. As Britnee mentioned in our initial conversation about the film, Stanley Kubrick cited it as a major stylistic influence on his adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. There’s also a recent documentary titled Queer Japan that appears to be a vital primer on the Japanese youth culture depicted in the film (even if only as a half-century-later check-in). Neither of those films really fit the bill for me here, though, as Queer Japan is not yet available for home-streaming and I have no real desire to return to Clockwork Orange anytime soon (at least not voluntarily). Instead, here are a few recommended titles if you loved our Movie of the Month and want to experience more cinema on its sensual, chaotic wavelength (even if their connection to it is less obvious or direct).

Daisies (1966)

Stylistically, the movie that Funeral Parade of Roses most reminded me of was the surrealist Czech classic Daisies, directed by Věra Chytilová just a few years prior. In Chytilová’s film, a pair of young, misbehaving women commit childish, hedonistic acts with seemingly no purpose other than to upset the status quo of Civilized Living. In what feels like an arthouse precursor to Freddy Got Fingered, they aimlessly prank their way through every social encounter, creating a trail of chaos out of sheer boredom. When men attempt to sexualize them, they concoct elaborate dine-and-dash schemes and tauntingly dismember phallic-shaped foods with sharp pairs of scissors. When allowed into a restaurant or banquet, they stomp the food before it can be enjoyed, seemingly in defiance of upper-class excess at a time of national food shortages. By the end of the film, they’re literally hanging from the chandelier, a cartoon embodiment of childish misbehavior. The sex workers at the center of Funeral Parade of Roses are much more insular & subdued in their subversive behavior—having been pushed out of proper society by bigotry not choice—but they share the Daisies brats’ outsider status nonetheless.

The real connective tissue here, however, is in how Daisies allows its characters’ disruptive behavior to dictate the film’s visual language. Chytilová cuts her frames into Cubist shards, wildly alternates between highly saturated color tints, and allows the images & sounds of War to sour the childish pranksterism on display with a deeply sickening undertone. Funeral Parade is equally prone to indulging in new, exciting stylistic tangents from scene to scene, behaving just as wildly as its outsider characters. Both films also share a willingness to allow anti-war protest sentiments to hum loudly in the background, informing the narrative without fully overtaking it. They’re energetically abstract art pieces with little regard for properly Civilized behavior, and it shows in their form just as much as it does in their content.

Jubilee (1978)

Recently watching Derek Jarman’s Jubilee for the first time reminded me a lot of catching Funeral Parade’s 2015 restoration in theaters, in that both films have been around my entire life and are 1000% in tune with my personal interests, but seemingly arrived in my lap out of nowhere. How could two films that speak so directly to the way I internally experience life & art have been floating out in the cinematic ether since well before I was born?

In particular, Jubilee thematically overlaps with the femme punk dystopias of some of my all-time favorite films: Desperate Living, Born in Flames, Ladies and Gentlemen … The Fabulous Stains, etc. Jarman warps the grimy, low-fi punk aesthetics of those hall-of-famers into a pure art-house abstraction of his own design. He tells a story, but it’s a confounding mess of a story at best, and it only exists to prop up the distinctly punk stage dressing & nihilism of his tableaus-in-motion. Like with the 1980s No Wave scene that cleared the way for Born in Flames, it’s the kind of film that could only be made in an already crumbling city – exploiting the leftover infrastructure rubble of WWII to evoke a debaucherous punk futurism, a world with no hope. Its sci-fi vision of London’s cracked-concrete future is essentially just a portrait of its present-day moment in punk discontent, snapshotting the female teen degenerates, queer burnouts, and hedonistic vandals who defined the scene at its purest.

Funeral Parade of Roses lands much closer to the hippie era of youth culture, if not only because it was released a decade earlier than Jubilee. Instead of thrashing around to Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Slits, its own characters stage their psychedelic, pot-addled dance parties in front of an almighty Beatles poster. Its spirit is punk, though, which carries over into the messy, abrasive stylization that distracts it from telling a linear story in any given scene just as much as Jarman’s work. Both films are gorgeously grotesque portraits of youth on the fringe, and both deserve to be listed at the top of any all-time-greats film canon.

Wild Zero (1999)

I can’t personally name many other films that directly touch on Japanese youth counterculture as a subject, much less any that prominently feature queer or trans characters. Only Wild Zero really comes to mind, mostly because it’s closely tied to the youth culture of my own era and, thus, has earned some notoriety as a cult classic among movie nerds my age. Despite proclaiming itself “wild” in its title, the film is much better behaved than Funeral Parade in a stylistic sense, mostly playing as a straight-forward, retro zombie comedy that happens to have an exciting garage rock soundtrack. Still, despite its lack of arthouse credentials, it shares a certain street-youth cool with Funeral Parade, as well as a refreshing disregard for gender boundaries in sketching out its central romance.

Wild Zero is a rock n’ roll themed B-movie throwback about an extraterrestrial zombie invasion. It’s also a love letter to the Japanese garage band Guitar Wolf (the unlikely inspiration for the legendary Memphis label Goner Records). Wild Zero promotes & worships Guitar Wolf the same way that The Ramones are religiously revered in Rock ‘n Roll High School. They’re essentially a magical force for Good in the movie, guiding our hero (their biggest fan) in his fight against an extraterrestrial zombie horde and eventually saving the world through the power of rock ‘n roll. The plot is frequently interrupted to check back in on Guitar Wolf at a series of nightclub gigs, so that the band’s loud, punishingly fast guitar rock soundtrack is entirely responsible for keeping the audience’s energy up, as opposed to the energetic editing & imagery experimentation in Funeral Parade.

As undeniably cool as their music is, however, where Guitar Wolf really shines as a force for good in Wild Zero is in their spiritual guidance of the film’s hero. When he has a transphobic freak-out after discovering that his femme love interest has a penis, the band magically appears to encourage him that “Love has no borders, nationalities, or genders. Do it!” The movie is generally a fun, playful genre film throwback with a hip punk soundtrack, but none of those merits feel quite as unique as that unexpectedly wholesome, trans-friendly moment of encouragement. Admittedly, Funeral Parade of Roses is much bolder in both its boundaryless transgender sensuality and in its indulgences in violent horror genre tropes, but that’s somewhat of an unfair comparison. There are few films that are as bold as Funeral Parade by any metric. Still, it’s admirable that Wild Zero made a similar effort at all, however small. We could use a ton more movies like either of them.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #107 of The Swampflix Podcast: Kolya (1996) vs. The Czech New Wave

Welcome to Episode #107 of The Swampflix Podcast!  For this episode, Britnee & Brandon survey the major cornerstones of Czech cinema.   They start with the mainstream Oscar-winner Kolya (1996), then compare it to the furthest extremes of The Czech New Wave of the 1960s.  Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube, TuneIn, or by following the links below.

-Britnee Lombas & Brandon Ledet

The Maries of Daisies (1966) vs The Merrye Girls of Spider Baby (1964)

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Daisies is a well-respected surrealistic art film from the Czech New Wave. It’s been discussed at length for its important status as a feminist film. Spider Baby, on the other hand, is a cult favorite, an oddball movie that, sadly, has mostly been forgotten. Despite those pretty major differences, there’s a key similarity that deserves discussion: the main pairs of characters in both films are almost the same people, right down to one being a brunette and the other a blonde. Both pairs are immature, mischievous, and have very little concept of real life consequences.

Spider Baby focuses on the Merrye family, which is so inbred that they suffer from a terrible condition which causes individual members to mentally regress as they age until they become savages. The Merrye clan lives in seclusion, and once a member of the family has fully regressed they get isolated further until they become such a threat to everyone that they get moved to their own section of the basement. Virginia and Elizabeth are two of the three remaining family members of their dying line, not yet old enough to be shoved into the basement. Being isolated from society gives them a dark, sprite-like quality. Due to their regression they have no knowledge of circumstances for their actions. Together they wantonly romp about the house, taking in pet spiders, eating bugs and suspicious fungi from their yard, and bickering almost constantly. Elizabeth is as volatile as a three year old on a bad day. Virginia regularly “plays spider,” which is a handy euphemism for murder. In their isolation, they act outside of society, with unkempt hair and make-believe games gone too far.

Daisies is a critique of Czechoslovakia under communist rule and the laws and regulations within. Marie and Marie are bored and disgusted with society. They decide one day to “go bad”. They turn into savages in flower crowns. The Maries of Daisies act stuntedly, but rather than being isolated, they’re wanton and disrespectful in public. They rip through the town, taking advantage of men, getting drunk, stealing, and eating to excess every time they get the chance. Despite their quirky destruction ultimately being intolerable, they never quite progress to murder, (though in their lawless chaos, killing doesn’t seem that far away). It is actually because of that chaos and anarchy the film was banned in its own country and from export at the time of it’s release, which resulted in Věra Chytilová being prohibited from filmmaking for 7 years.

Daisies is pointed to as a landmark of feminist cinema. Part of that distinction is that it’s an arthouse film directed by woman, but the other part comes from its idea of agency. The two Maries of Daisies are immature, “unladylike”, and savage by choice. They relish in the idea of bucking society, no matter how despicable they become. It’s no real surprise that Spider Baby would be neglected in a conversation of feminist films (or really any critical conversation about cinema), even though it features two distinct, disturbed women presented pretty sympathetically. One thing that discounts it from being a feminist film is that Elizabeth and Virginia are not given agency. They inherit their savagery via a family curse. They can’t help how wretched and impulsive they are. This makes them an object of pity and even demotes them to a damsel status resulting in them needing to be saved from society. Also, Spider Baby is directed by a man, so there’s that.

From a filmmaking standpoint, Daisies in an arthouse masterpiece and Spider Baby is a low budget horror-comedy that brings to mind the best moments of any Ed Wood film. From a character standpoint, they’re surprisingly similar. Marie and Marie don’t have a demented family in the basement, but that doesn’t stop them from being regressively chaotic like Elizabeth and Virginia. There’s a similar theme of chaos in both films that comes from presenting women who actively and violently don’t conform. Especially when, in the end, nonconformity is both sets’ downfall.

-Alli Hobbs