My Favorite Movies That Don’t Make Any Sense At All

A friend recently did a post about his favorite sports movies. After reading his well-done article, I started pondering the film genres in which I might offer the most helpful commentary, and as a life-long devotee of the surreal and the incongruous, I decided that the best thing I could share with you, beloved readers, is a list of My Favorite Movies That Don’t Make Any Sense At All.

As wordy as I can be here, I’m really a very visual critter at heart in my private, reflective moments, so I’ll happily and eagerly watch movies with stunning cinematography, haunting soundtracks, trenchant social commentary, and all sorts of other film school values, even if the plots holding those elements together make absolutely no sense whatsoever in any world that real human beings inhabit. Plot schmot, look at the lighting on that rotting, dead zebra, will you?!?

So, without any further ado, here are ten of My Favorite Movies That Don’t Make Any Sense at All. Please feel free to share your thoughts about your own favorite movies that don’t make any sense at all in the comments section. Because, odds are, I’ve seen all of them already, since that’s how I roll, yo.

A Zed & Two Noughts (1985): Crazy sexiness from Peter Greenaway with one-legged women, swans, Vermeer, twins, zebras and OOZ at the ZOO. This movie contains perhaps the greatest film soundtrack ever recorded, by Michael Nyman; “Angelfish Decay” and “Swan Rot” are songs to absolutely die for, both of them variations on the same crazed theme, as is film closer “L’Escargot.”

Eraserhead (1976): David Lynch’s first full-length feature film remains the sort of movie one rolls out to test the stomach of someone who claims to be a student of disturbing film, though many of them quail before it’s completed its run. I’ve probably watched it at least a dozen times over the years, and it took at least ten viewings before I was able to see some of the humor in the thing. Now I chuckle, where I once shuddered. If they showed this in High School sex education class, I guarantee you that teen pregnancy rates would plummet.

The Fountain (2006): An utterly beautiful movie by Daron Aronofsky, featuring the lovely and talented Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weiss as a couple doomed by something to something, although I’m not quite sure what. I actually wept openly near the end of this movie, though I have absolutely no idea why.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972): The best flick made by the father of film surrealism, Luis Bunuel. Every time I plan a meal with guests, I ponder this movie as a cautionary tale of how the simplest of life’s activities can go woefully, terribly wrong, when things don’t make any sense at all. Then I decide to eat alone.

Dead Man (1995): Johnny Depp! Jim Jarmusch! Star power aplenty, with loads of hipster-friendly cameos! But, uh, is William Blake dead or alive, and what about that Indian, and Iggy Pop wearing a dress, eating someone’s forearm? Do those things make sense? A: No, they don’t, but this movie moves me profoundly, regardless.

The Holy Mountain (1973): I debated about whether to include this film from acclaimed surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky or his (slightly) more well-known El Topo. I picked this one, because it’s more visually spectacular, and makes dramatically less sense. Perfect!

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1974): Okay, so let’s take a really popular rock band, at the peak of their powers, and have them film a live concert in an ancient auditorium with no audience around. That makes sense, right? Uh, no. No it doesn’t. It makes no sense at all, though the results of this ill-conceived epic provide some of the best footage of perhaps the best band of the 1970s, making no sense whatsoever to anyone, anywhere.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989): So, there’s this guy, with bits of metal stuffed inside him, and then this big drill thing bursts out of him, and he uses it to kill some woman, and then he becomes some sort of weird human/trash-heap hybrid, and some other stuff happens, and then there’s this scene that’s, like, stuff going on with this big machine-guy thing, and, uh . . . well, let’s just say that it’s beautiful and horrible to watch, but it makes no sense at all.

Mulholland Dr. (2001): David Lynch again! With some really pretty women doing some really sexy stuff, although why they’re doing it is left to trouble the imagination of the viewers, who, by the time they get to those scenes, won’t be in the least bit aroused, because they will be too busy pondering who the little old people in the box and the scary guy in the dumpster behind the diner were.

Zardoz (1974): The usually-dependable John Boorman’s Zardoz totally deserves to cap this list, if for no other reason than the presence of the giant flying stone head that lectures the exterminators about how the gun is good, and the penis is evil. You really, truly have to see this one to believe just how little sense a movie can make, right from its opening scene, no less.  Let me end this post with a masterpiece of nonsense and idiocy: the Zardoz trailer.

UPDATE NOTE: Click here for a 2020 update of my 50 All-Time Favorite Films. Most of these are on it, not surprisingly . . .

Generic Smith

A canned blog-based bio from some years back, updated to 2014 data . . .

Real Name: John Eric Smith, which sounds like “Generic Smith” when you say it quickly, as if “John E. Smith” wasn’t generic enough. I use my middle name to avoid Pocahontas jokes and rolling eyes when I check into hotels.

Age: Old enough that it’s rude to ask

Personal Web site: http://www.jericsmith.com

Where do you work? I am the Executive Director of Salisbury House Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa.

What do you do when you’re not working? I work out at the gym, play golf with my wife, read books (mostly non-fiction, music-related biographies, natural history, and tales of human suffering), and occasionally indulge in weird spurts of coin collecting or fossil hunting or model rocket building or other equally geeky pursuits.

Where did you attend high school and college? I was a Marine Corps brat and attended four high schools in four years: two on Long Island, one in Rhode Island, and one in North Carolina. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, then attended the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia, and (much later) received a Masters in Public Administration and Policy from Albany’s Rockefeller College.

Why do you blog? Because I love to write and tell stories, probably to the point of obsession, and if blogs didn’t exist, then I’d likely be filling up little notebooks that no one else would ever read. So why not share those musings publicly, since it’s so easy to do? Also, at this point, I blog from force of habit: 2014 marks my fourteenth year as a regular blogger (with a couple of break periods), and I still feel like I have something to share.

What’s the best / worst thing about blogging? The best thing is occasionally hearing from people who felt moved or inspired by words or ideas they found on my blog. The worst thing is occasionally hearing from people who felt hurt or insulted by words they found on my blog. Words have power, and it’s nice to be reminded of that fact every now and again. And at this stage in my life, I’d rather inspire than provoke. I did more than enough of the latter when I was young.

What’s surprised you the most about blogging? The fact that I’ve been able to do it for as long as I have, and that my audience, such as it is, appears to be sticking around. When I set up my first blog in September 2000, I figured it would be but a passing fancy, read only by a couple of loyal friends and family members for a month or two.

What advice would you give to other bloggers? I have been dismayed at how mean and competitive much of the blogosphere has become, and how much of it is made up of regurgitated content or Twitter-length bits of fluff and nothingness. I would encourage other bloggers to create original, personal, thoughtful material, rather than just pilfering and reposting the meme du jour, and to focus on the quality of your narrative, instead of doing whatever it takes to drive up your hit rates and comment counts. Such a lowest common denominator, bottom-line driven approach makes sense for those who get paid to blog by advertisers, but the vast majority of people blog only as a labor of love, and I think it’s important to hone and sharpen your own voices, rather than letting them be drowned out by the soul-sapping action in the comments section. You’ll be more successful (and happy) in the long-run if you worry more about your words than you worry about your stats.

What’s the last book you read? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, an extraordinary story of a woman whose cancer cells thrived and survived, long after she died, and without her family’s consent or knowledge. Stranger than fiction.

What’s most played on your iPod? In the past month, the most played bands on my iPod have been The Bats, Melt Banana, PAS/CAL, Frightened Rabbit, The National, Napalm Death and So Cow.

Favorite movie? I can’t pick just one, but favorites include Aguirre: The Wrath of God, A Zed & Two Noughts, Network, Cool Hand Luke and A Clockwork Orange.

Favorite place to get away from it all? The hot tub in my backyard. Nothing better than watching birds by day or stars by night while stewing in 103 degree water.

Coffee or tea? One 12 ounce cup of black coffee in the morning, then weird, decaf herbal teas throughout the rest of the day.

Your hero? I consider anyone who serves honorably and faithfully for the public good to be heroic. I also count Muhammad Ali, Robert Fripp, Abraham Lincoln, my late father and my wife as life-long inspirations and role-models, each in their own individual ways.

Return of the Son of Five Songs You Need to Hear

1. We Want War by These New Puritans (2010, United Kingdom: A lush blend of orchestral and electronic music; I like just about anything with a bassoon in it).

2. The Human Germ by Snog (1998, Australia: One of the most delightfully depressing bands on the planet, but in a good way).

3. II B.S. (Haitian Fight Song) by Charles Mingus (1963, United States: A jazz masterpiece, even for those who think they don’t like jazz).

4. Waiting Room by Fugazi (1989, United States: A masterpiece of rhythm and energy, a perfect marriage of jittery dub and spazzy call-and-response punk).

5. Litany by Guadalcanal Diary (1987, United States: The best, but now mostly forgotten, live band active in Athens, Georgia when I was down there in the mid-’80s).