Every filmmaker, no matter how mainstream or underground, has to get the inspiration to become a filmmaker somewhere. “I used to watch the programme Jonathan Ross did in the late 80s called The Incredibly Strange Film Show and they did a whole hour on Sam Raimi,” remembers Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World director Edgar Wright, who in those days couldn’t imagine what it took to enter the impossibly distant world known as Hollywood. “I definitely hadn’t seen The Evil Dead as it was banned on video at the time – but I saw the Jonathan Ross documentary and I was staggered. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.'”
Although the show only ran 12 episodes, The Incredibly Strange Film Show featured documentaries on not just Sam Raimi but David Lynch, John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and other directors with filmographies as distinctive as their personalities. (You’ll find other episodes on this Youtube playlist.) Ross and his team go all out, interviewing not just the auteurs behind Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos, and The Holy Mountain themselves but their friends, family members, and collaborators in various locations important to their work and their lives. (Ross even takes the step of dressing like his subjects, buttoning his shirt all the way up in the Lynch episode and so on.)
The Incredibly Strange Film Show originally aired in 1988 and 1989, but after decades of celebration in cinema culture, does the work of the likes of Lynch, Waters, and Jodorowsky still count as “incredibly strange”? Their movies certainly do endure, but not by sheer oddity alone. We’ve seen plenty of stranger or more extreme images than theirs committed to celluloid in the years since, but we’ve arguably seen far fewer equally coherent and personal visions successfully make the transition from obscurity to influence. These elder statesmen of famous fringe film, in other words, each in his own way made the zeitgeist itself a little more incredibly strange. Long may that achievement inspire.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.