With the recent release of director Christopher Nolan’s dream-based film Inception, Adam Clarke discusses his favourite depictions of dreams in the movies.
Before David Lynch made well-dressed dwarfs and card-playing his regular Saturday night thing with Twin Peaks, Alfred Hitchcock pulled out all the stops for weird dream sequences in Spellbound. How? Well, he enlisted none other than Salvador Dali to design a dream that would be suitably weird, but nonetheless reveal key elements to drive the film’s plot. The dream itself is gorgeous: a slew of gigantic eyes transfixed on Gregory Peck as he plays a game of cards before being chased by a pair of wings that fly of their own volition and a faceless man holding a giant, distorted wheel. It’s one of the most striking set-pieces ever filmed and I wish that Hitchcock and Dali had simply abandoned the script in favor of ninety minutes of concentrated surrealism.
Sadly, the film returns to reality, which this sequence alludes to with symbolism, clues and Big Important Meanings. But the dream, which plays out like a rejected opening credits sequence for The Twilight Zone, is worth the price of rental alone.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Pee-Wee Herman is one of the most enduring characters from my childhood. The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse TV series is one of the most inspired, sweet and thoroughly bonkers programs ever devised and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is one of the funniest comedies of all time. It’s easily the best film Tim Burton ever made, working with a hilarious script by Reubens, Michael Varhol and Phil Hartman and a brilliant, chaotic score by Danny Elfman. The story, revolving around Pee-Wee’s quest for his stolen bike, is just a clothesline for one-off characters and moments of inspired strangeness. The film also offers a master class for dream sequences with terrific moments involving clowns in surgical garb and fire-breathing dinosaurs (both of whom hate bicycles!) Fortunately, unlike Spellbound, the rest of the film is demented enough to hold its own against these hilarious asides.
The Adventure Of Faustus Bidgood (1986)
Let’s look at things from Faustus’ perspective. You live a boring, bureaucratic life. You were clearly destined to be the one true premier of Newfoundland. Yes, such is the case of Faustus Bidgood (played by Newfoundland’s greatest treasure, Andy Jones). Bidgood’s a dim, deranged and mumbly clerk who works for the board of education and answers to the equally unhinged Fred Bonia-Coombs (Brian Downey, star of Lexx and the upcoming feature Hobo With A Shotgun). But, in his mind, at least, Bidgood is cock of the walk, earning Newfoundland’s independence and seducing Mary Walsh with an act of seductive nose-picking.
The Exorcist III (1991)
I don’t think there’s a more underrated film then Exorcist III and it all comes down to its title. You know you’ve seen it at the video store or scoffed at a handful of copies of it in the DVD bargain bin at Dominion. It’s based on Exorcist author William Peter Blatty’s novel, Legion, which was the original title of his screenplay (no relation to the garbage Legion film that came out this year). Exorcist III was Blatty’s second film as writer-director and both it and his earlier The Ninth Configuration are damn near perfect. Moody, funny, literate and eminently quotable, Blatty’s the sort of writer you wish was far more prolific, as nearly everything he’s written is astoundingly good and his films are gorgeously composed.
Exorcist III contains a spectacular sequence that offers an eerie, unique take on the afterlife as Lt Kinderman (George C. Scott) dreams of an afterlife that’s equal part hospital, train station and dining hall. There, he sees an ailing friend (Ed Flanders) surrounded by angels and jazz musicians. Also, both Fabio and Samuel L. Jackson have cameos as an angel and a dead man trying to contact the living via radio signals. Fabio was probably hoping to make amends with that pigeon that flew into his eye. Nonetheless, it’s a depressing, haunting and very, very funny scene in a overlooked gem of a movie.