The build up to Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, chronicling a woman’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) erotic experiences from birth to death, is already bordering on absurd — and the film doesn’t even have an American release date yet. The Danish director just revealed that the movie will be told in chapters, released over the next several months, and that Nymphomaniac belongs to a new film genre called Digressionism. Always the experimental, avant-garde artist, Von Trier has sparked other cinema movements before, including his own collective, Dogme 95. Film genres, subgenres, and hybrid genres can be somewhat subjective, but in the spirit of Von Trier’s Digressionism proclamation, we bring you 10 of the most fascinating, unusual film genres in cinema.
Defining characteristics: gothic-set grannies run amok, gray-haired melodrama, bitter biddy rivalries, haunting hagsploitation, Grande Dame Guignol.
Who/what started it: Robert Aldrich’s 1962 film, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as aging and forgotten sisters isolated from the rest of the world in a crumbling mansion, defined the genre. The film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. Davis was nominated for the Best Actress award. The top-billing stars reportedly fought on and off set, much like their characters, but the spats didn’t deter the film’s success. Sunset Boulevard‘s Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson), a silent film star lost in her own fantasy world, is considered an early Psycho-biddy icon.
Meat Pie Western
Defining characteristics: Americanized Australian outback epics.
Who/what started it: “meat pie western” is a play on the name “spaghetti western” (Ialian-made westerns). The slang for the Australian version comes from a popular savory dish. (Admittedly, the name of the subgenre is probably the most unusual thing about it.) The films have a surprisingly long history, with many directors fascinated by the ethnic and geographical similarities between the American Wild West and Australia. The genre has shifted focus to revisionist stories, which challenge Australian history — as in the case of John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, written by Nick Cave. The film is one of the few to depict indigenous Australians accurately.
Defining characteristics: any film starring a Bruce Lee look-alike made after the iconic martial artist’s death (with a name spelled as a variation of Lee’s), any film with the words “Enter,” “Dragon,” and “Bruce Lee” in the title made after Lee’s death in 1973.
Notable films: Anything starring Bruce Le, like Enter the Game of Death, is a good place to start. Dragon Lee films are also popular.
Who/what started it: Hong Kong cinema studios cashed in on their most successful star’s popularity after his tragic death by casting a series of Bruce Lee imitators (with names like Bruce Li, Bruce Le, and Dragon Lee) in cheaply produced kung fu action films. Often, the films were marketed as genuine Bruce Lee movies. Instead, they were rip-offs of Lee’s classic films like Enter the Dragon, which saw numerous spin-offs (some TV movies) such as Re-Enter the Dragon, Enter Two Dragons, and Enter Another Dragon. The deceptive tactic worked due to the number of confusing alternate titles.
Defining characteristics: nonrepresentational films that resemble animated abstract paintings, focusing on formal and experimental elements for a unique visual effect.
Who/what started it: pioneering artists Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, Oskar Fischinger, and Viking Eggeling during the 1920s (most of them painters). They were inspired by the experimental and nonrepresentational developments happening in the fine art world. For the time period, the concept was groundbreaking and totally bonkers.
Defining characteristics: elaborate song and dance numbers, ghosts, monsters, revenge tales, anything resembling a popular American horror film cast with Bollywood stars.
Who/what started it: American horror cinema was the biggest inspiration for Bollywood horror. Several of the most successful films modeled themselves after major American fright flicks like The Exorcist, and even the Universal Studios and Val Lewton movies of the 1930s and 1940s (when Bollywood Horror first took off). Many of the earlier films featured some of Bollywood’s biggest and best stars and directors, which is quite different than American horror cinema — often unfairly relegated to inferior status.
Nudist Camp Films
Defining characteristics: sexploitation films from the 1930s to the early 1960s that featured nude women (with a few men that the camera ignored). Many pretended to have an educational slant, demonstrating the benefits of sun, exercise, and the naturist lifestyle. Some featured scenes of volleyball games, hence the nickname “volleyball films.”
Who/what started it: this was a way to get around the rules about nudity under the restrictive Hays Code of the 1930s. The 1950s saw an increase in more openly exploitive nudist films, with directors like Russ Meyer on the scene.
Sea Life Sport Movies
Defining characteristics: absurdist films starring massive, mutant sea creatures engaging in sports.
Who/what started it: Japan’s kaiju (giant monster) films have featured strange creatures battling it out since the 1950s. Japan and director Minoru Kawasaki seems to have cornered the market on the modern, aquatic-themed films, but Crust was a UK production (directed by Mark Locke). Kawasaki has also directed movies about murderous koalas and wrestling stag beetles.
Defining characteristics: films from the 1960s and 1970s that starred famous luchadors engaging in battle with everything from aliens to vampires.
Who/what started it: Lucha Libre in Mexico. Some wrestlers, including the beloved El Santo (The Saint), were so popular they were basically considered real-life superheroes.
Parallel Cinema and Necrorealism
Defining characteristics: “The genre marries Soviet avant-garde agitprop filmmaking (black and white, silent, odd angles, extreme closeups, rapid fire editing of good Soviets at work) with something called ‘Necrorealism,’ a movement spearheaded by filmmaker Yvegny Yufit and consisting of very weird gay male zombie flicks that feature fat bald men having sex and eating each other’s brains.” The underground filmmakers rebelled against Soviet totalitarianism and heroic ideals.
Who/what started it: “It was meant to be a comment on the impending fall of the Soviet system and the decadence of the apparatchiks in charge.” The term was applied to artists making subversive cinema produced outside the restrictive state system.
Defining characteristics: low-budget, exploitive knock-offs of Hollywood blockbusters with derivative titles that are released straight to DVD.
Who/what started it: blame Hollywood and Michael Bay