The Greasy Strangler seems to have been largely dismissed as an oddball novelty, but it might be the most innovative film ever.
The first time I watched the film it seemed easy just to classify it as “weird” and move on. But as I thought more about it and then rewatched, I realized how incomplete that description was.
David Lynch makes weird movies. John Waters, Harmony Korine and Giuseppe Andrews make weird movies. And what makes them so weird is that those movies exist within our consensus reality but contain elements that do not belong. They are incongruous and inexplicable.
There is nothing incongruous or inexplicable about The Greasy Strangler. All of its characters and situations work according to the logic of the reality it is based in, which is not the same as the one we are watching it from. In this way the film is more akin to fantasy than surrealism.
Even the motivations of the characters are atypical of human psychology, but become perversely reasonable when considered from the alien psychology of the films reality.
If the film were merely weird, it would be a barely interesting side note in the wide world of strange cinema. But it is not merely weird. It is a highly constructed fantasy world with complex interconnected truths of its own. In fact, it is probably a better fantasy world than the one’s detailed in the most popular fantasy works.
For example, Lord of the Rings is barely fantasy at all. It is just medieval earth with most of the humans replaced by different shaped beings with mostly the same behaviors and motivations of human beings. A little dash of classic literary magicalism, and Wa-La, the greatest fantasy franchise of all time.
Except it is not really that fantastic at all. It is what most classic literature is, a morality tale told through caricatures. And as such it is full of elements which make it mostly indistinguishable from our reality. Morality tales must remain mostly realist in order for the morals to be evident.
There is no moral point to The Greasy Strangler. There is no lesson and no metaphor on the human condition. It is therefore untethered from reality in ways most of what we call fantasy really isn’t. The absolute lack of a message or any social import whatsoever free it from the constraints of normative consensus reality.
Which may itself be a very powerful lesson and metaphor on something. Art? Fuck if I know.
But i do know it transcends weirdness to do something film and art rarely does, which is to snub reality in its entirety and create something completely outside of it.
Anybody can make weird films. Nobody ever makes films that are completely irreverent of reality altogether. There is something brilliant in that. Next level shit.
I get the feeling the film was largely ignored because it was dismissed as novelty oddness. At the same time I also get the feeling that someday it will be an historically important film for having not just bent the relationship between art and reality, but separating the two altogether.
Or maybe I am just a total bullshit artist.
Oh, and the music is fucking dope.