Forbidden Zone (1982) at 366 Weird Movies


Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

So last semester I wrote a paper on pop culture in museums and used MoMA’s Tim Burton exhibit as my focus. Since then I’ve had a hankering to revisit some of his early films, but also I was encouraged to check out Forbidden Zone, a weird and wacky musical that grew out of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which Burton cites as a reference (and of course features his frequent composer, Danny Elfman). While the film is somewhat notorious for its stupid use of blackface- done out of juvenile ignorance, I think, not racist beliefs- it’s mostly a strangely compelling, almost completely nonsensical live-action cartoon that pulls from jazz greats like Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker as well as German Expressionism, Betty Boop, and whatever fucked up notions the screenwriters had in their heads. The music is fantastic, it’s got Susan Tyrell and HervĂ© Villechaize, and the visuals are artfully DIY.

I don’t know, man, I am not at all condoning the blackface, obviously, but I was able to look past its limited screentime (about a minute total?) due to the fascinating weirdness of the rest of it. And I listened to Richard Elfman on the commentary where he’s like “I didn’t really think about being offensive, and when people talked about Jewish stereotypes I didn’t get it since my actual Jewish grandfather played that role and he basically played himself”, and he gave the whole “I grew up in a black neighborhood, I have tons of black friends”-type excuse. I think he just wanted to reference these old-timey cartoons that inspired him and he didn’t really understand how it would actually come across. Again: Totally Not Ok, but I think the film is worth it for its music and imagination and great cast.

Head over and read my full review at 366 Weird Movies!


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