Whereas some films withstand the test of time, others simply get buried by it. And one such example recently emerged from the annals of obscurity in the form of Thomas White and Allan Zion’s Who’s Crazy? ‒ a ripe slice of avant-garde celluloid from the glorious post-beatnik world of the mid ’60s that is perhaps best-known for having never been seen at all. Following a poorly-received debut at Locarno in ’65 and a brief screening at Cannes in ’66 (this time with some extra added musical accompaniment by Nino Ferrer), the meager, black-and-white U.S./Belgian co-production vanished, leaving a vague, lingering memory in the minds and hearts of all of the free-spirited souls who formed an alliance to make the movie happen in the first place.
Fortunately for those of you who may enjoy witnessing the spectacle of improv actors gallivanting about the countryside of Belgium (they’re so unhoopy) to the strains of The Ornette Coleman Trio, White and Zion’s only contribution to cinema was ‒ thanks to the diligent efforts of a contemporary East Coast filmmaker, Vanessa McDonnell ‒ not only found, but restored for a Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber. Granted, the only print anyone could find featured burned-in French subtitles (because, naturally, the French would have held onto an experimental arthouse flick!). But then, there’s very little (rational) dialogue to be heard within the confines of the 73-minute oddity in the first place. Furthermore, the inclusion of said subtitles almost seems to make the picture feel that much more artsy-like, so I guess you can consider it a plus.
Those of you hoping for an actual plot may be left standing out in the snow along with the film’s characters, but it has something to do with a pack of asylum residents (as played by then-members of New York’s Living Theatre) who ‒ much like the general population of King of Hearts, a French/Italian wartime dramedy also released in ’66 ‒ are granted another form of asylum when their bus breaks down in the snow. Retreating to a nearby farmhouse, the clan soon engages in a series of surreal and sometimes silly, but always very bohemian artistic sequences. The comedic qualities only increase as a group of inept Belgian police who apparently mistook old Keystone Cops two-reelers for departmental training films.
But perhaps most intriguing of all (or just plain intriguing, if your love of moving art has waned some over the years ‒ or if you just never got it to begin with) is Who’s Crazy?‘s music score. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the soundtrack featuring Ornette Coleman, David Izenzon, Charles Moffett, and Nino Ferrer (warning: the voice of Marianne Faithfull may be heard singing here, too, so please ensure you have a pair of earmuffs on standby), Vanessa McDonnell most likely would have never set out to find Who’s Crazy? to begin with. Indeed, I found the onscreen antics of the film’s cast to be a bit tiring after a while, but the jazzy incidental music ‒ which frequently drowns out whatever the Living Theatre actors frolick and babble endlessly ‒ kept me going.
At the very least, Who’s Crazy? is perfect for playing in the background as you get a little housework done. Although I’m quite certain that wasn’t what Thomas White and Allan Zion had in mind.
Following its official 2016 US debut, Who’s Crazy? marches onto home video courtesy Kino Lorber. Culled from a well-worn 35mm print, a considerably amount of restoration has taken place in order to get this experimental motion picture to look as good as it does. Granted, that might not be saying a whole heck of a lot if you are a complete and total A/V snob, but if you grew up watching beat-up old 16mm prints of badly-dubbed European films from the ’50s and ’60s on VHS like I did, Kino Lorber’s restoration of Who’s Crazy? will look like gold. The title is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with optional English (SDH) subtitles, which jump to the top of the frame whenever the hardcoded Frenchie subs appear. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is also about as good as it will ever get, but I shan’t be filing any complaints over it.
Like the print itself, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of special features for a movie that disappeared over a half-century ago. Nevertheless, Kino Lorber has managed to give us a few little goodies to show us all Who’s Crazy? here, beginning with 1966 episode of Tempo International entitled “David, Moffett, and Ornette.” As you may imagine, the 28-minute bonus focuses on our feature presentation’s musical act, capturing them in the moment as they recorded Who’s Crazy?‘s soundtrack. Another featurette, roughly the same length, is a condensed Q&A session with Thomas White when the film was shown to an apparently highly enthusiastic crowd at the Lincoln Center.
A promo trailer for the rediscovery of the movie is also included, as is a ten-page booklet featuring an essay by Adam Shatz. All in all, it’s more than I expected for a film practically no one has ever heard of, and I must salute everyone involved in bringing this lost arthouse gem into the light for that alone.