Plants in Film
Good morning, I’m glad to be back joining in on all the Six on Saturday shenanigans once again. There are many, many more posts containing six photos of things on a Saturday over at The Propagator. For my part, having been out in the wet and cold all week, I didn’t much fancy doing it all again this morning; I’ve opted instead for a cosy, inside, pop-the-kettle-on, put-your-feet-up kind of vibe instead. Without further ado (and in no particular order), here are six films about plants:
1. Adaptation (2002)
This film was written by Charlie Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich fame), so nothing about it is straightforward. Are you ready? Nicholas Cage stars as Charlie Kaufman (that’s right, the writer of the film), first appearing on the set of his previous film Being John Malkovich. Nicholas Cage also stars as Charlie Kaufman’s fictional twin brother, who has decided to try his hand at being a screenwriter. Charlie Kaufman is struggling with writer’s block and a general inertia whilst trying to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. The Orchid Thief, it’s author Susan Orlean and it’s orchid poaching protagonist, John Laroche, are all real entities as well as characters in the film. Ultimately, the film ends up being a fictionalised version of itself being written.
That probably isn’t quite clear, but then neither is the film. In terms of plant content, it does have a good go at portraying the obsession of collecting plants, which I’m sure many of us can sympathise with. Hopefully, none of us will Spoiler Alert! end up getting eaten by an alligator for our troubles. In general, however, the focus is on people. Despite ostensibly being about orchids, and the desire to make “a simple movie about flowers”, the actual plant content is relatively low. The film is mostly about Charlie Kaufman and the process of writing screenplays – it’s very self indulgent (a problem that his character acknowledges and laments – of course!) to the extent that there’s barely room for plants to fit in the picture.
2. Léon (1994)
In my humble opinion, this film doesn’t do a lot wrong. Jean Reno plays an emotionally stunted hitman (Leon), Natalie Portman makes her debut appearance (and also one of her finest), Gary Oldman chews pretty much all of the scenery, and most importantly, it stars an Alaonema (A-‘Leon’-ema) as itself. The Alaonema is given a subtle but important role as Léon’s longstanding and only companion. I think it’s probably there as a sort of open metaphor to put our own projections onto: whilst Léon is evidently attached to the plant, taking time to save it during the final shootout, it is never explicitly stated why it is so important to him. That is really up to the viewer to decide.
Whereas the previous film is very much an acquired taste, Léon much more enjoyable, but violent, film. It focuses on the basics and does them well: plot, character and plants.
3. Little Otik (2000)
I had never heard of Jan Švankmajer before coming across this strange/wonderful/disturbing film last year, but I’m certainly glad to have done so. The Czech director specialises in stop-motion animation and surrealism; Little Otik has both. The plot is based on an old fairytale (which is told simultaneously throughout the film) about a childless couple who adopt an old tree stump as their own. The stump comes alive and also becomes rather ravenous.
The film has a wry humour throughout, which is sometimes funny, but sometimes deeply disturbing – I’ll say no more. Where plants are concerned, it’s about a living tree stump, so I don’t think we could really ask for more. If you’re after something a little different, Little Otik might be for you.
4. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)
Have you ever heard the phrase “Well they blew the budget on that one”? In this they quite literally did. The accidental helicopter crash which appears in the film cost $60,000 of the approximate $90,000 budget. You might be able to guess the plot of this film: there is a deadly attack of tomatoes that kill people. This involves tomatoes of various sizes wobbling slightly whilst making munching noises. Someone then looks directly into the camera and screams.
At no point is anything taken seriously. One of the main characters drags an opened parachute around after him whilst wielding a sword. The trailer should give you a good idea about what you’re in for:
Interestingly, I finally got round to watching the second of four Killer tomato films: Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988) last night. It pretty much carries on in the same vein.
5. Adéla Ještě Nevečeřela (1978)
My favourite translation of the title of this film is ‘Adela hasn’t had her dinner yet”. Another Czech film, more stop-motion animation, more plants: they’re doing something right over there. The plot follows Detective Nick Carter (a character who has been appearing in novels since the 1880s) as he attempts to solve a case involving a nefarious botanist known as ‘The Gardener’ and the titular Adéla (a musically trained man-eating plant).
With it’s fantastical plants and bizarre gadgets, this film is pretty enjoyable. Where films and plants are concerned, man-eating plants are a common trope, but this film has a lot of fun with it. If you don’t mind watching with subtitles (or you speak Czech), this one’s well worth a watch.
6. Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
To finish, possibly the most famous of all films about plants. This film has since been made into a musical which itself was made into a film (with another one in the works) but the plot remains the same: incompetent young florist feeds giant talking, man-eating plant. The florist now has to balance his new found success, his romantic intentions , and the needs of the plant.
The original Little Shop of Horrors is very much a B-movie: it even re-uses the set from a previous film. However, I think there are two things that cheaply made films seem to do well: music and chase scenes. This film contains a pretty decent jazz score and a thoroughly entertaining chase scene. It also features Jack Nicholson in a very early role as very strange dentist.
Phew, well there we are: Six on Saturday. Six films of varying degrees of quality and plant content. Make sure you have a look at some other Six on Saturday posts. Also, feel free to suggest any plant-based films I can add to my collection, I intend to do full length reviews of them all in time. Little Joe (2019) is on my list, particularly as it made a friend’s ‘worst film of the year’ list. Thanks for reading and stay in touch!