A Show Within a Show is sometimes the stereotypical artistic independent movie, the kind which practically requires a didactic analysis to convince people that, though it does not aim to entertain the Lowest Common Denominator in any way, it's a profoundly meaningful work of True Art. If one of the main characters makes one, expect Creator Breakdown. These films are likely to have several, if not all, of these elements:
- Being in a foreign language, usually French. As part of this, most in-fiction examples end with a "Fin" text overlay. German and Scandinavian languages are also used.
- Absurd length (expect extremely long static takes of mundane daily activities) or brevity.
- Impossible for the average viewer to comprehend, though more serious than silly.
- Produced on a shoestring budget with intentionally lo-fi production.
- Deliberately Monochrome, even though color production is available.
- Depressing as hell subject matter, often with a gritty social realism style, presented in an unbearably maudlin style.
- Bucket-loads of intellectual pretentiousness, usually related to European philosophical currents like Nihilism or Existentialism, although always in a strongly symbolic, deliberately abstruse way.
- Blatant attempts to offend anyone who watches it. Be it via gore, violence, nudity, sex, language, etc.
- Challenges the "status quo" and open to interpretations (mainly sex, dying and suffering).
- Soundtracked with harsh, atonal or otherwise bleak experimental modern art music. Alternatively there is no soundtrack at all or music is only played diegetically.
- Rapid cuts between different subjects, often playing into all the above points, which might or might not be part of the symbolism.
In the best cases, usage of this trope is an Affectionate Parody or a sharp Take That! to a particular work, director or movement. In other examples, though, it's quite obvious that the writers didn't know what they were referencing.
It's often the goal of the pretentious, egotistical Prima Donna Director.
It has to be said, however that this trope applies heavily to people with Small Reference Pools. For instance, although Ingmar Bergman is regarded as an "arty" director, in his lifetime his films were consistent box-office hits as were some of Federico Fellini's and Akira Kurosawa's films along with French New Wave films from François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, etc. Also, there are cultural differences which mean that high concepts, artistic influences and education levels may make some audiences have larger reference pools than others, though there is plenty of debate over which is which. Put simply, what's obscure to some is commonplace in other places and vice versa (which doesn't mean Viewers Are Morons or Viewers Are Geniuses unless you're a True Art snob or Anti-Intellectualism slob).note
Please note that only Show Within a Show examples are objective. Applying this trope to a real work can be considered quite YMMV.
See Euroshlock, an index of movies of the kind which this trope is riffing on.
Examples of in-fiction films
- This Budweiser commercial, which begins by asking, "Why are foreign films so... foreign?"
- The Big O does this with memories in general, but specifically there is a short film with relative importance to the plot done in the French style, complete with Deliberate Monochrome, subtitles (because the dialogue is silent), and a big curlicue "Fin" at the end. But it's more of a Film Noir with art-house symbolism than a true art house film.
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt parodies this in the episode "Chuck to the Future, Part 3", a pretentious, Deliberately Monochrome homage to Eraserhead.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW): Pinkie Pie, of all ponies, makes one in Issue 66, "Applewood Follies". (Then again, given her previously-established love for Commedia dell'Arte, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.)
Narrator: Let the silver candle burn and flare... all is vanity in the eyes of an alligator... cream cheese is a healthy snack... The pony who does not do laundry will be outshone by the pony who does...
Applejack: Pinkie! What does any of this mean?
Pinkie Pie: It's symbolic!
- In Mr. Bean's Holiday, the eponymous Mr. Bean puts his holiday movie over the story's antagonist arthouse director's surreal police drama, with the dialogue from the original footage oddly matching with Bean's random images.
- Brought up in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. (Although it also refers to Matt Damon's role in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley).
Ben Affleck: [to Matt Damon] I'm sorry I dragged you away from whatever gay-serial-killers-who-ride-horses-and-like-to-play-golf-touchy-feely picture you were gonna do this week.
- In After The Fox, Peter Sellers plays a master thief who is trying to smuggle gold into Italy. As a cover story, he pretends to shoot an art film in a small coastal village. When the ship carrying the gold is delayed, he has to improvise, shooting scenes at random and trying to come up with explanations for his "artistic vision". In the end, the film is shown at his trial, where a film critic hails it as a work of genius. Of course.
- The annoying, pretentious hippie art teacher in Ghost World, played by Illeana Douglas, makes such a film and shows it to her remedial art class. It's nothing but a few minutes of the words "mirror, father, mirror" repeated over and over, to black and white shots of a shadow walking up stairs and baby-doll parts being thrown in a toilet.
- The low-budget indie French movie being made in Irma Vep. So artistique, the lead actress — Maggie Cheung — has no idea what she's doing there, and the angsty director has a nervous breakdown.
- Woody Allen's character in Hollywood Ending apparently ends up making one of these accidentally: He was blind while directing it. The American critics hate it, but the French love it…
- Medea's films in Otto; or Up with Dead People are like this. One consists only of people dancing weirdly with their faces painted, another is about revolutionary communist gay zombies, and a third is about a zombie that roams the city with a Fauxlosophic Narration, and they are all in black and white.
- One of the films-within-a-film in S1m0ne is I Am Pig, an incomprehensible, heavily blue-tinted film which ends with a shot of its star in a wedding dress, Covered in Mud and eating from a pig trough. It's hailed as a masterpiece to the bemusement of the director, who tried to create a thoroughly offensive bomb to tank the fake actress's career.
- A scene in The President's Analyst (seen on network TV runs but since removed) has James Coburn's character visit an avant-garde movie house. The film is a string of random, squalid imagery that repulses the small audience who all walk out, leaving him and a young lady who grows to share his enjoyment of it. The director angrily confronts them, stating it was meant to be offensive.
- Almodóvar's Talk to Her features an artistic black and white silent Film Within a Film sequence called "Amante Menguante." Silent film hero Alfredo takes a potion and becomes so small that he ends up wandering around on the body of the sleeping Amparo. He goes for a walk on her breasts and even climbs inside her vagina.
- Anais Nin attends several in Henry & June. Early in the story, she goes to find Henry Miller in a small theater, watching a beautiful art film sex scene with Lots of Symbolism (a necklace breaks and scatters pearls all over the place, people are blowing cigarette smoke). The actress strongly resembles his wife June and when Anais touches him he is weeping. This is not an actual film. It was made for the movie and the actress who resembles June is played by Uma Thurman, who plays June. Later, Anais and her husband with Henry and June watch Mädchen in Uniform.note Anais returns to the theater with her husband, Henry and her cousin Edouardo. She learns to say "Fuck you, Jack!" to a viewer who disapproves of Un Chien Andalou.
- Murder Party gives us Lexi's bizarre and moody student art film, Valediction in Black. This is played entirely for laughs of course, given the satirical tone of the movie.
- In (500) Days of Summer, after Tom and Summer break up, Tom is shown sadly watching a movie in the theater by himself. It's a strange, black-and-white French film about a depressed man who, like Tom, is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
- In the Mexican film "El Crimen del Cacaro Gumaro", one of the main characters attempts to revive his father's old movie theatre by holding a film festival and we get to see a brief part of one of the films: a European family sitting on a couch watching a wall with nothing on it but a cuckoo clock. After a brief moment the clock falls and the father laments that they have nothing else to watch.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus has a hilarious example in "Le Fromage Grand"note , which, underneath its rubbish-dump setting and random selections of violent Stock Footage, contains a profoundly tragic narrative about a man, a woman, and a lettuce. The lettuce explodes in the end, which is claimed to represent the self-destructiveness of materialism.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun does this once. Mary says the film is very erotic "once you figure out which character is male and which is female".
- In Theoffice US, Gabe's film, which he says is an example of the "cinema of the unsettling," features black-and-white cinamatography and bizarre shots such as food rotting, blood pouring out of a cake, and an unseen person waiting for Stanley in the back of his car.
- Parodied in The Goodies episode "The Movies". After the Goodies have purchased Britain's remaining film studio, they watch some of the films it produces, which include the very long and very slow Death in Bognor (a spoof of Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice), and the surreal Life of Pablo Casals by Ken Russell, a spoof of his composer biopics (especially Mahler) featuring a nun stripping to a frenzied cello accompaniment, but revealing a whiteface mime.
- Something similar happened on The Carpoolers, with the son making a surrealist film out of a wedding home video and declared a genius by the Sundance Film Festival jury.
- Married... with Children's "SHEOS" [sic].
- A sketch from The Benny Hill Show features Benny as an avant-garde French director being interviewed by a fawning Henry McGee, only to repeatedly burst McGee's bubble about his talent as he reveals that all the artsy stuff was actually the result of a low budget or just laziness, like switching from color to black and white after running out of color film, and casting the producer's girlfriend (who has a lisp, causing her to mispronounce a line where she orders soup and make it sound like a profound philosophical statement) as the lead.
- Big Train features a parody of French cinema, shot in black and white and spoken in French with subtitles. A woman in a cafe (played by Catherine Tate) tells her boyfriend she's leaving him for "something else" — a set of traffic lights. She eventually decides to return, but the man has taken up with a lawn sprinkler.
- A similar sketch has the French woman deliver a similarly angsty, introspective monologue to her companion, who sits and nods patiently before, in English, responding with "No, I'm sorry, I don't understand a word you're saying."
- Similarly, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer had spoof French arthouse films (actually less surreal than most of the duo's output) starring Le Corbussier et Papin, both remarkably skilled farting artistes.
- One of the running jokes in Arrested Development is a film called "Les Cousins Dangereux", which would appear to fit the trope fairly well. This is arguably more a parody of "classy" European softcore films. The parody isn't so much that it's art as that Europe is more sexually liberated. Compare the American remake where "classy" and "erotic" are filtered through more stereotypically puritanical American values.
- Howard Moon of The Mighty Boosh is a fan of director Jurgen Haabermaaster, whose film The Doctor and The Pencil, "an exploration of pain and rage… so playful" features a doctor and a man in a pencil costume screaming at each other while an unshaded lightbulb swings between them; the doctor also pounds a piece of meat with a telephone handset while yelling "MAKE THE CALL" (seen in "The Chokes").
- The Afterparty shows a Beatnik character remembering the events leading up to a crime as this. Presented in 4:3 aspect ratio, shown in black and white, and with stilted, pretentious dialog, it wouldn’t feel out of place as an A24 film.
- Abed's film in Community.
- From what we see, the Dean's commercial — which is supposed to be a 30-second spot briefly introducing a community college and why people should study there — spirals out of control to become one of these, as the Dean gets it into his head that he's somehow combating racism among other things.
- An episode has Spencer hiring a film involving a goat and a balloon in order to impress a hot foreign girl.
- In the episode "iQ", Carly falls for a boy who is presented as highly intelligent and cultured, enjoys these kinds of movies and takes her to one for their date. Carly is horrified to find out that what she thought was the end of the film after several boring hours was only the intermission.
- Gilmore Girls has "A Film by Kirk", which is hilarious to the title characters.
- Parodied in The Chaser's War On Everything, which presented an inflight safety video, Ingmar Bergman-style.
"When instructed by your crew member, please adopt the emergency arthouse position."
- In Being Human, George, in an attempt to be the worst date possible (It Makes Sense in Context), takes a girl to an incredibly long artistic German film. (She loves it.)
- One of the French Exchange Student sketches in Sorry, I've Got No Head has Philippe insisting on watching "Les Deux Cellos de M. Gravice", which is black and white and features a man playing two cellos.
- Parodied as far back as the '70s in the German sketch show by Loriot. Two critics talk about a 5 second clip from Buster Keaton's short film "Cops" that shows Keaton standing up in a trash can with the lid on his head and falling over when trying to move, similar to "Man being hit by a football". It turns into a heated debate about whether the movie is a masterpiece of cinematography or a political allegory for the exploitation of the working class by the establishment.
- SCTV featured an extended sketch entitled "Rome, Italian Style" which sent up Italian art films, with many references to Federico Fellini films and The Tenth Victim. Joe Flaherty does a devastatingly accurate parody of prolific Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni.
- The "M. Piedlourde (Mr. Heavyfoot)" shorts in The Kids in the Hall.
- The trailers for season 9 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are shot like a pretentious art film, with black and white photography, a maudlin soundtrack, and the cast speaking in Swedish.
- Italian comedians Leonardo Manera and Claudia Penoni mock this (Ingmar Bergman and Aki Kaurismäki movies in particular) with their sketches involving Petrektek and Cripztak.
- The Masters of Horror episode "Cigarette Burns" was about a guy searching for a movie, La Fin Absolue du Monde, that was only shown once because it was so extreme it drove people insane. It's the typical black-and-white French movie of this trope.
- Parodied in the A.N.T. Farm episode "the ANTagonist", in which Fletcher's initial attempt at filmmaking turns out to be one of these films.
- In the Father Ted episode "The Passion of Saint Tibulus", the film for which the episode is named is a (subtitled) French arthouse film which the Catholic Church has banned for blasphemy but which is showing on Craggy Island due to a legal loophole. Father Ted and Father Dougal go to a screening ostensibly to protest the film on behalf of the Church, but afterwards, they are more concerned with trying (unsuccessfully) to make sense of it.
Ted: What was all that about?
Dougal: You're asking the wrong person there, Ted. I couldn't make head nor tail of it.
Ted: I know for a fact that Saint Tibulus wore more clothes than that. He was from Norway or somewhere, he'd have frozen to death!
Dougal: And d'you remember that bit when Saint Tibulus, he tried to take that banana off the other lad?
Ted: (sighs) That wasn't a banana, Dougal.
- The Daily Show does this from time to time.
- Israeli sitcom HaPijamot features a brief bit from a Deliberately Monochrome student film Yamit took part in that definitely qualifies:
Yamit: (Wearing heavy makeup, holding an egg, speaking wistfully) Who are you?... Who am I?... And where is the rooster of us two?...
- Saturday Night Live would sometimes run a parody of these films, like the Felliniesque 'La Dolce Gilda'.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000:
- This promo from 1992 features Crow, Servo, and Joel riffing on Ingmar Bergman to promote Comedy Central's "Death and Taxes" marathon.
- A Joke By Ingmar Bergman, from the episode "The Sword and the Dragon", which spends four painfully slow minutes to tell a joke with an underwhelming punchline by imitating the film style of Ingmar Bergman.
- Whenever the Good Game team review artsy games like Bientot Lete or NaissanceE, they don berets, the screen goes Deliberately Monochrome and punctuates the review with artsy nonsense in French.
- Parodied in the Cold Opening of the episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations where Bourdain visits Sweden:
Bourdain: Everything I know about Sweden I’ve learned from the films of Ingmar Bergman.
[the camera pans slowly over a gloomy, snow-covered forest. Creepy Monotone voiceovers in subtitled Swedish]
Male voiceover: When does the bus come?
Female voiceover: The bus never comes.
Male voiceover: Then I want to die.
Female voiceover: Everyone wants to die. [beat] I heard ABBA is considering a reunion tour.
Male voiceover: Really?
- The Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episode that focused on the French presidential elections had John Oliver deliver the closing monologue in French, while smoking a cigarette in a bistro that overlooks the Eiffel Tower, with an accordion player standing next to him, and the whole thing was filmed in black and white.
- The Partridge Family: Reuben takes the kids to an experimental film in "Fellini, Bergman, and Partridge." According to Danny, it features exploding flowers and an asparagus patch covered in shaving cream. Laurie likes it, but the others all think it's nonsense, including Reuben.
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Little Kicks," Cry, Cry Again, the movie Kramer's friend Brody assigns Jerry to bootleg for him, appears to be this. When Elaine unwittingly tapes over the end with footage of her own terrible dancing, Kramer and Jerry pass it off as the actual end of the film.
- Cheers: In order to convince Woody's parents to let him stay in Boston, the bar gang tries putting together a home movie. Unfortunately, Diane gets her hands on the recording and decides to give it a "touch up". The end result is Manchild in Beantown, a pretentious attempt at an artistic film, with the gang's footage interlaced with stock footage and classical music. Diane is convinced it will persuade Mr. Boyd to let Woody stay. Smash Cut to Woody bidding everyone goodbye, though Diane never gets that she's responsible.
Diane: Isn't it a piece of art?
Carla: It's a piece of something.
- A scene from a film contest entry that gets shown in The Adventures of Shirley Holmes episode "The Case of the Second Take" depicts two men playing chess with glass pieces on a board that is surrounded by old baby shoes as someone does tai chi on a rooftop in the background; according to the director, it "challenges the television fetish for speed, sensation, and the obvious."
- Wooden Overcoats: Antigone Funn likes to go watch foreign films that are almost always "three hours long, French and non-linear. They are also almost always full of sex.
- From The Muppet Show special The Muppets Go to the Movies: Sam the American Eagle is translating what he thinks is the latest masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman, Silent Strawberries. (It's actually by his brother, Gummo.) It stars the Swedish Chef (who else?), who confronts Beaker, who is the Angel of Death. When the Swedish Chef asks to not die, Death gives him a rubber chicken instead. Now he can join a travelling show, and sure enough, in comes a Swedish Kermit presenting a Swedish Fozzie Bear, who tells a joke about Swedish meatballs. It ends with a sing-along to a Swedish version of "Hooray for Hollywood"; by then, Sam has left the stage in disgust.
- Mark from RENT begins the show by announcing that he is no longer shooting with a script, instead deciding he is making a documentary. He ends up documenting the year in the friends' lives, even quitting his high-paying job to do so, and the end result is basically a montage of the characters/actors smiling at the camera.
- In the movie version, the film has more to it, including being more about the HIV certain members are dying from and being dedicated to Angel, who passes away from AIDS, but the end result is still mainly a montage.
- Grand Theft Auto V has, as one of its in-universe films, an Italian picture called Capolavoro (which translates as "Masterpiece") that hits all the bullet points in the description's checklist. Gratuitous nudity, black-and-white, incomprehensible discussions of sexuality, the working class, and the Italian education system, and finally, the director himself showing up to speak to the audience.
- Any of Sander Cohen's movies from BioShock qualify. Black and white, incomprehensible symbolism, random noises and discordant music — they're sometimes scarier than the game itself. Especially when you finish watching one in Burial at Sea when a voice asks "Why do you stand there? When someone is right... BEHIND YOU." and Elizabeth turns around to be face-to-face with one of Sander's mannequins.
- Homestar Runner
- The Brothers Chaps made an animated music video for They Might Be Giants's song "Experimental Film", starring the Homestar Runner cast. It's presented as an in-universe film made by Strong Sad and The Cheat. It also features shout outs to several real-life experimental films such as Un Chien Andalou and The Man With A Movie Camera.
- In the Strong Bad Email "narrator", Strong Bad narrates the Poopsmith shoveling whatsit as a trailer for "a four-hour film with no dialogue and no plot" from "some smelly French studio".
- A teaser short for the 150th Strong Bad Email has Strong Sad showing off storyboards for a bizarre, avant-garde Strong Bad Email, which involves Strong Bad checking his email in the middle of a desert, Coach Z holding a pear covered in googly eyes while coffee pours down his face, Strong Bad talking with the embodiment of his innermost desires (played by a masked Homestar), and the reflection of Strong Bad shedding a Single Tear in the filling of a jelly donut. Coach Z and the eyeball-pear show up as an Easter Egg for the episode proper. He has no idea what's going on.
- In the Strong Bad Email "independent", Strong Sad's independent film consists of black and white stills of a dying potted plant and Homestar Runner saying things like "I just...don't think I can handle...eating this...asparagus", accompanied by a soundtrack of Strong Sad crying into the wrong end of a saxophone.
- The DVD exclusive short Puppets on the Road had Craig Zobel and Puppet Homestar making an art film called "Staple-Down Life".
- The French segment of the Red vs. Blue Going Global video is a classic skewering of this trope (the other segments parody other national stereotypes in a very silly, but very "artsy" way).
- Robotbox And Cactus: "Foreign Film", which contains a black-and-white film segment where a blindfolded Cactus falls over and is proclaimed dead by text on the wall behind him after nothing but a few cuts to an empty hallway.
- Moody in Weebl & Bob. "My boner has returned!" They also parodied this earlier with "Death".
- In Bobwhite, it is Marlene's ambition to create one of these.
- This is what Professor Delmundo's movie is like in the lonelygirl15 episode "School's Out".
- This collaboration between NYLON TV and Hot Hot Heat has a rather loose plot and ends with the word "FIN".
- This video, which took over Dresden Codak's website on April Fools' Day 2010, is a parody of this sort of film. (In part, it's also probably a Self-Parody of the way Dresden Codak's webcomics are occasionally perceived). It's even in (bad) French!
- Brows Held High: Kyle Kallgren's student film PREtension is a clear-cut parody of this.
"Things. Stuff. Stuff and things."
- The Artistifier turns any YouTube clip into this.
- Judging from the trailer, the original student film from which the title of Marble Hornets comes was one of these. It was also hilariously terrible.
- Gloriously done with TomSka's Le Pretentious Filme.
- Sarah Silverman did one of these for JASH and YouTube called Fête des Pets (literally, "Fart Party"), as well as a Criterion-style "Behind the Scenes" feature.
- Henri, le Chat Noir.
"My thumbs are not opposable, yet I oppose everything."
- The Game Grumps invoke this trope while playing a Playstation game based off the Teletubbies. Arin and Danny sarcastically says the game is so artistic that it should be black and white and in French. The video then briefly shows gameplay footage with a black and white grainy film filter and Arin and Danny saying random phrases in French over it.
- Episode 46 of From Mansfield With Love is the trailer for Yates's film of Lover's Vows (sic), which plays this trope entirely for laughs.
- Played for laughs with the fictional production of JonTron's "Flex Tape 2: The Flexening," where Jon tries to one-up the previous video by hiring an avant garde French director (without actually knowing what kind of movies he makes,) and an Italian cinematographer who insists on working while surrounded by literal garbage. The result...well, they were lucky to be able to Fix It in Post.
- Best of the Worst: In their review of Turtle Dreams, the panelists say that the film plays out like a parody of incomprehensible, avant garde art films. It consists of four performers making repetitive movements and meaningless vocalizations against a white backdrop, intercut with a turtle wandering around various dioramas. They note that the synopsis on the back cover is such a surface-level description of what appears in the film that the author must have been just as baffled by it as they are.
- Animaniacs at one point plays this for laughs in an episode themed around a drive-in theater, with one film that matches up the description. It was in black-and-white, and in French, but the dialogue was made up entirely of lines from the song "Alouette" — resulting in three people in a train car talking about preparing a bird for the oven as if it was a matter of dire importance. Later on, they quote "Frere Jacques", with the bearded man becoming overly tearful while crying out "Ding dang DONG!" (Quoth Yakko, "This is the worst French film I've ever seen! It's also the only French film I've ever seen.")
- Another episode Ten Short Films about Wakko featured parodies of Clerks and My Dinner With Andre.
- Clarence: In "Video Store," Jeff finds Le Petite Tortue, a black-and-white movie about a turtle and an old man. When he takes the movie to the checkout, the clerk calls it trash.
- In Clone High, Joan of Arc made "The Truth Side Burns" for the student film festival. Said film is comprised of stereotypical symbolism and also weird noises, such as "Whisper Whisper", and, oddly enough, "Céline Dion... Celine Dion..." The funniest part of that was in the end, only Freud got it.
- Jay's college film in The Critic, "L'Artiste est Morte."
- Family Guy
- The college art film "Lint" that featured Diane, the female newscaster. Filmed entirely in black and white in Anachronic Order and ended with her slumped at a table while a clown flipped a pancake on a stove in slow-motion.
- In one episode, Peter makes Carter announce from the Eiffel Tower: "People of France, a good-looking depressed guy smoking a cigarette is not a movie!", to which the French took some offense.
- Sort of in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends; Bloo writes a trope overdosed hilariously over-the-top movie for a student film festival called T-Rexatron Alienwolf 3: A Prequel in Time, the Unrelenting, with weird scenes and purposely Narm-y lines.
- In Rugrats: All Grown Up, all of Tommy's films are like this. One episode features a film called Gesundheit, which was basically 2 hours of close-ups of people sneezing followed by the reply "Gesundheit".
- Several episodes of Home Movies parody these as well. They even made a film about "zee finest artistes of Europe!" that culminated in a musical number.
- Parodied in Monkey Dust where the lead actor in such a movie stops and tells the director he can't go on filming because there is no plot whatsoever to the movie. When the director says that the leading lady's breasts are the plot, the actor threatens to take it up with the scriptwriters — only to find out that the entire thing has been written by chickens on a typewriter.
- Pinky and the Brain: One episode makes fun especially of Federico Fellini on their fake reunion/clip show.
- Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja: Jacques makes movies that are Deliberately Monochrome with a Splash of Color that include mundane, nonsensical imagery, random sound effects and people crying.
- Rocko's Modern Life: The Chameleon Brothers made one of these, "La Vie moderne de Pinto," out of Rocko's home movies, adding shots of flowers blooming, pretentious narration, and title cards saying "Regret" and "Pineapples", among other things. Of course, the only thing Rocko was concerned about was that the film featured his (pre-censored) nudity. More Hilarity Ensues when he discovers that the chameleons sent it to an Australian Film Festival, which it wins! Even more Hilarity Ensues when Rocko gets a letter from his parents, who saw the film at the festival. Rocko is mortified, but to his amazement his parents absolutely loved it.
- The Simpsons
- "Mr. Plow": Homer's second commercial is turned into one, prominently featuring a woman singing opera and the sun rising and falling over a city but not much about what he actually does. The guy who made the commercial in question claims to have invented this trope. Homer punches him in the face, which the guy apparently gets all the time.
Lisa: Was that your commercial Dad?
Homer: [befuddled] I don't know.
- "Krusty Gets Kancelled": Krusty's "Itchy and Scratchy" replacement after the original show jumps channels, Worker and Parasite is a faux-Eastern European variant of this trope and a parody of the Tom and Jerry episodes that were produced in Czechoslovakia around the sixties, featuring abstract geometric shapes, unintelligible gibberish, and crackling static noise.
Krusty: What the hell was that?
- "A Star Is Burns": Barney Gumble's film, Pukeahontas, is an angsty and dramatic retelling of his life vanishing down the bottle. This has had multiple fan-made live-action adaptations put up on YouTube.
- "Home Away from Homer": Lisa is a fan of a foreign film titled Kosovo Autumn, which is about two soldiers and a goat morosely complaining in Albanian about the ongoing war ("I am older than time itself").
- "The Italian Bob": Homer is seen watching a Fellini movie which features a person with dwarfism feeding a fat lady spaghetti.
Homer: Oh I get it. The midget represents dwarfs.
- "Mr. Plow": Homer's second commercial is turned into one, prominently featuring a woman singing opera and the sun rising and falling over a city but not much about what he actually does. The guy who made the commercial in question claims to have invented this trope. Homer punches him in the face, which the guy apparently gets all the time.
- South Park: "Chef's Salty Chocolate Balls" has a film festival where Stan gets to watch an arthouse-style film called "Witness To Denial." It's incomprehensible, confirming Cartman's claim that all independent movies tend to be about "A Bunch of Gay Cowboys Eating Pudding". Which was made Hilarious in Hindsight a few years later.
- Tiny Toon Adventures has Plucky trying to win a student film festival. His incredibly elaborate film gets ruined due to losing all but the last few seconds of footage at the last moment, so he has no option but to enter just that. Cue Cloudcuckoolander Shirley the Loon's unbelievably tedious arthouse-style film, which is so ridiculously long it leaves the festival with just a few seconds left. Plucky's five seconds of footage follow... and the judges are so relieved by Plucky's brevity they immediately declare him the winner. Gogo Dodo's film sort of subverts the trope when it surprises everyone by not being as wacky as they expected (it's actually footage from an old black-and-white Warner Bros. comedy short). He says it was "realism".
- King of the Hill: One episode has Peggy treating the family to an incomprehensible French movie. Bobby enjoys it, but Hank is not impressed: "That guy just sprouted wings!"
- Codename: Kids Next Door: An infomercial was one of these. Fittingly, it was made by the French division of the KND.
- Phineas and Ferb: Parodied with Vanessa and her friend's movie night during "Night Of The Living Pharmacist".
- The Life and Times of Juniper Lee: In "The Kids Stay in the Picture",, Ophelia writes and directs the film "The Unbearable Lightness of Grapefruit", a black and white film with a succession of scenes that illustrate enigmatic metaphors narrated by Ophelia, about racoons and grapefruits. Afterwards, Ophelia, dissatisfied with the result, tries to film it in color, making it even more surreal. The remake is derailed by the fact that Juniper has to deal with monsters, but she, to comfort Ophelia, arranges for the original film to be screened at the Orchid Bay Festival, where it is enthusiastically received.
Examples of Real Life films
- Angel's Egg. Slow moving to the point of ponderousness, soul-crushingly bleak, largely free of dialogue (or plot), and filled to the brim with pseudo-religious iconography. Even the director admits to having no idea what the film's ultimate meaning might be (though he may be lying...... just watch it and decide for yourself).
- We Are the Strange: Think David Lynch meets Tim Burton meets Dragon Ball Z.
- The animated shorts of the Brothers Quay offer examples of this: Most of them don't feature any dialogue at all, they always take place in a World of Symbolism and sometimes are Deliberately Monochrome.
- The avant-garde cut-out animated film ''Heaven and Earth Magic'': imagine if the animated sequences from Monty Python's Flying Circus were done by David Lynch.
- The critically acclaimed Russian animated short ''Tale Of Tales'' directed by Yuri Norstein, which is filled with many allegories and symbolic scenes which are open to many different kinds of interpretation. The scenes also don't seem to appear in chronological order but are connected by the association of one thing with another, in order to reflect the structure of a human memory. It's one of the greatest animated shorts of all time and one of the better examples of this trope.
- Waking Life is basically My Dinner with Andre taking place in a surreal Dream Land setting featuring several nameless characters discussing about philosophy with many Mind Screw scenes. The movie does not follow a traditional narrative structure, having the same kind of disjointed randomness a dream would have.
- Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966) (thanks to Pop-Cultural Osmosis pretty much everyone doing this trope makes fun of it). The film focuses on two women, one of whom has made a conscious decision not to ever talk, and the second is her nurse. The first part of the film is pretty straightforward, but later it descends into seemingly absurd conversations between the two women and long, incomprehensible silent scenes of, for example, the nurse cutting her wrist, forcing the other woman to lick her blood and then slapping her face a few dozen times.
- It could be argued, however, that the film averts this, as its incomprehensibility is used more for Surreal Horror than anything else.
- Similarly, Bergman's The Seventh Seal is often parodied to mock artsy European cinema, but the film itself, while heavily symbol-laden, is quite straightforward plot-wise, deals with very relatable, if depressing, themes, and contains a fair bit of comedy, though of a fairly grim sort.
- Many fictional examples seem to borrow inspiration from the French New Wave, a film movement that used many of characteristics shown above. The movie Last Year at Marienbad is a good example of this.
- Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) is a perfectly straight example of this trope. It's French, three hours long, includes seemingly completely unnecessary scenes, has a plot (when you get to it) whose closest comparison would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the ending... borrows heavily from Theater of the Absurd, that's all we'll say. It's actually un film très charmant if you're patient with it. In fact, it is director Jacques Rivette's most commercially successful and accessible film. If you want a real challenge, see if you can sit through all 13 hours of "Out 1" — if you can find a screening, that is.
- Actually it has been described as having an almost identical, though comedic, version of the story that Mulholland Dr. later revisited, adding a more explicit lesbian subtext.
- Alejandro Jodorowsky made many such movies. His first, Fando and Lis, fulfills all criteria other than "absurd length or brevity" and putting a Black Comedy spin on the angstiness. The Holy Mountain boosts the imagery to such freakish heights of psychedelia that even the sternest viewer will not get all of it.
- Warum läuft Herr R Amok?, a film where absolutely nothing happens, despite the fact that the main character kills his family and then himself. Although, the film does a pretty good job of illustrating why Herr R. runs amok. It's just not the violent crime film or psychological thriller everyone expects from the title.
- Jean Genet's Un Chant d'Amour: 30 dialogue-free minutes of homosexual erotica.
- The Soviet Armenian film The Color of Pomegranates, which you might be familiar with from the clips that were used in a Juno Reactor music video. It's a biopic, kind of, about a famous medieval Armenian wool-dyer/courtier/monk/poet/troubadour/martyr (in approximately that order). It's filmed to resemble an illuminated manuscript, there's almost no dialogue, and a female actor plays six roles, including the poet himself at one point. It's undeniably a work of integrity, and of significant artistic and spiritual accomplishment, as well as a fascinating ethnography of Armenian costume, art, music, textiles, folklore, monastic life, and religious custom. (A lot to get done in an hour and a half!) Quite beautiful, too. But if you aren't at least vaguely familiar with Sayat Nova's life, the film will make no sense, and if you are, it'll only make maybe 85% sense on a good day. It was initially banned in the USSR it because they couldn't figure out what the hell it was about, and decided that therefore it was probably some kind of dangerous nationalist parable. So they cut a few minutes from it at random, and released it under the title Red Pomegranates.
- David Lynch's works, most notably Inland Empire and Eraserhead. Lynch's features actually largely make sense, at least on a plot level. His short films fit the trope much more closely than his features.
- My Dinner with Andre is 110 minutes of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory sitting in a restaurant and talking. Aside from a brief voice-over at the beginning and end, as Wallace Shawn is traveling to/from the restaurant, that's it. Thanks to director Louis Malle's dynamic camera work, and the sheer intensity of Wallace and Andre's conversation, the movie is quite engaging. It helps that the movie averts many of the more "incomprehensible" aspects of this trope; while the two discuss some rather high-falutin' subjects, as the movie actually is just two guys in a restaurant having a pleasant conversation it's naturally fairly straightforward as most conversations tend to be.
- Andy Warhol's Empire is an exterior shot of the Empire State Building for 24 hours. He made dozens upon dozens of films like these, many of them static shots of one person. Remember the "Oscar-winning" movie Ass from Idiocracy? Consider that Warhol did a film called "Taylor Mead's Ass" (albeit as a Take That! at a film critic who complained about his films being - you guessed it - based on shots of Taylor Mead's ass).
- The Cure for Insomnia. It has a running time of 87 hours. One could argue that it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and thus, not intended to be artistic at all.
- Bob Dylan's Renaldo and Clara: it's four hours long, and alternates between being a concert film/rockumentary, cinema verité documentary, improvised drama (with a cast full of non-actors), and surreal home movie. Even among Dylan fans, it's a divisive work, with a lot more Love Its than you might expect.
- Most films by Guy Maddin fit this trope. His film Brand Upon the Brain! was silent, shot with grainy, black and white 16 mm film, and narrated and orchestrated live... all that without getting into the plot. Nearly all of his films are in grainy black and white. Some of them condescend to have a plot, say, The Saddest Music in the World. Others... not so much. If you want Guy Maddin in all his mind-screwing grandeur, try Arkangel. It's what David Lynch would have shot if a particularly deranged Dostoievsky handed him a script.
- Calamari Union, the first major movie of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. Filmed in black and white, in eighties Helsinki, with very little dialogue. All its sixteen protagonists are guys with black glasses, all called "Frank", except for one called Pekka (who speaks in English). In a very Warriors fashion, they cross the city at night, trying to reach the Eira neighbourhood, which is a kind of promised land according to one of the Franks. Not all of them make it. No calamari (squids) appear or are even mentioned (though the title might be a play on the historical Kalmar Union). Diverging from the Le Film Artistique purest tradition, however, the movie is not serious but humorous in a very quirky, unsettling, playful and deadpan (thus Finnish) manner, and presents intelligent criticism of consumerism and urban life. A European Cult Classic, like pretty much any movie by Kaurismäki, who admitted he was drunk for the most of the shooting.
- Vase de Noces. A lone farmer who may be the last man on earth slots the heads of dolls onto the heads of doves, collects vegetable matter in jars, sodomizes his pig — which gives birth to what are presumably human/pig hybrids, tries to raise said hybrids as humans by feeding them at the dinner table, then hangs them when he is unable to, prompting the pig to commit suicide, buries himself alongside the pig with his clothes on and reemerges, his clothes now mysteriously absent, tosses all the vegetable matter from the jars into a pond, fills them with his feces and urine instead, makes tea out of said feces and urine and consumes it, hangs himself. Belgian, black and white, no dialogue, the church choir chanting of medieval composers Perotinus and Monteverdi supplies the soundtrack alongside electrically-generated bleeps and bloops. According to the director, it's about an alchemical quest for immortality.
- Dogtooth: a Greek film in which a couple keeps their children imprisoned in their home to adulthood, teaching them that the outside world is incredibly dangerous while trying to maintain a completely different world inside, ranging from different vocabulary to incest. Features lesbian incest, passionless sex scenes, long stretches without dialogue and no real ending.
- Begotten, an American black and white movie with almost no contrast at all (the colours shown are dirty white or dirty black, nothing between), no dialogue, no music, and a story showing an allegory of the Creation of Life through a succession of enigmatic and very gory scenes.
- Minimalist cinema, and Chantal Ackerman in particular. One of Ackerman's films, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is three and a half hours long of a woman doing the same things over and over again. That length is the entire point, but it's still put generations of film students to sleep.
- Michelangelo Antonioni is another king of this trope. For example, Blow Up, a movie involving a murder mystery and a swinging London photographer at one point being molested by two female models.
- Most of Peter Greenaway's oeuvre fits this trope. While some films, such as The Draughtsman's Contract and The Pillow Book are fairly well rooted in reality and understandable (for the most part) to the average audience, works like Prospero's Books take neo-baroque to an incomprehensible new level.
- Dusan Makavejev generally makes movies that fall into this.
- Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's film Un Chien Andalou is a prime example. Of course, given the artist... Warning: Eye Scream and major Mind Screw abound.
- The Tetsuo: The Iron Man series uses unusual film techniques, such as stop motion, fast editing, POV shots that look like video on TV, and has very minimal dialogue as well as a small budget.
- The Tree of Life fits this trope, possibly being the most abstract film to get such major stars and a $30 million+ budget.
- Ironically, due to being French, silent, and black and white, a lot of people mistook The Artist sight unseen as one of these when it's actually an incredibly simple and accessible comedy, to the point a lot of critics thought it was too light to be deserving of Best Picture and campaigned for the actual Le Film Artistique in the running that year.
- The Green Elephant, a memetic Russian film, infamous for its gory content. It is filmed on a handheld VHS camera, have only 4 characters, and is very depressing, although it has some comedy value.
- Catherine Breillat's Sleeping Beauty starts out similarly to its namesake fairytale with the eponymous beauty being cursed to sleep by a malevolent witch, but very soon, the movie diverges into a strange sort of crossover between Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Pan's Labyrinth as its child protagonist goes on an inexplicable and fantastic adventure that, allegedly, represents a woman's sexuality. When she wakes up from her enchanted sleep, she finds she is suddenly a full-grown adult (despite having slept for one hundred years), and she is quick to randomly engage in sexual acts with both a young man and a young woman. To add to the Mind Screw, the man is the grandson of her adoptive brother and the woman is a grown-up version of a childhood friend, both of whom are characters she met in her dream. And that's all without even mentioning the movie's very inconclusive ending...
- French director Robert Bresson has a Signature Style that involves meticulous attention to mechanical motions and the use of nonprofessional actors who give intentionally lifeless and mechanical performances. His themes are almost always depressing, to top it off. Nonetheless, he's very highly regarded by critics who often tout Au Hasard Balthazar as the greatest movie ever made with an animal as the main character (a donkey); other notable films of his include Pickpocket, a study of crime and guilt, and L'argent another crime drama where the passing of a forged banknote inadvertently leads to multiple murders.
- Leos Carax's Holy Motors is a deconstruction of this.
- The Lovers, a well-made 1958 drama by Louis Malle about upper-middle-class alienation, ennui, and the liaisons of bored housewives, managed to be permanently recorded in United States judicial history by being the subject of Jacobellis v. Ohio, which thanks to a sex scene ran afoul of Ohio's obscenity laws. The US Supreme Court determined that movies and other works with explicit content but redeeming artistic merit cannot, under the First Amendment, be censored. However, it is most noted for Justice Potter Stewart's famous statement about "hard-core pornography", viz., "I know it when I see it". Stewart went on to say that this film does have artistic merit and thus is not porn, making The Lovers one of the few works ever to officially be declared to be of serious artistic value in a government document.
- Perceval le Gallois from Éric Rohmer is very much this. In an attempt to stay faithful to Chrétien de Troyes's text (and to be as literary and unrealistic as possible), it's very distanced: all the effects are intentionally obvious, all the sets are made of monochrome painted cardboard and aren't to scale (to emulate medieval illustrations), the background is plain blue, etc. To be more up to the trope, Rohmer modernized the text of Chrétien in a way that it is technically modern French, but with the original syntax and metric (octosyllabic versification) and often with an archaic (but correct) vocabulary.
- All the music is, of course, from the period and played by in-universe musicians. Though it is a great film for those familiar with Medieval literature, it's Le Film Artistique on LSD for most.
- The funny thing though is that Rohmer's Perceval was not a typical film. It was a Genre Shift and it is obscure even among Rohmer fans. He was famous for making realistic romantic dramedies about regular people. His movies were popular in the 60s and 70s, but among non-fans, they had a reputation for being talky and pretentious, to the point that a Hollywood movie like Night Moves could make a specific Take That! to them (via Gene Hackman): "I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kinda like watching paint dry".
- Many "arthouse" independent short films on YouTube are heavily artistique. See this for a radiant example. The only thing missing is the "Fin" at the end.
- Just about everything ever made by American writer-director Harmony Korine, most known for Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Spring Breakers, and Trash Humpers.
- Much of Pier Paolo Pasolini's work, especially Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom and Teorema.
- Many movies directed by Lars von Trier, especially Antichrist and Dogville.
- Luchino Visconti occasionally, with La Terra Trema and Morte a Venezia as outstanding examples. The latter could be a trope codifier (slow-paced, ponderous arguments on art and beauty, little dialogue) if not for its modest length. Not necessarily his better-known films though: Rocco and His Brothers and The Leopard, say, are certainly long but relatively conventional on a narrative and photographic level.
- Joseph Losey in his later career; he rarely met a baroque camera angle or overwrought symbol he didn't like. The results vary from excellent (The Servant) to questionable (The Assassination of Trotsky).
- Most experimental filmmakers (Norman McLaren and so on) are quite accessible for those who like a good challenge. For others with No Sense of Humor, it's this.
- Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is proof that the line between one of these and an outright Exploitation Film is razor-thin. It features what may be the single weirdest monster in the history of cinema, characters speak almost entirely in thoughts, statues cry blood, and the closest thing to a main character is the ghost of Aubrey Beardsley confined behind his own painting.
- This gem from the early period of Norwegian television, marked a breakthrough for artistic endeavour, highly experimental TV, and almost no dialogue at all. This sort of television drama paved the way for quite a lot of parodies in due time.
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder's adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz, clocking in at 15 hours, is generally agreed to be the longest movie with an actual plot. There's roughly a dozen or so movies even longer, but all of them qualify as this. Look here.
- The Panos Cosmatos Action/Horror film Mandy might be the first time in movie history where a film both qualifies for this label and also features a sword fight with chainsaws.
- Film school student films can be intensely creative and oblique in their style. For instance, George Lucas blew his teachers away with what he was able to create with his assignments. For instances, Look at Life was originally supposed to be simply a 1-minute film to test the camera in various shots. This is what Lucas created with that assignment instead.
- Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle is a series of five feature-length films, accompanied by supplementary material ranging from art books to drawings and sculptures. Not only are the films numbered out of order (Cremaster 4 was the first one released), they feature strange sexual imagery (the film cycle is named after the muscle found in human males that raises and lowers the testes in response to temperature) and such bizarre characters as the Loughton Candidate, a floppy-eared, tap-dancing satyr whose gender is decided by a road race around the Isle of Man.
- Precious Images is an eight minute short consisting of nothing but a Fully Automatic Clip Show of literally hundreds of very short scenes from movies.
- Liberté: two hours of 18th century French nobles either talking about libertinism of the time of The Enlightenment or having sex/indulging in their kinks in a forest with some artsy night shots deliberately framed like a stage play.
- When Twin Peaks The Return was released, a number of critics argued that it shouldn't be considered a TV show but a movie. If you accept that The Return is a film, it certainly fits with its 17-hour runtime alone. Heavily inspired by David Lynch's later work, the series/film features many silent scenes of characters struggling to communicate and plenty of Surreal Horror. In particular, the infamous Mind Screw Episode 8 features so much Chiaroscuro it appears black and white, and a several minute-long plot-irrelevant scene of an extra sweeping the floor.
- There's a busy fringe of theatre practitioners offering the live counterpart of Le Film Artistique, described with various overlapping terms such as "experimental theatre," "avant-garde theatre," "postdramatic theatre," "performance art," and "live art." (British makers of this kind of theatre often call it, with rather mindboggling egotism, "advanced theatre practice.") Most of the film equivalent's characteristics are ported directly over, including peculiar running times, incomprehensibility, tiny budgets (unless heavily subsidised through national programs), angst, intellectual pretentiousness, and deliberately offensive (sorry, "provocative") material.