On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age.
First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing.
Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.
The Pitch: A Smooth-Brained Boy and His Bright Blue Dog Escape Capitalism
I got my first gig as a professional journalist during the 2016 election. Since then, I’ve read and written countless variations on the same despairing lede. It’s a rambling list of the world’s gravest existential threats punctuated with a quip about something recent, specific, sensational, and typically terrible.
“Protesters may be flooding the pandemic-ridden streets while an insurrection takes place, the planet literally boils, and killer bees swarm Times Square…” some sad-sack news writer might begin. “But at least we still have ‘Vanderpump Rules’/’Animal Crossing’ memes/reasonably priced eggs again!”
The joke worked for years, effectively acknowledging the vast, unending awfulness of modern life before hand-waving it away to make room for the Best Tweets of the Week… or whatever. But as the years passed and the horrors continued to mount, a simpler, sadder hook emerged in my mind as what we disgruntled newsies really wanted to say: What’s the point?
An animated expansion on Harry Nilsson’s 1970 rock album of the same name, “The Point” answers that dark philosophical quandary with smart wordplay, surprising depth, and the comforting warmth of an actual analog hug. The throwback children’s TV special features the voice of Mike Lookinland (aka Bobby Brady of “The Brady Bunch”) as Oblio, an 8-year-old boy with a heart of gold and a big ol’ round head.
Oblio is the only circular-skulled person in the Pointed Village: a conformist, capitalist hellscape where everything has to have a literal point. “That’s the way it always has been and for all anybody knew, that’s the way it always would be,” Ringo Starr says in a Seussical-esque explanation of society’s cyclical failings and maddening complacency.
Narrated by the silliest Beatle in most versions (Dustin Hoffman was used one time in the original broadcast), “The Point!” is almost eerily well suited to the anxiety-ridden masses of today. It was reportedly dreamed up by Nilsson while he was on acid — and that shows.
When Oblio attempts to join in some triangle-style reindeer games with the other neighborhood kids, he’s bullied relentlessly — and yes, his biggest tormentor is voiced by the same kid who famously asked an owl how many licks it takes to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop. A pointy, plum-colored Count (Lennie Weinrib) eventually convinces the king to exile the spherical bastard to a life of lonely wandering. It is never explained why child neglect is universally accepted.
And yet Oblio’s free-wheeling story needs little justification. Our hero’s journey through lands less pointed is a dreamy indictment of the people, institutions, and forces that can make Western World existence suck at any age and in any decade. As he encounters kooky characters of various pointel-age, Oblio earnestly searches for his purpose with his porcupine-esque, blue dog Arrow at his side.
Where the ’70s kiddos and hippies for whom the musical film was first intended might have seen Vietnam War-era counterculture, contemporary viewers will find a kaleidoscopic consideration of consumerism and democracy easily bent to the more amorphous problems facing us now. There’s a dark, scribbly cloud hanging over director Fred Wolf’s film, quietly questioning, “Is this genius or were they just really high?” But there’s also beauty in its shrugging imperfections.
“The Point” justifies its existence as a self-sustaining loop of winking, slanted puns with earnest sweetness and the ever-lasting wisdom of hallucinogenics. It’s a decent excuse to dip your toe in phrenology and a salve for whatever article you just read. (Sorry if I wrote it.) —AF
The Aftermath: Ringo Starr Has Once Again Shown Me Horrors That Put My Darkest Nightmares to Shame
As I immersed myself in the angular world of “The Point,” a fantasy kingdom in which Ringo Starr declared that “business was brisk and competition was competitive,” I began to daydream about watching a live-action remake of this insanity in 2023. Who, I wondered, would be the best director to capture the human drama contained in a game of toss-the-triangle?
Wes Anderson and Tim Burton were low-hanging fruit, considering the film’s storybook color palette and playfully depraved fantasy creatures. But it eventually became clear that only one auteur would do: David Cronenberg. Because, dear reader, “The Point” might look like it takes place in a candy-colored, “Schoolhouse Rock”-ass world — but look under the surface and you’ll find nothing but a fascist dystopia run by deformed egomaniacs.
Frankly, even the Points who weren’t exiled to the Pointless Forest lived a grotesque existence that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In addition to the obvious “having acute angles for heads” problem, there’s the fact that adults all cease to have legs despite children clearly being born with them. And the king’s elegant robes imply that clothing does exist here, but everyone is inexplicably naked all the time. It’s unsurprising that they’ve built a nihilistic society whose only two industries involve manufacturing large triangles and candies known as “butter balls.”
The legal system, which uses in-the-round seating for its trials and places the defendant on a lone chair in the center of the circle, seems like a Kafkaesque nightmare. The fact that a dog can be tried for the crimes of its 8-year-old owner by an overzealous purple prosecutor convinced me that being exiled to the Pointless Forest wasn’t so bad.
I was particularly amused by the film’s depiction of paternal narcissism. Ringo’s narrator is ostensibly reading his son a bedtime story — but not only does he ignore the fact that the kid is straight-up watching TV static, he takes every opportunity to stop the story to rant about how kids don’t like stories anymore. And rather than discuss the yarn with his son after he finishes, he bolts out of the room the instant he’s able to coerce a compliment about his storytelling skills out of the disinterested kid.
But his apathy pales in comparison to that of Oblio’s father, who treats his young son’s exile from the kingdom with all the indignation that I would devote to an ingrown hair. He spends their final moments together reminding his son that breaking laws we don’t like would only lead to anarchy — and only after Oblio takes a harrowing journey through a forest of nihilism does this deadbeat concede that he “probably should have tried” to appeal the ruling.
Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that “The Point” is the pinnacle of Ringo’s post-Beatles acting career — though I imagine I would have said that upon learning that he starred in literally any film besides “Caveman.” I was more entertained by the comedic mundanities than the feel-good plot, but the endless weirdness made this the most enjoyable 85 minutes that I’ve ever spent watching a 71-minute movie (thanks, Freevee!) But I can’t help but wonder if some of the cultural momentum that accompanied Dustin Hoffman’s passing of the torch to Ringo has been squandered by the lack of new narrators over the past five decades. An annual re-release with a different legendary middle-aged man (Mario Lopez! Christopher Cross! Bill Belichick! Shaq!) as the guy who wants his son to think he’s cool would be a global sensation. —CZ
Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “The Point” on Amazon Prime Video’s Freevee, Peacock, and Tubi. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…