Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Dusty From Playground of Doom's Favorite Older Films seen 1st in 2011 ""

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dusty From Playground of Doom's Favorite Older Films seen 1st in 2011

Dusty runs the Playground of Doom blog, which I endorse. I dig his list:


So here’s the deal:

I started 2011 with absolutely no goal as a film watcher. This wasn’t going to be the year in which I “finally saw the classics.” I was to feel no guilt about my incredible lack of judgment or taste. There wasn’t going to be any sense of a logic to what I shoved in the DVD player or clicked on the instant play button.

I was simply going to watch what I wanted to, when I wanted to see it.

What happens when you revel in your abandon? You start the year off watching Fanny and Alexander and then get sideswiped, spending an embarrassing amount of time with Crown International drive in swill and other obscure garbage.

That being said, I managed to witness an interesting cross section of the madness we call cinema last year.

Here are the top 15 (out of 238 watched).

Number 15:

Lucifer Rising (1972, directed by Kenneth Anger)

Anger had always been like an urban legend for me. One of my stoned out college professors was obsessed with him...his name was bandied about in various film books...yet I had never seen concrete proof of his existence until 2011. This is the closest thing he ever made to a real film, with a budget and exotic locations. It has something to do with ancient Egyptians, UFOs, and Marianne Faithful. This is cinema in its purest form, the imagery carries you through one gorgeous nightmare after another.

Number 14:

Day for Night ( 1973, directed by Francois Truffaut)

There’s a story about Francois Truffaut picking up a hitchhiker. Once he realized the man wasn’t conversational in film, he kicked him out on the next corner. Is it a true tale? I’m not the right person to ask, but the man’s all consuming passion in evident in every film here. Truffaut plays a version of himself, as he directs some kind of costume drama (the details of the plot are never revealed). If you’ve ever spent time on a film set, then you’ll know that Day for Night rings very true to life. The makeshift family that forms among cast and crew, the seemingly life or death problems that arise, the bliss of nailing the’s all here. This will also hit home for everyone who sees the love of film as a way of life.

Number 13:

Drive, He Said (1971, directed by Jack Nicholson)

Jack Nicholson sincerely tried to have a decent career as a director. Every movie fan will tell you that The Two Jakes sucked. How do you make a freaking sequel to Chinatown? This low key effort, his debut, is infinitely better and shows a real talent. The story follows a college basket ball star (Walter Tepper) who has to choose between a life of athletics or intense social protest. In the grand tradition of ’70’s cinema, not much happens. That is to say, not much but the civilized bottom of the University falling out. I wasn’t alive in the ‘70s, but this felt authentic to me. I think it would have more of a place in the cannon if people had actually seen it during that time. The “X” rating kept it away from the general audience; Criterion has now saved it as part of the “America Lost and Found” box set.

Number 12:

Darling (1965, directed by John Schlesinger)

Julie Christie plays an ultimately vain, strikingly beautiful woman who uses her looks to climb the social ladder. How can you get behind a character like that? The interesting thing is that Christie turns her into an object of empathy. She’s not allowed to do much else besides be hot. The man she associates with are callous and infinitely self absorbed. She doesn’t have any real self esteem to speak of, and becomes a tragic figure. This is one step away from being a kitchen sink drama, and has that kind of emotional bleakness. The ending is a tough one to shake.

Number 11:

Trees Lounge (1996, directed by Steve Buscemi)

Steve Buscemi can cash his own checks these days for playing a menagerie of ne’er do wells. I suppose that wasn’t always the case, and this film that he wrote, directed, and starred in argues that point. Buscemi does his now patented act as Tommy. The best way to describe this character is that he is a professional alcoholic. He has occasional flashes of talent as a mechanic, and his part time gig as an ice cream man. Mostly, though, he just drifts from bar to bar as the audience bares witness to his stupidity. This is a brave movie, it’s not played for comedy and there is no happy ending. Despite that, you care about this guy after you walk a mile in his shoes.

Number 10:

The Brother from Another Planet (1984, directed by John Sayles)

This is really just a story about Innocence, which comes to America as a completely mute “brother from another planet.” Joe Morton is the Brother, an alien who turns up on Earth as an African American man. We never learn why the Brother is here (Sayles doesn’t believe it to be important). This is a “Candide” tale in which Morton’s silence allows a wide variety of marginalized people to speak freely. He listens to them without judgement, learning about the breadth and sadness of humanity as he goes. There’s much humor amongst the heartbreak, which makes it that much more powerful at the end.

Number 9:

Lemora: a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973, directed by Richard Blackburn)

It’s always interesting when a movie pops up on your personal radar from out of nowhere. The threadbare story is about Lila (’70’s drive-in staple and one time drummer for the Runaways Cheryl Smith) running away from home. She is on the run from her creepy adopted father (Blackburn), a deranged Reverend. What happens? She ends up going into the Dark Woods...yet that’s not the best way to describe this. What is? Imagine a Satanic school play...crude as hell but disturbing. The inmates are running the asylum as the old expression goes. This is well worth seeking out, if you can find it.

Number 8:

Breathless (1983, directed by Jim McBride)

This is going to be a slightly controversial statement: Look, we’ve all suffered through Goddard’s Breathless. I’ve always found it a little bit of a cross to bear. Yes, it’s historically important, but it’s like watching a dissertation. This, the 1983 remake by Jim McBride, is an actual movie. On top of that, I’ll argue that it improves on Goddard’s intentions. McBride re-appropriated the American symbolism Goddard loved and made it genuinely, honestly cool agin. This is also the film to show to people who think have forgotten that Richard Gere is a real actor.

Number 7:

Malibu High (1979, directed by Irwin Berwick)

I got sideswiped by the output of Crown International in 2011. Crown churned out a bunch of “naughty teenagers in trouble” style drive in movies in the ‘70s. Here’s the weird thing: they start off as relatively solicitous, and then veer violently off into dark moralistic endings. The characters are punished for the very acts the movie has been exploiting. Then there’s Malibu High: the basic thumbnail sketch is that there is a teenage girl who drops out of schools, turns to prostitution, then becomes a hit woman. This is a terrible movie, but something about it feels premeditated. There’s a suicide scene that is staged in such a way that it’s funny. The dialogue is horrendously over the top (imagine James Dean’s “You’re tearing me apart” times eleven). Mostly, it’s just odd. What the hell were they thinking? (That’s a lot of ink on a junky movie.)

Number 6

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959, directed by Bert Stern)

This is just a record of a day at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. I had a Jazz in American Culture class in college, and this must have been a shameful omission to our lesson plan. The all inclusive approach (everyone from musicians to audience member to beer vendors get screen time) says everything you need to know about the power of jazz. The run time is only 85 minutes long, but it feels epically emotional.

Number 5:

Big Wednesday (1978, directed by John Milius)

Would it be all right if I switched into highfalutin film critic mode for a moment? This is real life reinvented as mythology. We follow a few years in the lives of three surfers (William Katt, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Gary Busey) as they try to conquer the Big Waves. The problem is that not even their legendary stature on the beaches can save them from real life. They get older, they make mistakes, and they eventually find redemption in what they love. This could have been a completely different movie if it was handled realistically. Instead, we get a poetic voice over and a real feeling of grandeur.

Number 4:

Fanny and Alexander (1982, directed by Ingmar Bergman)

What can be said about this monumental achievement? Nothing, really. Nothing that can’t be read in scholarly journals or on other sites. Would you like me to give you some kind of endorsement for sitting through a four hour long, glacially slow Swedish flick? Here’s all I can: This will remind you about how powerfully the medium of film is able to move us little humans. This goes beyond the realm of “classic,” and you should never feel obligated to watch it.

Number 3:

The Hustler (1961, directed by Robert Rossen)

Sometimes I ruminate on my “list of shame.” The films I feel like were somehow essential...and I’ve missed them in my unbelievable ignorance. Then I’ll watch one of these titles, and slap myself on the forehead and scream: “Where the hell has this been?” This is a shockingly dark, gritty, and emotionally violent film...I couldn’t believe it considering the period it came from. It played right into my obsession with anti-heros. These are some seriously irredeemable characters, and you love all of them.

Number 2:

Static (1985, directed by Mark Romanek)

You can skip the entirety of my list, or forget all of it...except for Static. This is the real find for me in 2011. Why? Because it’s horribly obscure? Yes, but that’s only a partial answer. Is it haunting, while still maintaing an out of left field integrity? I would say yes on both counts. Wait, what the hell is it? Oh...okay. Keith Gordon plays a small town, self styled “inventor.” He claims to have created a TV set which lets viewers directly see Heaven. This might or might not be crazy’s only part of this movie’s mystery. In my point of view, this is a story about a guy being driven crazy by grief. We learn that Gordon’s parents have died the previous year, and he hasn’t dealt with it well. Why should you watch it? It’s a charmingly weird, deeply moving fever dream. There seems to be a little bit of a cult around it. Now I’ve joined that cult.

Number 1:

Harry and Tonto (1974, directed by Paul Marzursky)

This is quite simply a story about an old man driving across the country with his cat. There is no logical reason it should work, but it does. You learn everything there is to know about Harry (Art Carney in an Oscar winning performance). You also learn about it never really turns out the way you would like. How do you deal with that reality at an advanced age? How do you make yourself heard? What do you do with your remaining time? This one is special...and it’s as good a choice as any for number one.

So there you go. The best movies an obscure blogger watched in 2011.

(Cough) Storm my blog! (Cough)

Thank you.


Citizen Screen said...

I can't tell if you liked "Fanny and Alexander" or not. Since you say one should never feel obliged to watch it. I've never seen the entire film and haven't felt compelled to. Despite reading raves.

Just curious. Impressive list. A few films I've never even heard of.


Dusty said...

I was a pretty big fan of it...but it's hard to describe just way. I was most commenting on the fact that people feel obligated to watch classics...instead of just enjoying them.

Thanks for the kind words.

Aaron said...

Great list, Dusty! Glad you broke your Kenneth Anger cherry this year. I only got around to seeing his stuff back in 2009 and quickly became fascinated with his work. SCORPIO RISING is far and away my favorite. I also watched BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET for the first time this year and loved it.

Aaron said...

Last year I mean,

Ned Merrill said...

BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET has been a big favorite of mine since viewing it as a kid in '85 or so on HBO. Nice British quad. I was also taken with McBride's BREATHLESS, which I caught for the first time in '11 as well.

Dusty said...

Thanks Aaron and Ned...I'm new to Anger. That being said, you can see his influence in absolutely everything, from music videos to David Lynch.

The McBride Breathless knocked my socks off. I loved it, and credit it to the fine folks over at the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema.

Matt Dunn said...

Aw ... Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith is adorable. Lots of good ones on this list and a bunch I can't wait to watch.