Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Marc Edward Heuck's Favorite Older Films seen 1st in 2011! ""

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marc Edward Heuck's Favorite Older Films seen 1st in 2011!

Marc Edward Heuck runs the excellent blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking which should be added to your feeds right this second. He is a truly wonderful film writer and I am quite honored to have his contribution for the 2nd year in a row.


I have been asked once again by the fine proprietor of this beacon of xenon-lamp imagery to submit a list of older movies that I could finally notch onto my lipstick case this year. Catching up with older titles gives me an equal amount of pleasure as seeing new ones, many times more actually. Now, don't mistake that attitude for some sort of "movies were so much better barka nonna dat boom hanga sheegee Ratner..." ranting you may have encountered from other so-called pastors of the Movie Godz; this year yielded a substantial amount great movies all through the 12 months it encompassed. All I'm-a-sayin' is on some nights, when you see a large number of people reacting to a movie writ large when you previously saw its DVD snapper case gathering dust in the clearance bin of a dying video store, there's a special joy that can't be matched by a comparable opening night crowd following the predictable Pavlovian beats of the disposable rom-com that will soon also occupy a similar bin a year later. All our celluloid dreams will meet the same fate, it seems, but as A.Whitney Brown observed, some people have greater dreams than others, and it's good when that is recognized long after their creators and their circumstance have gone to the big sleep. In ascending order:

A year without discovering some kind of joyous cinematic hot mess is just a bunch of months, and what better occasion than our national Decoration Day to revel in celluloid salad? Maybe if I watched more martial arts films I would see this motif more often as to be bored by it, but somehow sitting down to two defenseful hotties (Judy Lee/Chia Ling and Nancy Lau Nam Kai) using wile and whoopass to break the underworld, complete with one in ludicrous male drag, and a spandex-happy fight sequence that just barely justifies the holiday-themed retitling of a movie once known as FIST OF DRAGON and FIGHTER WITH TWO FACES (but definitely not FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL no matter what IMDb or Google tells you), brought such a ridiculous smile to my face that if I could track down a clean copy of this, I would start making it a Halloween party tradition of my own. Granted, I would also be on my own in such an enterprise, but that's life in the big pagoda.

The first of quite a few first-time viewings that I can thank Mr. Tarantino for facilitating in a theatrical fashion, this minimalist western kept my interest just as long as it kept me scratching my head. Essentially a Harold Pinter-style drama hiding in a western setting, a misanthropic Indian (Roy Thinnes) is initially hazed but ultimately befriended (albeit for convenience) by a black Union soldier (Richard Roundtree) on the lam, and both find themselves the targets of a determined bounty hunter and troublemaking villagers. Is it a mediation on race relations, i.e. the Red Man who gets hassled by the Black Man who faces death from the White Man? Is it an observation of how easily any creature resorts to violence, with the Indian's pet chicken (whose name provides the title) the only peaceful, if doomed, character? Or is it just a bunch of Brits (including TV legend David Frost and Hammer studios veteran Don Chaffey) indulging in revisionist-cowboy-bleak-chic? Whatever the motivation, the desert sand got in my shoes and was hard to shake.

Another choice entry from the queue of Q, this is one of those wonderfully subversive films of the 1960's where you can't believe it got made under the perceived climate of the time. Very little English-language scholarship is available for French crime writer Hubert Monteilhet, whose novel this is based on, so I don't know whether making protagonist Ingrid Thulin a concentration camp survivor was his idea or screenwriter Julius J. Epstein's, but it's a ballsy choice for 1965, especially in the service of what was thought to be just another DIABOLIQUE-style potboiler, and most especially in the way her character is introduced. And I hope that after Christoph Waltz won his Oscar for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, he sent a large case of schnapps to Maximillian Schell, because Schell's performance as the heelish yet honest opportunist Thulin can't stop loving contains all the seeds of charming caddery that made Hans Landa so memorable; if I learn that Quentin did not pre-screen this for Waltz as a coaching exercise, I will eat sixteen schnitzengruben. Even Samantha Eggar manages to imbue her Veda Pierce-ish stepdaughter character with a degree of sympathy, as a grown child of a once-rich absent mother, not yet ready to reconcile the selfish hedonist that left her at boarding school with the haunted spectre that has returned from war. Thus we are not just looking at your standard sexual tug-of-war story, but also a dark exploration on unhealthy obsession, of how someone who does indeed Return from the Ashes is just as likely to go back to the elements that sent them there in the first place.

You know, I had resisted seeing this for years, because, well, it seemed so, uhh, Gigi...fluffy, foppish, frou-frou piffle. And it's hard not to give in to nervous post-modern snickers at old Maurice Chevalier singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" in the age we live in now. But one Sunday night I finally decided to go to that world, and I got caught up in it. There is a reason your parents or grandparents had a crush on Leslie Caron, because there is a lightness and effortlessness to how she embodies that title character, and how she tries to hold on to all that makes her lovable while her guardians try to harden her for adult advancement and her suitor initially fails to grasp her as a person and not just an ideal. And it occurred to me as I watched this, that aside from changing the century marker, you could shoot this script in the present day word-for-word and it would still be relevant! A well-educated but modestly-living girl groomed to marry a rich promoter of lavish parties could just as easily take place in L.A. nightclub culture as it did in Colette's cafe society. And as such, now I get why this musical has endured. Although call me a little perverse, but if said remake ever took place, Tom Waits should play Chevalier - he could lend some extra pathos to songs like "I Remember it Well" and "I'm So Glad I'm Not Young Anymore."

Now, contrary to GIGI, this was a film I was trying to see for years, after catching a trailer for it on an old compilation tape. And I wasn't disappointed. It's always a treat to see a foreign director put his lens on American culture, and considering how the classic American crime film influenced the French greats like Melville and Becker, seeing one of them actually make such a film back in the States felt like a well-earned closing of the circle. Jean-Louis Tritingnant has a terrific stone-faced bewilderment at all the bright trappings of L.A., including Ann-Margret, but never loses our confidence that he is a capable hitman. When he takes the move of holding a housewife hostage for safe shelter and then calmly eating dinner with her son while watching "STAR TREK" until the coast is clear, it plays both on the comedy of situation and of observation, as if he doesn't mind scientifically studying these strange suburbanites. Plenty of eurocrime poliziotteschi would follow in the years afterward, blending American stars with foreign crews, but few of them really spent enough time looking at the culture divide like this one.

Last year I posited on the divide between those who profess loving '70's movies to sound cool in party chats versus those who have done the heavy watching, and Hal Ashby is one of those names that are easy to drop when you're trying to impress the hipster chicks. (It sure as hell worked when P.I. Pat Healy was putting the moves on Mary.) And while all love of HAROLD AND MAUDE or SHAMPOO is nothing to mock, until you reach back to his fiery directorial debut about learning racial harmony the hard way, you aren't really appreciating just how much Ashby made movies exciting. Working with Bill Gunn's punchy script, Ashby hits bullseyes on targets both easy (Beau Bridges explanation to his pampered family on what NAACP stands for still raises a belly laugh) and sobering (a rent party where Bridges black tenants mercilessly challenge his pseudo-liberalism still draws blood). The movie also reveals the talent and beauty of the died-too-early Diana Sands and the come-back-where-you're-hiding Marki Bey. Seriously, Marki, you've got a smile that would make Julia Roberts smack her dentist, and we need you back in the movies.
(NOTE: This film is on Netflix Instant should you wish to view it)

Probably the best-received of the movies Cap'n Quent put his muscle behind, so much so that Tweets from the screening were the decisive kick Warner Archive needed to give this a long-overdue DVD release. This was some outstanding, intelligent action filmmaking that hit all the notes of humor, suspense, and shocking turns that every so-called "four-quadrant" movie attempts but rarely does well, not to mention that it was way more fearless than modern films in terms of depicting unpleasant moral compromises and behavior. This is a movie that not only beats the crap out of Jerry Bruckheimer's resume, it digs up Don Simpson's corpse and slaps it in the face repeatedly.

So here is a shameful confession: up until 2011, I had never seen a single film written or directed by the only man that made the great Billy Wilder tremble, Ernst Lubitsch. As such, at least I began my atonement with one of his greatest films, a daring and poignant comedy about how even in the middle of warfare and on the cusp of the 20th century's greatest horror, petulant egos rage, reckless lusts are pursued, and yes, either on the stage or in the streets, the show always goes on. Laughter, tears, curtain.

And while TO BE OR NOT TO BE dared to suggest that jokes could arise amidst the Axis march, from across the pond in that same release year came this gripping tale of ordinary genteel country dwellers whom, when the war comes right into the neighborhood, discover that they can indeed be just as clever and bloodthirsty as the invading troops they aim to repel. You feel the tension mount when their first efforts fail in the most banal of fashions, and they are left with their darkest of impulses to save them. Director Alberto Cavalcanti and screenwriter Graham Greene have a post-dated message from 1942 to movie lovers: Fuck RED DAWN.

Finally, what to me is my favorite and I dare say most vital older film seen this year is Allan Arkush's supremely underrated comedy of a wild rock-studded New Year's Eve at a beloved concert hall. While I knew about this movie from it's disastrous initial release, for some reason I just never got in gear to watch, until filmmaker Edgar Wright, who hadn't seen it either, decided to get it onto a big screen for himself, myself, and a couple hundred others to pop that champagne cork. What I think I love most about this movie is how truly sweet, warm, and friendly it is beneath all the wackiness, depicting a world where, much like Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS, no matter how narcissistic or deranged the rock star may be, they will still show up to support a promoter who has supported them in turn, where small threats find a unique way of solving themselves and only the biggest dipshits need to be dispatched in a dramatic fashion, where no matter how daunting or frightening the chaos level can get you wish you could be a part of that big show even if it's just pulling a rope or sweeping a broom between acts, or if you're the only person in the audience. What was extra special was to see this with Arkush in person to witness a sold-out house, something he had been denied years ago, laughing and even getting misty near the end; to see that the movie mattered, the music mattered, after all this time. And once you see it too, you will certainly always love it like you'll always love your baby sister.


Ned Merrill said...

That CHARLEY-ONE-EYE one-sheet has really piqued my interest. RETURN FROM THE ASHES sounds like a must-see.

Been meaning to see OUTSIDE MAN since I got stuck in traffic and missed the Bill Lustig-programmed screening at Anthology in '09.

Oh, and Lustig must get credit for bringing back the fabulous DARK OF THE SUN back in summer 2010 during his annual series at the aforementioned Anthology Film Archives before ole Cap'n Quent did on the West Coast. ;-)

Been a fan of GET CRAZY for awhile...glad to hear it was such a special experience for Arkush. I know from friends who have programmed it before that it has NOT, unfortunately, brought in big crowds, but having the director on hand and having the seal of approval from Edgar Wright is a definite boon for most any film.

Sadly missed WENT THE DAY WELL went it the hit the repertory circuit last year...must catch up with it ASAP.

Love TO BE OR NOT TO BE and must finally sit down and watch GIGI AND THE LANDLORD, particularly since the latter is set a few mere avenue blocks from where I live.

aarkush said...

Thank You Marc, for the nice posting on Get Crazy. It really was a good night for me. Seeing it with an audience & having them enjoy it as much as they did was a real treat. Edgar & Eli were so profuse with their praise when they introduced the movie I decided to stay & watch for a few minutes. You see, I had been on set all day with a 7:30 AM call, directing an episode of Ringer. I rushed to the New Beverly and caught half of Girl Can't Help It. But I was tired.......The audience reaction to Get Crazy carried me thru to the end & the post picture Q&A.
Some day they may find the mag sound and a DVD will be released. But until then, like Elvis Meets Nixon another of my "lost" movies, it is up to Kismet , Bloggers & Fans (Thank You Quentin).