Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Josh Johnson

Monday, January 14, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson is a connoisseur of all levels of cinema. An avid VHS collector, he is always discovering older movies that have been all but forgotten. He is also one of the filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary REWIND THIS! 
http://www.rewindthismovie.com

About the film:
"Home video changed the way the world consumed films. The cultural and historical impact of the VHS tape was enormous. REWIND THIS! is a documentary that traces the ripples of that impact by examining the myriad aspects of art,technology, and societal perceptions that were altered by the creation of videotape.
The film is the first feature length effort from Austin, TX based IPF Productions, with shooting locations all over North America and abroad, including a two week stint in Japan. The team has spoken to filmmakers, studios, archivists, rental chain operators, personal collectors and media experts to create an overview of the video era that is both informative and celebratory. The film will be released in 2013."


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BEYOND THE SEVENTH DOOR(1987)
Lazar Rockwood. Has there ever been a man born with a name more suited for stardom? With a look best described as "facially challenged", Mr. Rockwood siezes his opportunity in front of the camera with gusto. He is the owner of a weird anti-charisma that is both fascinating and confusing. He carries the weight of this film on his back with no indication that he is possessed of any self-doubt whatsoever. He believes he is a great actor, even when reality refuses to back him up.

The story involves Mr. Rockwood and a former flame venturing into a mansion loaded with Rube Goldberg puzzle devices. Things proceed at a quick enough pace, but the developments are all secondary to watching how our leading man will react to them. The expressionless skin mask he is trapped beneath transfixes you with its attempts at miming human emotion. The whole enterprise feels very much like an alien culture attempting to present "Earth entertainment". The movie isn't entertaining in the conventional sense, but it is relentlessly watchable. FUN FACT: One of the IMDB plot keywords for this movie is "Fully Clothed Sex".



PHANTOM BROTHER(1988)
Shot-on-video horror has received a lot of attention in the last few years. Many of the SOV slashers of the 80's are now canonical titles in some circles, a movement that almost nobody would have predicted even five years ago. Most of the best examples have risen to the top of the heap, but like any attempt to reevaluate a period of film history, a few have slipped through the cracks. I would like to nominate PHANTOM BROTHER as the most underrated of the SOV wham-bammers.

It has all the hallmarks of the slasher genre, from sexually active co-eds to a masked killer, but it also has a self-aware sense of humor that wouldn't permeate horror films until the mid-90's. While later attempts to do this would be bogged down by a sense of superiority, PHANTOM BROTHER is clearly made by fans of the genre who want nothing more than to celebrate its small pleasures. It predicted the future of the genre and laid down a perfect template. Unfortunately, nobody saw it and we got stuck with the miserable 90's genre slump.


THE MAFU CAGE(1978)
Developmentally arrested, hysterical women have always been a part of the cinema, but they are not usually portrayed with a level of sympathy or true understanding. This psychodrama, based on a French play, delves in deep to the psyche of its damaged protagonist. Cissy, played by underrated national treasure Carol Kane, is a grown child filled with boundless energy and minimal self-control. She keeps large zoo animals in her possession, which she calls Mafu's, and treats them with the same enthusiasm and neglect as a 7 year old. She runs free around her family property, with only her older sister to watch over her.

The most important decision made in the telling of the story is to eliminate any exposition about how the two sisters arrived at their current living situation, leaving the audience to piece it together by observing behavior. At first Cissy's older sister seems responsible and well-adjusted, but in time we see a sexual relationship between the two of them that is both disturbing and tender at the same time. We don't know the details of their past, but we start to see indications of previous damage and abuse manifest in present day behavior. The camera stares on intently at all times, prodding us to look hard at the reality of the film in order to consider the cause and effect that have yielded the images we're being confronted with. The film has a tremendous power, but it sneaks up on you slowly, then knocks you flat.



FEMALE INQUISITOR(1987)
The least seen but most intriguing of Kazuo "Gaira" Komizu's GUTS OF A VIRGIN series pushes his trademark blend of sexual kink and arthouse stylization to the deepest recesses of the imagination. The opening scene alone involves intricately placed wires arranged in a room to provide long distance stimulation to an imprisoned female. The distinction between torture and pleasure is blurred in this sequence, we never come to understand what is being enjoyed and what is causing pain. This is the nebulous zone that Gaira enjoys navigating in his grand experiments of sexual violence. The perverse becomes the norm.

While his earlier work reveled in similar subject matter, this effort is far more accomplished from a cinematic perspective. Every inch of the frame is used in service of a pop art aesthetic that seems more in tune with the Nikkatsu films of the late 60's than the extreme stomach-churners of the VHS era. The use of ultra saturated color and avant-jazz music seems out of place, as though we're looking upon a lost artifact of another time. Gaira's background as a screenwriter for pinku renegade Koji Wakamatsu shows itself in the design of the piece, each sequence carries existential weight. The finished product is thoroughly engaging and often disturbing, an unheralded classic of transgressive cinema.


SCARY MOVIE(1991)
This film feels like it was conceived and executed by an innocent 12 year old boy who just saw EVIL DEAD 2 at a slumber party. Overflowing with creative energy, pulsing with youthful awkwardness, overeager to share itself with you. It sneaks inside your brain and whispers to you until you are under its spell. It does this without a reasonable budget and mostly without the assistance of dialogue. It is the sort of work that inspires by showing how much can be achieved with limited means.

The star is a young John Hawkes, long before he became an Oscar nominee. He hasn't quite grown into his own body at this point, but he shows a lot of the intensity and commitment he would perfect in later years. He is clearly having a lot of fun, which is also the key to the film on the whole. No matter how serious the situation, you can always sense that there is a load of enjoyment being had behind the camera. A manic energy permeates every scene, with Hawkes' spastic nature serving as a lightning rod. Director Daniel Erickson is related to 13th Floor Elevators musician Rocky Erickson. Listen for his wild crooning over the closing credits.


....TICK...TICK...TICK...(1970)
Sweat and racial tension. Two things the deep South does extremely well. There is plenty of both on display in this nailbiting drama from Hollywood journeyman Ralph Nelson. The great Jim Brown stars as the first black sheriff of a small town. The film begins on the first day he takes office, replacing long-time lawman George Kennedy, who is now retiring in disgrace as the man who left his post to a black man. The sun beats down on everybody as the tension mounts, rising to a boil.

The dynamic that develops between Brown and Kennedy is remarkable, they harbor just enough prejudice to struggle with accepting one another, but not enough to fail to recognize how they can help one another. Neither actor would ever be offered another role that allowed for this same level of subtle complexity. They each play their role with palpable restraint, both knowing that losing control of their emotions would cause them to lose control of the town. The message of tolerance is delivered in a heavy handed fashion, but the core story resonates with a greater level of truth than most films of its type. This is without a doubt one of the lost classics of Hollywood filmmaking.

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