Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Marc Edward Heuck ""

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Marc Edward Heuck

Marc Edward Heuck runs the venerable blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking which gets a high recommend from me. Marc is a truly excellent writer in regards to cinema(& anything else he writes about) and I am very pleased to have his contribution. Marc's been with this series since it started in 2010, so please check out his other lists as he always brings the good stuff:

It begins to seem like I put more thought and toil into my list of first time viewings for this outside blog than I do for my new movies of the year at mine own blog. But I suppose that's part of what being a devoted movie lover like myself is like. It's not enough to just rattle off some titles or tell a synopsis, but I've got to find some concise yet illuminating manner to explain why seeing films such excite me as much as seeing the first-run Friday offerings. And once again, I had the advantage of seeing all of these with an audience, and thus being able to watch them watch the movie and see how all of us were being affected. In ascending order:

Every acting fan probably knows the old joke about a dayplayer telling his friend about being cast as the Gravedigger in HAMLET, and when the friend asks what the play is about, the actor replies, "It's about a gravedigger who meets a prince." Rena Riffel's SHOWGIRLS 2 is a subgenius embodiment of that sentiment, a movie that achieves the peculiar benchmark of being simultaneously worse AND better than its inspiration. Where I've always found Verhoeven's original to be too much a cinematic platypus to fully enjoy (90 minutes of amusing but barrel-fish-shooting easy camp, followed by 41 minutes of emotionally affecting but buzzkilling drama), this movie is much more consistent in its madness, compensating for its uniform primitivism with an enticing concept that takes the "Mary Sue" literary template to a new metatextual high: essentially, what if this minor character from one movie created her own fanfic version of that movie? In short, this is not Rena Riffel writing and directing, this is Riffel channeling and ingesting Penny, her character from SHOWGIRLS, and then writing and directing the movie, with every flat line reading or ridiculous plot turn making absolute sense in the vision of that chorus dancer who got left behind halfway through the first film. Kind of like the equivalent of watching John Malkovich inhabiting his own mind in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, but feature length. Quite literally, for the even-longer running time of this followup, this is Penny's world, and all of us are just living in it.

Here is a movie so rare and unseen in America that it wasn't until its New Beverly debut this past fall that we all learned the actual English import title was THE HALLUCINATING TRIP, though I do rather like its proper Italian title ROMA DROGATA (JUNKIE ROME) better. This movie may not have a whole lot of excitement, but for me, it offers a whole lot of intrigue in its themes and setting. It attempts to mesh a '60's-style counterculture drama, with its young and mostly affluent protagonists caught up in student protests and the impending rise of the Red Brigade, with a '70's-style poliziotteschi, with its gravelly-voiced cops trying to apprehend a high-volume drug kingpin whose product is consumed by the protagonists. And caught up in the middle is Bud Cort, who may look out of place as an American actor trying to pass as Italian, but who makes that work since his character is clearly of a lesser economic class than the rich friends he runs with and helps supply with drugs, so in effect he looks every bit like the partially-welcome interloper that he portrays. The movie is fairly obvious and heavy-handed in its message that both the wealthy and the government make use of the poor for so long as they deem them useful, and then leave them to fend for themselves when trouble comes around, but within the legitimate historical context of Italy's troublesome political climate in the '70's (and today for that matter), it does carry weight. And then of course, there is that knockout party and hallucination sequence midway through that provides the movie with its appropriate titles, since it is a trip and involves folks who strip. It shakes up the audience who might be otherwise restless with the somewhat inert proceedings, and helps sustain them through the predictably downbeat finish. I'm dying to know more about its late director/co-writer Lucio Marcaccini, and why was this his only film.

At long last seen after years of curiosity, I walked away from Peter Bogdonavich's noble musical experiment with a deep understanding of his honest intentions, and intentions of the climate at large that violently rejected his film. It is bizarre to me that within the span of 1972, when his monster hit WHAT'S UP DOC came out, to 1975, when AT LONG LAST LOVE came out, the details of America stayed essentially the same - Nixon was corrupt, Vietnam was dragging, inflation was harsh - and for that matter, so did Bogdonavich's - he had left his beloved collaborator Polly Platt for hot young actress Cybill Shepherd, and was cracking cocky about classic Hollywood and his impending spot in that history - and yet where both these movie bookends were frothy, light throwbacks to the carefree style of the '30's, in contained pretty settings with excellent staging, timing, and costume design, and no unpleasant intrusions from the harsh outside world, one became a perennial favorite and the other a punchline. I freely admit I got a little cross at times with LOVE, since its constantly changing coupling gimmick almost felt like an ill-thought commentary on his breakup with Platt, i.e. all she needed to do was find another swell fella like he found a swell gal and they could have just kept on partying, and I could kinda understand the difference between a '72 moviegoer with a shit job laughing at DOC because Ryan O'Neal is inside a dragon and a '75 moviegoer with a shit job hating on LOVE because all these rich folks do is sing and drink. But inside its beautiful jewel box environment, without the outside details -- i.e., the way a movie SHOULD be observed -- AT LONG LAST LOVE is a sweet and entertaining bauble, with all those classic Porter songs and good looking cats living that fantasy that we've all had of easy luck, of relationships that are fluid and friendships that are solid. To paraphrase another great songwriter, there was a place for this movie song, and we all just have realize it was just that the time was wrong.

This was one of those movies that seemed to be on TV every six months when I was growing up and getting my cathode-ray kindergarten start on movie love, but never got around to watching. All the better, to have gotten it full-strength and unbleeped in the cinema, and hear real laughter at Paddy Chayefsky's furious humor. With hindsight, this definitely plays like a dry run for the superior NETWORK - George C. Scott's exasperated doctor is William Holden's prototype, Diana Rigg's outspoken and uninhibited roadfork has the seeds of Faye Dunaway's force of nature, and that mysterious fool for Christ and Paraclete of Caborca probably heard the same voices that Peter Finch heard in the night. For that matter, the dialogue is at times too on the nose, and the sexual behavior a bit too fantastical, elements that work much better in that later film. But this is still relevant and bitterly funny material that I daresay you could show to a new viewer and not tell them this movie is from over three decades ago and they'd be none the wiser

Saved from near-extinction by Australian archivists, and freed from tangled rights issues by Drafthouse Films, we all got a chance this year to see this illuminating and unsettling story of men left to their brute impulses. Ted Kotcheff's scorched-soil odyssey demonstrates how an otherwise sensible schoolteacher can find himself reduced to an animal through a heaping dose of beers, peers, and wasted years. One of the few movies that derives scares from the friendliness of small town folks rather than their suspicions, and how you can get too accustomed to their spartan amusements, it's like a violent spin on Fellini's I VITELLONI, demonstrating that if you don't leave a nowhere place at the right moment, you will never leave it ever. It's also very reminisicent of that terrible old joke "Wanna come to my place? There'll be some drinking, some gambling, some fighting, some screwing..." "Naah, I don't like being around crowds." "Hell, boy, ain't gonna be no one there but me and you."

And in the category of "Movies I Was Book Smart On but Never Actually Saw" was this flat-out transcendant masterpiece of science fiction. What really caught me and kept me in the midst of watching a story that I thought I knew top to bottom was just how much time it spent building atmosphere and suspense without dialogue or music, but merely taking long stretches to observe our poor titular hero contending with what is increasingly a landscape of banal but life-threatening obstacles; quite a daring move for a '50's era film that was ostensibly aimed at the brainy kid and necking teenager demographic that would not normally sit for such contemplative sequences. Remake talk constantly circulates about this story, understandably so (and NO, the similarly-named Lily Tomlin comedy does not count as far as I'm concerned), but I don't think anyone will ever capture the paradox of determining your microscopic place in the universe as well as this adaptation.

There's going to be a lot of reevaluation of the prolific Sergio Corbucci thanks to the success of DJANGO UNCHAINED, and I suspect that while most attention will be paid to his original DJANGO, there will be a substantial amount steered to this even darker western. It certainly helps that it stars Jean-Louis Trintignant, another great prolific artist enjoying new attention thanks to his heartbreaking work in the current Oscar-nominated AMOUR, in one of his most unique performances, done entirely mute. From its use of snow-engulfed landscapes, to a hero and villain both clearly defined and yet both working moral loopholes, to a pioneering use of a black heroine (the late Vonetta McGee), and to its still-heartbreaking finale, this takes the titular promises Sergio Leone made in his great western and takes them to another beautiful and challenging level.

If the "slasher" horror film arguably originated from articulating sexual frustration - i.e. "everyone's getting laid but me, I wanna kill 'em" - Andrzej Zulawski's outstanding off-the-rails epic articulates the anguish from the break-up of a long term relationship, what Rob Gordon wanted to say to his ex-girlfriend in HIGH FIDELITY - "You are [Satan's] plaything, responding to his touch with shrieks of orgasmic delight. No woman in the history of the world is having better sex than sex you are my head." Conceived in the midst of Zulawski's own heated divorce, it both manifests the dumpee's worst fantasies, that you've literally been left for some horrible otherworldly beast, and indicts the feelings of self-pity that a rejected lover is tempted to descend into, suggesting that the process turns one into a monster themselves. It's not every day you see a film that has an elegant European pedigree with the emotional impact of Sam Kinison's best outbursts; given time, I could see this becoming a bizarro comfort film for retro-culture fans on the romantic mend.

And speaking on a more comical level about monstrous behavior after a breakup, who hasn't seen their ex enjoying better fortune and wanted to scream, "ANATHEMA! CHILD OF SATAN!" After finally seeing BRINGING UP BABY this year, and to my surprise outright hating the movie (which I will delve into another day on my own blog), I was so relieved to visit another work by Howard Hawks and find it to be flat out one of the most hilarious films that it ever took me an absurd amount of lifetime to see. Again, both films involve ridiculously self-interested characters engaging in absurd behavior building to a frenetic climax, but only one of them made me laugh. And if you insist on telling me that BABY is funnier than CENTURY, then I close the iron door upon you.

PHASE IV(1974)
Ever since high school, when I was already full throttle into my film obsession, I became a huge fan of Saul Bass, marveling at his multiple talents in art, design, and presentation, yet somehow I never felt prepared to take on watching his sole feature film directorial effort. But when Cinefamily this past spring offered a one-time opportunity to see the film not only in 35mm, but with Bass' long-thought-lost original surrealistic ending, I had to take advantage. The intelligent, clinical, and precise demeanor of this speculative science fiction, about how the lowest of creatures may be observing man as much as we have been observing them, may perhaps have been too cold for large audiences, but always kept me riveted. And the bonus of that spectacular unseen ending, such a marvel of ideas and images that everyone present demanded to see it again immediately, was a demonstration that when Bass decided not to continue in feature storytelling, we benefited from his concentration in other fields of art, but we lost someone who could have maybe bridged the divide between commercial and experimental film. I don't know if Paramount will ever consent to make that original ending available in a future DVD or Blu-Ray reissue of the film, so I must commend the efforts of Cinefamily and the Bass estate for making this screening happen for me.

For as much as PHASE IV may have been the most important first-time screening I saw this year, I do have to give the most impactful designation to Chantal Akerman's 1975 character study, since it is one of those movies that even the biggest film lovers often discuss, but few have ever sat and watched. On the surface, it seems to embody the stereotypes that smart-alecs love to spew about experimental film - "Gee, a 201 minute movie about a mother/prostitute sleeping with clients and cooking soup for her son told in almost real time with little dialogue, sounds like a blockbuster!" Yeah, this is probably a movie that could cost you a second date if you're in the middle of courtship. But honestly, perhaps because the audience is first watching ordinary ritual much like our own workaday schedule, the time flies past the viewer precisely because we are so used to such routines...and more importantly, we follow what Akerman wants us to notice, how a tiny alteration to the plan will ever build a pattern of larger anomalies and breaks in that once solid routine, until we reach an ending that was previously unforseeable when we started. Yes, this is filmmaking that only the most curious and open-minded are likely to embrace, and consequently provides the most reward for those eagle-eyed viewers. Watching JEANNE DIELMAN is like reading Umberto Eco's FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM - you don't have to consume either massive work to be a great connoisseur of film or literature, but once you've done it, you know you've had a most special experience, and you do have an admitted edge in that peer debate of who's more about culture cultcha cultchuh.

1 comment:

MrJeffery said...

some great 70s flicks here (i must re-watch 'phase iv' eventually) & 'the incredible shrinking man' is brilliant.