Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Witney Seibold ""

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Witney Seibold

Witney Seibold is the quieter half of "The B-Movies Podcast"( over on CraveOnline. At that site, he also heads up the Free Film School, wherein he teaches the uninitiated about movies, filmmakers, and subgenres. He also writes for The Series Project, wherein he reviews entire film franchises. He is a gentle fellow who quietly fosters weird and unpopular opinions. He has contributed to various websites, and appeared on several podcasts. He was born in the United States. 
Follow his twitter lunacy here:


Die Nibelungen(1924; Fritz Lang)
Released on Blu-Ray this year was Fritz Lang's 1924 film version of Die Nibelungen. A complaint I've had about a lot of recent fantasy movies and TV shows is that they seem to strive for a bold, large, “epic” feeling, but can only accomplish that by teasing out the story, adding extraneous characters, and essentially jerking around the audience for entire seasons while never coming to any sort of cogent conclusion. I blame both Marvel Studios and Lost for this. But there was a time in the silent era when movies felt grand and mythic and properly epic. They were about actual larger-than-life heroes, peerless in their purity and indestructible, discovering magical treasures, battling dragons, marrying blushing brides, and ruling kingdoms with a stern fist. Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen was the first film I had seen in a long while that really captured the notion of a poetic epic on film. It runs about 4 ½ hours, and is split into two parts. The first part is fanciful and exciting, as it follows our hero Sigfried as he quests to gain the hand of Kreimhild, the world's most beautiful woman. The film doesn't cleave entirely closely to the original German literary epic, but it has the same spirit. Stories used to be more than big. They used to be large. Die Nibelungen is large.

The Passion of Anna(1969; Ingmar Bergman)
Ingmar Bergman should be everyone's favorite filmmaker, as he so accurately and compassionately explore notions of alienation, humans' need to connect with one another, and the random cruelty that has us questioning our faith in the world, our necessary love in humanity, and our stubborn religious beliefs. I have seen many Bergman films, but it wasn't until recently that I hunkered down with The Passion of Anna, his film from 1969. Not often considered one of his masterworks, Anna is still just as apt and as insightful, and characteristically depressing as Bergman's other works. The film follows a solitary man (Max Von Sydow) as he pursues a fragile relationship with an emotionally damaged woman on his lonely island. They have both lost family recently. But rather than find healing in their mutual suffering, they find that they suffer alone, despite their need to connect. Bergman, however, doesn't fetishize suffering, instead leaning on the complex-and-yet-childlike confusion that results when we are presented with random pain. Painful, sad, cathartic, and philosophical, I found The Passion of Anna to be another worthy entry in the canon of a master.

The Basket Case Movies
I'm kind of embarrassed that it took me so long to see these movies. I was already a fan of Frank Henenlotter thanks to his classics Frankenhooker and Brain Damage, and I have even seen is more recent twisted sex film Bad Biology. But it wasn't until this year that I watched his three Basket Case movie, and I regret that I waited so long. I felt the same way when I watched both Repo Man and Die Hard for the first time, both only a few years ago when I was already in my 30s. Basket Case is a three-film series about a man named Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) who is seeking revege on the doctors who sparated him from his conjoined twin bother Belial many years ago. Belial is not so much a person as a fleshy lump with claws and a face. Frank Henelotter is a director who knows how to ride the line between disgusting exploitation and completely bonkers cartoon insanity. It's like he's trying to make live-action Robert Clampett cartoons. The Basket Case movies hit me in a very important way, and I loved them beyond reason. Better late than never, I suppose.

Lady Terminator(1989; H. Djut Djalil)
A film recommended to me by Michael J. Weldon's seminal book The Psychotronic Video Guide, Lady Terminator is a bizarre 1989 action oddity about the spirit of a vengeful queen (who shoots snakes from her vagina) who takes possession of an anthropology student (Barbara Ann Constable, sporting a nice '80s sports bra), and proceeds to go on raping spree. She rapes several men to death. She bites off some penises. She dons black leather (natch) and machine guns down innocent bystanders in a mall. She trashes a hotel room with telekinetic powers. There's no real story to speak of, and the heroes border on the insignificant, but the mayhem – o the holy mayhem – is first rate bugnuts awesomeness. I feel that Lady Terminator should be seen by any serious student of cheesy exploitation movies.

The Burning Moon(1997; Olaf Ittenbach)
Released on a special edition VHS this year, Olaf Ittenbach's 1997 horror cheapie The Burning Moon is a two-in-on film about a crazy, possibly incestuous bedtime story told by a butty older boy reading a pair of twisted bedtime stories to his sister. One story is about a blind date that goes horribly awry, and the other is about murderous priest. Not since Coffin Joe has an exploitation movie contained this much nihilism and gleeful sadism. And cheap-looking blood effects. I got the sense that the filmmakers were fond of horror movies, but we're really clear on what exactly the limits were in horror movies, so just went over the top, preferring to punch us in the gut with cheap, effective, cheap, horrifying cheap effects. It's so extreme, you'll actually find yourself disturbed, which is a rarity for people like me, who has seen many, many bizarre horror movies and depressing gore flicks. The Burning Moon is a reminder that no matter how much weird stuff you've seen, there are always going to be other gems out there.

If...(1968; Lindsay Anderson)
I saw Lindsay Anderson's acclaimed schoolboy drama If... for the first time this year. Malcolm McDowell plays a disobedient schoolboy named Mick who essentially allows his resentment of hypocritical teachers and bullying classmates to grow to deadly levels, and whom in turn, forms a kind-of student crusade against his entire school. The film famously ends with a gun battle between Mick, his cadre, his (perhaps hallucinated) girlfriend, and the police. The film is dark and painful, but is possessed of a very liberating “us vs. them” mentality. It explores the notions of youth alienation about as well as The Catcher in the Rye did, but adds a streak of naughty and clunky youthful subversiveness. At once, Mick is a tragic hero and a horrible criminal. Mick is certainly a precursor to Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange a few years later.

MegaForce(1982; Hal Needham)
Intended to be a giant hit (there were video game tie-ins, toys, coloring books and the like), Hal Needham's kiddie action flick was a huge bomb when it came out in 1982, and it's easy to see why; the film is a goofy mish-mash of silly vehicles, even sillier costumes, and some gloriously bad acting. Barry Bostwick plays Ace Hunter, the leader of a GI Joe-type organization of multi-culti supersoldiers, who wears a really gay looking flesh-colored bodysuit, and sports one of the most embarrassing blonde coifs this side of the '80s. Amongst his cadre is Michael Beck and Persis Khambatta from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Henry Silva plays the bad guy. Safe, clean awful cheese as its finest.

Fata Morgana(1971; Werner Herzog)
In addition to my Bergman, I've also been trying to catch up my on Werner Herzog, and his 1971 effort Fata Morgana did not disappoint. A swirling mosaic of a film, Herzog's film is a bizarre meditation on creation myths and the state of the world today. It repeats footage, and has a mystifying soundtrack and narration. Herzog was clearly experimenting, and it's exhilarating to see the his mind at work. Herzog famously said that cinema was, rather sadly, lacking in original imagery, so he often goes out of his way (very literally) to present something previously unseen.

All the James Bond Movies
Earlier this year, I embarked on a common quest to watch every single James Bond movie. I saw 24 of them in six weeks, and wrote about them all. Later in the year, I caught up with the remaining two (Skyfall and the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale) Some of the movies are excellent and could be considered proper action classics, while others are clunky and stupid and awful. But, when taken as a single unit, the James Bond films are a vast and important pop culture milestone that I enjoyed trudging through. I was entertained, but, more than that, I feel educated.

Island of Lost Souls(1932; Erle C. Kenton)
Actually, I saw this film on TV as a child, and I recall some of the images with startling clarity. I remember is scaring me a lot, and I had nightmares as a result. In 2012, Erle C. Kenton's 1932 horror classic was released on home video by The Criterion Collection, and I snapped it up pretty quickly. I watched it again for the first time since I was a young child, and found it to be just as enthralling and terrifying as I remember. I didn't discover Island of Lost Souls, but I rediscovered it, and I'm happy/terrified to have done so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Lots of great titles. I saw a 35mm print of Die Nibelungen years ago and it truly is a great epic. PASSION OF ANNA was the first Bergman film I ever saw. Perhaps not the ideal starting point for this all-time great - I should really see it again.
On the other extreme, MEGAFORCE and LADY TERMINATOR are both great cheez. LADY T is even crazier than the description. It mixes horror, myth, action and T&A and crosses it with a haphazard knockoff of THE TERMINATOR (it seems as if it was re-written on the fly to cash in as Cameron's film racked up box office grosses).