Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Robert Ham ""

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Robert Ham

Robert Ham tends to write about music and musicians for both online and print publications, but sometimes gets to write about movies as well. You can find his work in The Daily, Village Voice, Alternative Press, Spinner, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, and Network Awesome. Follow the man on Twitter at @bob_ham. Also, he lives in Portland. But please don't hold that against him or ask his opinion of Portlandia

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I regret that, with one exception, this is a terribly modern list of dramas. While I'm quite comfortable digging for lost gems from the '60s onward, I admit that I tend to only experience the well-documented classics from cinema's earliest days. That's why I'm glad to have this site and the folks contributing to it for inspiration and suggestions of underrated dramas that I should pay some attention to. What this list does represent are the dramatic film works that have affected me the most, and that I champion among the cinephiles that I know.

The Divorcee (1930, dir. Robert Z Leonard)
A great pre-Code film that I first stumbled upon thanks to one of TCM's Forbidden Hollywood sets, and one of the few films that I've seen from any era that explores the fallout of infidelity without hysterics and without slathering heaps of blame on anyone involved. In it, Norma Shearer picked up an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a woman who, hurt and embittered from learning that her husband had had a brief affair, has a dalliance of her own. Also features one of the absolute sexiest moments ever captured on film - a simple shot of Shearer staring lasciviously at the camera while Robert Montgomery pets her arm and looks her over while they ride in the back of a car.

Interiors (1978, dir. Woody Allen)
I can't imagine what it must have felt like for Woody Allen fans to find out that, after becoming the king of film comedy, his next feature was going to be a quiet study of a family in disarray. It's the reason that I avoided this film for the majority of my life, even after seeing Allen ably mesh comedy and drama. But it quickly became one of my favorites by the director, evidencing a deep understanding of the work of Ingmar Bergman and Eric Rohmer, and some incredible acting by an almost all-female cast.

Privilege (1967, dir. Peter Watkins)
A lost classic of England's swinging '60s, and oddly prophetic, too. Paul Jones (then vocalist for Manfred Mann) plays a pop star made messiah by government forces. It foresaw the explosion of celebrity worship in our society, and the use of popular culture by the church and state as a way of "engaging" with the youth. Only available on DVD in the UK, this deserves a Stateside release and someone to cull together a soundtrack of the amazing late '60s psych pop featured within. One final note for cinephiles: Privilege is also an early cinematographic work by David Cronenberg's favorite DP Peter Suschitzky.

Tequila Sunrise (1988, dir. Robert Towne)
An overly sleek '80s film, suspiciously influenced by the look and feel of Miami Vice. But, for all its box office success (it took in $105 million worldwide), it's a film that tends to be overlooked in the careers of its director and three top-billed stars. No matter how overwrought the dialog is, nor how over-the-top Kurt Russell acts throughout, I am curiously drawn to this film (and no it isn't because Michelle Pfeiffer gets naked in it, either).

Without Limits (1998, dir. Robert Towne)
The best of the two biopics that attempted to capture the greatness of distance runner Steve Prefontaine. For all its obvious flaws - a rather trite script and some of Conrad L. Hall's most half-hearted work as a cinematographer - it is held together by the acting of Billy Crudup as Prefontaine and, especially, the supporting work of Donald Sutherland, who turns in one of his most understated and tender performances as Pre's coach Bill Bowerman.

Wonderland (1999, dir. Michael Winterbottom)
My experience with this movie is one that's becoming increasingly rare with the amount of information as my disposal. My first time seeing Wonderland, I knew nothing about it other than the title. Free of expectations or knowing who was in the cast, I was able to fully immerse myself in the various strains of plot, all following the members of a London family. Devastating and beautiful performances from everyone involved and an absolutely perfect score by the great Michael Nyman.

The Brown Bunny (2003, dir. Vincent Gallo)
It's a shame how much this has been associated with both Roger Ebert's post-Cannes drubbing and the part of its closing scene featuring Chloe Sevigny and Vincent Gallo's maybe fake/maybe real penis. What absolutely gets ignored is how poignant and beautiful the rest of the film is. It is as heartfelt about loss and sorrow and regret as (in my mind) one of its closest cinematic relatives Last Tango in Paris.

Together (2002, Chen Kaige)
This story of a young violin prodigy and his father as they attempt to navigate the modern world after moving from their small Chinese village to Beijing is one of the few films that had me legitimately in tears by the end. Amazingly, only received a cursory limited release in 2003 here in the States, but survives as an easily obtained DVD. A must-see for any student of contemporary Chinese cinema.

Sundays and Cybele (1962, dir. Serge Bourguignon)
A devastating and inspiring work that snapped up the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Hardy Kruger plays a combat pilot who suffers from amnesia and PTSD after potentially killing some children when he is forced to crash land his plane, and who is redeemed slowly by his friendship with a young orphan girl. That sounds treacly as all get out, but the truth is, the film builds this relationship quietly and perfectly. You never for once feel like it is forced or salacious. It makes a strange kind of sense that is heartwarming and heartbreaking.

1 comment:

KC said...

Thanks for the tip on Privilege. I watched it on Ytube and enjoyed it very much. That must have been an interesting film for Jean Shrimpton to make. I know she was wary of fame and the darkness in the fashion industry. Great music too.