Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Samuel B. Prime ""

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a film programmer and lost cinema historian, formerly of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and UCLA's Melnitz Movies. Follow him on Letterboxd here:

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TOP OF THE HEAP (Christopher St. John, 1972)
Christopher St. John wanted to be John Shaft in '71, but lost the role to Richard Roundtree. Gordon Parks must have seen something special in him, though, as he cast him in a supporting role, Ben Buford. Critics and audiences alike lauded his performance, so he took his SHAFT money, wrote a script called TOP OF THE HEAP and shopped it around Hollywood. Nobody was interested, calling St. John's script "too unconventional," until Joe Solomon of Fanfare Films (which always had a habit of releasing unconventional, and mostly awful, movies like the George Hamilton / John Milius EVEL KNIEVEL movie). But TOP OF THE HEAP is an exceptional film, a film that could have (and should have!) been touted as a classic in its initial release. Unfortunately, it's mostly forgotten now. St. John writes, directs, produces, and stars as George Lattimer, a black D.C. cop with dreams of being much more. He gets shit on the streets for being part of the system and no love at home on account of caring too much about his job. He escapes into imaginatively realized fantasy worlds wherein he achieves something meaningful, where he is successful and something like the American Dream starts to take shape. His reality, however, is far from it. 

KARAMAZOVI (Petr Zelenka, 2008)
A skillful and modern adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov set in a Polish steel mill that effortlessly glides back and forth between rehearsals of Dostoevsky's text and the lives of the players. Here, Karamazov is a play to be staged for an audience that never really arrives, but that is the incidental audience of factory workers and townspeople stumbling across the acting troupe. Inevitably, the drama of the play intersects with the dramatized real life as depicted here and the result is variously hilarious, unsettling, moving, and catastrophic. One of the best modern Czech films.

PASSING THROUGH (Larry Clark, 1977)
Not that Larry Clark. Alongside Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry, and numerous other L.A. Rebellion filmmakers, Larry Clark made this feature film as his UCLA thesis project. The movie sticks in my memory as one of a couple from this period and quasi-movement that use music and bold editing techniques to capture a feeling that seems , or maybe is, of a time and a place. PASSING THROUGH is visual jazz, a movie not only about its protagonist's close ties to music, but embodied and driven by contrapuntal rhythms and cat-quick syncopation. Scenes fade to red, blue, and white in an obvious yet effective expression of the American flag and the film presents its narrative in contrast to the blaxploitation films of the era, an investigation of a changing America.

EXPOSED (James Toback, 1983)
Nastassja Kinski is Elizabeth Carlson, a fresh-faced WIsconsin farm girl bored with school, who has had enough of her lecherous English professor and sometimes lover, and who is looking to expand her worldview. She quits school, her parents take it hard, and she moves to New York City. The city nearly eats her alive in her first five minutes alone on the street, but she survives. Although the sheer scope and breadth of EXPOSED should not be divulged, rather experienced, the premise is that in exposing herself to new, increasingly exotic and dangerous situations, she herself becomes exposed. EXPOSED is in love or lust with deep focus and grandiose, sweeping camera movements via tracking or crane shots. This style evolves throughout the movie, beginning with closed-off, claustrophobic interiors shot via still composition and slow pans. As her worldview expands, so too does the film's cinematic vocabulary, flourishes, and overall openness of the film's spaces.

MAHONEY'S LAST STAND (Harvey Hart and Alexis Kanner, 1972)
Alexis Kanner co-directs, co-authors, co-produces, co-edits, and stars in this movie that almost nobody has seen. Kanner plays Leroy Mahoney, a man in search of a simple, good life. One of the most strikingly weird posters and one of the best soundtracks - period. Some might dismiss the film has meandering or unfocused, but the undercurrent of the entire film is Kanner's unspoken past, something (or perhaps many things) that happened to him to lead to his exodus from society. The result is a film that captures and celebrates what's really important in life: none of the day-to-day bullshit - instead the simple pleasures, the small acts of true kindness.


Tommy Ross said...

would love to see that TOP OF THE HEAP, looks great, VHS goes for $15+ on Amz, will keep my eye out for a better price...

S.B. Prime said...

$15 is well worth it for TOP OF THE HEAP. Go for it.