Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Josh Johnson ""

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson directed a neat new documentary all about VHS called REWIND THIS! and it is available digitally today! (August 27th), check it out!
https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/rewind-this!/id678902502 
Follow Josh's exploits on twitter here:
https://twitter.com/IPFjosh
And more exploits from the movie here:
https://twitter.com/RewindThisMovie
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THE STUDENT NURSES(1970; Stephanie Rothman)
This is it. The feminist counterculture relationship drama you've been looking for. You just didn't realize it was hiding beneath the surface of a nurseploitation film. Stephanie Rothman is one of the few female directors to work within the Roger Corman production machine, and she is definitely the most gifted.

Here she delivers what would be her masterwork. A collage of early 70's political unrest, LSD experimentation, and personal liberation, smuggled into the world inside the framework of a sexy romp. The perspective is notably female, and the attitude is refreshingly progressive. The drama resonates so strongly because Rothman crafts her characters with the contradictions of real human beings, never content to rely on formula or easy stereotypes.

Hopefully this film will rise out of the movie ghetto in the coming years, once enough people catch wind of its intelligence and independent spirit.

KNIGHTRIDERS(1981: George A. Romero)
George Romero's ode to the trials and tribulations of low-budget filmmaking is easily 30 minutes too long. That being said, I wouldn't have it any other way. It is an act of tremendous indulgence to make a film like this at all, and the indulgent nature of the film is a major part of its charm.

It is impossible to see the ragtag band of medieval motorcyclists at the heart of the story as anything other than a stand-in for Romero and his indie film co-horts, fighting against the dragon of the commercial movie business. Despite an obvious allegiance to the pure and noble knights, there is plenty of ugliness on all sides. The cast of characters are all filled with flaws that endear them to the audience, vanity and hubris chief among them. Nobody is innocent, and everyone in show business is possessed with a certain amount of ambition. Loving friends hurt one another for understandable reasons, and that hurt is transferred onto anyone watching.

Despite it's bloat and lack of focus, there is something immensely satisfying about seeing deeply personal conflicts played out on a grand stage. KNIGHTRIDERS has the feeling of a diary or confessional that has been adapted for the screen with just enough imaginary elements to allow anybody to project themselves onto the material. It is my favorite film in the Romero canon, even though it is far from the best. It speaks directly to the heart.

 
THE ROAD TO SALINA(1970; Georges Lautner)
The fluidity of identity is a concept explored at the core of many suspense stories. Those other stories don't have the advantage of Robert Walker, Jr's infinite blue eyes or Mimsy Farmer's sexually liberated aggression. They certainly don't have a psychedelic soundtrack that makes the loss of mental stability feel like a desirable ride.

A triumph of atmosphere more than anything else, the opening rainstorm sets the tone for what will be a consistently unsettling experience. We never quite get comfortable as events start to unfold, there is a pervasive wrongness here, much like in Polanski's films. But that doesn't dampen the sex appeal, as the twisted events contain an erotic charge that both confuse and arouse.This psychodrama is highly recommended date viewing, if your partner has a taste for the bizarre.

THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE(1975; Melvin Frank)
Mel Edison (Jack Lemmon) is a middle-aged man who has lost his job. He feels like a failure, and he lashes out unfairly. He has a wife (the staggeringly great Anne Bancroft) who loves him despite his shift towards seeking pity. Mounting frustrations due to a garbage strike during a heatwave, and the noise one encounters living in a big city, bring Mel to the point of a breakdown.

On top of a consistent amount of laughs, there is a tremendous amount of honest pain contained within this Neil Simon script. We feel deeply for Mel because he is us. More pointedly, he is the worst in us. We're all capable of being petty. We hold onto resentments that are unhealthy. We want life to be less difficult. Certain works of fiction can reflect our imperfections back at us, so we can properly consider our flaws. This film allows us to do that, and it does this with such truthfulness that it makes us feel as though we have the power to free ourselves from the prison of our own smallness.

 
THE VELVET HUSTLER(1967; Toshio Masuda)
Tetsuya Watari (TOKYO DRIFTER) plays Goro, a hitman paid to injure a Yakuza boss. As you might expect, the boss ends up dead, and Goro is dispatched from Tokyo to Kobe until it is safe to return. This is not an unfamiliar plot. The film starts to depart from convention once it shifts locations to Kobe, however, and the unusual direction of the film is driven by the character of Goro.

Goro isn't a brutal killer or a ruthless tough guy. He is a charming, smiling, and generally well-meaning man with the misfortune of being in the wrong line of work. He has a sense of cool about him, he is fun to be with regardless of the situation. This lends a peculiar sort of watchability to the proceedings as he gets accustomed to life in a simpler locale.

The drama comes from two directions, a romance with an emotionally damaged woman, and a hitman being dispatched to kill Goro. He deals with both in the same way, by being as smooth as possible in the face of life-changing events. It is immensely satisfying to observe, and the ending of the film has Goro doing something so impossibly cool it is not quite possible to explain in a write-up such as this. It stands alone as a singularly cool finishing note to a film, and has stayed with me since I first saw the movie many years ago.

 
THE SNIPER(1952; Edward Dmytryk)
Loneliness and alienation. Feelings that were meant for black and white. The noir style portrays this worldview so well because it allows characters to become lost in shadows. The frame of the filmed image can easily be used to convey a frame of mind. That said, the most successful entries use the black and white world they depict to explore the greyest areas of morality and human existence.

THE SNIPER is a fairly straight-forward B-picture about a troubled man who takes out his hatred against women with a rifle. What is surprising about it is that it portrays him in a very sympathetic light, and the film overall has an extremely progressive attitude about mental health. This progressive attitude likely comes from producer Stanley Kramer, and it infuses the film with a strong feeling of sadness. We know the sniper wants to be stopped, and we know that he is a prisoner of his own mind. That the authorities are not able to apprehend him more quickly causes each scene to be filled with dread over what will inevitably happen next. If anyone tells you that films from the 50's are emotionally simplistic, and dragged down by cultural ignorance, just put this movie on and wait 87 minutes for their opinion to change.


3 comments:

thirtyhertzrumble said...

I've seen only one of these and indeed I'm a big proponent of Knightriders. The rest have been added to the impossibly long list of to-watch movies (courtesy of these darn lists). I might even rush that Jack Lemmon flick right to the top.

Marc Edward Heuck said...

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http://projectorhasbeendrinking.blogspot.com/2013/08/well-sing-for-sunshine.html

Tommy Ross said...

Prisoner of 2nd Ave one of Jack Lemmon and Neil Simon's BEST!!