Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Patrick Ripoll ""

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Patrick Ripoll

Patrick Ripoll has written for and now hosts The Director's Club Podcast with Jim Laczkowski ( But mostly he cooks pizzas. Which is good too.

Park Row (1952) - One has to think Aaron Sorkin watches this at least twice a week. This small Samuel Fuller film (his personal favorite of his work, according to Wikipedia) is everything Sorkin's work has become known for: crackling dialogue, effectively earnest advocacy for American Institutions That Are Important, Dammit, being a little embarrassingly earnest, and having a maybe pollyanna view of the world at large. What puts it a notch above Sorkin in my book is that this story of an early newspaper printer's desperate attempts to BUILD THE STATUE OF LIBERTY AND SAVE JOURNALISM AS WE KNOW IT, despite having such grand aims, is a tight 80 minute romp. In an era where movies are only allowed to be about something if they're gunning for Oscars, and even the films that aren't about anything are way too damn long, the reminder that a film can be an audience-pleasing programmer and still have brains, style, & convictions is a totally welcome one.

The Servant (1963) - The work of Joseph Losey has been under appreciated in general (I would also recommend The Prowler), but this film (written by genius playwright Harold Pinter) is probably my favorite. It starts simply enough, as a sophisticated dark comedy of class struggles, but slowly becomes weirder and more surreal until it closer resembles (probably due to inspiring) films like Dead Ringers and The Master. Co-dependency has never been more puzzling. I don't know what it means, but I know that it blows me away.

Dottie Gets Spanked (1993) - My favorite Todd Haynes movie and perhaps my favorite queer film that doesn't have the word "Hedwig" in the title. A short film made for PBS, Dottie manages so much with so little. Such a clear sense of the mid 1950's with so few details, and the intense fear of a young boy's confusing burgeoning sexuality looming over the film like an impending storm. The final shot, in which he literally buries a symbol of his shame in his backyard, is a heartbreak, only lined with hope at the knowledge that the boy will come of age at the time of Stonewall, and that what was buried might come out once again, in a more hospitable environment.

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - I imagine many would object to me including this film on the list under the grounds that it's neither underrated nor a drama. I respectfully disagree. For a surprise blockbuster that roughly made the GDP of Zanzibar based entirely on it's reputation as "One of the scariest movies ever made", it's actual merits too often go unnoticed. Namely, some of the best naturalistic acting I have ever seen in a film, lead by the superlative work of Heather Donahue. For such a simple story we see so many sides of her character: cheesy film school narration early on, easy humor in the hotel, the control freak who tries to deal with two men ganging up on her in arguments, the denial that comes with getting lost, panic, rage, hopelessness. Even the way she holds the camera emotes so much about her character. It really feels more like A Woman Under The Influence than Cannibal Holocaust, more Gerry than Carrie. Horror only acts as a catalyst for the psychic breakdown of the group, but it's rarely the focus (though once the film does get creepy in it's final stretch, that too is pretty jaw-dropping). From the legion of found footage films this inspired, none ever managed to capture a human story quite like this did. It's not the scariest movie of the 90's. It's much better than that.

Husbands and Wives (1992) - Woody Allen is rarely given credit for being a cinephile director, but throughout his filmography he's riffed on everyone from Bergman to Fellini, from French New Wave to German Expressionism, long before Tarantino ever got a job in a video store. Husbands and Wives is his take on Cassavetes and every bit the masterpiece that Crimes and Misdemeanors is, without garnering nearly as much respect. He trades in his typically elegant understated camerawork for a blunt handheld mockumentary-lite approach. The way The Office utilizes the talking heads interviews and sense of voyeurism of documentaries for maximum drama (while ignoring the broken logic of a documentary crew actually being there in the first place), Husbands and Wives originated. It's intense and honest (uncomfortably so at times, such as when Allen's teacher character makes a move on his much younger student) and groundbreaking. Like so much of his best work it's unlike anything he's ever done and yet unmistakably Allen.


Tommy Ross said...

Nice to see Blair Witch given some of the recognition it deserves, especially to Heather Donahue, who if I'm not mistaken is a real estate agent these days. The only thing with me and Blair Witch is it hasn't kept it's lasting power with repeated viewings. The first time I saw it I was literally on the edge of my seat (or couch)for most the film.

HUSBANDS & WIVES is truly one of the great (and many) Woody films that goes overlooked. Great script as always and some awesome acting performances especially Judy Davis and the always wonderful Juliette Lewis in her only Allen film.

Will Errickson said...

Yes, BLAIR WITCH and HUSBANDS & WIVES in the same list! Naturalistic acting indeed.