Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Andreas Stoehr ""

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Andreas Stoehr

Andreas Stoehr writes for Pussy Goes Grrr and can be found on twitter at @astoehr.
Andreas recently did a cool interview with Peter Labuza for his Cinepheliacs podcast that I recommend checking out, wherein in they discuss THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T among other things:
http://www.thecinephiliacs.net/2013/06/episode-20-andreas-stoehr-5000-fingers.html
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Heroes for Sale (William Wellman, 1933)
I can't get enough Depression-era melodrama. All these frenzied movies, most just over an hour long, so many of them sharing the same message: "Life is not fair." Wellman's were especially blunt about it, and Heroes for Sale is typical of his output: it crams so much incident into its scant run time, so much violence and agony and post-traumatic stress. Its hero, a WWI veteran played by Richard Barthelmess, just wants to survive in peacetime America. But at every turn he's hemmed in—first by drug addiction, then unemployment, and finally an environment of swelling political radicalism. It's a searingly frank film about how the other half lived between world wars, and to sweeten the pot, it co-stars Aline MacMahon, Warner Brothers' avatar of wisecracking.

The Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls, 1949)
This is where domestic melodrama merges with film noir, and who better to oversee that than Ophüls, whose filmography overflows with women suffering in silence? Here he applies his famously mobile camera to a middle-class household situated right on the California coastline. There, with the father away on business, Joan Bennett's matriarch must single-handedly keep her family together, even as her teenage daughter gets entangled with death, scandal, and blackmail. James Mason plays one of the blackmailers, bringing with him both That Voice and a shifting position of moral ambiguity. His nature, like that of the housewife he's pursuing, only grows more uncertain as their story careens toward disaster, and as Ophüls' tracks and pans map out some of the darker corners of plentiful postwar America.

The Naked Kiss (Samuel Fuller, 1964)
Another melodrama of suburban homes infested with evil secrets! But whereas The Reckless Moment is sensitive and gradual, this one’s ripe with Fuller's trademark lurid intensity. Beginning in medias res with a literal slap to the face, The Naked Kiss only becomes less subtle as it rages on. Constance Towers exudes desperation as an ex-prostitute trying to start a new life, first as a nurse and then as a rich playboy's bride. But ah, one twist after another piles up, each one more outrageous than the last, all standing in the way of her happiness. The film's narrative zigzags provide little jolts of pleasure, as does the heavy hand with which Fuller punches through various taboos. The Naked Kiss is a diagnosis of social sickness that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “overemphatic.”

The Devil, Probably (Robert Bresson, 1977)
The despair is bone-deep in Bresson’s second-to-last movie, which takes place around a community of student radicals in 1970s Paris. It’s the affectless tragedy of a world nearing its end, in a time when the youth who should be fighting to save it are instead giving up. Nonprofessional actor Antoine Monnier plays Charles, one of those would-be activists, whose dissolute behavior is repeatedly juxtaposed with footage of environmental devastation. Any kind of revolution seems futile in The Devil, Probably, a film so flat as to be drained of any traditionally “cinematic” pleasures, yet whose magnetic bleakness means I can’t keep myself away from it.

Secret Honor (Robert Altman, 1984)
By now it feels as if everyone and their big-nosed grandmother has played Nixon at one time or another. He’s a mythic figure for our time, an embodiment of top-level corruption and paranoia. But no other Nixon is quite like the one Philip Baker Hall plays in this one-man, one-room show—the starkest possible departure from Altman’s sometimes maximalist tendencies. Swilling Scotch and dictating to no one in particular, this Nixon wallows in self-loathing and the anguish of being a historical villain, telling his own radically rewritten version of American history. Stringing together wild theories and lunatic monologues, Secret Honor doesn’t ask our sympathy for the devil. But it does provide a fresh perspective on this particular household name, as well as a prime showcase for an actor who’s all too often been relegated to the background.

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