Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Justin Bozung ""

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Justin Bozung

Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Justin Bozung is a writer for Shock Cinema and Phantom Of The Movies Videoscope magazines.  He also works with the Detroit based website TV Store Online. Visit their site here:  http://blog.tvstoreonline.com/   He has just completed work on a definitive book slated for release in October 2014 about Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980)called The Shining: A Study In Horror.     The book features thirty new interviews with the cast and crew of Kubrick's horror film as well as never before seen behind-the-scenes photos,  archival pre-production materials, and testimonials written by Kubrick crew members.    His podcast, The Mondo Film Podcast will be returning in early 2014 as well - check it out here:  http://mondofilmpodcast.com/
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2013 was a bit of a watershed year for me.   I was very  busy.   I sat down with Stacy Keach for over four hours for a magazine interview.  I sat down with Jacqueline Bisset for the same amount of time for a magazine interview.   I conducted over twenty hours of interviews with director Uwe Boll, twenty hours of interviews with the cast and crew of Norman Mailer's TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE (1987), and fifty hours of interviews with the cast and crew of THE SHINING.   
I didn't get to watch many films that I had not already seen previously in 2013.   Looking back at 2013 now for Rupert's blog, it seems like I watched the same thirty films over and over again simply because I was working on projects centered around them.     Working on a book about THE SHINING,  I also served as a researcher for the publisher, and also had to complete my own written portions for the book.   I watched that damn backwards-and-forwards version of THE SHINING twenty times!  I read volumes and volumes of filmic and psychoanalytic theory from McGowan and Lacan to Freud and Jung.   My Letterboxd account tells me that I watched and re-watched films like THE SHINING (1980), ROOM 237 (2013), Bergman's WINTER LIGHT (1962) and THE SILENCE (1966), Resnais's LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961), CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962), DIABOLIQUE (1955) (not the Sharon Stone version from 1996),  and a handful of Max Ophuls gems for research for the SHINING book.  Not to mention, I watched TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE at least 50-60 times in 2013 as well too!  TGDD is a Top Five favorite film of mine and my podcast, The Mondo Film Podcast, returns in Jan. 2014 with a big retrospective about Mailer's film.
Being busy with various book projects, magazine work, as well as with the writing for my "day job" I won't be putting out a "Best of 2013" list this year as I didn't watch many new films in 2013.  But I will say that my favorite new films of 2013 that I did see were: Harmony Korine's SPRING BREAKERS (2012), Peter Farrelly's MOVIE 43 (2013), Carlos Reygadas POST TENEBRAS LUX (2012) as well as Ulrich Seidl's PARADISE (2012-13)  trilogy.   
Here are some older films I barely managed to squeeze in during 2013:


THE CLOWN (1953)
Heartbreaking early '50s Red Skelton tragicomedyabout a thirsty ex-vaudeville clown who is struggling to make ends meet and raise his son on his own.    Unable to stay sober, "Dodo" takes a series of embarrassing one night stand gigs to keep he and his boy afloat all the while spending most of his nights at the bar drinking himself unconscious and losing all their money gambling.   When the boy's newly rich mother shows up years after abandoning both of them, she begs the clown for their child.   Dodo,  trying to do what's best for his son, kicks the boy to the curb for his own good.  Skelton dazzles not just in the slapstick and surreal comedy vignettes within THE CLOWN, but also dramatically too.  After his son leaves for mother, Skelton as Dodo breaks down with tears of rage and begins to punch a framed photo of himself hanging on a wall of their apartment over-and-over making a real mess of his hand.   There is something very THE 400 BLOWS (1959) about how director Robert Z. Leonard shoots child actor Tim Considine in THE CLOWN too.   Either Jean-Pierre Léaud bares an uncanny resemblance to Tim Considine in THE CLOWN, and that's why I'm drawing a comparison between the two films, or THE CLOWN had an direct influence on Francios Truffaut.     This isn't your typical early 1950's Hollywood melodrama thats for sure....


SWEET REVENGE (1976)
Highly stylized Jerry Schatzberg (THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK, SCARECROW) film gem that finds actress Stockard Channing as a care-free car thief who has her sight set high on making enough dough so she can buy a Lamborghini and disappear.   Along the way, she meets and falls for a lawyer, goes to jail, takes a beating, races cars, accidentally gets her friend killed, and employs a bevy of Halloween costumes circa FLETCH (1985) to sell stolen cars to unsuspecting suburban hipsters, yuppies and creeps.  A quirky stream of consciousness character study that revels deeply in it's own grand style, Stockard Channing sets this world on fire in this pre-GREASE (1978) role.    


DANGEROUS GAME (1993)
Later period Abel Ferrera films always seen to get over looked for some reason.   When people bring up Ferrara's name in conversation, there is always a mention of MS. 45 (1981), KINGS OF NEW YORK (1990), DRILLER KILLER (1979) or BAD LIEUTENANT (1992), yet equally great films like CHINA GIRL (1987), FEAR CITY (1984), 4:44: LAST DAYS ON EARTH (2011), and DANGEROUS GAME are overlooked, or maybe, have yet to be discovered even.   Produced by Madonna's film production company Maverick Films, DANGEROUS GAME is afilm-within-a-film white hot fever dream.   Harvey Keitel is a filmmaker who is shooting a film about the disintegration of the marriage between two characters who are played by Madonna and James Russo.  Keitels own martial life spirals out of control just as in the film he is shooting, lucidity leaves the room and fantasy and reality begin to blur.   Barreling through scenery with raw and visceral emotion, Madonna is incredible in DANGEROUS GAME, and James Russo should've been nominated for an Academy Award for his work here.   A film more about the mise-en-scene, and emotive aesthetics than about narrative, DANGEROUS GAME is a hazy foray into existentialism that suffocates its audience from out in its own ether.   A complicated work that one could use as a benchmark for transcending what they think that they know about film.


THE GEMINI AFFAIR (1975)
Two en fuego blonds [Kathy Kersh & Marta Kristen] who happen to be old friends reconnect when one of them arrives for the first time in Los Angeles to study acting. They move in together and spit and cuss like two horny men about their sex lives while they're left alone in a rich boyfriends luxurious Hollywood Hills mansion. They bicker with an old, nasty and ultra conservative housekeeper who hates their lifestyle. One drunken and confessional evening, the girls end up in the sack together. With emotions flying high, these wannabe Hollywood socialites end up making half asleep/awake love a midst the effervescent moonlight that shadows them from a window above. Clearly a moment inspired by one of the great nude Baroque era paintings, it's probably the greatest lesbian sex scene ever put onto film. Viewer be warned! GEMINI AFFAIR isn't for the lover of plot-less T&A cinema. AFFAIR is a real and seemingly sincere look at thelesbienne relationship of the 1970's, and it's damn good. Cimber layers the film with bits of Hollywood insider satire while keeping the melodrama at a ecstatic height. One finds their night of lesbian passion dirty and wrong while the other embraces the experience. Cimber manages to keep this sexually experimental opus titillating by making everything deep inside of GEMINI AFFAIR fun, loose, sexy, and frank. The frankness in GEMINI AFFAIR no doubt made the Women's Liberation Movement of the mid '70s extremely proud.Actress Marta Kristen here is most famous for her work on the television series, Lost In Space (1965-1968) as "Judy Robinson". Also, pay attention to the lyrics of the film's closing credits music..."There are many kinds of love that come unplanned." Viva La Cimber!  


PLAYGIRL KILLER (1968)
A sort of 1960's low-budget sun-tanned Florida version of The Coen Brothers, Harry and William Kerwin not only acted in many of H.G. Lewis' films like BLOOD FEAST (1963), SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963) and 2000 MANIACS (1964), but the duo also wrote and produced a series of their own ultra oddities that includes STRANGE RAMPAGE (1967), IT'S A REVOLUTION MOTHER (1969) and BARRACUDA (1978).   PLAYGIRL KILLER is a prime example of their vision.   Produced in Canada for $150,000 dollars during the "Summer of Love", PLAYGIRL KILLER finds a drifter (played by William Kerwin) who also is a artist stumbling onto the property of a lonely rich socialite as he attempts to escape the law. He be-friends the lonely and beautiful woman, taking up residence as a handy-man and a sort of PURPLE NOON (1960) / THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999) commences.    Kerwin as the handy-man/psychotic Michelangelo murders the woman, after a night of romance goes wrong and stuffs her in repose in the basement walk-in freezer, which he turns into his own demented art gallery.   He assumes her social status, a new identity, and sets out to find more victims for his private one man show.  As the body count increases Kerwin begins to have these Faustian good vs. evil metaphorical like nightmares/visions that look overly vivid for the budget of the film. These sequences seem like outtakes from Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (1948), or at the very least something out of a K. Gordon Murray Santa Claus children's fantasy.    
PLAYGIRL KILLER features the first and last screen appearance by singer Neil Sedaka and also features the band J.B. and The Playboys in a swinging-a-go-go pool dance sequence that seems to last almost half the film.   Look for a cameo by Allan F. Nicholls, future Robert Altman screenwriter and actor of A WEDDING (1978) and  PERFECT COUPLE (1979) too.   Perhaps, the whole thing was influenced by the H.G. Lewis film COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965)?  Both films play metaphorically on the inner-workings of the grotesque mind of the mad artist.  


AN AMERICAN DREAM (1966)
It's been well documented that Norman Mailer never saw this 1966 film adaptation of his best selling and hugely influential and controversial 1963 novel of the same name, and that's probably a good thing too.   While, Robert Gist's film version is NOT the Mailer novel, it does contain several Mailer-isms in its framework.   Stuart Whitman is "Rojack", a man in the eye of the storm of a great existential dilemma.   Rojack visits his estranged wife "Deborah" (played by the unforgettable Eleanor Parker), who's been busy boozing and whoring it up in her luxury L.A. skyscraper apartment.  The two attack each other, and Rojack pushes her off the balcony claiming shortly afterward to the police that her death was a suicide.   Rojack has committed the perfect crime, yet, we the audience are never sure if what he has done was purely accidental or cper-meditated.    With Shakespearean like dialogue that comes screaming from the hellish center of Freud's Id,  key Mailer ideas begin to exorcise themselves from the novel text like:  The inclusion of spirits and ghosts, the notion of coincidence, sex, dreams/reality, the blond mystique, and one getting away with murder in America scot-free.   Janet Leigh shows up as "Cherry", a silver haired  nightclub ingenue who is mixed up with the mob.    Mailer's later 1984 novel and self-directed film masterpiece TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE could be considered an analog to AN AMERICAN DREAM with must ease.    Gist's film of Mailer's novel is pretty fanciful with its vivid colors, lush score and dream like atmosphere, yet, while it tries so hard to capture the essence of Mailer's epic novel it doesn't manage to do it completely.  With that being said, it's still a wonderfully dark and very unique and stylized effort for the mid 1960's that should be seen.   No one can re-work Norman Mailer, but Norman Mailer.  That's why he was probably the greatest writer of the 20th Century.


SEVEN INTO DARKNESS (1969)
One of the first ABC made-for-TV movies of the week, SEVEN IN DARKNESS is a twisted nightmare about seven blind adults who are traveling to a convention for the blind when their airplane goes down in middle of nowhere and they are forced to survive.  Directed by Michael Caffey, and based on the novel Against Heaven's Hand by Leonard Bishop, everything about SEVEN IN DARKNESS on paper allows the mind to ramble with comic possibilities, yet, there is nothing to laugh about here.   Well, it depends on the mood you are in.   There are scenes that feature a blind man walking across a railroad trestle with a walking stick, and a blind man trying to shoot a gun at a wolf that has just attacked one of the others in the stranded group.   Layered with religious allegory and metaphor, it's one of the incredibly disturbing made-for-television films of the early '70s that influenced an entire generation of filmmakers to come.   The real stand-out of SEVEN IN DARKNESS is the performance of comedy legend Milton Berle.  Seeing Berle here made me search out and re-visit his other purely dramatic performances in 2013 like his work in THE OSCAR (1966) and his EPIC performance from an episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre from December of 1963 called The Candiate.   Search these out.  You will be knocked out by Berle the dramatic actor.     
 
THERE'S NO RETURN, JOHNNY (1970)
Part THE DEFIANT ONES (1958) and FEAR & DESIRE (1953), THERE'S NO RETURN, JOHNNY is an anti-Vietnam film made smack right in the middle of the conflict itself.  Produced and directed by three Polish filmmakers:  Kaveh Pur Rahnama, Adam Hanuszkiewicz, and Janusz Weychert, JOHNNY is a monochromatic and suffocating fever-dream about a United States soldier and a Vietnamese solider who find themselves chained together after a boat that they are traveling on hits a water mine and blows up everyone on board but them.  After washing up on a out-of-time island filled with mud pits, grass/weeds taller than any human being and booby traps, the two wartime enemies begin a mano-o-mano battle to see who can overtake the other.   A pure allegory for the unnecessary late '60s war itself, THERE'S NO RETURN, JOHNNY polarizes it's audience with disorientating cinéma vérité, a claustrophobic frame, and almost no dialogue.  The dialogue that does come at the front of the film while we're on the boat traveling somewhere all comes from a handful of U.S Soldiers, yet each actor speaks with an accent clearly indicating that there are no Americans in the film itself.     The musical  score for JOHNNY is a crescendo of descending free form Ornette Coleman like improvisation jazz notes which adds to the nightmare of it all.   JOHNNY is a haunting work that hopes to rely a message of grotesqueness and it's end sequence montage of Americana imagery burning up via the pages of a Life Magazine in flame is just as potent as the filmmakers burning an American flag themselves.


TRACK 29 (1988)
Written by BBC mini-series The Singing Detective (1986) creator Dennis Potter and produced by ex-Beatle George Harrison, Nicholas Roeg's TRACK 29 is a real existential monologue that serves up symbols and surreal metaphors for martial mid-life crisis and Freudian female hysteria disorder.    Roeg's one time wife herself, Theresa Russell, plays "Linda Henry", a well off and bored southern housewife with braces and a drinking problem who is weary of her doctor husband's (Christopher Lloyd) obsession with electric model trains.   Lloyd has turned the entire second floor of their gigantic house into one giant model train sanctuary, spending his nights there and his days at his medical practice.    The married couple don't spend time together nor do they communicate whatsoever.     Gary Oldman literally appears magically in the film via a jump cut set to John Lennon's song "Mother", and he tracks down Theresa Russell claiming to be her son.  It's here that we learn via a series of phantasmagorical flashbacks that melt into reality that Russell's character, as a young teen, was raped at a carnival by Oldman (in a dual role) in a '50s greaser outfit with a pompadour hairdo.   Russell is tormented by the memory of having been raped (even though Roeg suggests that she enjoyed the experience) and in having to give up the bastard child at its birth.    
Oldman shows up twenty years later and begins to act like a deranged and horny ten-year-old little kid and sexual tension develops between mother and son.   Flashbacks and symbols electrify TRACK 29 like a teenage Theresa Russell laying in bed pining for the rape to repeat itself while a photo on her bedroom wall of the film's producer Beatle George Harrison looks down on her, giant trains and metallic tanker trucks burst through the walls of their massive southern home, Oldman performs a Randy Newman like musical number and Christopher Lloyd attends a electric train enthusiasts convention and delivers a sermon set to The Andrew Sisters version of Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo".  Oh Yeah, Roeg throws in a bunch of CAPE FEAR (1962) references for fun too.


GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN (1976)  / GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN (1989)
From the king of the '60s low budget rubber suit monster melodrama Larry Buchanan comes his Marilyn Monroe twofer masterwork.   Released thirteen years apart from one another, GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN,  Buchanan's first Monroe film,  features the underrated Misty Rowe as the undiscovered pre-Monroe pre-Hollywood, Norma Jean Baker.      GOODBYE is a string of scenes with Rowe as Baker chronicling her pre-acting days and the trauma that transcended Norma Jean Baker into Marilyn Monroe.  It's not a very rewarding film.    However, it's sequel slash re-imagining GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN is a masterpiece.     With a melange of sincerity and depravity, Buchanan, with the chutzpah of a master auteur takes all of the footage from GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN and writes new bookends around it to create a second story line.   With the footage of actress Misty Rowe as Norma Jean from GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN, he enlists veteran actress and Monroe look-a-like Paula Lane (THE LADIES' MAN, FADE TO BLACK) to play Monroe in SWEET MARILYN in the final hours  prior to her actual death.     
Buchanan breaks every rule you may have imposed on your own enjoyment of  cinema.    He creates a sort of fictionalized Norman Mailer written mythos that flirts with conspiracy theories surrounding her tragic death.  Buchanan uses '70s rock songs in the film written about Monroe in a film set that is set the 1940's and 1950's.    In addition, he casts actors and actresses that all have very similar looks about them, making it difficult for us the audience to differentiate between them, confusing who with who.  This allows for actress Misty Rowe as Norma Jean to have that much more of a visual impact with her beauty on the audience when we see her on screen as she transforms into Monroe for the first time.
By casting Paula Lane, who was easily much older during the shooting of Buchanan's film than Monroe was at the time of her own death in 1962, Buchanan creates a sort of oneiric dream fantasy that allows us to see Monroe in a very fantastic aura.  Buchanan takes this notion even farther by showing the older actress and her wrinkles as she fucks a visitor who comes  to her home in the final hours before her death, even going so far as to point out during the scene  that the actual fans of Monroe never ever saw her being so intimate in any of her Hollywood studio films.
What is truly the most fascinating aspect of GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN is how Buchanan twists aesthetics in the film.   GOODNIGHT has a very cheap feeling to it, while it blends fantasy/reality with flashback, present and future.   There are scenes were the art direction is in need of help also, then others where the attention to detail is stunning.   At times, GOODNIGHT feels sleazy as hell. A nude Marilyn Monroe isn't something Buchanan is afraid to show his audience.  Buchanan seems to revel in the sleaziness of the Monroe mythos, yet you can feel his empathy for her in the films melodrama.  The high drama is the best part of the film.  It's like a bunch of mental patients go together and staged Monroe's story for one night only.  Buchanan is clearly in love with the notion of the legend of the actress herself.  However, it's impossible for him to follow a single path in the film, whether the narrative is fact or fiction, because he also lusts for Monroe as a man as well.     Buchanan also explores the notion of duality and suggests that Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe both had a death drive and a desire for immortality.    This film is a total masterpiece. Who knew Larry Buchanan had it in him?   Skip the 1976 film.

1 comment:

S.B. Prime said...

DANGEROUS GAME almost made my list, as I rescued a conspicuous DVD copy from a local 7-11 store. An outstanding film on all accounts, harrowing and breathtaking. However, I technically re-discovered it this year as I originally rented the film when I was 12, not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. My 12-year-old self could not handle or understand DANGEROUS GAME.