Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Laird Jimenez ""

Friday, January 10, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Laird Jimenez

Laird worked in video stores and film archives and is now a video editor for Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas and the new programmer/host of Weird Wednesday.
Laird also did another Film Discoveries list for Badass Digest, which you should check out: http://badassdigest.com/2013/12/19/the-alamo-programming-team-shares-their-favorite-film-discoveries-of-2013-a/

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As always I'm very excited to see everyone else's lists! Here's my stuff:

2013 was an amazing movie year for me. Thanks in large part to my relocation to Austin in May, I more than doubled the number of movies I saw in 2012. At The Ritz Tommy Swenson had series such as "Women and the West" and "Invincible: 5 Tough Movies" where I saw Westward the Women and Out of the Blue for the first time. Guest programmer Christina Cacioppo's "Mixed Nuts" series allowed me to see Taking Off, A New Leaf, and Little Murders. Every week Joseph Ziemba and Lars Nilsen killed it with their Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday picks. At Austin Film Society Lars introduced me to Johnnie To, the circus films of Walter Gutman, Viva Maria, and some pre-code Barbara Stanwyck films I hadn't seen before. The Paramount (an Austin movie palace built in 1915) Summer series allowed me to catch some classics I had neglected to see (Gold Diggers of 1933, for instance) in the best possible environment. I made a list of favorite films seen for the first time in 2013 on Letterboxd and it has 72 titles in it (http://letterboxd.com/pobrecito/list/2013-discoveries-1/). Forgive me for going on at such length, but I found it very hard to narrow down all the amazing things I saw this year to a digestible list, therefore I'm using this space both as a shout out to my wonderful, talented friends and as a way to explain my criteria for this specific list: These are all movies I either watched on video or before I moved to Austin.

Blood Sabbath (1972, Brianne Murphy) - Watched on a recommendation from my friend/Scarecrow Video co-worker Joel Fisher, this fantasy-horror-psychedelic-erotica movie filled a Vietnam-vet-falling-in-love-with-a-water-nymph shaped hole in my heart that I didn't even know existed until I saw it. A coven of nude witches led by Dyanne Thorne (Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS) gyrate to Les Baxter's (credited as Bax) funky Moog knob-twisting, the Vietnam vet has flashbacks, a priest in a Mexican saloon screams at the Vietnam vet for wanting to get rid of his soul,  later he is attacked in a field by a hippie van. It's all over the place, but at the center it really is a fantastic love story about a man falling in love with a nymph. According to her IMDB biography, director Brianne Murphy was a rodeo trick rider before "crashing" a Ringling Brothers Circus event and surreptitiously performing the whole night as a clown. Her chutzpah earned her a gig as a circus photographer. Also, she was married to Jerry Warren at one point.

Corpse Mania (1981, Kuei Chih-Hung) - Kuei Chih-Hung has become one of my favorite Hong Kong directors. After seeing his Boxer's Omen, I've discovered that whatever subgenre he was assigned to tackle for Shaw Brothers studios, be it black-magic horror, women-in-prison, biker, or what have you, he always goes a bit too far in the best way possible. He also knows how to design shots and sequences for maximum visual impact. He favored location shooting and even uses a split-diopter (no doubt inspired by De Palma and Pakula) in many of his late 70s/early 80s movies. To this end, his movies tend to not look like most of the other movies coming out of Shaw Brothers. Corpse Mania is, for lack of a better genre tag, his giallo. It has the gaslight and foggy streets atmosphere of a Jack the Ripper story, but all of the sleazy sex, graphic murders and plot convolutions of an Italian thriller circa 1970s-80s. And yes, there is corpse-fucking (thankfully, not on-screen).

Crazy House (1943, Edward F. Cline) - Vaudevillian comedy duo Olsen and Johnson's follow up to their masterpiece Hellzapoppin' again has them playing themselves but this time they're attempting to make their follow up to Hellzapoppin'. Self-reflexive enough for you? In 80 minutes there's a wealth of sight gags, puns (many courtesy of Shemp Howard), and one-liners, and a climax that revolves around bringing everyone together for a sabotaged gala movie premiere in order to save the movie and thwart the bad guys (evoking Inglourious Basterds by way of Get Crazy...). Some stale musical numbers interrupt the cartoonish insanity, but when it's breaking down the fourth-wall and climbing all over your funny bone, you'll be quick to forgive its duller moments. 

Dead Eyes of London (1961, Alfred Vohrer) - Over the past five or so years I've slowly been watching adaptations of British author Edgar Wallace from Germany's Rialto Film in chronological order (with assistance from a one-off newsletterhttp://www.latarnia.com/krimi.htm). Those directed by Alfred Vohrer always stand out as having just a bit more punch and a lot more style than the others. Dead Eyes of London is about  an investigation of a series of murders connected to a hulking Tor Johnson-like blind man with the moniker "Blind Jack." The surprisingly graphic murders, odd use of POV (including a shot from inside a man's mouth), and the looney-tunes twists will give you the distinct sensation that you've uncovered the father of allgiallo

Decision at Sundown (1957, Budd Boetticher) - Randolph Scott is tough as nails in this complex, if not overly-preachy, Western tale of revenge and corruption. The guilt of the McCarthy era and the fatalism of noir reverberate like a sledgehammer blow through the script. Scott has a way of delivering one-word lines that makes them land like a neutron bomb. 

Inferno (1953, Roy Ward Baker) - I saw this in 3D as part of Eddie Muller's Noir City Festival in Seattle, and it blew me away.  The darkly humorous adventure story about infidelity and attempted murder reminded me of EC Comics, but more than anything, this is a showcase for Robert Ryan as an actor. The majority of the movie focuses on a crippled Ryan attempting to survive as he traverses a desert alone. He keeps his spirits up, cracking-wise the whole time, but when he gets into trouble, it's director Roy Ward Baker's talent at creating suspenseful sequences that shines through. Seattle audiences are typically pretty giggly during any movie made before 1970, but this movie had them gasping and laughing at all the right places. 

Polk County Pot Plane (aka In Hot Pursuit) (1977, Jim West) - Vroom! You know you're in for a good time when the first acting credits to appear on screen are "Don Watson as Oosh" and "Bobby Watson as Doosh." Then the titular pot plane gets a credit ("Big Bird played by N67038") and a supernova of happiness goes off in your soul. Essentially an 80-minute car chase, this is regional, amateur genre filmmaking at its best. The car stunts are impressive, the comedy is broad but funny, and the acting is... well, the actors were probably real good friends with director Jim West, and God bless them for showing up when he told them to and memorizing most of their lines. The fact (brought to my attention by my good friend Matt Lynch) that this is based on a true story is just icing on the cake. As a native-Georgian and a lover of burnt rubber and twisted metal, this one was very special for me. I've got this tentatively slotted to play for Weird Wednesday on February 5th at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (in 35mm, of course). See y'all there?!

The Whip Hand (1951, William Cameron Menzies) - William Cameron Menzies was not a name I was overly familiar with until I read David Bordwell's amazing piece (http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/menzies.php) on his contributions to production design. As a director he was credited with fewer than 20 features, but among them are visually arresting and pulpy fun yarns such as The Spider, Chandu the Magician, and Invaders from Mars. In The Whip Hand his style is a definite co-star, but the main attraction for me is the absurd men's adventure magazine story about a newspaperman on a fishing trip accidentally discovering a terrifying secret in a small, Minnesota town. I don't want to write about the plot more for fear of spoiling some of the fun of watching it unfold. If the revelation of the town's secret doesn't make you jump for joy, check your pulse, you may already be dead.

Witch with Flying Head (1982, Ren-chieh Chang) - I'd been waiting for years for a subtitled, bootleg version of this to show up, because, well, look at the title. A young woman is cursed by an evil sorcerer to quite literally lose her head every night. In the very peculiar tradition of Southeast Asian folklore (see Indonesia's Mystics In Bali), it detaches from her body but drags along all of her internal organs behind it, flying around like some sort of nightmarish tadpole. If that wasn't bad enough, she also grows tusk-like fangs and craves human blood. Even though the soundtrack lifts cues from all kinds of Hollywood movies from the same year (Conan the Barbarian, Cat People, Star Trek II), there are few other touchstones to relate this back to Western storytelling. As ridiculous as the concept is, the flying head itself is actually kind of creepy. It silently floats at its victims with the cold indifference of an animal. When the poor young woman is herself again, she is suicidal and despondent, giving it a tragic angle that makes the best wolfman stories (and Cronenberg's The Fly) so emotionally powerful. The wizard battles in this movie are, as one would hope, insane affairs full of snakes, explosions, and flying orbs of light. The story has the feel of regional mythology, and the low budget lighting make it seem, at times, like a rural stage show.

1 comment:

Anthony Strand said...

Ooh, I didn't know Crazy House existed! I saw Hellzapoppin' for the first time in 2013, so I definitely want to check that out. Thanks!