Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Paul Corupe ""

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Paul Corupe

Paul Corupe is a longtime, dare I say 'veteran', contributor here. He writes for RUE MORGUE magazine, Fantasia Festival's official webzine SPECTACULAR OPTICAL and his own spectacular site, CANUXPLOITATION. All his writing is recommended reading. He is a man of many varied likes as far as film goes. He has turned me onto many fine and less than fine films all of which have brought me great enjoyment. Let him do the same for you with this round of underrated comedies!

On the Bowery (1956)
Lionel Rogosin's docudrama, about destitute men living on the fringes of Manhattan's notorious skid row, is wildly different from most other post-war American films of the era, a raw and unflinching film that puts viewers right in the gin joints and flophouses of New York City. Starring real-life alcoholics, the film features a loosely scripted story about down-on-his-luck Ray (Ray Salyer), who arrives on the Bowery and, after a night on the town, is robbed when he passes out in the gutter. The next day he meets street veteran Doc (Gorman Hendricks), who initiates Ray into this world without telling him that he was the one who stole his money and meagre possessions. Presented with little editorial comment or false-note dramatics, On the Bowery is a refreshingly candid look at this famously impoverished area, drawing from the neo-realist tradition and direct cinema movements to capture a real portrait of what it must have been like--a sometimes sinister place where friends turn to enemies fast over a few pennies and betrayal for the bottle is an everyday occurrence. Haunting, but fascinating.

Chappaqua (1966)
A film I first read about in Jack Sargeant's Naked Lens: Beat Cinema but only caught up with this year, Chappaqua is the only feature-length film to rise out of the beat literary movement (which, like many, I enjoyed as a teenager but haven't really returned to). This pre-psychedelic autobiographical film by Conrad Rooks (not to be confused with Conrad Brooks) is just the sort of messy, self-indulgent time capsule that's clicking with film buffs these days. At its core, Chappaqua is a purely straightforward narrative about a rich drug addict who goes to dry out in Paris via the "sleep cure." Rooks gets the shakes and wanders the lonely streets over the course of the story, but the, film's primarily made up of quasi-mystic hallucination sequences as Rooks experiences bizarre dreams about being a vampire, running over Herve Villechaize in a car, chasing a distant girl and, in a peyote-fueled colour sequence, watching Ravi Shankar bang away on his sitar . Featuring cameos by Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, it's almost like a beat novel laid out in pure images--with all the positive and negative aspects that would suggest--but there's little else like it. Also features a top-notch soundtrack by Shankar and OrnetteColeman plus a performance by the Fugs.

Death Wish Club (1984)
It's the age-old story--man watches porn loop, tracks down starlet, invites her to move in, joins her creepy suicide club, goes to her funeral, discovers she's now living as a male, is told by a medical doctor to rape her to get her to snap out of it. A classic! Back in the video store days, I knew that anything with an illustrated box would be a guaranteed crapfest and when I saw Regal Video's outsider art-esque cover for this one last year it went to my watchlist immediately. Bits of the film ended up in the horror anthology Night Train to Terror (with overblown new FX), but the full feature from director John Carr is way more strange and unpredictable than you might have been led to expect. Death Wish Club (AKA Gretta AKA The Dark Side to Love), is a fascinating chunk of VHS-era insanity that feels more like a '60s sexploitation programmer in a time warp, as Gretta (Meredith Haze), a carnival popcorn vendor, is picked up by a sugar daddy night club owner and put to work in adult films (and as a pianist in his night club). She maintains this creepy relationship even after shacking up with Glen (Rick Barnes) a boring med student, but things take a hard left when Gretta suddenly "dies" and the strangely familiar Charlie White, a womanizing drunk in a bowler hat takes her place, driving Rick to desperation over his lost love. And then there's that death club, a small collection of thrill-seekers who get off on the adrenaline rush of near-death experiences that really has nothing to do with the plot. But there's Glen anyways, barely escaping meetings with a deadly fly, an electric shock machine and a wrecking ball while Gretta looks on in approval. And if that's not enough, Carr's oddity is occasionally a comedy too, with an old couple next door to Rick's apartment who eagerly listen to his lovemaking sessions through the wall and even time him to mark personal bests. Thankfully, Vinegar Syndrome snuck the full feature on their Night Train to Terror Blu-ray, where it can be enjoyed in all its bizarre splendour.

Downtime (1985)
Before there was Guy Maddin and even before there was John Paizs, there was Greg Hanec. There's no denying that Winnipeg, Manitoba is home to the weirdest Canadian films ever made, and the largely unknown B&W indie Downtime is another worthwhile entry, sprung from the fertile ground of the Winnipeg Film Group, that captures the depressing go-nowhere boredom and loneliness of being young and stranded in an unforgiving city. A convenience store clerk (Maureen Gammelseter) is bothered by a customer who first keeps asking her out on a date and then, half-heartedly and unsuccessfully, tries to rob her store. Later, at a laundromat, she's pulled into the orbit of the incredibly annoying Debbie (Debbie Williamson), who insists she come to a house party with her and her unlikable boyfriend Ray (Ray Impey) but then can't remember where to go. It's a sparse, Jarmusch-style film with an unconventional interior rhythm--Hanec uses excruciatingly slow fade outs between scenes that highlight the film's bleakness and strained, futile attempts at relationships. But, thankfully, the despair is cut with amusingly awkward dialogue and Canadian dialect humour--talking about the party, Debbie notes that she's “probably gonna go, for sure” and, later, refuses to believe that she's at the wrong house despite having the door slammed in her face ("What's with this guy?" she wonders). An overlooked Canadian indie landmark that anticipates Slackers (1991) and Clerks (1994) but is far more subtle and pleasantly self-depreciating than either.

A Night to Dismember (1983)
Ever the pragmatist, sexploitation directorial superstar Doris Wishman threw together the scant pieces of film that survived a laboratory fire and ended up with the trashiest garbage excuse for a horror film ever unleashed on the unsuspecting public. And it's glorious. I knew about this film for years, but the impending release of the Bleeding Skull book sent me back to fill in some of the '80s trash horror classics I missed out on in the past, and this one was at the very top of the list. Private investigator Tim O’Malley tries to narrate the beyond confusing story of ex-insane asylum inmate Mary (Samantha Fox), whose siblings Mary (Diane Cummins) and Billy (William Szarka) are busy devising ways to send her back by convincing her she's crazy. It's a creaky old plot, but once the film gets going you'll be lost in the film's aggressively surreal ineptitude. Wishman's other films Range from tedious to wonderfully sleazy, but this takes her usual one-two punch of the exciting (bloody deaths) and the mundane (shots of feet, ugly lamps, offscreen dialogue) to polarizing extremes. Watching 1960s exploitation vets like Wishman trying to update old tricks for the VHS era is always a fascinating study in in congruency, but this brain-melting exercise, an absolute must-see for fans of this stuff, really is among the most incredible I've seen.

Nuts in May (1976)
Comparisons to Ben Wheatley's Sightseers led me to seek out Mike Leigh's 1976 made-for-TV movie. Good thing I did, as Nuts in May turned out to be one of the funniest films I saw all year. Nobody does character comedy as effectively as the Brits, and this film is a devastating attack on middle-class back-to-nature pretension. Cringe-worthy couple Keith (Roger Sloman) and Candice Marie Pratt (Alison Steadman) are on a camping vacation looking for interesting rock formations and bartering with local farmers for unpasteurized milk. Keith is self-righteous and condescending about his beliefs, happily instructing others on the number of times one must chew each bite of their vegetarian meals, the various types of shoes needed for an afternoon outing and why you shouldn't even think about taking a pebble from a beach. Things take a turn for the worse when another camper, Ray, shows up and thoughtlessly plays a radio in Keith's vicinity, but that's nothing once lower class couple Honky and Finger (Sheila Kelley and Stephen Bill) set up camp and thoughtlessly have a good time--until Keith angrily attacks them with a small tree branch for not being sufficiently respectful of nature. Candice Marie takes a shine to Ray but Keith's too busy forcing him to take part in their awkward banjo sing-alongs ("I want to see the zoo, she said, I want to see the zoo / I want to take you there, he said, I want to go with you"). The humour of the film and others isn't just about laughing at poor sods like Keith, though, it's also recognizing a bit of yourself in these characters and that's what makes this one of Leigh's most accessible and funniest works.

Open Season (1974)
There was a short-lived trend of macho gun movies released in the 1970s that explored unfettered masculinity out in the woods gone horribly awry. Films like Wake in Fright and Shoot took a dark view of hunting culture in the wake of Vietnam, and this fascinating entry by Italian Job director Peter Collinson also seemed to fly under the critical radar at the time. Updating The Most Dangerous Game for the modern era, the film has Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law and the late Richard Lynch head out to the wilderness for a beer-fuelled boy's weekend where they kidnap a vacationing couple (Cornelia Sharpe and Albert Mendoza) and bring them out to their deep woods shack. It slowly becomes apparent that, after a period of abuse, they intend to hunt down these fellow humans for sadistic sport, part of a yearly ritual that they have so far gotten away with. Like Shoot, this is a devastating portrait of cruelty and inhumanity that builds over the course of 100 minutes. The hunters' callous, joking attitudes about their weekend getaway becomes one of the most disturbing aspects, but they soon find the tables have turned in a suspenseful, bleak conclusion that brings the tale full circle. Plus: badass William Holden cameo. Like many films of this ilk, Open Season works hard to avoid straight up moralizing but, embedded deeply in the narrative, the message is more than clear.

The Telephone Book (1971)
Vinegar Syndrome (again!) unearthed a major cult gem in Nelson Lyon's The Telephone Book, a berserk underground classic about a girl (Sarah Kennedy) who receives a call from the world's greatest obscene phone caller (Norman Rose), and is compelled to track him down. Boasting a bold pop art aesthetic and loose connections to Warhol (Ultra Violet shows up at one point), this is an inventive and immensely enjoyable sex farce that straddles the worlds of experimental filmmaking and legit comedy; in the same vein as William Klein and Robert Downey Sr. but more fun than both put together. Interspersed with interviews from supposed dirty callers who talk about their M.O.s, the girl meets a porn star (Barry Morse!), a lesbian nanny and talks about a well-endowed past lover (William Hickey!) before she finally tracks down her caller (in a pig mask, of course), and the whole thing climaxes into 10 minutes of smutty animation. Lyon, like Russ Meyer, taps into that same aesthetic of squeaky clean, all-American sex--despite some nudity and off-colour jokes no one would confuse this with an actual adult film. But more than that, there's a manic, joyful energy to the film that lifts it beyond most self-serious underground pics and the routine sexploitation efforts that are its most immediate comparisons.

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