Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Jonathan Hertzberg ""

Monday, January 26, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Jonathan Hertzberg

Jonathan Hertzberg is a longtime personal friend of mine and he runs the Obscure One-Sheet Blog:
http://knifeinthehead.blogspot.com/
He has is an avid fan of Danny Peary too by the way which is one of the things we bonded over early on. He is a true seeker of interesting cinema and always manages to find cool stuff.
His list from last year:
------------In no particular order:


Road Movie (1974, Joseph Strick, DVD).  This is a film so firmly in my wheelhouse, it's crazy to me that it took me until my 36th year to finally see it.  Director Joe Strick had been a truck driver as a young man and it shows in this grittier than gritty cautionary tale about the dangers of the road regularly faced by long haul truckers.  I wrote further about it here.


Coming Home (1978, Hal Ashby, Blu-ray).  Here's another film that I inexplicably put off watching over and over. It wasn't until I read Nick Dawson's superb Ashby bio that I finally righted this wrong. A beautifully crafted and performed piece on every level. Ashby and all involved were at the peak of their powers, culminating in maybe the finest film to deal with the effects of the Vietnam War. One of the great anti-war films. Oh yeah and, hands down, best use of a Tim Buckley song on film ("Once I Was")...shattering.


Lifeguard (1976, Daniel Petrie, DVD).  Another '70s drama...sensing a pattern here...which I wrote about earlier here.  I had long written this film off from memories of seeing the VHS cover with brawny Marlboro man Sam Elliott so many times in the video store when I was a kid.  Turns out that this was exactly the kind of melancholy, oddball tale from the "Me' Decade" that I'm such a sucker for.  Elliott and Kathleen Quinlan--really irresistible here--are excellent in this low-key sleeper. Other Quinlan highlights for me this year--Sunday Lovers and Independence Day.  Paul Williams-penned theme song? Check.


Our Time (1974, Peter Hyams, DVD).  This one really gutted me. Pamela Sue Martin is the ostensible star, but it's unknown Betsy Slade as her awkward pal and boarding school roommate who makes the most lasting impression in this '50s-set drama dealing with the terrible consequences of bad teenage sex.  It's all prettied up by maestro Michel Legrand and one of his patented gorgeous tunes.


Summer of '42 (1971, Robert Mulligan, DVD).  Maestro Legrand again. One of the bigger, more iconic hits of the early '70s, which I forever simplistically shortchanged as a piece of a schmaltz.  On its surface it's way too innocuous to score with later, more jaded generations of teens, but a closer look reveals a piercing evocation of innocence lost.  The justifiably famous final sequence, uses its lack of dialogue and the continuous sound of crashing waves to devastating effect. Gary Grimes and Jennifer O'Neill were never better.


X: The Unheard Music (1986, W.T. Morgan, Blu-ray).  Several years in the making, this is not only one of the defining filmed documents of a legendary rock band at its artistic peak--specifically L.A. punk pioneers X--but also of the era and environment where they were doing their thing.  I'm not an Angeleno nor am I old enough to have experienced this music and scene as it was unfolding, but I have to believe that this film comes as close to capturing the sensory experience of actually being there as a film can.  The scene with the house being moved across the freeway in the middle of the night...wow.


Man on a Swing (1974, Frank Perry, Blu-ray).  Saw a recent review of Frank Perry's sublimely creepy procedural, which labelled it a precursor to Fincher's Zodiac.  This assessment is quite apt. Cliff Robertson is an increasingly burnt out small-town sheriff chasing the killer of several young women in the area.  Joel Grey is the very odd, very unsettling psychic who may be helping...or may be hindering the case.  Both leads are superb, cinematographer Adam Holender's approach is suitably un-flashy and documentary-like, Lalo Schifrin's score is minimalist and avant-creepy...all are ably guided by the highly underrated Perry.  Another in a long line of '70s PG-rated(!), major studio films that are more adult and that get far deeper under one's skin than most mainstream fare today, R-rated or otherwise.  A hold-out on home video until Olive's barebones Blu-ray, that disc more than gets the job done.


Forgotten Faces (1928, Victor Schertzinger, 35mm).  Saw this very fine late silent at last year's Capitol Fest in Rome, NY.  The recently Library of Congress-restored print was a thing of beauty. This is a visually-stunning, completely absorbing crime melodrama starring Clive Brook, a young William Powell, very young Mary Brian, and Olga Baclanova.  Brook is a high-minded, dapper crook who busts out to protect his daughter from her no-good mother (Baclanova). My good friend R. Emmet wrote a beautiful, persuasive piece here.  I can only hope that a Blu-ray sourced from this lovely restoration is coming somewhat soon.


Pitfall (1948, Andre de Toth, 35mm).  Dick Powell was in the middle of his second act career revival as a noir lead when he made this tough, Code-skirting nail-biter as a bored insurance investigator who unsurprisingly finds himself tempted by Lizabeth Scott, here, essaying a "nice girl", tragic variation on the femme fatale...this attraction, of course, leads to Powell's straight, boring life with wife Jane Wyatt and young son getting turned upside down.  Raymond Burr really gets into his role as fellow insurance man and all-around creep.  Scott and Powell both offer deeply felt, emotional performances...Scott's anguish and guilt, in particular, are intensely palpable.


Brief Moment (1933, David Burton, DVD).  I can't not have some pre-Code on this list.  Brief Moment stars two of my '30s favorites, Carole Lombard and Gene Raymond and the film is as effectively brief and to the point as so many of the films of the time were. Lombard is a night club performer smitten with lazy, party boy socialite Raymond.  She tries to straighten him out and make him get a job, despite the resistance of his enabling family.  The deceptively simple story is given an emotional charge by Lombard's heartfelt performance, proving she was more than a comedienne, and, even as a cad, Raymond is as charming and irresistable as ever.


Claire's Knee (1970, Eric Rohmer, DVD).  There's still far too many titles I've yet to see in Rohmer's oeuvre, as evidenced by how late I've come to something as prominent as Claire's Knee.  It's not because I find them dull as watching paint dry as Gene Hackman complains in Night Moves.  On the contrary, I find myself utterly engrossed and fascinated by the dialogue spoken by Rohmer's characters and the droll, subtle humor and truths that emerge from these exchanges. Jean-Claude Brialy is a diplomat with no problem attracting women, however when he meets Claire, the teenage daughter of an old acquaintance, he becomes fixated on, of all things, touching her knee.  Given its sophisticated and (non-explicit) adult content, its PG rating is another of the "only in the '70s" variety.


The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophuls, 35mm).  Just about a perfect 82 minutes.  Ophuls' noir melodrama has top performances from Joan Bennett and James Mason, several supremely memorable sequences, visual flourishes--Ophuls' famously mobile camera, handled by esteemed d.p. Burnett Guffey, and suspense, fleeting happiness, and melancholia to spare.


All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk, Blu-ray).  Wow.  The Criterion Blu-ray is a stunning-looking disc, not a substitute for a fresh 35mm print, but a jaw-dropper no less.  I'd certainly seen parts of this on TCM in the past, but never in full.  Wyman and Hudson offer beautifully-moving characterizations as they develop a romance despite an age and class gap seen as insurmountable in '50s New England.  In spite of its studio gloss and seeming allegiance to box office considerations, Sirk's film, of course, carries a progressive message and is a sharp critique of societal mores and prejudices of the time.


To Find a Man (1972, Buzz Kulik, iTunes).  A Larry Karaszewski recommendation and yet another '70s coming of age melodrama, this one set in Dirty Old New York.  Pamela Sue Martin, also appearing on this list in Our Time, stars as a beautiful and quite daft teenager, who, when she becomes pregnant, turns to her gawky, sweet-natured neighbor Andy (Darren O'Connor, brother of Glynnis) to aid her in finding an abortionist. O'Connor never acted again, but he turns in a touching, sensitive performance and has some devastating moments opposite screen veterans Lloyd Bridges and Tom Ewell.

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Norma Rae (1978, Martin Ritt, Blu-ray) There were two Ritt discoveries for me this year: Norma Rae and Conrack.  I really loved both of these, but in the interest of keeping this list somewhat reasonable in length, I'll choose the former. "Inspired by the story of textile worker Cheryl Lee Sutton, Ritt's film is one of the great progressive films to somehow escape from Hollywood into the marketplace...it's strongly pro-worker, pro-women, and advocates for cooperation and camaraderie amongst people of different racial, ethnic, religious, social, and geographic backgrounds."

Stalag 17 (1953, Billy Wilder, Blu-ray).  Not much I can add, except a question: Was there a genre that Wilder couldn't master? I just couldn't get enough of Bill Holden's jaded, don't give a fuck attitude and the way it plays against the rest of the cast, who belong squarely in the '50s the film was made in, while Holden, of course, looks ahead to the counterculture heroes who would really only emerge a full decade and a half later.  Thankfully, Wilder got Holden to buy against the actor's instincts.

2 comments:

Servo086 said...

Stalag 17 is one my dad's favorite movies. I was out sick from school when I was around 10, and he put this on for me to watch.

Surprised it took you so long!

Ned Merrill said...

Sometimes I'm late to the party, Servo086. One of them times.