Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '85 - Justin Bozung ""

Friday, March 20, 2015

Underrated '85 - Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung is a freelance writer / cinema researcher based in Atlanta, Georgia.   He has written for such print publications as Shock Cinema, POTM Videoscope and Fangoria.   He is currently writing a biography on filmmaker Frank Perry and editing a volume on the '60s avant-garde films of writer Norman Mailer.
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It's hard to escape the trappings of a list of underrated films from 1985.  One immediately descends into the depths of their DVD collection to see if they can look past mentioning great little-discussed films like AMERICAN FLYERS (Badham, 1985), FLESH + BLOOD (Verhoven, 1985), or Godard's stellar output of the mid '80s--HAIL MARY and DETECTIVE, both from 1985, the latter being the one to see immediately if you haven't seen either.

01.  FEVER PITCH (1985)
The final film directed by the great Richard Brooks (IN COLD BLOOD, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, ELMER GANTRY, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH).  FEVER PITCH was a very personal endeavor for Brooks, he wrote the script over a period years.  It was his passion project.   Myself and a friend have been alone on a island for a while with our admiration for FEVER PITCH.  It's universally hated by all.  The critics bashed it, it won a Razzie, and it only made $600K at the box office--even Douglass Daniel, the Richard Brooks scholar and author of Tough As Nails: The Films Of Richard Brooks isn't a fan.  I love it.   It's off-key, off-kilter and weird, surreal, uncomfortable, odd, awkward and ridiculous.   Ryan O'Neal is Steve Taggart, a sports reporter on the hunt for a sports scandal at a casino who just so also happens to be a gambling addict.
This is Brooks' existential masterpiece.    Watching FEVER PITCH feels like you're on drugs.  It's visceral, lost of all reality with a '40s film aestheticism of dames, book-makers, corrupt bosses, hipster lingo and people on the make.  Yet, this painfully obvious '40s aesthetic eluded everyone who saw the film when it was released in 1985. It still eludes all today.   It is literally an early '40s film in the contemporary color of 1985.  Right down to the head of O'Neal's character's daughter--who pops into his mind one evening as a memory, but also pops into the top right of our screen itself!   Turn the contrast down on your television, watch FEVER PITCH in black and white and you'll get it.   You've never seen anything like FEVER PITCH before.    Fuck THE CINCINNATI KID (1965), I'll take Steve Taggart any day.

02.   ALWAYS (1985)
I'll never understand why Henry Jaglom's name isn't much more widely known.   Most love or hate his films, I love them.   ALWAYS is his most ambitious work.    Jaglom might argue with anyone who suggests that ALWAYS is his most personal work, so I won't suggest such here, but I would suggest that ALWAYS certainly could be construed as his most intimate.  Shot in a sort of cinéma vérité, ALWAYS explores meta-fictionally--the breakdown of a marriage.    The kicker?   JAGLOM and his wife, whom he had divorced just before the shooting of the film, Patrice Townsend, play the husband and wife who explore the disintegration of their own marriage in the film itself.      As Jaglom said at the time of the film's release in a 1986 issue of People Magazine: "Each of my films is a map of my emotional life.   I made the film as a attempt to get her back.  It was like being married again," says Jaglom. "Patrice would arrive early, then the other actors, then the crew. We'd work, then eat, then work some more, then everyone would go home. Patrice and I would sit around talking after everyone had left. It was like she was leaving me again—every night."   

03.  BILLY THE KID AND THE GREEN BAIZE VAMPIRE (1985)
Two things:  1.)  Alan Clarke   2.) Musical.  

04.  INSIGNIFICANCE (1985)
I'm not sure how convincing I'd be in a debate with anyone about the exactness of the underrated-ness of INSIGNIFICANCE.    At one point it was a Criterion DVD release.  So there's that.   But it's just not a film that seems to be discussed much, if at all today.    I'm a sucker for it, but I'm a sucker for anything connecting Marilyn Monroe to a fictional universe.      I'm a fool for the blond mystique.   INSIGNIFICANCE ties in with Henry Jaglom too as it stars his brother, Michael Emil.   Theresa Russell, actress and then-wife of director Nicholas Roeg plays the Monroe figure.   She might be one of the most interesting Monroe figures since Kate Mailer played Monroe in her dad Norman Mailer's play Strawhead in the early '80s.    Someone, someday, should write a book or do a volume of interviews only with actresses who have played Marilyn Monroe. 

05.  BEETHOVEN'S NEPHEW (1985)
For every person that has said that they hate Morrissey's films FLESH (1968), TRASH (1970), and HEAT (1970) comes 1985's BEETHOVEN'S NEPHEW.   Morrissey is a genius.  I've said it here on Brian's blog in the past and I will continue to defend my stance forever.   BEETHOVEN'S NEPHEW wasn't released, I don't think, outside of NYC in mid '80s theatrically.   Yet, while it did get a quiet little VHS release here in the States right after--if anything, it's really only  been seen and appreciated by European audiences to date.  Which is a shame, because it's damn good.   It's Morrissey's most restrained film.    For anyone that has said anything negative about Morrissey or the films he made with money-man Andy Warhol in the '60s and early '70s--BEETHOVEN'S NEPHEW should prove once and for all that Morrissey can make brilliant films.    An accurate portrayal of BEETHOVEN and his obsession with his nephew, his only family member that he could tolerate--Morrissey shows some serious skill in the direction of NEPHEW.   This isn't the art film of the '60s that he once made--this is a seriously well-crafted costume drama with stunning cinematography.    Also, it is Morrissey's favorite of his films too.  

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