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My list for 1985 is not necessarily underrated. Perhaps under-seen is a better word, or maybe overshadowed or underappreciated. Many have been celebrated by those who have seen them, just not as many have seen them as others from the year. Some were discovered later after the directors became more successful. All could be considered art films and it is no coincidence that four out of the five are foreign, and the other is a documentary.
LOUIE BLUIE (1985; Terry Zwigoff) – Long before CRUMB and GHOST WORLD, Terry Zwigoff put together LOUIE BLUIE, a documentary about musician Howard Armstrong aka Louie Bluie. Zwigoff borrows elements from Les Blank documentaries, balancing the musicianship with the culture in which Armstrong lives. Zwigoff takes a vérité approach, as he focuses more on Armstrong in his element rather than a traditional narrative of his life and career. Many of the best scenes are the guys playing music, but also how he portrays the Tennessee culture. He shows Armstrong’s other type of art, an unusual form of cartooning, which of course makes an easy connection with CRUMB.
TRACKED (1985; Hideo Gosha) - Many will compare this to Imamura’s VENGEANCE IS MINE. The overall premise and certain plot details are certainly similar, but there are key differences. Imamura’s film is more of a procedural and does not give much insight into the character’s motivations. This film is a lot more psychological and character-centric. Even though our protagonist is on the run for committing crimes, he has a sense of humanity and can be identified with. This is one of Hideo Gosha’s later works, many of which are not nearly as appreciated as early works such as THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI and SWORD OF THE BEAST.
MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS (1985; Paul Schrader) – Paul Schrader has had a storied career in Hollywood. He is undoubtedly an artist and has written many classic American films, but he’s never had an opportunity to show his creative ability as a director. He ventured overseas for an intriguing Japanese biopic about one of their most perplexing heroes (or villains?). His use of color and set design undoubtedly influenced the work of creative auteurs that would follow, both in the USA and abroad. It is by far his best work behind the camera, and among his best writing as well. It is a shame that he never had the same creative freedom again, and is known for his fights with studios, notably recently with his latest project DYING OF THE LIGHT.
WHEN FATHER WAS AWAY ON BUSINESS (1985; Emir Kusturica) – Emir Kusturica is unquestionably a political filmmaker, and is best known for UNDERGROUND, which exceptionally uses an artistic and convoluted narrative as a way of summarizing Serbian/Yugoslavian history. It is also polarizing and controversial. While this earlier film also won the Palme d’or, it tends to get overlooked compared to Kusturica’s larger work. It still has its political undertones, as it is set during the height of the post-war Communist era, but where it excels is at how it draws a family of characters, all of whom are complex, flawed, but they reach a volatile yet moving conclusion.
NO END (Krzysztof Kieślowski) – This film would probably not be talked about if not for Kieślowski‘s later success with the DECALOGUE and THREE COLORS Trilogy. This haunting film is reminiscent of BLUE, although it cannot be pigeonholed and dismissed as simply an earlier version of what would become one of his most cherished works. The similarities are that it is dark and about loss, but the visual imagery is not nearly as crisp, and the rougher frame makes it a more edgy and jarring. Even without comparing this to his later films, it stands alone as a deep character study with great performances. He mixes art with spirituality to make this a memorable early work.